Set in the Puglia region of Italy's deep south, the Turkish-born director's Loose Cannons is a light-hearted but considerate outing filled with unabashed passion and affection for its characters and story. Touching on themes of family, love, sexual identity, prejudice and bigotry, Ozpetek's latest fare is both heartfelt and heart-warming, dipping a comedic toe into the oft-told tale of a young man coming to terms with who he really is.
Tommaso (Riccardo Scamarcio) is the youngest child in the large and very eccentric Cantone family. His mother Stefania (Lunetta Savino), is loving and caring, but trapped by bourgeois conventions; while his father, Vincenzo (Ennio Fantastichini), has dangerously high expectations of his children and is just as trapped by his own fears and prejudices. Then there's Tommaso's aunt, the eccentric Luciana (Elena Sofia Ricci); his own sister, the frustrated and overlooked Elena; and his brother, Antonio, who works with their father at the family's pasta factory. Keeping a watchful eye over all of them, though, is the `loose cannon', Tommaso's wise and ever-compassionate grandmother.
Summoned back to the homestead from Rome, Tommaso returns for a family dinner where his father intends to hand over the family business to him and Antonio. Tommaso has other ideas though, wanting nothing to do with the business and hoping to strike out on his own as a writer. Not willing to stop there, he decides to go one better by confronting his family with the fact that he is gay.
That evening, however, his plans of revelation are thwarted by Antonio, who interrupts with an announcement of his own. Antonio's news is no less startling and results in their father suffering a heart attack at the dinner table. Not wanting to risk his father's health further, Tommaso decides to hold back on his announcement. Unfortunately, and as a result of his silence, Tommaso finds himself dragged into everything he hoped to avoid.
What ensues is warm, hilarious and in turn considerate and serious. Forced to run the family business while his father recovers, Tommaso is torn between feelings of family loyalty and those of love and affection for his partner and friends back in Rome. Adding to his confusion is the eccentric and isolated Alba, played by the disarmingly beautiful Nicole Grimaudo. Helping Tommaso come to terms with who he is and what his responsibilities are, Alba struggles herself as she finds herself falling for a man she know she can't have .
Things get even more confused when Tommaso's boyfriend, Marco, and his gay friends, arrive at the family home, running the risk of exposing Tommaso's secret before he's ready. Providing for some of the funniest moments in the film, Marco's entourage also prompt some of the more heart-warming scenes, as Tommaso struggles between what he wants to do and what he should do.
As a film, Loose Cannons is clearly an improvement for Ozpetek as a writer and as a director, with his previous offerings being lacklustre at best. His direction and writing this time round are spot-on thoughout, and finally realise his potential as a masterful and innovative filmmaker.
The same can be said about the cast, with each performance delivering exactly what the respective character warrants and deserves. All involved bring startlingly authentic turns and add the extra weight that the film asks for in a narrative this size. Of particular note are Riccardo Scarmarcio as Tommaso and Nicole Grimaudo as Alba, with their confused relationship providing some of the strongest scenes in the film. Also worth mentioning are the hilarious performances by Ennio Fantastichini as the bigoted and terrified Vincenzo, and by Elena Sofia Ricci as the eccentric Luciana; both characters serve up some of the most laugh-out-loud moments on screen.
The most memorable performance, though, comes from Crescenza Guarnieri (veteran TV actress Ilaria Occhini) as Tommaso's grandmother. It's this character, and Guarnieri's portrayal of her, on which the film hangs. Her patience, wisdom, passive understanding and love for her family and their foibles are what gives the film its heart. The `loose cannon' among a battalion of fiery and extremely volatile characters, the grandmother is the one who gives this film its purpose and gives the audience the rewards it is promised.
Although a very Italian film, its themes and subjects are universal, having been told many times over. Not that this is a hindrance - far from it, as Ozpetek squeezes worthwhile mileage from the `coming out' story. Although this is a storyline and subject on which the film focuses heavily, it is not the film's central theme. At its core, Loose Cannons is a film about following what you love; each character is confronted with their heart's most secret desires and what they really want out of life - do they follow their hearts and do what they really want? Or do they hesitate and do what tradition and family dictate?
Finding out is what makes this film fun. Michael Burgess