Croce e delizia (2019)

Croce e delizia (An Almost Ordinary Summer) opens with a woman who’s stuck late at a daycare. She’s watching the last baby left behind, and receives a call from the family apologizing that they’re running late. She sighs and tells the child it’s been forgotten, abandoned.

From this opening scene, the idea of parents explaining themselves to their children plays out through the rest of the film. Two older men, Carlo and Toni, who both have children and lived heterosexual lives, tell their children that they’re in love – with each other – and plan to get married. As an LGBT film, it’s an interesting inversion of the traditional narrative of a child coming out to his or her parents, as this time it’s the parents coming out to their children.

The families come from different walks of life – Carlo (Alessandro Gassmann) is a more working-class patriarch of a fishing family from the coastal town of Nettuno, while Toni (Fabrizio Bentivoglio) is a cosmopolitan art director in downtown Roma – but their children all agree the marriage must be stopped. In a somewhat comic take on All That Heaven Allows or Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, Carlo’s son Sandro (Filippo Scicchitano) and Toni’s daughter Penny (Jasmine Trinca) are united in their commitment to destroy their fathers’ union. They agree that by staying put in Toni’s villa, where both families were brought to celebrate the news, their own family issues and bickering can bring out the worst in their fathers and make them to fall out of love.

The dynamics and interactions among the mostly adult cast reminded me of Modern Family at its best: very strong, distinct personalities who butt heads, but evolve their perspectives in natural, organic ways. Croce e delizia is very touching at times, particularly in moments of crisis, when each father is almost pinned to the wall to justify his love for the other. More than in other films I’ve seen where divorced parents remarry, the nuances and complexities of a parent talking through how they’ve fallen in love with someone else, and the sadness that it has to be explained for approval at all, are well on display here.

In a way, this very contemporary film harkens back to the more classic traditions of commedia all’italiana, presenting a serious and complicated social scenario through a comedic lens, without shying away from the inherent tragedy and difficulty embedded within. Croce e delizia is a warmly charming, and often moving, look at how family dynamics may change but love and compassion will always be at their heart.

Opening night film at the 31st Annual Palm Springs International Film Festival in 2020.

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