Director: John Turturro
Writer: John Turturro
Cast: John Turturro, Woody Allen, Vanessa Paradis, Liev Schreiber, Tonya Pinkins, Sharon Stone, Sofía Vergara
Part of: Vienna Jewish Film Festival
Murray (Woody Allen) has to close his bookshop and is now looking at other forms of income. When his doctor (Sharon Stone) tells him about her sexual fantasies, Murray has the idea to pimp out his friend Fioravante (John Turturro), a quiet part-time florist. After initial hesitation, Fioravante agrees to the plan. But when Murray brings him the Jewish-orthdox, recently widowed Avigal (Vanessa Paradis) as a customer, sex is not what is required of Fioravante and soon, love is at stake.
Fading Gigolo wasn’t a bad film, though there was way too much smartmouthing Woody Allen for my taste, but it was definitely a film made for the guys and personally I’m just very tired of those films.
I was hesitant about seeing this film because I do have my issues with Woody Allen, both artistically and personally. But then I also had the impression that he only played a suppprting character – but that isn’t the case. He takes up more room in the film than I would have expected. And now he’s taking up more space in this review than he’d probably deserve.
In any case Fading Gigolo has a lot going for it but none of it really goes anywhere. The supporting cast is amazing, and I like the premise where a) women talk openly about their sexual fantasies [though they are mostly used in a way that suggests that their primary purpose is to excite the straight men hearing those fantasies] and b) sex work is not shown as some evil thing but an economically motivated decision (that it couldn’t have been a woman in the role of the sex worker is another issue). I also thought that the storyline about the healing properties of human touch was nicely done.
But at the same time that exact storyline is rather problematic in its portrayal of orthodox Jews. We get Avigal, a woman pracitcally dying from the religious demands on her body (or rather that her body may not be touched at all costs). We get Dovi (Liev Schreiber) who is obsessed with Avigal and extremely possessive, even though they don’t actually have a relationship with each other (not that a relationship between them would make his behavior less problematic, only more socially accepted). And then we get the council who again claim Avigal and Avigal’s body for themselves and don’t even think of including her in the proceedings. And that’s all we get to see of that culture and religion which plays right into several tropes.
Contrasted with Avigal’s pretty much exiled position are the characters played by Sharon Stone and Sofia Vergara – basically the only other women in the film. They are oversex(ualiz)ed and underloved and their fawning over Fioravante feels uncomfortably masturbatory since Turturro wrote and directed the film as well. Both women are barely dressed in the entire film (providing ample eye-candy for the straight menfolk) and aren’t even considered “proper” romantic material for a second – which just reinforces the “women to fuck/women to marry” dichotomy.
And all together it’s just too much about the feelings the men in the film have for the women in it and not enough about the feelings of the women which leaves the entire film unbalanced and if not outright offensive, then awkward