La Vita Che Vorrei (The Life That I Want) wasn’t the first Italian movie I ever watched but it might be the most important,for ME, anyway. This 2004 film from director Giuseppe Piccione stars Luigi Lo Cascio as a famous actor named Stefano, and Sandra Ceccarelli, as Laura who is an ambitious starlet that is cast with him in his latest movie. It didn’t do very well at the box office and when I met Luigi Lo Cascio a few years ago and told him this story, he seemed genuinely surprised that someone from the United States would ever have heard of it.
This love story with the two extremely flawed lovers was not what Italian moviegoers were used to. Love is of the utmost importance to Italians and they don’t mess around with it. When I asked actor Luca Marinelli why, in a country like Italy with so many good-looking actors, there weren’t more romantic comedies he told me that it’s because love isn’t something to make light of.
In La Vita Che Vorrei, it’s just the opposite; love is a dark thing. Stefano is narcissistic and abrasive and uses his fame to get and mistreat women and as an excuse to be generally unpleasant to everyone. “Am I a jerk?” he asks the makeup artist on the set. When he sleeps with an old girlfriend to get even with Laura, the young woman asks him, “When’s my birthday? How many brothers do I have? Do you ever think about me?” It’s a defining moment for Stefano, but he’s honest with her.
“No”, he tells her. “I never think of you at all.”
Laura is an unscrupulous exploiter, willing to do anything
– and anybody –
to get what she wants. She zeroes in on Stefano like a cat with its prey in a way that seems more instinctive than sinister. It’s what she does. But something about this relationship with Stefano makes her long for a little self-respect. “I have a lot to learn,” she tells him, “but not with you anymore. You make me feel worse than I am.”
They’ve found in each other their absolute worst match, maybe because the universe is trying to teach them something about themselves. In the end, we can only guess, but it seems like they’ve learned something. I don’t think I will ever get why this movie was not wildly popular, because all these years later I can’t stop thinking about it. It’s authentic, romantic, and really well done.
The afternoon I watched La Vita Che Vorrei I was at a little movie theater in Firenze that has since closed. It was me, and maybe a half dozen other women scattered around Sala Due, and although it was just the 7 or 8 of us and we didn’t know each other we shared a little movie moment when something surprising happens to Stefano and Laura and we all let out a collective “ahhhhh”.
That’s when I knew it. Italian cinema was not as dead as people were saying it was! This was my Italian movie wake-up call. What else was out there for me to see? Were it not for La Vita Che Vorrei, I Love Italian Movies might not exist.
So why didn’t Italians go to see this film? Two reasons.
It is a pretty unconventional love story, and Italians are pretty serious about l’amore.
Also, Italians didn’t see it because they weren’t seeing anything – except American movies. This is changing, but to this day I meet Italians that say that they hate their own movies, and then admit that they don’t even know who Paolo Virzì or Toni Servillo are.
There’s a new wave of Italian films, and it’s one that is appealing to lots of people, in and out of Italy.