“I’m not worried by the fantasies of children. I’m more worried by the fantasies of adults.”
One of the most acclaimed performances of the year has been Penelope Cruz’s turn as Laura in Ferrari, Michael Mann’s take on Enzo Ferrari, and the revitalization of the famous automobile empire. In that film, Cruz plays Laura, Enzo’s wife, who nails every scene she’s in, elevating what could have been another stock female character. The praise Cruz has earned is just, and her turn serves as the latest in a career that has continued to provide one mesmerizing characterization after another. While everyone is still hyped up on Cruz’s work in Ferrari, they should not count out her stunning portrayal of a mother trying to understand her daughter and herself in this year’s little-seen, but incredibly moving L ‘immensita.
In L’immensita, Cruz plays Clara, a wife and mother raising her children in 1970s Rome. While her marriage is an unhappy one, she enjoys a loving relationship with all her children, especially Adriana (Luana Guiliani), her eldest daughter. Although Adriana, or “Adri” has always been a happy child, lately she has begun to question her gender identity through a burgeoning relationship with a girl from another part of town named Sara (Penelope Nieto Conti). Throughout the film, both Clara and Adri take a look at their lives and try to decide where they each belong.
I remember watching an Actors on Actors episode in which Minnie Driver commented that one of the most important aspects when it came to deciding to take on a character was identity. It’s easy to see why she feels this way. Identity is the building block from which actors craft their interpretation of the person they’re bringing to life. L’immensita offers one of the most captivating views on identity by following two people at opposite ends of the spectrum and allowing them the emotional space to genuinely look at who they are and who they really are. The way co-writer/director Emanuele Crialese films the people in L’immensita is just breathtaking. He follows both Clara and Adri on their respective journeys giving them room to explore themselves in a way that doesn’t feel invasive while making room for the audience to join both mother and daughter as they find the courage to try and shed the roles that their societies has expected them to play.
If L’immensita sounds like too much of an emotional character piece without much levity, rest assured nothing can be further from the truth. The film contains so many whimsical moments that truly surprise and even venture into the realm of magical realism in a couple of instances. Most of these elements are found in the glorious musical numbers in which Clara and Adri are both seen lipsynching to various songs. Some of these numbers play out in the real world, while others take place in imaginary settings where both characters are at their freest and most alive. It’s also in these sequences where the two family members are at their most in sync as the film presents an electrifying illustration of finding innocence and escape, regardless of the world surrounding you. The levels of curiosity and wonder, especially in the musical numbers, are pretty and ultimately prove essential to making L’immensita work. In ways unexpected, the film shows the vital need to be able to escape the coldness of reality to try and understand it.
It’s hard not to get behind L’immensita‘s mission of not accepting the reality that’s been forced on someone and finding the one that allows them to be most themselves. Crialese’s film does this beautifully while also touching on other topics, such as the role of men in women in the 1970s, family dysfunction, and teenage sexuality. Seeing both characters explore such areas of life through different perspectives makes the film a coming-of-age tale for both mother and child. At its heart, L’immensita is just as much about the familial bond as it is about identity; it’s about clinging to that one person who has always seen you and loved you no matter what.
L’immensita is now available on Blu-ray and DVD from Music Box Films.