Screened at Berlin (Competition).Directed by Ferzan Ozpetek. Italy/France. 2000. 105mins.

The clash between cultures has been the pivotal focus in Turkish-born - but who has lived in Rome since 1978 - director Ferzan Ozpetek's work. His first feature, Hamam - The Turkish Bath (Il Bagno Turco), about a Italian man's sexual and emotional awakening on a business trip to Istanbul, became an arthouse hit. His second, Harem Suare, was a flawed look at life in the Turkish harem at the turn of the century. Ignorant Fairies is the director's first film to deal exclusively with Italians, but again he focuses on two culturally-distinct lifestyles.

Ozpetek's most mainstream film to date tackles love, family and friendship in a story about how encounters with different people can change lives for the better. Confidently handled and sensitively performed, it sold widely at Berlin, which augurs well for its success on the international arthouse circuit.

Comfortably middle-class doctor Antonia's (Buy) life is sent into tailspin when her beloved husband of 15 years suddenly dies in an accident. As she begins to deal with her grief, she is dealt another bombshell when she discovers that he had been leading a double life as one part of a happy homosexual couple.

The devastated widow meets the bereaved lover Michele (Accorsi) and the husband's second extended family of gay men and transsexuals. Surprisingly, perhaps, Antonia's shock is replaced by curiosity and the story centres on the positive influence Antonia and Michele have on each other.

Ozpetek handles his story (co-written with Gianni Romoli) elegantly and is assisted by first-class performances from his actors, especially Buy, although Accorsi also proves he can hold his own as a leading man. It might be rare that an Italian film deals so positively and directly with gay themes, but at the same time it never really surprises its audience. Avoiding the obvious cliches, Ozpetek does not really offer any major revelations about gay lifestyles, which will no doubt lessen its impact in more liberal territories. However, the hip and original soundtrack mixing Middle Eastern and Latino tunes could add extra appeal.

Prod cos: R&C Produzioni (Rome), Les Films Balenciaga (Paris). Int'l sales: TF1 Int'l. Prods:Tilde Corsi, Gianni Romoli. Scr: Romoli, Ozpetek. Cinematographer: Pasquale Mari. Prod des: Bruno Cesari. Ed: Patrizio Marone. Music: Andrea Guerra. Main cast: Margherita Buy, Stefano Accorsi, Serra Yilmaz, Andrea Renzi, Gabriel Garko, Erica Blanc, Rosaria De Cicco, Lucrezia Valia, Koray Candemir