This was the bestselling Italian novel that the author's husband Sergio Castellitto made into film starring himself and Penélope Cruz.
It's clear enough from reading it that neither of Mazzantini's protagonists are supposed to be lookers, but on screen only Cruz had to labour under the aesthetic handicap of a rubber nose. Castellitto obviously deemed his own rubbery enough to start with (see poster, left.)
The central conceit that this story is a long, drawn-out confession of father to comatose daughter works rather better in print. The surgeon's motives for straying away from the stultified affluence of his married life are made clearer, without the need for portraying his wife Elsa as an icy bitch.
I suppose the film had to do this, because the dialogue (which, as perhaps you might not expect from the oeuvre of an Italian husband) is faithful to the book, was clearly not written with a view to shouldering the whole burden of revealing the inside of Timoteo's mind, because of course the entirety of the text emerges from there.
The book is also able to evoke a fuller range of important details and sensory experiences - Italia's nibbled fingernails, the smell of "rancid mayonnaise and sour floor-cloths' in the bar where Timoteo meets her, a tramp with the aroma of "a disemboweled dog".
Book and film both start to wallow rather self-indulgently in the hapless adulterer's predicament, but the film goes down this path sooner and the novel continues to compensate with a psychological and philosophical depth that Castellitto's adaptation can't match.
Mazzantini's imaginative access to the masculine soul is impressive, but she allows her narrator a few telling insights into her own sex too, such as his observation of his wife that "when she's inflexible it's a kind of self-defence, sure, but believe me, it oppresses her, too."
The furtiveness within Timoteo, a man claiming to lack belief in the world, and who makes a fateful decision to fly under the radar in order to discover and then lose his inner-brutality, is the essence of the author's vision for her protagonist. He's easier to sympathise with than his slick cinematic incarnation because of the way she satirises his social circle and especially his medical colleagues, who exhale "wine fumes and professional malice" at the congresses at which they gather.
Still, the film is worth seeing, and Cruz's performance, in her second language, is surely another major landmark in her career. She continues to be wasted by Hollywood.