Over the last few decades, gay-themed films and television shows have not only become a a familiar genre, but have even achieved periodic crossover popular success with “mixed” audiences. Their qualitative success has been more problematic, with “serious” gay films occasionally tending towards self-pity, while gay comedy can sometimes be at risk of excessive frivolity.
In this context, “Tengo algo que decirles” (literally “I have something to say to you”) by Turkish-Italian (and openly gay) filmmaker, Ferzan Oztepek, is a refreshing surprise by being both a satisfying drama and comedy — not without some flaws — that has one of the most original and unexpected conclusions one is likely to see in a (I hesitate to say) straightforward narrative film.
Those familiar with Oztepek’s previous films, such as “Turkish Bath” and “Facing Windows”, will recognize a reiteration of some of his familiar themes, such as the gravity of key decisions in life regarding relationships and professions, as well as the pursuit of a genuine sense of self.
Like his German colleague, Fatih Akin, who is also of Turkish descent, Oztepek is much admired in Europe. But having said that, unlike Akin, I have regarded Oztepek as highly overrated, with the unacknowledged white elephant of his art being its utter, solemn tedium, with a tendency to include too many long, static takes in his scenes, as if to make sure that his audience is Getting the Point of his “concepts”.
Thus, the idea of an Oztepek comedy seemed strange at first, even if the movie (whose original title in Italian, “Mine Vaganti”, means “to wander among mines”), is marketed as a comedy-drama, but his gravity here works as a bulwark against material that could have veered towards situation comedy silliness and a glib resolution of the issue raised.
And to the benefit of the film, its premise is intriguing. The adult son of a pasta manufacturer has returned from Rome, where his father sent him to obtain a graduate degree in business, on the presumption that he will one day assume his father’s role as CEO. However, it is in the Eternal City where he not only found his calling as a writer, but was free to live his life as a gay man, and he confesses as much to his older brother, in anticipation of the announcement he will make before at the upcoming family gathering.
However, the brother himself one-ups his younger sibling at the dinner by opting to do his own “coming out”. The consequences are nothing short of operatic: the father disowns his son and then suffers a heart attack. This leaves the still-closeted younger brother, Tomasso, in a pickle, divided as he is between his desire to tell the truth and his fear that it might end his father’s life.
The passive reaction of this wealthy and educated family to the father’s rage at the dinner table — nobody defends the son or protests the father’s homophobia — is both annoying and anachronistic for a film made in 2010. Perhaps Oztepek, who co-wrote the screenplay, might have been thinking about the social circumstances of his own youth thirty years earlier. Anachronistic too is the conversation between the two brothers about how they represent the end of their family, particularly when gay marriage and gay adoption have become the core issues of the gay civil rights movement in the west.
Nonetheless, to his credit, Oztepek resists treating any of his characters like caricatures, even Tomasso’s campy gay friends who unexpectedly show up. Oztepek is especially commendable in the tenderness and respect with which he treats a relationship between Tomasso and a young female friend towards whom he might have a vestige of heterosexual longing.
A parallel narrative about the family’s eccentric matriarch and her own secret frames the story, and brings the film to its conclusion. The ending of the film is genuinely surprising in that resists the sentimental resolution that many would expect, but also deeply moving, and finally makes this a satisfying experience.
“Tengo algo que decirte” is currently playing at the Normandie.