Nuovo Olimpo ***
Starring: Andrea Di Luigi, Damiano Gavino, Luisa Ranieri, Greta Scarano
Director: Ferzan Özpetek
In 1970s Rome, the Nuovo Olimpo is a small cinema where gay men meet to hook-up, run by its glamorous matriarch, Tatti (Ranieri). There, friendly young filmmaker Enea (Gavino) meets the tall, dark and intense Pietro (Di Luigi), who wants their encounter to be more than just sex. So the two arrange to meet again, beginning a passionate love affair. Neither knows anything about the other’s life, so when a political protest goes wrong and prevents the two from meeting again, the couple are forced apart for decades.
The film moves forward in time, skipping through the 80s and 90s before settling in the twenty-first century. The star-crossed lovers’ paths almost cross several times, as both pine for the love that they lost decades before. With plenty of period detail, each era is coloured with wonderfully accurate costuming, props and set-dressing... but the characters’ makeup is somewhat lacking in authenticity. Sure, they look like they’ve aged, but by forty years in the final act?
The film’s impossibly handsome leads make the opening scenes particularly watchable. Their chemistry is extreme, so when the director doesn’t hold back in watching through the bedroom curtain, the film is particularly erotically charged. Laden with slow burning sexual tension, the first act is exceptionally watchable, but when the film shifts its focus toward the story’s later episodes, it doesn’t even try to quicken its pace. As a result, the later portion of the narrative unfolds without any haste and winds up feeling somewhat stale.
We – of course – yearn for Enea and Pietro to be together, but like many historical star-crossed lover movies, there are wives involved here too. Pietro’s wife Giulia (Scarano) is actually the film’s most interesting character; profoundly intuitive, knowing that her husband carries a secret. Unlike the women of, say, Brokeback Mountain, she is a strong, dignified and likeable woman, whose love for her husband extends to more than just possessiveness.
Dreamy, passionate and exceptionally serious, this decades-long romance is underserved by its over-generous helping. It will certainly set your heart racing at times, but not from adrenaline, if you catch my drift...
UK Release: Out now to watch on Netflix