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The Italian Man And His Solitudes

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I recently went to see Nine, the unnecessary musical adaptation of the brilliant Fellini's . It is a waste of actors (they all seemed strangely embarrassed, except for Penelope Cruz and Marion Cotillard) and is made with Hollywood money, hence it is compelled to tell you what's good and bad for you: there has to be a moral tale, a message, something that you will bring home with you. Like another much better crafted and acted movie of the season (Up In The Air), it will show you the dangers of being alone (in both movies, the main characters are men, surrounded by outstanding female figures whom they never really allow to come close).

The only good thing about Nine is that it reminded me of a figure that any woman who spends some time in Italy is bound to meet: the Italian Man par excellence, the "sciupafemmine", the Fellini man, the solitary, charming, not necessarily beautiful, but seducing man who loves being alone almost as much as he loves women and their company (almost is the key word here, because being alone is much more pleasurable for him). Being alone is a state of conscience, not a geographical situation ("I'm surrounded" says George Clooney in Up In The Air) and the Italian Man (a species that I almost forgot) loves being in other people's company. Watching Nine, I fell in love with him all over again, as did the women up on the screen. Please, Hollywood, don't charge him with a moral weight: let him be the way he is. His dimension is not the one of an American romantic comedy: it is like having King Kong on top of the Empire States Building: Tragic.

I met many version of the Italian Man in Italy (and in fact I moved to the States). He is apparently perfect: his public persona is of a grownup, but he reveals his inner child in a way that you think it is only for you and you can't resist, because you can see he is fragile (you think that's fragility, when, unfortunately, it's usually immaturity). He knows the exact moment when to say a word of hope and when to slightly move away, so that you can come closer. Closer though, never close: he likes cuddles, hugs, kisses, sex, intimacy, he can even promise you something, make you think that you are that special creature that will forever change his ideas on relationships. But no: after sending you every possible sign of hope, he says that you were wrong (but in the most sensible way, almost embarrassed at your naiveté: he really doesn't want you to be hurt). From then on you will occupy a place that he has set for you, among other women (equally important): the lover, the ex-lover, the distant memory, the mother, the wife, the friend, the one night stand, etc.

Nine shows all these women: just a few are not hurt (the ones who in fact don't have sex with him). In the movie Daniel Day-Lewis was so unapologetic with his wife, and that's exactly what this Italian Man is: he doesn't even realize he's hurting you. He can't conceive the reason why things got so out of hand: It's only love, the Beatles sang, and that is all.

I know that the stereotypical Italian man is the one who lives at home till he is 40, with his mother cooking for him and ironing his shirts: that's just a matter of economic crisis. This man would love to leave his mother's place and have his shirts ironed by the dry cleaner (his mother would automatically make sure he is well fed anyway). He is there just because he is not paid well enough to leave and still keep up his quality of life, otherwise: forget it, he'd be blissfully alone. The eternal bachelor, the "vitellone", (from another great Fellini movie), in Up In The Air, there is a very good description of him: "Spontaneous, unpredictable and fun" (that's how Vera Farmiga's character defines the prick women sometimes fall for).

Do I sound mad at him? At this archetypical creature? I'm not anymore. I am actually thankful for Nine, an otherwise horrible movie, to have reminded me that this Italian Man exists and with him the women who gladly put up with him. Why? I've always wondered, but I guess I have my answer now: who wouldn't like to be hurt a little but to feel mighty alive in his (although temporary and sometimes distracted) embraces? He is so gentle and loving and makes you feel so desired. I would never marry him, but who wouldn't want a little Italian Man every once and a while to feel light-headed and scared all over again, to feel necessary and replaceable at the same time? Just for a while. A spin on the rollercoaster. Why not? I'm so fond of him after all. Max Ophuls had one of his female character say, I want him to live long and carry on dancing. Amen.

One more thing before I finish: I called him Italian Man, but he could be from everywhere (I happen to know him by this nomenclature just because I'm from Italy). A word of caution though: just play with him, consider it a run on an amusement park: ride and enjoy. Don't let him hurt you.