Director: John Turturro
Cast: John Turturro, Woody Allen, Vanessa Paradis, Liev Schreiber, Sharon Stone, Sofia Vergara
The Indian Express rating: ****
Gigolos, menage a trois and a Hasidic Jew court. Can a film actually have all three and yet be a warm, funny and romantic story about loneliness? The talented Italian-American actor John Turturro manages this with a deft touch, wry humour, unjudgmental kindness, some lovely music and a surprising sensuousness.
The plot, involving a florist scrounging to keep afloat and a book owner whose shop has just shut down, is as hairbrained as can originate from Allen, but far more generous towards its women. The aforesaid book owner, Murray (Allen) casually lets it drop to his florist friend Fioravante (Turturro) that his sexy dermatologist is interested in a menage and that he has suggested Fioravante’s name for the same. Murray has put a price of $1,000 for Fioravante’s time, and double that for a menage, and the dermatologist Dr Parker (Stone) is agreeable to both.
His looks may be unconventional but the unassuming Fioravante easily conveys all he can do with his hands with just the way he handles flower stems. Turturro frames these flower shop encounters, between a pushy and ever-talking Allen and his incongruous but easily convinced Fioravante, very nicely.
So begins Fioravante’s first session, with Dr Parker, followed by a series of encounters with other women. One who stands out is Selima, played with gaiety by Vergara, the friend whom Dr Parker wants in a menage with Fioravante.
And then walks in, or rather is shooed in, Avigail (Paradis). The widow of a rabbi of the Orthodox Hasidic Jews, she has never left Brooklyn apart from visits to her husband’s grave in the Queens, and is restricted by all the customs of her religion, including never to have her hair uncovered outside home and not to share any kind of touch with other men.
In a scene that can only originate from an Allen film, Murray knows Avigal because he takes children he lives with to her for delousing. Murray stays with an African-American family and it’s not clear if they are his sons and their mother his wife, and this never comes up.
When Murray takes Avigal for a “massage session” to Fioravante’s house, she breaks down as he touches her. Touch conveys a lot in the film, from the caressed spine of a book, the kneading of flour to a hand run down stair banisters.
The proximity Avigal, a mother of six who has never been kissed, and Fioravante find in each other’s company is as touching as any love story, particularly as it is looked at with growing concern by Avigal’s neighbour Dovi (Schreiber). Dovi, who is part of the Jewish neighbourhood patrol, has always loved Avigal and the poor, uncomprehending man realises something has changed within her that he can’t understand.
It’s that what gets Murray, himself a Jew, hauled before the Hasidic court, in one of the film’s outrightly funny episodes. However, Turturro again never loses touch of what lies at the heart of this encounter, and the many others in the films — different worlds struggling to find their boundaries.