Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Pride Month: The Invisible Thread

In my second week of "Pride Month-themed viewings of LGBTQI+ movies I had never heard of," I chose The Invisible Thread, or Il Filo Invisibile, as it is known in Italian. (And that title may work better with the thread theme they've worked into the poster design.)

I had already added this to my Netflix watchlist the week before, but when it popped up as the movie advertised on the landing page -- which may or may not be customized to movies I've added to my watchlist, I'm not sure -- that clinched it. Made it seem worthier of my time, somehow. (Damn, advertising really works doesn't it.)

And I ended up being really happy with this choice as well, if not quite at the level of last week's film, Ellie & Abbie (and Ellie's Dead Aunt). (Though I should say, a moment in the climax pushed me to the brink of tears, which was closer than Ellie & Abbie got me.)

If this was only a 3.5-star movie to the previous film's four, it was a very warm 3.5 stars. But there's a reason I couldn't go all the way to four, and it has to do with the film's central conceit. 

The cross-armed character you see here, Leone (Francesco Gheghi), is meant to be making a movie about the relationship of his two fathers, as they weather the political currents that go from allowing them to have a civil union, to allowing both fathers' names to appear on Leone's birth certificate, to potentially losing that last right, thereby returning to a state where one of the two dads is granted more legal legitimacy than the other.

The problem is, after a few opening minutes of footage from the film, the whole concept is basically dropped. Oh there are a few other random references to the movie he's supposed to be making, but 30 minutes of screen time might elapse between them, tending to diminish what at one point seemed like it was going to be a central structural tenet of the film. It was enough so that even though the rest of the movie was charming me and moving me, I couldn't fully forgive what seemed to be such a basic screenwriting error.

Much of the rest of the content makes up for that omission. One thing I particularly liked about The Invisible Thread is that the two fathers, Paolo (Filippo Timi) and Simone (Francesco Scianna), are not happily married. In fact, the story's inciting incident is that Simone loses his phone between the cushions of their coach, where Paolo is sitting when Simone is texted by his lover. This is how he discovers his husband has been cheating on him for two years, though his own loss of spontaneity and defunct notions of romance are partially to blame. 

The reason I liked this is that it's believable. It's real. In most movies we see, there is a tendency to portray people in gay marriages as happy beyond their wildest dreams, and just as loyal. Particularly in pockets of cinema that hadn't previously been comfortable portraying gay marriages on screen -- your bigger studios and the like -- there is a deathly fear that if you depict a gay marriage as less than complete bliss -- or worse, torn apart by cheating -- you are somehow indicting or undermining the entire institution of gay marriage. Any group that finds themselves on the receiving end of pandering tokenism wants to be portrayed complexly rather than as saints, and The Invisible Thread does a really good job at that. Not only is there an extramarital relationship, but each man seeks revenge on the other in petty ways that strike at the heart of the other's materialism.

This is not to say the film is always subtle. You get reminders throughout that these are the countrymen of Roberto Benigni, and so there's more than one scene of physical comedy where characters are at each others' throats and playing to the back row. But really, these are in small doses and they are more funny than they are ever approaching groan-worthy.

Although Paolo and Simone have a significant share of the screen time, the movie is of course told from the perspective of their son, who doesn't actually know which one is his biological father because the two injected a cocktail of their sperm into the surrogate (an American who is still in the picture. She's played by Jodhi May). Leone is not gay, but he does have an interesting relationship with a French brother and sister who have just come to town -- he likes her, but she thinks her brother might be good for him, because she makes a silly assumption about Leone's sexuality based on the sexuality of his fathers. I think we are meant to believe that she made this assumption more because of Leone's smaller stature and potentially effeminate behaviors, but he's understandably mad about it and really, he has every right to be. The time spent on this potential relationship with her (she's played by Giulia Maenza, who could be a model) is probably the time that might have been spent showing him struggle with making his film, though it's probably right that he's involved in a relationship himself because he is the main character.

The content that probably moved me most was this notion that Italian law might annul the previous birth certificate that allowed both fathers' names to appear, so they'd have to go back to just one -- but which one? Now that they might be splitting up, it matters more which name is on the certificate, which sperm swam into the awaiting egg, possibly for custody reasons. They never wanted to know, but now they sort of do, or sort of must, either of which is tragic. It's clear that even though their relationship might be in trouble as a result of actions of their own doing, it has always been threatened by a society that can't quite become progressive enough to fully accept them.

Next week I'll pick another off the watchlist of one of my streaming services, though maybe I'll share the love with something other than Netflix, given that it's gotten my first two Pride Month viewings. 

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