Magnifica Presenza is a delightful film directed and co-written by Ferzan Özpetek. Though sad at times, it has many comedic moments, and many more uplifting ones. It is a tale about endings and new beginnings, about insecurity and confidence, and how the past can touch us even across generations. And ghosts.
Meet dorky, lonely Pietro. A humble baker (he only makes croissants) and aspiring actor, he has just rented an old house in Rome’s Monteverde neighbourhood. It’s remarkably cheap, even considering how run-down the place looks. Ignoring the advice of his stern, uptight cousin, Pietro is happy to move in and start fixing things up.
It’s only a little later that he discovers the house is haunted. At first he doesn’t know just what is going on; the ghosts look perfectly normal—no rattling chains, no walking through walls—and are quite harmless. After realising they’re neither burglars nor previous tenants, and also that no one else can see them, Pietro decides he just wants them gone from his house. But it’s not that easy.
For a while, Pietro settles in with his odd roommates. Apart from a tendency to rehearse scenes in the middle of the night, they’re not too bad to live with. One of them, a handsome young poet, even takes a fancy to Pietro, and we wonder of the possibility that the two of them would get it on. But is that was even possible? What were the rules of the supernatural in this movie? We’d seen the ghosts interact with the physical world, and they thought they were alive, so…
But nothing happens, just as nothing happens between Pietro and his hunky neighbour, whom he meets halfway through the movie.
Eventually Pietro brings the ghosts up to speed on how the world has changed and the movie ends with the ghosts returning to their old theatre—now abandoned—and performing the play they never got to finish 70 years ago.
The parallels between Pietro and the Apollonio troupe are obvious, but not heavy-handed. The ghosts are far more than echoes, but they are clearly trapped in the past as well as the house, still in the fine clothes they wore for their performance, unable to change and move on. But once they do move on, we share the joy of seeing the modern world through their eyes. For all its troubles, the world is a better place now than it was 70 years ago.
Magnifica Presenza is a gorgeous movie in every way including the beautiful visuals of the ghosts’ old-time fancy dress, Pietro’s food and his funky old house. Sweet and funny, tragic and hopeful, it was a wonderful start to the 25th Queer Film Festival.
(A version of this movie review first appeared on http://www.npdemers.net)
Nicolas Demers is a web developer and blogger living in Vancouver’s West End. In his spare time he enjoys science-fiction, photography, and is actively involved with the Vancouver Gay Volleyball Association.