It’s that time of year again when the very best films are recognized with awards – the Golden Globes, the Baftas and America’s darling, the Oscar. It’s been a disappointing year for film, but I found a little dramatic comedy out of Italy, Mine Vaganti (Loose Cannons – 2010, directed by Ferzan Özpetek) which caught my attention not only because it uses diabetes as a plot device, but because it’s also a magnificent film. I liked it for its subliminal visual beauty (Rome) and for the hilarious, sometimes tender (or cruel) exchanges in dialogue. There are not many films that portray what it is like living with diabetes. There are snippets of diabetes here and there in hospital dramas and even in crime shows or as a dramatic tension with the young (Panic Room). Tearjerker Steel Magnolias (1989) seems to be the one film that dramatized the problem with diabetes as well as catapulting Julia Roberts as a major screen siren (before Pretty Women), although it has become trite and even passé. Let’s face it, there has never been much art in writing (and in film) thematically dedicated to the problem with diabetes.
Loose Cannons is a quintessentially Italian film about a pasta-making family from the South (Lecce) whose protagonist, the matriarch or grandmother, suffers with diabetes (type 2) as much as she does with unrequited love. She has two outrageously handsome grandsons who must take over the family business, but things are not so simple. The grandsons’ stories deliver an intense stand on homosexuality in the uber-masculine world of Southern Italy and comically demonstrates how Italian bravado easily denies (or covers up) the very existence of well….men preferring men in a small town. Scandalous! It is not, however, a story that only focuses on the difficulties of closeting sexuality; instead it portrays a powerful premise: hiding desire against what society demands or what familial obligations require is soul destroying. When that happens regret takes over and life becomes a moment in time of what could have been. Death might be better.
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The grandmother’s diabetes is an outward reflection of her own personal turmoil. She has done and does what she has been told to do: marrying a man she did not love, maintaining her “La Mama” dominance in a family and business with dedication but without passion, and ultimately in her final years, taking her injections and restricting her diet until she has had enough of doing what is right or what she must do in order to live. I like the author’s link between her diabetes and the trouble with self-denial. I’ll leave the ending for you… no spoiler here (perhaps not a movie for the very young, with or without diabetes, either). The dénouement is sad, but satisfyingly true to the genre of a tragic comedy. Keep in mind it is a film that captures Italian life with perfezione, and the irony in what often defines Italian culture as “La Dolce Vita.”