Mambo Italiano in Montreal. Theatrical Italianità in Émile Gaudreault’s Transnational Queer Comedy


For the Barberini family, the meeting turns out to be a horror scenario: After the announced break up with his boyfriend, Angelo heavily insults his parents and their petty-bourgeois attitude in the form of an inappropriate and long tirade, breaking with his usual behavior as well as the aesthetic of the film. Angelo accentuates here that his family is for him a “locus of non-communication”. He calls his parents’ home a “prison of guilt and fear and lies” in which he spent nearly 30 years and which he is sick and tired of. He accuses Maria and Gino of leading a ghetto existence in Little Italy, where they reproduce their limited South-Italian existence (43:44ff.). What is told here in a stage-like monologue scene could be the basis for a melodrama, and Angelo himself is well aware of this, for at the end of his tirade he stages himself as a polemic commentator of this scene, right after he is slapped in the face by his sister as a rebuttal of his misdemeanor against his parents: “And there we have it. The slap. The end to the quintessential Italian melodrama. It’s been a lovely evening, but I really must go. I hope you all enjoy your lives in your respective cocoons. If anyone of you would like to get in touch with me, I’ll be living in the real world” (45:05–45:27).

Angelo is commenting on this scene in the form of a mise-en-abyme by describing the life of his family in their italianità housing estate as unreal and his life in Montreal’s historic city center as real. In doing so, he characterizes his own identity once again in contrast to his family and the Little Italy, linked in his vision to the prototypical and artificial melodramatic Italian taste. But the melodramatic is here also in Angelo’s narrative mode, which shows that despite his liberalism and radical wish to break with his family, he seems to be not only the most melancholic, but also the most melodramatic figure of his family, tightly linked to the medium of theatre. In other words, the media plays a central role in Angelo’s process of identity, but in a tricky way. Unlike his Aunt Yolanda, he is able to fulfill his childhood dream to become a screenwriter for TV. But his soap looks much more like boulevard theatre than a modern quality TV series. Even though he is characterized by his behavior and facial expressions during the major part of the film as a failing figure, Angelo can find his luck in the end. But in order to fulfill the “pursuit of happiness”, he has to overcome several media obstacles, for example his work in the call-center and the gay-hotline. The ‘old’ media of the telephone thus prototypically reveals the function of media references in the film, compensating the lack of communication between the family members (Leeder 2006: 65). As the inter-medial references form a patchwork quilt not lending itself to any great récit, in the end, the world of media is replaced by the ‘real world’ in the person of Angelo’s new friend Peter and the reconfiguration of his family. The title of the film, with its reference to the Bob Merrill song, is thus realized by the ending, as the Barberini family overcomes the heterosexual italianità by integrating the Anglo-Canadian Tom and accepting his love for Angelo. Metaphorically speaking, the traditional and rural spirit of the South-Italian tarantella is thus finally replaced by the model of the Mambo, symbolizing a trans-continental americanità:

Hey cumpà, I love how you dance the rumba

But take some advice paisano learn-a how to mambo

If you’re gonna be a square, you ain’t-a gonna go nowhere

Hey mambo, mambo Italiano, hey hey mambo, mambo Italiano

Go, go, Joe, shake like a Giovanni

Hallo, che si dice? You get happy in the pizza

When you Mambo Italiano


Bildnachweis: Mulberry Street (ca. 1900), Library of Congress (cc),