Director: Julio Medem
Runtime: 109 mins
Language: English (Spanish, Italian, Russian, Basque)
6 pm …A cold winter evening in Chicago after a sufficiently bad day, I venture to the Gene Siskel Film Center to watch Room in Rome (Habitación en Roma) Upon entering the stark white and clean environs of the film center, I acquaint myself with some popcorn and a glass of wine [clearly I was intent on making my day better] I shuffle my tired feet into the theatre and suddenly, stop and stare. For two reasons – One, to find a good spot to get comfy. Two, to take in with amazement the large number of wizened old gentleman in the theatre audience [cue to eyeroll] Oh well ! This movie apparently had naked women in it and I am Queer – Who am I to judge, yeah ?
Now onto the movie – It is quite truly a work of art. And evoked much within me for myriad reasons – One of which being that I believe dalliances with strangers is an actual category of relationships in life. The story revolves around two strangers, both women – Alba and Natasha who after a chance encounter and upon the urging of one with little reluctance from the other spend a night together in a hotel room in Rome. There is little else to the plot and it here that I shall delve into the thoughts the movie evoked.
A couple of things to clarify – First, the movie’s original trailer released earlier this year made it appear to be a soft-core film with plenty of nudity. This is untrue. Make no mistake, the two actresses do remain naked for most of the film but their bodies are characters in the film in their own right. They have starring roles as wondrous entities that capture your attention right alongside Alba and Natasha’s evolving relationship. And not in a manner that titillates – From the lighting to the ease and comfort with which the actresses play their parts completely in the nude – At no point does this movie fall short of artistic wondrousness. Julio Medem – the director and write of the film – has deftly captured the ties that begin to bind the two women amidst the superficialities of skin and sex. He does it in a very poignant manner. Initially, like the 2 characters – the viewer may be flummoxed and slightly rankled even. This is because the ebb and flow of the movie has a slightly heightened sense of the dramatic. A lot more than your average Hollywood movie (In other words – this is may not be the sense that one gets if one is used to watching Bollywood movies)
Alba and Natasha move from very nearly not having their one night together ( Natasha is Russian and straight and due to be married soon to a man, Alba is in a relationship with a woman back in Spain ) to giggling like old friends and having sex that progressively becomes more intimate. The characters swap wild stories – each not telling the other the entire truth but some version of the truth – gradually, they uncover the real selves behind each other. The reality, the stark truth in their lives and underlying unhappiness are voiced and their fantastical alter egos from their wild stories disappear to reveal normal people with normal lives.
The director uses a lot of props to tell his story of these two characters and the characters in turn refer to these props and incorporate them into their stories as well – Paintings and Online maps (Bing Maps in this case – Microsoft must’ve signed a deal to feature in this movie !) Funnily enough, I look at the characters using these devices to find out more about the other and its very much like how any two strangers might poke and nudge each other to discover more of anything and everything about the other self. Alba and Natasha frequently jump around and out of bed, sit in front of the laptop to browse and look up stuff and show each other where they live. They play cutesy games over the breakfast table. Then there is also the poignant – They clothe each other in turn after taking a shower, where Alba kisses the sole of Natasha’s feet and Natasha giggles. Natasha gets into the tub with Alba to hold her and her bleeding heart and they continue their fun and frolic. Their love scenes – are just that – love scenes. Nothing wildly passionate or exciting, the scenes are beautifully shot and form an almost negligible part of the entire story though they are key elements to show their progression of intimacy. Even though the director in the beginning leads you to believe from the dialogue between the two characters, that this is to be a story about a lesbian giving a straight women the best night of her sexual life. It is not that – It is not about sex. It is about strangers and stories and how unexpected relationships can be forged in very short periods of time. It is also delightful to see the warmth between two strangers as the night progresses and how the two actors portray…cute?
The score of the movie deserves a mention – two tracks in particular. Natascha Atlas’s ( who I haven’t heard in ages and was pleasantly surprised to rediscover ) Adam’s Lullaby and Russian Red’s Loving Strangers ( I could really listen to this song on loop for a long time!) They are alternately interspersed within the movie in charming regularity and grow on the viewer just as much as the story does. On that note, Go see this movie when you get a chance, It is well worth a watch and will probably remind you of something …or someone.