Room In Rome
Room in Rome – latest effort from Sex and Lucia director Julio Médem – is a single location film that ostensibly uses its hotel room setting as a framework to explore the lives and personal drama of it two disparate female protagonists. Alba (Elena Anaya, who worked with Medem on Sex and Lucia) is beautiful Spanish lesbian on the last day of a holiday in Rome who is living in the shadow of a tragedy for which she feels responsible. Natasha/Dasha (Natasha Yarovenko) is an equally beautifully, though straight, Russian woman who is in Rome for a family hens party prior to a wedding. A chance encounter in a bar sees the pair returning to Alba’s titular hotel room for a night of existential psychodrama and…nudity.
Yep what could have been an interesting examination of a crossroad in the life of two women essentially plays out as a 105min contrived ‘art-housey’ episode of The Red Shoe Diaries – only minus the draw card of a David Duchovny introduction.
Not only is this a single location film – always good for some meaty psychological investigation à la Vincenzo Natali’s 1997 Scifi Thriller Cube or Richard Linklater’s 2001 twisting motel room drama Tape) – it is also a single wardrobe film. The two actresses spend almost the entire runtime completely nude and a significant portion of working up a variety of orgasmic facial expressions. Far from successfully delving into the issue of sexual identity and exploration Room in Rome really only manages an average attempt at titillation. This is like some kind of lesbian fantasy from a straight man. If you’re wanting to have a look at gay cinema or gay issues in cinema let me suggest picking a film or two in New Zealand’s annual Out Takes Film Festival or the rich selection always available in the New Zealand International Film Festival as this film really has nothing material to offer on this topic.
This is not to say that Médem’s film is devoid of substance. It certainly attempts to twist and turn, and if handled differently, possesses the underlying narrative structure to support some good drama. In this case the film was just poorly executed – both in terms of the story and the more formal (technical) elements. For instance, the two characters engage in a kind of narrative dance where each, a wary stranger, decides what to tell the other about themselves: pure fiction, the truth, or a blend of both preserving some anonymity. This device should have become Room in Rome’s central strength/feature but instead becomes back-grounded by the highly visual sensual/sexual elements of the film, hence simply becoming contrived verbal filler. A good example of this narrative technique can be seen in Warren Oates’ G.T.O. character in Monte Hellman’s seminal 1971 work Two-Lane Blacktop who gives a different story about his car and himself to each hitchhiker he picks up which each combine to build an overarching picture of him, his journey, and his place in the film.
Technically the production is confused or thrown off kilter by several elements. There is the inexplicable employment of handheld camera work which a) doesn’t make sense in the unchanging, closed-in location, and b) jars alongside the abundance of obviously posed and staged shots/setups (such the diagonally mirrored shot of both women reclining – nude, of course – in the same pose and facing each other in opposite corners of the screen and separated by a convenient wall). One of the most annoying distractions was the filmmakers’ use of music. Putting aside the cheesy, thematically obvious English language track that bookended the movie, the soundtrack primarily consisted of (often inappropriate) bursts of operatic music which filled the role of the stereotypical wahwah-peddled guitar people often associate with sex scenes in porn films.
Basically it is hard for me to find a redeeming feature in this production even though it could easily have amounted to so much more. I found the viewing experience embarrassing in every way. Very disappointing considering the satisfyingly complex, yet sensual, drama and comedy produced by Médem in his earlier effort. Room in Rome is definitely one to put in the ‘avoid at all costs’ file.
This is a vanilla single disc edition release with a perfectly adequate video and audio transfer. The DVD transfer retains the 2.39:1 anamorphic widescreen ratio from the 35mm film thereby retaining the beauty of the wide vistas you occasionally glimpse from the hotel balcony. Note: on smaller, non-widescreen televisions (or displays) this could make for an almost unusable small picture.
Single Disc Edition
Region 4 PAL
16:9 Widescreen (2.35:1)
Dolby Digital 5.1 / 2.0
Languages: English, Italian, Russian, Spanish
Subtitles: English; English Captions for the hearing impaired
Reviewed by: Jacob Powell
Rating: 18 – Contains sex scenes and offensive language
Duration: 104 mins
Director: Julio Medem (2010)
Actors: Elena Anaya, Natasha Yarovenko.