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March 6, 2011 / Siobhan Argent

The Man Who Loves (L’uomo che ama)

Published 21/9/09 at

For an Italian film that plumbs the depths of human emotion, there are some beautiful characters to make up for the sombre scenes.

A handsome Roberto (Pierfrancesco Favino) is deeply in love with Sara (Kseniya Rappoport), a woman with a past that includes a bruising affair with a married man. When Roberto’s relationship with Sara becomes too involved, and Roberto’s apparent emotional neediness begins to encroach on her own privacy, she is forced to recognise her true feelings. Sara’s abandonment plunges Roberto in depression. The sense of loneliness he experiences is overpowering. Minimal lighting enforces the idea that without love, Roberto is in shadow. The title itself is almost ironic, as if The Man Who Loves is rare enough to deserve to be revered on film.

Sara’s rejection of Roberto in the film’s opening scenes makes for depressing viewing. However, this initial disappointment goes to the core of the film’s ultimate message; when crunch time comes, people are almost always brutally unfair and enormously hypocritical when it comes to love. The presentation of people’s everyday struggles, and the film’s ability to highlight that things can always get worse, inevitably drags it up from the plethora of movies that seem satisfied to simply sit on a depressive perspective and derive little meaning from it. Too many films choose to be depressing in order to appear ‘artistic’, and it is refreshing to see a movie that has a point to its less-than-positive attitude. There is no guile, artistic or otherwise, in The Man Who Loves; it is brutally, uncomfortably honest analysis of how people’s affections transfer easily, or how they can get mired in the complex web love weaves.

This conclusion is encapsulated in the story of Carlos, Roberto’s brother. The challenge he faces could be tragic or life-changing, but director Maria Sole Tognazzi makes it clear to the audience that this is not the point. In Carlos’ case, it is selfless love that shines through amongst stories of people mired in their own self-centred, emotional turmoils. It is the one truly heart-rending story in the film, where Roberto’s self-centred pessimism becomes somewhat grating.

Despite Carlos’ beautiful story, The Man Who Loves faces a central issue that is never quite overcome. As a film that focuses on everyday life, there is nothing to make it truly exceptional. There is no catalytic moment where the audience is suddenly charged with a desire to see Roberto escape his love-sick depression. The Man Who Loves is an honest portrayal of the hypocrisy and inconstancy of love. However, in a medium where an audience generally sees a film to escape reality, this film sometimes hits too close to the chest, and too close to raw humanity, to make it comfortable and enjoyable viewing.

Favino is excellently-cast as the permanently-depressed Roberto, but at the same time, this removes all possibility of the central character having any real spark of originality. There is nothing to set him apart from every other depressed, love-sick human mourning ex-lovers every day of their lives. Roberto’s ex-lover, I am sorry to say, never appears to be anything special; Sara is just as self-centred as he, just as confused, and just as heartless when it suits her wishes. It is for this reason that The Man Who Loves achieves its aim but loses its audience; we recognise that love is dangerously fleeting, but we feel no empathy for characters who seem to deserve whatever they get.


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