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L'immensità

“Can you stop being so beautiful?” an enraged Andrea (Luana Giuliani) asks his mother, Clara, as they drive away from some catcalling males in “L’immensità,” a sun-drenched slice of ‘70s summer simulation directed by Emanuele Crialese. The movie is about the torture of family life, the particular tortures of family life when you’re growing up transgender, and—because Penelope Cruz is playing the matriarch of the family in question—it’s also kind of about having a mother with movie-star looks and charisma. 

Cruz plays Clara, a mother of three children in an upper-middle-class Italian milieu who clearly loves looking after her brood. In the opening scene, she makes setting the table with them into a singalong activity. Family life is not too often so simple or harmonious. The father—this is never a surprise in movies of this sort, these days—is a shit, a philandering sexist piglet who sometimes tries to force himself on Clara. Oldest child Andrea (whose mostly empathetic mother will still sometimes call by his birth name, “Adriana”), is the closest observer of the parental chasm, and he’s going through something of a cataclysm himself, identifying as a boy and getting all kinds of hassle for it from father and peers and others. 

What’s a fellow to do?  Well, across from the family domicile is a field of reeds, and through the reeds, there’s a bunch of makeshift shacks where folks of lesser means—refugees or perhaps nomads of the Romany variety, the movie doesn’t exactly make clear—reside. There’s a teenage girl there, Sara, and she gets Andrea as nobody else, not even his sympathetic mom, does. 

“L’immensità” tells the hardly exactly plot-driven tale of one summer in Andrea’s life and makes a point of not trying to make said summer a hugely “significant” one. Of course, certain events stamp it as definitive. Andrea’s father knocks up his secretary, toppling the precarious family situation into chaos. In the scene where the secretary comes to Clara for help, Crialese drops out the dialogue soundtrack as Andrea is eavesdropping, a rather confounding directorial choice since we learn what’s up in almost no time after that. But one kind of understands the point the director is going for. The movie’s about an individual’s impression of time and events when that individual is under unique duress. 

Andrea has plenty of reasons to want to escape reality, and every now and then in the picture, she does, in sparkly black-and-white musical numbers. In one, she and Clara have a choreographed helluva time to “Prisencolinensinainciusol,” Italian pop singer Adriano Celentano’s bouncy number whose title phrase is meant to evoke nonsense English. Later, mom and son separately have their way lip-syncing a song we Americans know as the theme to “Love Story.” The movie’s title, too, is from an Italian pop song (it certainly doesn’t reflect the movie’s approach or its running time) which plays over the end credits. 

While Giuliani is a remarkable performer, whose saucer-like eyes are incredibly apt instruments for registering either delight or distress, the movie is ultimately about their character in relation to Cruz. One can’t be sure whether this was explicitly intended or is just something that happens once all the footage is aggregated. Whatever the case, the actress’ luminance is arguably worth the price of admission. 

Now playing in theaters. 

Glenn Kenny

Glenn Kenny was the chief film critic of Premiere magazine for almost half of its existence. He has written for a host of other publications and resides in Brooklyn. Read his answers to our Movie Love Questionnaire here.

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