SCREENED AT THE 2003 CHICAGO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Love, justice; who says these things are connected? Syllogists I suppose. After all, both are metaphorically blind, neither can be seen by the naked eye and we’re usually not smart enough to recognize them when they come around. It’s not so hard to visualize and adapt the other senses around the subject in the movies and Italian cinema, when its done right, seems to have the edge on the topic since the days of the silent era. A Heart Is Elsewhere tells one such simplistic tale of love and speaks volumes.Poor Nello (Neri Marcore) and what he must have been through to become a 35-year old virgin. In 1920s Bologna, Italy, Nello is sent away by his sexually-active father (Giancarlo Giannini) in the hopes of breaking his winless streak. Taking up residence in a boarding house near the university where he will teach, Nello is a shy one who comes alive when spouting his knowledge of the classics and music. His favorite Ovidian phrase that he preaches to the staff, “a blonde girl with fair skin will conquer me” is about to lead him to some serious practice in love.
She’s not exactly blonde, but Angela (Vanessa Incontrada) is blind and conquering men has been a specialty that gets her dirty looks everywhere she goes. Not from Nello, he is immediately smitten with her and feels pretty good when his prize is a kiss for guessing the riddle she carries around with her. Femme fatales like this though aren’t known for sympathy and compassion and she strings him along, doing her bidding while reminding him that her heart still belongs to her former fiancé.
Hopeless romantics like Nello are a dime-a-dozen in every form of literature. To downright cynics or those who have everything they probably rank alongside children, animals and the handicapped on the list of the most susceptible to an audience’s rooting interest. Even Ferris Bueller of all people best alleged that people like this are going to marry the first girl they lay. “And she’s going to treat him like shit. Cause you can’t respect someone who kisses your ass.”
Movies want to turn the hopeless into the hopeful though, thereby not taking much to keep us on Nello’s side. Love at first sight, why not? Proposing marriage before the love is returned? It doesn’t always have to be a woman’s biological clock, right? The film may have its shortcomings in the absence of extended passages that could flesh out the motivational amore felt by its characters for the lesser romantics out there. But any film to have as beautiful a scene as Nello’s first bedroom encounter with Angela will wash away reason much the way that love always does.Writer/director Pupi Avati has given us a loving tribute to the golden era of cinema. When first sitting down to view the film, I had to stop and do a doublecheck that this was actually something made in 2003 and not from the pre-1960s. At times very funny yet always on the edge of breaking your heart even during its happier moments, A Heart Is Elsewhere manages to channel the finale of Chaplin’s City Lights with just as ambiguous of a smile. The syllogistic method will attempt to prove that since love is blind and justice is blind, isn’t love justice? Is it even justified? Do we want to believe in a world where someone like Nello can’t find love? Where’s the justice in that?