For a film in which each character harbours some tragic secret - of unrequited love, betrayal, unfulfilled ambition, alcoholism, a death wish or suchlike – Ferzan Özpetek's Loose Cannons is surprisingly uplifting.
In this family drama/rom-com-with-a-twist, the Istanbul-born Italian director combines precise aesthetics with good-looking actors, but, regrettably, Loose Cannons is also full of all-too-predictable stereotypes. This makes the film, despite its underlying theme of the pressures of stifling social conformism, easy on the eye and light of heart. Think Festen meets Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.
The loose cannons of the title are found amongst the Cantone family, the owners of a pasta factory in Puglia, in southern Italy. The father, Vincenzo, has decided that the time has come to hand over responsibilities to his sons, Antonio and Tommaso. His daughter's husband being an imbecile and his daughter being a woman, the brothers are the obvious heirs to the family business.
Tommaso, ostensibly enrolled in business school in Rome but actually a gay literature student with a novel freshly submitted to a publisher, returns home for a pompous dinner where Vincenzo plans to announce the generational handover in front of the entire family and some new business associates. Tommaso, having just confided in his brother that he is planning to use the occasion to reveal his literary and same-sex relationship aspirations, is himself taken by surprise at the dinner: Antonio beats him to it, coming out of the closet and triggering a heart attack in his father.
Antonio is disowned and Tommaso, afraid that opening up about his gayness would be a final death knell for his father, reluctantly steps in to manage the factory with the assistance of Alba, a beautiful young family friend with a nose for business deals and eye-catching pasta packaging. No matter how hard he tries, even caressing the freshly-baked pasta every morning as his grandfather used to, Tommaso can't develop a passion for macaroni. He wants to get back to Rome, to his writing and his gay lover, a bookish doctor.
While the film centres on Tommaso and his dilemmas, Loose Cannons has an assortment of characters with an assortment of repressed emotions. There's the homophobic and patriarchal father; the outwardly stoic, but in reality sensitive, mother; the daughter stuck in a passionless marriage with a podgy husband and two chubby daughters; the spinster auntie indiscreetly drenching her sorrows in whiskey; the diabetic grandmother dishing out pearls of wisdom; and the ugly, frustrated maid.
Though Loose Cannons is never dull, with plenty of narrative twists, flashback scenes and regular introductions of new characters, all the typecasting soon grates. The scenes with the multi-generational, loud- mouth Cantone family gathering around tables brimming with food quickly come to feel like quirky pasta adverts.
The film is marked by clichés from the outset. The opening scene, which turns out to be a flashback sequence into the past of granny Cantone, couldn't be more kitsch: a beautiful, teary-eyed young bride runs up the steep staircase of a solitary stone house, where she confronts a man, his shirt unbuttoned at the neck, with a gun – first aimed at him, then pressed against her own chest. The man tries to wrangle the gun out of the bride's hand, at which point the film cuts to a shot of the house's exterior and the banging sound of a gun shot is heard.
Things don't get better when, during a transitional phase of the film, Tommaso's gay friends from Rome show up for a surprise visit. Tommaso's parents convince them to stay overnight – cue camp homos who try to act straight but still can't help admire Alba's dress or flirt with Tommaso's brother-in-law. During a trip to the beach, the boys perform a silly coordinated dance before splashing each other with water. It's funny, but so predictable. At times, it's hard to tell whether all the typecasting and melodrama is done knowingly or is just crass.
For a film exploring the themes of family obligations, tradition, clash of values, sexuality and love, you'd be better off watching Özpetek's Hamam: The Turkish Bath from 1997. Still, the graceful final scene of Loose Cannons, set to the melancholic tones of Turkish diva Sezen Aksu's 'Kutlama' (Celebration), is almost enough to redeem the conventional and clapped-out feel that colours most of the movie.