Beautifully realised and affecting autobiographical childhood drama
- L'immensità review by PD
Emanuele Crialese’s autobiographical film, set in early 70s Rome, focuses on preteen, Adri (beautifully played by Luana Giuliani), and in particular her relationship with her mother Clara (Penélope Cruz). Cruz is perhaps rather too incongruously beautiful for the part, but remains largely convincing nevertheless, particularly in the scenes where she throws off social convention and we see the charismatic, free-spirit underneath the housewife.
The film deals with some success Adri's having to cope with not only the usual various teenage angst, but also a web of intersecting inequities, including domestic abuse, sexual harassment, and class prejudice. By turns wry and tragic, but never glib or sentimental, this is a visually rich and evocative drama about navigating the often treacherous path to adulthood. In an early scene, Giuliani’s character tells her mother that she’s 'Andrew', but seems to have compromised with her and the other adults in his life on the reasonably gender-ambiguous “Adri.” She never explicitly expresses a preference for masculine pronouns, but it could hardly be clearer that Adri thinks of herself as a boy, and she begins living a secret, second life among people who perceive her as male, notably a girl called Sara, with whom Adri begins a teenaged flirtation that allows her to truly be Andrew, at least for temporary stretches. And she soon has additional reason to escape her family’s well-apportioned but emotionally cramped apartment, as her parents’ marriage is crumbling, and her father, Felice, is becoming increasingly abusive (these scenes are a very hard watch at times, but generally very well handled). Meanwhile, Cialese styles the Sara subplot as Andri’s most material fantastical escape to a realm where the identities people are tied to in everyday life dissipate, and Black-and-white television is another such transitory non-place. In a wonderful, surreal dancing scene roughly half-way through, a mother-daughter/son collaboration is quite wonderful, but we are made aware that this can only be fully realised in fantasy in by a later scene where Clara attempts to join Adri and his cousins playing underneath a giant dining table but is rebuffed by Adri, who reminds her that she should be with the adults. Adri finds it very difficult to process the fact that some adults can't seem to ever grow up.
Giuliani is quite excellent as the steely eyed but deeply sensitive Adri, simmering with an angst that typically isn’t voiced in a deeply Catholic community within which he and her family live. One sees in Giuliani’s sullen, knowing glares the way Adri has already begun to choose their battles—to, effectively, save the trauma for later in order to survive the moment. Adri has reached that period of early teenagedom in which adults haven’t quite clocked the child’s enhanced understanding of their environs. “What’s more important: What’s on the inside, or what’s on the outside?” she asks his science teacher when the latter explains, in reference to cell anatomy, that inside everything is something different. Growing more perceptive with experience, Adri takes on much of the burden as her family begins to crumble. The immensity referred to in the title may be this burden, but Cialese intermingles the story’s heavier stuff with a lively sense of childlike wonder, so that the occasional dips toward melodrama never feel unduly onerous. The ending is by far the weakest part of the film for me, but this is a nevertheless a very affecting piece indeed.
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