Paola Cortellesi is the hands down winner of everything for her portrayal of Serena Bruno in Riccardo Milani’s fantastic comedy, Do You See Me? (Scusate Se Esisto).
Serena is a wildly educated and accomplished architect, holding MAs from numerous countries, fluent in multiple languages and being a top in her field. She’s lived abroad happily working and furthering her career, but she begins to miss home and decides to return to her homeland of Italy. However, when she returns she makes the unhappy discovery that her homeland is not as willing to accept a strong, independent and accomplished woman, leaving Serena to putter around with menial jobs including as a waitress where she befriends the restaurant’s gay owner, Francesco. Serena decides to vie for the position of head architect for a major project, but thanks to an ignorant mix up on the part of the interviewers and Serena’s own desperation to bring her project to fruition, she pretends to be her own secretary, allowing everyone to believe that the real architect is actually a man name Bruno Serena.
Serena is first and foremost brilliant, not only as a human being, but as a professional as well. She is insanely intelligent and capable, but she’s wildly clumsy and goofy, making her more relatable. Unlike other rom-com heroines who sometimes lament their flaws and ignore their abilities, Serena is the opposite: she knows she is more than capable, she knows she is brilliant, but she barely acknowledges her flaws. Perhaps because they aren’t actually flaws but just characters traits that are traditional deemed unladylike.
Francesco and Serena make an adorable pair with Serena perpetually crushing on him despite his being gay. They’re almost the Italian Will and Grace, except neither is ever the butt of the joke. Their silly actions are poked fun at with brilliantly clever and hilarious dialogue, but we’re all laughing with them rather than at them.
Though it’s not explicitly stated, Serena is a feminist through and through. She refuses to be intimidated by her (albeit very intimidating mother and aunt) who are after her to focus more on getting married than on her career; she refuses to give up even though it seems her entire motherland is against the idea of seeing her as anything more than a secretary; she still fantasizes about love and romance, but she doesn’t base her entire life around finding it. When she eventually is awarded the project and has to go in to the office every day pretending to be her own assistant, she sees the way women are treated in the workplace. They are considered secondary citizens and expected to work twice as hard to prove themselves as worthy of the opportunity to work. At one job interview, Serena passed up the offer because she refused to sign a contact that said that she would have to quit if she ever got pregnant.
We discover that it’s not only women who are discriminated against, but anyone who doesn’t fit the bill of straight, white male. When one of Serena’s new coworkers turns out to be a man with whom Francesco had an affair, it’s revealed that this coworkers has been playing it straight in order to prove that he’s just as capable as the next person, which is almost the exact same reason for Serena pretending to be her own assistant.
There is a happy ending of sorts in which Serena eventually has enough and chews out her sexist, misogynistic boss in front of all his staff. This bold move — unheard of at the office — inspires the others to stop hiding behind their masks and reveal themselves to be who they really are. It’s heartwarming and endearing, and our heroine is the reason for it all.
Personally, Do You See Me? (Scusate Se Esisto) is one of the absolute best films I’ve seen in a long, long time. It’s set up almost like a romantic comedy, but there’s little romance in it (though lots of love!) and it’s more of a story of an unbreakable woman who shows that a strong, independent woman really can have it all.
Do You See Me? (Scusate Se Esisto) screens at Colossus Vaughan on June 14 @ 9:00pm and at TIFF Bell Lightbox on June 16 @ 9:30pm.
Sarah is covering the Italian Contemporary Film Festival which runs in Toronto, Montreal, and Quebec City from June 11-19. For more festival coverage, click here!