A classic Italian-style comedy, Ivan Silvestrini’s Tell No One focuses on contemporary attitudes toward homosexuality through one man’s attempt to either come out to his family on his last night in Rome or risk having his lover do it for him. While it is consistently funny, there isn’t enough new to the story to push the film out of the average zone.
Tell No One opens with its lead, Mattia (Josafat Vagni), practicing an important speech in front of the mirror. He is going to be coming out to his family. At 25, he has been waiting for the right moment, and working up the courage to finally move on. Or so it seems. Immediately, he wakes up, it has all been a dream, and we find that he probably isn’t anymore prepared than he was the other times he tried. And so it goes for most of the film.
Movies about coming out to a family are fairly standard in the US, but less so in Italy. Comedies even rarer. There is Ferzan Ozpetek’s very good Loose Cannons (2010), but after that I am drawing a blank. (Mambo Italliano is Canadian, so that doesn’t count.) So in a sense, Ivan Silvestrini’s Tell No One is filling a need for a mainstream coming out comedy set in contemporary Rome. Every country should probably release a comedy on the subject every once in awhile to keep up with the times and to prevent the genre from being overwhelmed by poignant dramas. A coming out film set in 2010 in a Western country should feel different than one set in 1995. Times have changed, even if the story remains basically the same there’s no reason to stop at one coming out comedy.
Tell No One does feel a bit old-fashioned, not in its subject, but in its approach to comedy. It appears to be consciously following in the footsteps of the Italian-style comedieis of the 1960s and 70s, which found humor in social transformation by focusing on everyday characters and situations. In this case, Mattia, his family and his lover, Eduard (Jose Dammert). Eduard is from Madrid, where same-sex marriage is legal, while Italy lacks any official recognition of relationships. Mattia is leaving for Spain to start a new job and be with Eduard, but before he moves, Eduard wants to come to Rome to ask Mattia’s family for proper permission to marry him. While we never have a lengthy discussion of that social driver, changing attitudes to make acceptance possible are at the heart of the film, as well as the contortions necessary to keep the status quo in place.
The acting in Tell No One is fairly broad. Emotions are out on display for everyone. The cast is filled with with character actors playing standard roles: the macho homophobic dad, the school bully, the female best friend, the housewife with bottled up anger, the grandma who refuses to get old. Much of the humor in the film derives from the naturally skittish Mattia dealing with these powerful characters. While it is funny to watch their personalities work against Mattias’ wishes, those stock characterizations makes it difficult for us to feel that Mattia’s sense of loss over them is justified. There is also a point where events in the film’s plot twist in ways that would be funnier if they didn’t make us think that perhaps Eduard and Mattia’s relationship isn’t actually strong enough for a marriage proposal. A restraining order might be warranted instead.
The film is fun, but purposely shallow. Without much to add to the standard coming out tale, watch it if you are in need of an antidote for over-dramatic coming out fare. Otherwise, you can wait for the next comedy.