Marriage is a scary prospect. You put your trust in your partner, marrying them and pledging your life to them. There’s an expectation that this commitment will continue forever, over the span of decades and numerous new life occurrences. And yet people constantly change – there’s no indication that the person you marry now will be the same in twenty or thirty years. Horrible things could happen between then and now, completely altering the person you thought you knew. Lucas Pavetto’s The Perfect Husband explores this territory – about how marriage can morph after a traumatic experience, changing their relationship’s dynamic.
Pavetto bases this full-length film off of his forty-minute short of the same name – Il marito perfetto in the native Italian. The similarities are evident thanks to Artsploitation’s inclusion of the short on this Blu-Ray; in fact, The Perfect Husband doubles the length of Il marito perfetto while adding surprisingly little new content. The plot is simple, and requires only a few characters: Viola (Gabriella Wright) and Nicola (Bret Roberts) have a struggling marriage after the death of their unborn child, and they decide to head out to a cabin to rekindle their failing marriage. Unfortunately, it’s not all campfires and kumbayas; Viola has fainting spells, and Nicola is so jealous that he becomes more and more violent until both parties come to blows in a disturbing domestic dispute.
The script, co-written by both Pavetto and Massimo Vavassori, builds the couple’s disputes up from the outset of their trip, first focusing on their uncomfortable body language and awkward silences in the car, then amping things up as communication falters. Pavetto includes flashbacks to Viola’s traumatic birthing experience; images of her stillborn baby flash in her head whenever Nicola brings up sex or wants to try for another child, and The Perfect Husband certainly wants the audience to find Viola a broken, grieving woman with a lot of baggage.
The film relies on the two leads to tell the story, but unfortunately neither Wright nor Roberts are good enough actors to sell their parts. In truth, the combination of acting and direction takes a toll on the film’s effectiveness; the entire first act is awkward, and there’s little chemistry between the two leads on-screen. There’s also no frame of reference for this marriage; the title says Nicola’s “the perfect husband,” but nothing within the film effectively encapsulates that idea. Instead, Pavetto moves too quickly past their normal relationship to a point where they’re already attempting remediation for their marriage, leaving the viewer with little to go on about the love they shared before the stillbirth.
Because the two leads are so inflexible and rigid in their development, The Perfect Husband struggles to stay interesting. Eventually, the tension escalates exactly how one might expect: Nicola, pushed to the limit after Viola’s fainting spell brings her into another man’s home, straps Viola down and starts doling out some punishment. Pavetto’s direction here is much better, and the second act as a whole works well; there are some inventive scenarios, like a grotesque scene where Nicola funnels water into Viola to purify her. Still, Viola’s torture doesn’t just come from Nicola – after she runs into a man camping near their cabin, she’s raped and beaten yet again. At this point, it feels like Pavetto is reveling in Viola’s brutalization.
That all changes in the finale’s twist, as Pavetto reverses everything that we’ve seen, making Viola into an unreliable narrator. Yet I hesitate to call this a twist, because generally that plot style assumes that the viewer was misdirected but, upon inspection, was always privy to the reality of the situation. In The Perfect Husband, Pavetto doesn’t give the viewer a chance to even suspect the twist; it’s actually just intentionally misleading, a way to come back to the woman’s psychosis, however vague that may be. It’s clear little research was done on the psychology of postpartum depression or how professionals would actually deal with this type of mental illness, and that hinders the conclusion even more.
The results are an uneven mix of inventive visuals – a newborn baby bleeding from the eyes, some nice duality in the shots of the couple fighting – with a story that suffers from poor acting and Pavetto’s trickery. The slow burn format would work better if The Perfect Husband had some chemistry with its leads, but ultimately Pavetto’s film doesn’t really improve on the work he did on the short Il marito perfetto.
Artsploitation Films brings The Perfect Husband to Blu-Ray with a nice high-definition presentation of the film. There’s nothing too compelling about the visuals in this film, but the Blu-Ray does a nice job with picture quality all the same. The audio, too, is fine, although I found the dialogue a bit muffled at times. The soundtrack has a nice pulsating bass line toward the conclusion, and that is well-defined in this surround sound track. There are also English subtitles.
Included as part of the special features is the short Il marito perfetto, which runs 40 minutes. It’s always nice when Artsploitation gives viewers contextual background for the film itself, and this short certainly shows the metamorphosis from short film to feature-length film, even if that decision was probably unnecessary for The Perfect Husband.
Also included is a 20 minute+ featurette of backstage footage, which is definitely not a mandatory watch but interesting all the same. All told, there’s about 60 minutes of extras on here, and while it’s not much considering the short takes up forty of those minutes, it’s still nice to have some meat on this disc.