Set in 1970s Rome, L’immensità is a semi-autobiographical look at one summer in director Emanuele Crialese’s youth. In the film, the eldest child in the family is a teenage Adri (Luana Giuliani), short for Adriana, who has decided he prefers Andrea, Italian for Andrew. His mother Clara (Penelope Cruz) is also going through a life changing period as her husband’s infidelity has become more and more untenable. But she’s a good mom, adores her kids, and does all she can to keep them happy. And she’s a whole lot of fun, but she’s teetering on the edge. This film kinda sorta reminded me of The Fabelmans, only for me this one works a lot better. It feels more genuine. And Penelope Cruz is magnificent.

The family has moved from Spain where mom is from to Italy where Dad’s family live, so Clara is already a fish out of water. This is most evident in the scenes where the whole family is together and her childrearing style is looked down on. She doesn’t really care, but her husband does. She’s always looking for something outside herself, for something fun and she finds it mostly with her kids.

And as Mom is trying to figure out her escape, Adri is dealing with his own existential question. But he actually puts himself out there. There is a big thicket behind the apartment that he and his siblings are told not to go into, so of course they do. And on the other side is a community of Roma people. A girl catches Adri’s eye and she responds in kind, and it becomes a sweet little coming-of-age love story.

Throughout the movie there are musical numbers, beginning at the top of the film when Clara puts on a record and dances with the kids as the table is set and the food prepped. And later Adri and Clara do some totally fun lip-syncing numbers.

Director Emanuele Crialese (Respiro, Terrafirma) is quick to say this isn’t really autobiography, but it is a film he always planned to make – one day.  “I was born biologically a woman, but that does not mean that I don’t have in me a huge part [that’s] female character. That is probably the best part of me. At a certain point, I had to make a choice … of whether to live or to die. You don’t choose to make that sort of journey. You are born that way.” This film is a testament to that thought.

Newcomer Luana Giuliani is perfect as Adri, in awe and somewhat afraid for Clara, as he grapples with his own place in the world. But it is Cruz’s performance that makes this film worth seeing. She is all beautiful smiles and laughter one moment and nearly broken the next. It’s a beautiful story of two fish out of water in a time and place that is not terribly forgiving, and their bond despite it all. I highly recommend it.

Put it in your streaming queue. It’s available on most streaming platforms now. 

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