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Love and marriage make for rather poor bedfellows in Monogamish, a documentary investigation that questions the way most modern relationships are supposed to function, underscoring why the concept of long-term fidelity may be the worst way to keep your couple going far into the future.
Directed by Italian-American filmmaker Tao Ruspoli, who was prompted to pick up his camera after suffering a heartbreaking divorce (from actress Olivia Wilde, with whom he was married for 8 years), the movie provides a thorough expose on conjugal practices both past and present, revealing monogamy to be a rather bogus concept that humankind has espoused for only the last hundred-odd years. It also clearly stacks the deck in favor of open marriages and polyamorous relations, with experts and practitioners preaching the benefits of a love life guided more by natural instincts than current societal norms.
Unlikely to play well with America’s growing number of Christian filmgoers, this slickly made feature (whose title comes from a term coined by sex columnist Dan Savage) could nonetheless stand a chance in niche theatrical release, with its TV-friendly aesthetics also making it a shoo-in for the small screen. A world premiere at the Rome Film Festival could help boost notoriety abroad – though perhaps not in Western Europe, where extramarital affairs still seem to be part of the regular diet.
Both a personal odyssey and global overview of monogamy and its discontents (which was the film’s working title), Ruspoli chats face-to-face with a number of writers, thinkers and therapists about the failings of his own relationship, and how the desire to stick with a sole sexual partner may have been the root of the problem.
A brief foray into the director’s origins – he’s the son of an Italian prince and American actress; his grandfather was Spaghetti Western star William Berger – reveals a family tree bolstered by royal alliances, until the Ruspoli men squandered their wealth in unions of passion, rather than ones of pure convenience.
Indeed, the film’s underlying message is that love and marriage are two phenomena that should most likely be kept apart – which apparently was the case throughout most of recorded history. Only since the last century have we decided that long-term relationships should involve one partner both in an out of bed. But the results have clearly been catastrophic, with half of today’s marriages ending in divorce.
To reinforce his study, Ruspoli talks to pundits and authors responsible for cheekily titled treatises like Mating in Captivity, Sex at Dawn and The Ethical Slut. They all have interesting, sometimes provocative things to say about how we’ve constrained ourselves to living against our nature, with one expert summing up the monogamy issue as “not a problem you solve, but a paradox that you manage.”
Their arguments can be more convincing than Ruspoli’s attempts to illustrate them cinematically, with archive footage and cheesily staged reenactments showing various couples going through the throes of a relationship. The filmmaker also relies too heavily on subjects leaning towards one side of the debate: there are only one or two examples of successful monogamous pairs, while many of those interviewed seem to be of the free-loving, West Coast variety (particularly two Santa Monica hipsters who rather smugly describe how they came to embrace polyamory as a way of life).
The film never really questions the emotional repercussions of open marriages or three-way couples, which may be more of an ideal than something many of us could live with on a daily basis. But who knows? Monogamish might be ahead of its time, and in a century from now the idea of spending the majority of your adult life with a single soulmate may seem as archaic as horse-drawn carriages or prefrontal lobotomies. In the meantime, most people will likely stick to fidelity. Or at least try to.
Production company: Mangusta Productions
Director: Tao Ruspoli
Screenwriters: Tao Ruspoli, Mark Wrathall
Producers: Giancarlo Canavesio, Daniel Guevara, Sol Tryon
Executive producers: Clara Bingham, Veronique Pittman
Director of photography: Christopher Gallo
Editors: Christopher Seward, Patrick Sanchez Smith, Paul Forte
Composer: Isaac Sprintis
Sales agent: Mangusta Productions
No rating, 74 minutes