Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Infidelity Italian Style: Come Undone

In most infidelity dramas, the illicit lovers are carried away in a passion that blinds them to their own loyal and ironically attractive partners. In contrast, it is not hard to see how Anna and Domenico would consider each other a considerable step up. That does not make things any easier for the furtive couple in Silvio Soldini’s Come Undone (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Blond and petite, Anna definitely comes from the north of Italy. She ought to be well out of her big slovenly lover Alessio’s league, but they have settled into a comfortable but boring relationship. Dark and wiry, Domenico is about as Mediterranean as one can get. Between his nagging wife and two noisy young children though, he finds neither peace nor passion at home.

It starts haltingly with a chance encounter. Yet after a few text messages and an interrupted late night assignation in Anna’s office, things get heated quickly. Regularly meeting at an hourly motel on their only free night of the week, Anna becomes increasingly attached, while simultaneously, Domenico’s wife becomes ever more suspicious. Both lovers vacillate between guilt and obsession, but they keeping coming back to each and a situation which appears unsustainable.

It is an old story—commitment is hard and responsibility is a drag. However, Soldini captures the in-the-moment recklessness of their passion with scalding immediacy. Indeed, it is a mature film, but not a prurient one, often uncomfortable in its intimacy. Still, cinematographer Ramiro Civita gives it a rich warm look, effectively reflecting the fevered turmoil of its leads and aptly underscored by Giovanni Venosta’s moody pseudo-ambient music.

As Anna, Alba Rohrwacher (recognizable as Tilda Swinton’s daughter in I Am Love) dominates the film with her forceful screen presence. She projects a tangle of nervous energy and insecurities, but also considerable confidence in her allure. High maintenance does not begin to describe her. Though no shrinking violet, Pierre Francesco largely finds himself fretting and moping as Domenico, while watching Giusepppe Battison’s Alessio stumble through the film with a “kick me” sign permanently affixed to his back is simply cringe-inducing. Frankly, Rohrwacher owns the picture, but Gigio Alberti still hams it up with gusto as her boss Morini and Gisella Burinato is wonderfully sly as good old Aunt Ines.

While there is also a mild class dynamic at play in Undone, it works best when closely scrutinizing its characters’ compulsive behavior. It denies them any convenient justifications for their betrayal, leaving them with only the blindingly oblivious grass-is-greener reasons. Neither a nonjudgmental nor a moralizing film, it is rather an honest and direct take on infidelity. One of the better adultery dramas of the year (eclipsing several fairly recent French imports on the subject), Undone opens this Friday (12/3) in New York at the Quad.