“L’Immensità” (“The Immensity”)
Screened at the Gene Siskel Film Center Chicago European Union Film Festival (3/5); Letterboxd (3/5), Imdb.com (6/10)
How frustrating it can be when you watch a movie that has a lot of tremendous moments but doesn’t hang together well as a complete whole. Such is the case with this latest offering from writer-director Emanuele Crialese, which tells the story of a family in the midst of multiple domestic crises. Set in Rome in the 1970s, the picture follows the life of Clara (Penélope Cruz), the depressed wife and mother of three who’s married to an abusive, philandering, often-disconnected husband (Vincenzo Amato), and her attempts to cope with her circumstances. Clara loves her children dearly, but the young ones all have challenges of their own, especially her eldest, Adriana (Luana Giuliani), a teen who’s struggling with gender identity issues. Clara and Adriana seek various forms of escape, as depicted in several fantasy sequences and regular forms of play (all captured with a terrific sense of humor), but are those diversions enough to take away their heartache? The film also seeks to address a number of Italian cultural matters, such as the privileged role of men and the expected subservient place of women, dynamics that unfold in the principal narrative as well as in ancillary story threads. Sadly, while these are all noteworthy elements of the story, there’s a little too much going on for the picture to hold everything together cohesively, especially when crammed into is relatively brief 1:37:00 runtime. Also, a number of the story’s aspects are presented a little too vaguely for my taste, leaving them open more to ambiguous, unfocused interpretation than bona fide nuance. To its credit, however, when the sequences work, they do so quite effectively, in large part thanks to the fine performances of Giuliani and, particularly, Cruz, whose ravishing elegance recalls a young Sophia Loren. It’s unfortunate that this offering isn’t better fleshed out; it could have stood to either have some elements cut out completely or to expand and elaborate on the overall narrative. As it stands now, however, this release feels choppy, underdeveloped and incomplete, despite the strength of those aforementioned moments. Those are the sequences that make this offering work; it’s just a shame that there weren’t more of them and that they were better tied together.