Fading Gigolo

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We saw the oddest movie tonight, John Turturro’s Fading Gigolo. It was something of a mess in terms of plot, and it teetered on a rather murky morality at times, but yet, but yet… It also had myriad exquisite and haunting details, an astute perception of what women want, and the best Woody Allen performance we’d seen in years. So while I cannot say without qualification that it is a good movie, it is certainly an intriguing one and one whose elements are not likely to be duplicated in toto. It is not unlike another Turturro film we saw years ago, Romance and Cigarettes, a bizarre movie of which I largely recall Christopher Walken (and others) singing the Tom Jones hit “Delilah,” with big, broad passion, and not a bit of smirk or camp. On reflection, it’s really rather amazing. Watch it here:

Point is, Turturro as a writer and director is fearless. His choices might not always be good, but they are bold.

And they reflect beauty and sensitivity, often where least, or little, expected. Woody Allen’s character, Murray, has the idea that his friend Fioravante could make much-needed money for both of them by becoming a gigolo. He has a first client lined up, his dermatologist, who, seeking thrills and a bit of revenge on a perhaps neglectful husband, has casually mentioned to him a threesome fantasy featuring her best friend and a stranger. After much persuasion by Murray, Fioravante takes on the job. And his meeting with Sharon Stone is brilliant. She is nervous, and he—as can be seen from the photo above, and from the one below—is utter cool and calm and experience. He is a man of few words, but many gestures. His first is to bring her an exotic red floral arrangement (he works part time as a florist). His next is to rise with ineffable grace, confidence, and elegance and take Stone in his arms and, ignoring her stammered protests, to dance with her.

Fioravante knows how to please women, but not in any smarmy or obvious way. It occurs to me that what he does is extraordinarily simple and basic: he listens, he touches, he shares flowers, food, and drink. He literally appeals to their senses. Plus he has, from years of working in Murray’s now-defunct bookshop, gleaned much culture and knowledge, and dispenses apt foreign aphorisms that—like an arresting bloom in an arrangement—provide welcome contrast and perspective.

This is the fun part of the movie, watching how very good he is with his rich, lonely clients. You truly see how he is providing them with much-needed attention, making the exchanges neither tawdry nor squalid, but simply fair. And the settings and clothes could not be lovelier. There is a rich sepia tint to the cinematography, but there’s also some quality of the film that penetrates and exposes minute details: fabrics, faces, facades are rich and vivid and sensual.

But then a key plot element involving an Orthodox Hasidic widow in Brooklyn unfolds, and the spell is rather broken. The incongruity of the juxtaposition of their two worlds is not the problem: that’s actually quite in keeping with the rest of the film, and the idea that this chasm is bridged by fileting a fish he has prepared for them to eat is charming. No, the problem is that the tawdriness that has been avoided up to now rears its head. Soliciting this woman is not fair: the cost to her is ostensibly too great. And even though that premise is nullified, and any costs abundantly returned and rewarded, a distasteful and unpleasant idea has been unleashed, and it was hard for me to move past it. Although Bob Balaban, teamed with Woody Allen as his defense lawyer against an Orthodox bet din, did help.

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