The Critical Reception of ‘Saturno Contro’ Abroad
In the critical reception of his work, it is universally agreed that Italian-Turkish director Ferzan Özpetek has an impeccable and fascinating directorial style and cinematography, and most critical reviews and analyses of his films delve into content and themes – namely, social relations and acceptance issues in the frame of the LGBTQ+ community. Saturno contro is no exception.
In Italy, the general audience loved the movie (as proved by its box office results). The critical reception, however, was positive but mild. For instance, Marzia Gandolfi on MyMovies described the film as “normalized and pretentious”, as self-important and without a real point of view, despite its stylish attitude and the empathic use of music.
Among academic critics, the LGBTQ+ question is examined from a more cultural and political perspective, for instance by Pier Maria Bocchi in Cineforum (47:3, 2007). There, he discusses the idea of being “gay”, “homosexual” and a “queen” in relation Saturno Contro, where being a “queen” is positive, also suggesting the ideas of a “clear conscience” of the text that represents “the gallows of the revolution”.
Beyond Italian borders, the critical reception of the movie is generally positive. However, it suffers from the film’s lack of proper distribution.
In France, where Saturno Contro was distributed in a limited number of copies, the reviews are few and hard to find. On the general press, for instance, it seems only to have appeared in Le Monde on the weekly Movies-to-Watch list but there is no actual review since, as they state at the end of the article, they could not see it.
It is possible to find a more in-depth analysis in more academic publications, but these are nonetheless brief and scattered. One of the most comprehensive, though concise, can be found in Positif (569/570, 2008) following the movies’ success at the Villerupt Film Festival. There, Jean A. Gili comments: “Saturno Contro provides a new variation on the theme of homosexuality lived day-by-day by individuals who are well integrated, and it suggests an overall feel-good sense. […] Aided by actors that have often played under his direction (Stefano Accorsi, Margherita Buy, and above all the stunning Serra Yılmaz), Özpetek succeeds in staging without pomposity the essential things of life: love, friendship, pain, death”.
This review is mostly about the feel-good mood of the movie, the simplicity and universality of the feeling it suggests. Unlike in the Italian reviews, pretentiousness and self-importance are not perceived. On the contrary, it is underlined instead how the film is not pompous at all.
Given the film’s lack of distribution in the UK, reviews can mostly be found on specialized sites, all of which agree that the movie is aesthetically good, but ultimately empty and badly written.
On the “official” side, i.e. the trade press, Screen Daily pays a little attention to the film’s Italian debut. Lee Marshall describes it as “a quality TV soap writer’s take on an existential drama à la Antonioni”. As such, he forecasts a grim future Saturno Contro, especially on the international market: “Saturno Contro looks destined to fade fast after the robust opening which is more or less guaranteed by Medusa’s wide 430-print rollout on Feb 23. Overseas, Saturno Contro is unlikely to repeat even the success d’estime of Ignorant Fairies or Facing Windows, though it may see some action in specialist gay & lesbian festivals”.
Since this forecast turned out to be true, the critical view on the movie is also shared on the non-official side. For instance, A. W. Murray on the specialized blog Eye For Film writes: “The ‘so what’ factor doesn’t go away, because it is difficult to care about these people. […] What’s left? A beautifully shot, well-acted film that sits on the coffee table”.
Interestingly, some critical traces of Saturno Contro can be found on the touristic-oriented website TimeOut London, where it is stated that the Özpetek’s movie “might promise to be a breakthrough crossover gay movie, had not its thunder been stolen somewhat by the present UK release of Techiné’s similarly-themed The Witnesses”. The Witnesses (Les Témoins, André Téchiné, 2007) is a critically acclaimed French movie that explores the lives of a closely-knit group of friends who are impacted with the sudden outbreak of the AIDS epidemic in Paris in the ’80s. This seems to be the only article that brings up a distribution issue potentially rising from the competition between the two movies.
Like in the UK, the lack of a proper distribution impacts Saturno Contro’s reception in the US. In fact, the only major review can be found in a printed issue of Variety (406:3, 2007), where Deborah Young mostly agrees with the British reviews, arguing that: “Özpetek here brings a […] smooth, technically well-heeled look to a narrative that suffers from a lack of dramatic urgency”. Given the progressive climate in the US at the time, the movie is also problematized in relation to the relevant issue of legalized same-sex marriage, and it is read as “advertisement for this hot political topic”, despite its characters being “unthreatening gay”. From an American perspective, Young also frames the movie into the Italian culture and socio-political debates, noting that: “Abroad, the film’s biggest selling point, as with Steam: The Turkish Bath and Ignorant Fairies, is its relaxed, modern approach to gay characters and lifestyle, unusual for an Italian film. The mix of straight and gay stories, though, should broaden its appeal to a slightly wider audience”.