A needy young man with a penchant for baking finds himself newly single and in search of a home, and himself, in Matteo Pilati & Alessandro Guida’s Mascarpone.
Set in contemporary Rome, the married Antonio is suddenly abandoned by his husband – forcing him to find a job and a new place to stay, after growing perhaps a bit soft and comfortable through his marriage. He moves in with Denis, whose wilder and uninhibited lifestyle is a far cry from the shy, mild-mannered demeanor of our protagonist. Denis pushes Antonio out of his shell, encouraging him to take a job in a bakery, and Antonio enrolls in a cooking school to set a concrete, albeit institutional, path forward.
As Antonio encounters newcomers and potential matches, he tries new things and experiments in a way he never would have in his comfortable marriage. His journey of exploration is paralleled by his growth as a baker, where his teacher advises him to work on his mascarpone – the most important element in a tiramisu – as a cringey, obvious symbol for working on oneself.
The Italian-language title, Maschile singolare (“masculine singular”) is more interesting to unpack. By using grammatical language, it almost objectifies Antonio as a singular masculine thing rather than person – a newly freed actor out in the world, distinct from a masculine plural as one half of a unit of two. This objective naming also preps us for how, tonally, the action plays out in relation to the protagonist. He bounces around, between boyfriends and settings, as the sole actor on his own journey. Everyone else – Denis his roommate, Luca the baker, his best friend Cristina – is set and stays put (very possibly due to a lean plot, rather than a deliberate stylistic choice) while he is the only character trying new things and moving forward.
For all of Antonio’s choices, both predictable as well as seemingly out-of-character, he never is judged by his friends, or otherwise punished by the plot mechanics. No elements of a coming-out story are in play, which is incredibly rare for any film with LGBTQ characters, least of all young adult ones. Even when prior romantic dalliances and hookups emerge by the time he’s found a better match in Thomas, his past never creates a rift or any real conflict. This approach is forward-thinking, if not a tad unbelievable.
Mascarpone‘s greatest strength is in the lead performance by Giancarlo Commare as Antonio. His journey from a deeply broken-hearted young man at the beginning, to a confident and playful single player on the scene, with moments of coldness, desperation, and even cruelty along the way, is both varied but innately human. We see all the colors, good and bad, of Antonio and, as we’re along for the full rollercoaster, we too want what’s best for him in the end.
Even though all the elements don’t work and the titular cream cheese is a painfully obvious symbol, Mascarpone is overall a well-rounded portrait of a young man in crisis, who can only achieve resolution through himself.