Last week I watched for the second time an Italian drama film directed by Turkish-Italian film director Ferzan Özpetek: “Le fate ignoranti” (The Ignorant Fairies, released in the US as His Secret Life).
It is the story of Antonia, a doctor who works in an AIDS clinic and has been married to Massimo for 15 years. They live in an upper-class villa, and their marriage seems almost perfect.
Suddenly the man dies, killed by a passing car and Antonia falls into depression.
One day, while gathering up his possessions from the office, she accidentally discovers on the back of one of his office paintings a hand-written love message, signed by: “Your ignorant fairy”
The discovery that her husband was unfaithful is a shock and makes her decide to find out who the other woman is, but, after some investigations, she realizes that Massimo’s lover was a man named Michele.
In the beginning she feels both devastated by the news and fascinated by the community that lives in Michele’s flat: an extended family composed of gay and transgendered friends, including a Turkish immigrant and a prostitute, and also a man gravely ill with AIDS. She develops a friendship with this group of outsiders that apparently knew her husband better than she did and supported his love affair.
Gradually Antonia learns a lot about Massimo’s secret life, and realizes that Michele loved him as much as her. She is also able to understand his bitterness due to the fact he had to live a secret life because of her. The two begin to make contact, seem drawn together by their loss and the need for comfort, and are in some way attracted to each other.
Little by little, as she gets to know these people better and becomes a part of their lives, this situation transforms her.
When she discovers she is pregnant with Massimo’s child, she buys a bottle of champagne and goes to the flat to celebrate with Michele and his friends, but, on overhearing some nasty comments about her, she goes out, and decides to leave.
This ending is open and may be read in many ways: Ozpetek avoids giving an orderly conclusion to the film
The title (which is also the title of a painting by Magritte) underlines the fact that, even if Michele characterized himself as “the ignorant fairy,” it was Antonia who lived her married life in ignorance, in a sort of fairy-tale world.