Oft-visited theme reveals some surprising turns when the hunks go awry
“Love Forbidden,” written, directed by, and starring Rodolphe Marconi is a stunning film about love, death, and romantic obsession. This provocative drama builds slowly toward its inexorable and excruciating climax—one that will no doubt leave audiences talking, if not gasping.
Call it a queer “Fatal Attraction.”
Bruce (Marconi) is a French filmmaking student who leaves Paris for the Villa Medici in Rome to study his craft and find inspiration. He spends his days writing in his diary, eating, sleeping, and smoking and drinking in a nearby bar. Bruce is haunted by his past, which, as he slowly reveals, includes an ex-girlfriend, and a brother who recently died. Trying to forge a new life in Italy, when Bruce meets Matteo (Andrea Necci), he sees an opportunity. His spirits begin to rise.
A hunky intern at the Villa, Matteo studies philosophy and wants to be a writer. Matteo bonds instantly with Bruce and the Italian soon finds comfort in the French man’s apartment.
In fact, Matteo is so relaxed in Bruce’s presence, and in his home, that he invites himself to spend the night. Although the two young men share the same bed, nothing sexual happens initially. Matteo sleeps soundly, but Bruce watches over his new friend, and quickly becomes enamored with him.
What begins as a platonic friendship, however, becomes something much more intense. After their first few encounters, Bruce starts having fantasies about talking to Matteo and kissing him—even when he is not around Eventually, he takes to spying on Matteo, even stalking him at night. He waits to seduce his beloved.
While Matteo does eventually succumb to Bruce’s desires, he admits beforehand that he does not share Bruce’s feelings. And despite an artfully filmed sex scene—in which the characters’ passions are conveyed through striking images of skin pressing against skin—their relationship is headed for trouble.
That said, the film’s third act introduces the character of Aston (Echo Danon), a New York writer who becomes romantically involved with Matteo—and unbeknownst to him, befriends Bruce as well. This romantic triangle quickly turns into a sinister psychodrama, and one that yields the film’s jarring finale. While the ending will certainly trouble some viewers, Marconi does make his point clearly and effectively.
Despite the film’s deliberate pace and somewhat uneven tone, “Love Forbidden” excels at keeping the sexual tension between Bruce and Matteo palpable throughout its 90-plus minutes. The body language between the couple—from the caress of a shoulder to the lighting of a cigarette—is filled with hidden depths. So too, are the silences and glances between the men. Marconi directs the film with such precision that viewers will be scanning every frame for additional layers of meaning.
Some of the visual clues the filmmaker provides are the various statues, sculptures, and artwork whose expressions quietly comment on the character’s emotions. The film’s crisp images suggest several possible identifications, and the performances by the two leads are suitably ambiguous. Marconi—who took the central role when his original actor dropped out—is well matched to Necci, and their rapport is wholly credible. Each actor has a speech or two that reveal much about their characters, but they are much more haunting when they gaze off silently into the distance, or into each other’s eyes.
As talented as the men in the cast are, Echo Danon is unfortunately awkward in her pivotal role as Aston.
“Love Forbidden” may be a disturbing, unsettling romance, but it is certainly a worthwhile one. The argument it makes about jealousy and obsession is significant and should resonate with many viewers.