Tuscany,1957. Fosco (Lazar Ristovski) and Anna (Maria Grazia Cucinotta) are getting ready to give love another shot. The newly-wed couple is hoping that the rural hills of sunny Tuscany will finally deliver the piece and happiness they had expected to discover in their previous relationships. As a start the large house where Vosco has been living with his teen son Livio (Giorgo Noe) will now enjoy the laughter of Anna's infant daughter Santina (Jessica Auriemma).
Determined to provide for his new family Vosco quickly goes back to running the "family business" (two tested by time old trucks) encouraging Livio to observe and learn from his experience. Vosco is hoping that one day father and son will be able to expand the "family business" and build a future together. Unfortunately for Vosco young Livio is more interested in reading philosophy than learning the ins and outs of the truck business.
Visibly disappointed by his son's passion about philosophy Vosco is drawn by his old buddies into the illegal business of robbing Etruscan graves. But when a routine exchange between an art dealer in Switzerland and Vosco's crew goes south Vosco is arrested and thrown in a prison. Alone in the big Tuscan house, with the humid Italian summer making it impossible to sleep at night, Livio and Anna are slowly drawn to each other.
Following a favorite for Italian film directors genre approach La Seconda Mogile a.k.a The Second Wife explores the mundane existence of a rural family from Tuscany where love appears in some rather unusual forms. A young boy (Livio) awakens the passion for love in a woman determined to be a "decent wife" by following what the locals deem as respectful behavior. Unfortunately what the heart often desires is what the mind most certainly rejects. As a result all hell breaks loose…and we are offered a story that simply overflows with the typical for Italians zest for life.
It is almost impossible not to compare Ugo Chiti's La Seconda Mogile with Giuseppe Tornatorre's Malena (2000). The beautiful cinematography, the impressive eye of a director that appears obsessed with detail, and a narrative that simply begs for your attention transforms La Seconda Mogile into a pleasant surprise. Instead of a boring story that offers nothing more than a few fairly impressive visuals spiced up with some relatively good music score Ugo Chiti's film conveys not only a spectacular cast but some very serious acting as well.
Perhaps one of the biggest draws for La Seconda Mogile, aside from the fact that the music soundtrack often reminded me of the tunes one would hear in the films of Emir Kusturica, comes from the fact that the film features one of the most stunningly beautiful modern Italian actresses to step in front of the camera in a very, very long time-Maria Grazia Cucinotta (Il Postino). If you have not seen a photo or at least heard about the beauty of this European diva then perhaps you have been living under a rock (a pretty heavy one at that). Back in 1999 Maria Grazia Cucinotta was granted a small part in Michael Apted's The World is Not Enough and Alan Jacob's Just One Night (2000) where in my opinion she was unceremoniously ignored by Hollywood. As a restul she concentrated mainly on European productions and I am fairly certain this was a good move as ever since she has completed some very attractive Italian projects.
It is hard to put in simple words the feelings that La Seconda Mogile evokes. This is certainly a very enjoyable film, one that relies on a well structured plot bringing quite a twist to the finale. So instead of falling into a familiar groove and simply building upon the stunning appearance of Maria Grazia Cucinotta the story never really slows down transforming La Seconda Mogile in one of the few films that not only rivals Malena in terms of style but quite frankly goes a step further. Now having seen both I begin to wonder whether or not this was indeed the film that inspired Giuseppe Tornatore.
When it comes to recreating the love yearnings between a younger boy and an older woman Italian cinema sure has its fair share of contribution to the subject. The most recent one, Malena, which focuses on the obsession of a teen boy with a beautiful widow, certainly proved that Italian cinema is still a force to be reckoned with. I really think however that Ugo Chiti's film which was completed two years before Malena brings much more flavor to the subject. Certainly with the presence of a star that is still unknown in the United States and in my humble opinion happens to be significantly better looking than Monica Bellucci (imagine that!!).
La Seconda Mogile, a film that was part of the Venice Film Festival back in 1988, was acquired for distribution by a studio well-known for its experimentations with the patience of film lovers in North America (can you guess which one?). Unfortunately here we have another example where a film was simply shelved somewhere collecting dust and viewers were denied the right to see yet another example of a well-made Italian piece of cinema. Perhaps just like the butchered version of Malena which was allowed on the North American market some prude hiding behind a heavy desk somewhere in Hollywood determined that this was yet another example of a film too provocative for the morality of this country. Well, nothing could be farther from the truth…though the fact remains that the heavy censorship machine is sadly still very much in tact.
How Does the DVD Look?
Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and enhanced for widescreen TV's La Seconda Mogile boasts a print that I am happy to report is not a direct PAL-NTSC port. While not progressively transferred the print shows some good detail, acceptable degree of contrast, and tolerable degree of edge enhancement. Colors seem mostly well-handled and the print delivers a relatively good degree of grain. Some of the more serious flaws of this print include the few dirt specs in the opening couple of scenes (just a few that disappear quickly) and macro blocking evident through some of the outdoor scenes. Overall however this is a very decent looking print that I am more than satisfied with considering the fact that the film is virtually impossible to find on this side of the Atlantic. I don't think that you should expect a mind-blowing picture quality seeing this release but I most certainly guarantee you that the video quality is way better than much of the product we see in R1 land and until one day a better version appears in one of the English speaking regions (UK/AUS) I have no reservations in recommending this film.
How Does the DVD Sound?
The Hong Kong distributors Panorama Pictures have provided a stellar Italian 5.1 track which does justice to the wonderful soundtrack. There is plenty of activity in the rear speakers and there are no significant drop-outs that I am aware of. With optional Chinese and English subtitles.
Ever since Il Postino made it to the US I have been trying to acquire most of Maria Grazia Cucinotta's films and to be honest it has been a rather impossible mission to complete. I did manage however to secure a copy of La Seconda Mogile through a Greek company that (unfortunately) comes with forced Greek subtitles. The quality was also so poor that I assumed that when Panorama released this R3 version it was the same transfer they utilized. I have been assuming wrong!!! This new transfer of La Seconda Mogile is not only better looking but it comes with optional English subtitles as well. Thanks to Geoffrey Kleinman who was so kind to respond to a list of titles I had with films currently unavailable in R1 (and there isn't a single English-friendly DVD review of this film) fans of Maria Grazia Cucinotta can now breathe freely.
For quite some time now I have been waiting to see how Maria Grazia Cucinotta will take over the fame of Monica Bellucci and shadow her image overseas. It has not happened yet and part of me is actually happy about it (just look at the latest string of Hollywood films Monica was involved with). There is something attractive in the fact that you are among a selected few that know about a great mystery waiting to be unveiled. On the other hand I feel disappointed that Maria Grazia Cucinotta's films are not being distributed in North America (well, nothing new under the sun here). I certainly hope that with her latest feature Miracolo e Palermo a.k.a A Sicilian Miracle this sad trend will be reversed.
If you are yet to see La Seconda Mogile and you even partially enjoyed Malena or Giuseppe Tornatore's earlier L'Uomo delle stele a.k.a The Star Maker (1995) give this film a chance. It might give you an idea or two as to where Malena drew its inspiration from. And (despite the lack of extras) for the price this DVD can be had I can not but HIGHLY RECOMMEND it to you.