L’immensità – Review

L'ImmensitaWriter-director Emanuele Crialese hasn’t made a feature-film since 2011’s Terrafirma. In fact, he only has four films to his name. So, what could have got his creative juices flowing once more? Perhaps the big song and dance numbers in L’Immensità, the lure of working with Penelope Cruz (often referred to as this generation’s Loren, despite being Spanish), or could it be the presentation of a coming-of-age tale that mirrors his own experience?

L’Immensità is named after an Italian pop song that uses the melody of Love Story as the basis for its lyrics. But this film is by no means a love story. Generational unhappiness, infidelity and identity issues all circle one family, whilst 1970s Rome looms in the backdrop. Adri (Luana Giuliana) was born Adriana but now prefers to be known as Andrea. Descended from aliens or simply “made wrong”, they cannot decide, they just know that they do not fit in. Clara (Penelope Cruz) finds herself in a loveless marriage with bouts of extremely hyper behaviour making the lows feel all the more intense.

Rome of the 1970s seems sultry. The family apartment views the skyline, the dome of the Vatican dominating the landscape from the left. The air feels charged with something palpable; electric. But whatever adventure is happening “out there”, none of it spills into this brown and beige apartment. Instead, all three of Clara’s children look at their mother and know she is desperately depressed. They see the beatings, the flagrant disrespect, the cheating and – in one particularly horrific instance – the sexual assaults. And yet, their mother also represents outpourings of pure love and joy.

Cruz creates a larger than life character. Her happiness and her sorrow are equally imposing on screen. She is playful, and childlike. She makes setting the table for dinner into a dance routine, races her children in the street and starts a water fight instead of scolding them. It’s hard to tell if she’s over compensating for their stale, cold father or is manic and headed for a nervous breakdown. Felice (played by frequent Crialese collaborator Vincenzo Amato) neglects his trophy wife and imaginative children. He dresses all in grey and barely says complete sentences. It’s revealed that he’s having a child with his young secretary, confirming that even his indiscretions are boring and predictable.

But the film itself is anything but predictable. Adri often loses themselves in the spectacular song and dance routines they see on TV. This bleeds into their imagination, giving the film three black and white narrative-shattering breakaways in which Adri imagines both themselves and Clara delivering heartfelt or upbeat performances. Luana Giuliana makes a stunning debut in a role that demands a lot. So much is said in her eyes and she easily holds her own against the resplendent Cruz.

L'ImmensitaThere’s also joy in the traditional family get togethers. Lots of chatter and food fill the room. But both Clara and Adri remain outsiders, as if orbiting the group to observe their behaviour. Clara, of course, is an outsider as a Spanish ex-pat (she often flits between the two languages mid-sentence) and Adri as someone who believes they have been “made wrong”. But this isn’t a film about trans issues, neither is the word used. It’s simply observed that Adri would rather not be in the body they were born in. Cruz’s character shows a remarkable level of understanding for a mother in 1970s Catholic Rome.

However, for all its plus points, there is something about L’Immensità that fails to click. Perhaps it feels too small for the sheer force of Cruz, as she ricochets between buoyant and beleaguered. She feels, bizarrely, wasted in the role, even though she is excellent. Perhaps a key example of this is when Adri screams at their mother, “Can you stop being so beautiful?” How could she, with her perfectly coiffured hair and dramatic dark lashes? She will never be a run down, tired looking “regular housewife”.

L’Immensità is a curious film that will draw viewers to the cinema (perhaps because of the setting and most certainly because of Cruz). But it feels too contained – perhaps too intimate and not willing to take enough risks, despite the song and dance numbers. Despite the generational trauma and the issues of identity, it’s not nearly as imposing and exhilarating as la città eterna.

L’immensità is screening at the Glasgow Film Festival 2023. Get your tickets here.

Mary Munoz
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