It’s almost as if a committee of queer people got together and designed the perfect Penélope Cruz film. Make her a glamorous, chain-smoking mother in the 70s (The hair! The fashion! The bright orange kitchens!) who is fiercely devoted to her trans son. Make her a little bit “crazy” and a little bit “sad”—we want tantrums and tears after all—and give her a musical number or two, and voilà: L’immensità!
In the midst of sexist, conservative 1970s Rome, Clara (Cruz) is facing the issues of many a stay-at-home mother. Her husband Felice (Vincenzo Amato) is cheating on her with his secretary, while demanding sex on tap from his wife. Their eldest child, Adri (Luana Giuliani), who was assigned female at birth asks to be called by the male name Andrea. As he hits puberty, Andrea is clearly troubled. His dysphoria is pulling him into dangerous actions as he prays for God to “fix” him, but he finds solace in a new friendship with a Romani girl on the outskirts of town.
Andrea is torn between two worlds. He can not stand the attention that his beautiful mother gets from lecherous men on the streets of Rome, and blames her for their advances. While Andrea clearly loves Clara, and feels a close bond, he doesn’t want to be like her. Meanwhile, there is a clear coldness between Andrea and his father, who doesn’t even want to try to understand the plight of his wife and child.
What elevates L’immensità is its style. The aesthetic of 70s Italian pop runs through Gergely Pohárnok’s gorgeous cinematography, Massimo Cantini Parrini’s costumes and Dimitri Capuani’s production design. Clara cuts a striking image in a bold, yellow jacket, her hair bouncing with every step, and perfect makeup. The kitchen table is covered with a brightly coloured geometric print cloth. Through Andrea’s lens we are taken on flights of fantasy as he dreams up glorious musical numbers, reframing Clara as a blonde pop singer belting out the theme song from Love Story on TV. The film has a warm nostalgia to it, especially when Clara is with her children and behaving just like one of them.
It’s in its blissful visual excesses that L’immensità feels especially queer, almost more than for its trans coming-of-age storyline which gives the film gravitas and grounds its fantasy sequences. The idolization of a glamorous, broken woman is the cornerstone of so much gay culture, be it Judy Garland or Britney Spears, and a beautiful woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown is like catnip to those pure drama seekers among us. L’immensità gives us that and more.
Don’t come to L’immensità expecting an Almodóvar film. There may be some crossover, but director Emanuele Crialese—partly recounting his own childhood growing up trans —has unique flourishes of his own that make this a sumptuous feast of a film. Penélope Cruz’s performance is at the heart of it and she delivers in spades.
By Chad Armstrong
L’immensità plays the 33rd Melbourne Queer Film Festival on Sunday, November 12th, 2023. MQFF33 runs November 9th-19th. For the full lineup and to purchase tickets head to mqff.com.au.