Connection with others is one of the richest and most rewarding parts of being human.
Whether it’s with a family member or friend or significant other, the act of relating to someone else, many someone elses in fact, brings life alive, helps us to define who are and what it is we want from life.
But as Antonio (Giancarlo Commare) makes evocatively clear in Mascarpone (Maschile Singolare; translates roughly as Single Man) sometimes connection to others, while wonderful, can also hold you back from becoming who you really want to be in life.
Not that handsomely reticent Antonio is thinking in those terms at the start of this artfully made and character-rich film; we first meet him cooking away in his kitchen, his love for baking clear in the passionately involved way with which he constructs a tiramisu from scratch, drawing on memories of his grandmother’s loving instruction throughout.
He seems content in his relationship with Lorenzo (Carlo Calderone), his high school sweetheart who has since become his husband and with whom he is delightfully happy.
That is, until Lorenzo arrives home one day, makes an arch comment about the fact that Antonio is baking again – while he is trained as an architect, Antonio isn’t working in the field, a palpable source of irritation in the marriage though Antonio remains blissfully unaware – and tells him, before bed no less, that he is in love with a mutual friend, Enrico (Fabio Fappiano) and wants Antonio to move out.
At this point, you might think Lorenzo would at least stay up and talk through this bombshell but given he didn’t think to raise any simmering issues in the relationship up to this point, choosing instead to blindside his oblivious husband, it’s hardly surprising that he gets snuggles under the cover, turns off the light and leave a shell-shocked Antonio to grapple with his new, wholly unwanted singleness.
A singleness that, having been with Lorenzo since high school, is almost an alien concept to him.
Pushed by Lorenzo to move as soon as he can – he is at least covering the first six months of Antonio’s rent, a guilt payment to his unemployed husband if nothing else – Antonio finds a room with the flamboyantly devil-may-care Denis, a somewhat narcissi young gay man who thinks nothing about walking around naked on a first meeting and who casually has sex in the loungeroom with his recreational drug clients.
As shocks to systems go, this is a doozy, and while Denis and Antonio eventually find a rhythm and close, mutually supportive friendship, Antonio feels utterly bereft and adrift, leaning on his bestie Cristina (Michela Girraud) for an immense amount of support as his world collapses, and getting upset when she doesn’t step up in the kind he way he needs.
At this point, Antonio is flailing, unsure what he wants to do or who we is without Lorenzo, and it’s only when Denis gets him an apprenticeship at his friend/ex/f**k buddy Luca’s (Gianmarco Saurino) bakery that Antonio finally begins to find some purpose and identity as a single man.
Beautifully filmed, and paced in such a way that you have time to get to know the main players and to observe their relationships in happy/not-so-happy/happy again times, Mascarpone (Maschile Singolare is a poignant and at times quite funny meditation on what it means to be alone in the world.
Not alone alone since Antonio, with Cristina close by his side as always, soon forms a gorgeous found family of Luca and Denis, as well as keeping himself busy sleeping with half the gay population of Rome.
As his redefines himself away from Lorenzo, his baking takes off, both at work with Luca and at a baking school where he is challenged and forcefully tutored by the skilled but unrelenting leading pastry chef Orsola (Barbara Chichiarelli) and he begins to understand that he is out a lot of himself on the backburner in order to fit in with Lorenzo.
It’s this theme of finding yourself that infuses much of the engagingly thoughtful, playful and funny narrative, with Antonio unwittingly crafting himself not just a new life but a whole new sense of being and identity.
It’s a slow-burn process of self-discovery that gives Mascarpone (Maschile Singolare a meaningful, real world quality, grounded in the fact that while Antonio is taking important steps forward, they do not come without pain or self doubt or a sense of whether he is anyone without Lorenzo, or indeed sweet new beau Thomas (Lorenzo Adorni) by his side.
As a meditation on defining yourself solely in your own terms and bringing that strong sense of identity to a relationship, rather than allowing a relationship to define you, Mascarpone (Maschile Singolare is masterful, taking time to explore what it really means to be single in a way that isn’t selfish but rather necessary if you are to bring anything fresh and vital to any kind of connection with anyone.
The film’s unhurried but playful pace is a delight, as are the characters all of whom are well-realised and full of the depth needed to make a story like this feel as meaningful as it is revelatorily mischievous.
Quite where Antonio finally lands as far as being single/not being single is concerned is best left to the viewing but suffice to say, Mascarpone (Maschile Singolare is a film that doesn’t offer easy pat answers nor nor such it trivialise what Antonio is going through for cheap laughs.
It definitely has some fun with Antonio’s new life circumstance, but not at the expense of him as a relatable character with depth and heart who goes on an extraordinary and very healthy journey to finding himself that is less about disappearing into his own narcissism but rather setting up him to relate far more healthily to the world around him and to approach any new relationship on his own terms rather than those laid down by the other person.
Possessed of comedic vibrancy and real emotional resonance, including a final act which doesn’t pull any punches, Mascarpone (Maschile Singolare is a joy to watch, acknowledging that being single is not the worse thing in a world often defined by coupledom and that while nobody wants a relationship to end the way Lorenzo and Antonio’s does, that it can be a blessing in disguise and a doorway to redefining to yourself for the rest of your life in a way you never have before.