Emanuele Crialese’s film is a drama of family dysfunction and multi-generational unhappiness: a story of quiet desperation and secret yearning in the hearts of teens and the middle-aged alike. Hollywood might set something like this in the ’burbs. Crialese places it right in the centre of racy and prosperous Rome in 1970.
L’Immensità and its characters are reaching for something: some release, some consolatory epiphany, some immense personal revelation. And the gestures the film gives us along the way are intriguing, especially the glorious pop-choreography escapist fantasy sequences which are on a higher level of inspiration than anything else here. I don’t think L’Immensità quite encompasses what it’s straining for and I’m not sure that Penélope Cruz is directed towards her greatest strengths, very good though of course she always is. But Crialese has fervency and style and those fantasy worlds might even have a touch of De Sica’s miraculous Milan.
Clara (Cruz) is a beautiful expatriate Spanish mother-of-three living in Rome who is increasingly unable to ignore the fact that her businessman husband Felice (Vincenzo Amato) is cheating on her with his secretary: a banal and shabby indiscretion which he odiously regards as his entitlement. Their eldest daughter Adri (Luana Giuliani) has – as absolutely no one in 1970 used to say – issues with gender dysphoria and now wears boy’s clothes, identifies as a boy, adopts the male name “Andrea” and claims to be descended from aliens. And Andrea is now in the habit of pushing through the reeds that divide the city from the developing outer suburbs and hanging out with a girl who is part of a transient worker camp.
Clara herself identifies with the children: often she insists on behaving in a childlike way. With Adri/Andrea she has a game in which runs through the crowded Rome streets with both whooping at the tops of their voices. In the middle of a family party, when Adri/Andrea and all the other kids are in deep trouble with the grownups for dangerously exploring the underground draining pipes under the property, Clara baffles the other parents by just goofing around. And at a big dinner she actually crawls under the table like the little kids.
Clara is clearly heading for a terrible breakdown, and her behaviour certainly makes solid dramatic sense: but it is sometimes a bit ungainly and uneasy to see Cruz in these situations, which do not have the delicacy and subtlety of her work with Almodóvar. But the song and dance sequences she has with the kids, especially the opening scene to Raffaella Carrà’s 70s chart hit Rumore/Si, Ci Sto. That is quite spectacular and a treat for Italian pop connoisseurs.
• L’Immensità screened at the Venice film festival and is released on 11 August in UK cinemas and on Curzon Home Cinema.