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MOVIE REVIEW: Fading Gigolo - An indie gem from John Turturro that doesn't fade

John Turturro and Woody Allen (l. to r.) as Fioravante and Murray "Bongo" Schwartz
John Turturro and Woody Allen (l. to r.) as Fioravante and Murray "Bongo" Schwartz

Enchanting. Intelligent sensitivity. A welcome leading man. Those are the first words that come to mind when talking about FADING GIGOLO and John Turturro.

Fioravante is a tall, gangly, kind of odd duck. A florist, he is a kind, quiet, attentive and caring man who seems to be a jack-of-all-trades and master of all. He can cook, give massages. His lifelong best friend is an antique book dealer named Murray Schwartz. Needless to say, the book business - even for antique books - has lost its allure with consumers, and being the good friend that he is, Fioravante is continually helping Murray out with cash. Unfortunately, Fioravante’s bank account isn’t that healthy either and when he can no longer help Murray, the book store must close. But now Murray needs something to do, some way to earn money. And then it comes to him. Seems that while at a recent visit to his dermatologist, a beautiful middle-aged woman, with money, confided in Murray her fantasy to experience a menage-a-trois with her best female friend and a man who wasn’t her husband. In his infinite wisdom, Murray hits on the idea of soliciting Fioravante for the job - at the right price, of course, and with the right percentage for Murray’s efforts. Now he just has to convince Fioravante.

Adopting a street name of “Bongo”, Murray starts to amass an eclectic array of women to be serviced by Fioravante. The aging sex kitten Dr. Parker has a confused vulnerability about her while her best friend Selima is sexually vibrant and alive. Although spending private time with Fioravante, the two are working their way up to a Fioravante sandwich, but jealousy starts to rear its ugly head.

Thanks to the fact that Fioravante is “present” when with a woman, attentive but also interested in her emotionally and intellectually, his reputation is spreading, much to the joy of Murray who is taking more bookings than Fioravante can handle, especially once he meets Avigal. An Orthodox Hassidic widow with six children, her deceased husband Rebbe was much older than her. She was a vessel for giving birth and nothing more. Not to be seen or heard, oppressed and frustrated not only as a woman but intellectually, Avigal is more than curious, needing to come to life, something that Fioravante can provide with no strings; no strings but for heartstrings. With feelings growing and intensifying between Avigal and Fioravante, each is coming into their own, spreading their wings, finding peace and joy. But can they overcome the cultural differences of their two worlds to actually be together. Do they even want to? And then there’s Dovi.

Dovi is a quiet, shy, muscular and handsome Orthodox man working for the community police. In looks, he is the antithesis of Fioravante, yet their hearts and intentions in the world are very similar. Dovi has loved Avigal since childhood but loved her from afar. Always keeping a watchful yet distant eye on her, despite her now a widow, he is still tentative and hesitant and doesn’t make any moves to show his feelings; that is until he sees Avigal stepping out with Fioravante.

As writer/director and leading man, John Turturro knows the story and the character of Fioravante inside out. Originally developed as a short story/sketch, Turturro has chiseled the story and the characters with sharpened traits yet soft edges, smooth to the touch and the heart. Filling not only the story but the character of Fioravante with tender surprises, he brings his own brand of sensual vulnerability to the role and the film as a whole. Calling on Woody Allen to tackle the role of Murray “Bongo” Schwartz is nothing short of pure hilarity, particularly given Allen’s performance is primarily all improv. It was also apparently quite a feat to get him into wardrobe outside of khaki pants. Allen gives Murray an endearing pragmaticism that you just can’t get enough of and has you laughing from your heart.

When it comes to performance, Turturro hit the nail on the head with casting and never moreso than with Vanessa Paradis as the repressed Avigal. In her first English-speaking role, Paradis dazzles with quiet beauty, a tentative softness that is welcoming. But it’s her chemistry with Turturro that soars. Together, these two are magic, a moment in time that one wants to capture forever. As Dr. Parker and Selima, Sharon Stone and Sofia Vergara amp up the volume, adding that va va va voom factor that resonates with undeniable believability. Key to each character and casting is that we see women who are each at a crossroads; no matter what age, what look, religion or ethnicity, each is questioning and searching. These actresses fill the bill physically and emotionally. Rounding out the strong supporting cast is Liev Schreiber who melts your heart as the pining Dovi.

Astutely written and constructed, Turturro passes no judgment on any of his characters but rather embraces the idealized selflessness of Fioravante and classic romanticism, steeping FADING GIGOLO in wry observation and warmth. There is a disarming truth to the thematic elements at play, all woven together with a fluidity of life. Notable is that although written and directed by John Turturro, FADING GIGOLO has the total sensibility and feel of a Woody Allen classic but painted with softer brush strokes that tickle but never assault. Beyond impressive.

Calling on cinematographer Marco Pontecorvo with whom he worked on “Passione”, Turturro’s palette is richly textured. Capturing a timeless look and feel that wafts over you like the warmth of a golden sun, there is a tonal texture that is subtly brilliant, melding performance and story under a soft yet vibrant visual patina.

And the upbeat jazzy soundtrack? Timeless joy.

An adorably quirky slice of life and love, don’t let FADING GIGOLO fade from your view.

Written and Directed by John Turturro
Cast: John Turturro, Woody Allen, Sharon Stone, Sofia Vergara, Liev Schrieder, Bob Balaban

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