Penelope Cruz plays an idolized housewife contending with familial conflict in trans filmmaker Emanuele Crialese‘s L’immensità.
Directed by Crialese from a screenplay he co-wrote with Francesca Manieri and Vittorio Moroni, L’immensità has the visual aesthetic of a gorgeous Italian period piece. The film is bathed in sun and filled with vibrant costumes (courtesy of Massimo Cantini Parrini) and colourful production design, but the warmth is in stark contrast to the family drama beneath the surface.
The film follows Spanish expat Clara (Cruz), the unhappily married wife of emotionally absent businessman Felice (Vincenzo Amato). The couple have three children: youngest Diana (Maria Chiara Goretti), middle child Gino (Patrizio Francioni), and the eldest, Andrea (Luana Giuliani), who identifies as male, but was assigned female at birth and, as such, is referred to as Adri by his family .
The film is presented through Andrea’s eyes growing up in Rome in the 1970s, and simultaneously captures his experiences with body dysmorphia, falling in love with Sara (Penelope Nieto Conti), as well as witnessing the disintegration of his parents’ marriage.
Sara lives in among the low-class workers who are squatting in the field across from the family’s expensive apartment. Crialese, Manieri and Moroni build in a simple, yet effective class critique as Clara repeatedly warns her children of the dangers of venturing into the camp, despite the fact that nothing ever happens to Andrea there, and Sara implicitly accepts how he identifies at their first meeting (she’s the only one in the film to do).
Contrast this with the issues of infidelity, miscommunication, and physical abuse occurring in the upper-middle class apartment where Andrea and his siblings are purportedly “safe.”
In addition to exploring Andrea’s gender identity, the idolization of his mother is L’immensità‘s other preoccupation. Not only are mother and son extremely close, it’s clear that Andrew defines himself in relation – and opposition – to Clara.
She is introduced putting on her make-up before dinner, a ritual that Andrea observes only occurs when she is going out or when she has been crying. It’s an early indicator that his parents’ marriage isn’t healthy, in addition to highlighting that the pre-teen is observant. Most importantly, it reveals that Andrea has an idealized vision of his mother, which is cemented moments later, when Clara and the children perform a lip synch dance routine to Raffaella Carrà’s ‘Si, ci sto!’ (1974) as they set the dinner table. It’s a joyous, vibrant sequence – one that is starkly contrasted by the uncomfortable, stilted dinner that follows when Felice comes home. The implications are clear: when Felice isn’t around, both Clara and Andrea are free to be themselves.
The dinner setting scene is so bewitching that it almost plays like a dream sequence. In fact, Andrea has a rich interior fantasy life, as evidenced by two other sequences in the film, including the closing sequence which recreates “Love Story.” It is significant that only he and/or Clara appear in these famous musical numbers, and that Andrea noticeably takes the man’s role in both (without issue or objection).
Perhaps unsurprisingly, both mother and son are shamed for living their authentic lives. In one memorable sequence, after Andrea and a large group of children wander off and are nearly lost on vacation, Clara turns the hose on them. The other adults are livid, whereas Clara treats the moment like a game, spraying everyone in a juvenile moment of genuine jubilation. Crialese and cinematographer Gergely Pohárnok film the moment in exuberant slow motion as everyone initially plays along.
But Clara can’t stop herself and the moment goes on too long, leading the other adults to stare, mock and dismiss her parenting skills outright. It’s a telling moment that anticipates Clara’s shift – from the outgoing, playful woman that Andrea admires to a timid, unresponsive woman is broken down by both society and her husband’s rules and norms.
The reality of Clara’s situation is that because she is an adult, she isn’t permitted the freedom to be weird, act out or change. Hers is a quiet tragedy.
At its core, L’immensità is a hybrid coming of age/coming out story about the liminal moments between childhood innocence and knowing adulthood. Both Andrew and Clara are in the process of realizing who they are and what they want, albeit at very different stages of their lives.
For Andrea, who is only just beginning his journey, there is still hope that he will transition into the person he wants to be. Someone who is no longer ashamed of his body, hope that he will be accepted by his family, and hope that he can find someone like Sara, who will accept and love him for who he is. At the very least, the film ends with a note of optimism that he has taken the first step: accepting himself.
L’immensità does not currently have a release date