1970s suburban Rome. Clara (Penelope Cruz) is stuck in a luxurious flat with three kids and a husband (Vincenzo Amato) who cheats and humiliates them all. Rather than confront the issue - or maybe because she feels she has to somehow compensate for her husband's heavy dictatorial presence - Clara becomes almost infantile in her manic desire for childish fun.
This desire for escapist fantasy is shared by Clara's elder daughter Adri (Luana Giuliani) who wants to be a boy but spends most of the film in sullen silence, only expressing herself by lip-synching to cheesy ballads in her dreams or in a fleeting summer romance with a young girl. Meanwhile, Adri's younger brother Gino is staging a rather more practical real-world protest. And poor little Diana's attempts to make family meals playful feel like a radically whimsical act. That said, the children express sooner than the mother their fundamental knowledge that the parent-child relationship has gone astray. The question for the audience is how the tension will be resolved. Will Clara be broken on the wheel of stultifying bourgeois misogyny?
The film is beautifully acted, naturally. There's an aching beauty in Cruz' face, captured in amber in the scenes where her husband imposes an oppressive stillness, or manic in its search for fun. Kudos to costume designer Massimo Cantini Parrini and hair stylist Ivan Sprignese who express so much through the state and style of Clara's hair and clothes. I also really loved Dimitri Capuani's production design with its focus on the slow strangulation of seventies shag carpet.
But really this is Emanuele Crialese's film - deeply personal, both delicate and angry, with a terrible slow-building tension. It shares in common with his stunning 2006 film Nuovomondo/Golden Door a profound interest in women trapped in social convention. It is quietly powerful, and while I merely liked it a lot when I left the screening on Monday, in the days since then I feel that I have been drawn back to it again and again, so that my reaction to it (much as the drama of the film) has also been a slowly increasing intensity of admiration.
L'IMMENSITA has a running time of 99 minutes. It played Venice 2022 and Sundance 2023. It was released earlier this year in the USA and opens in the UK on Friday 11th August.