Monday, July 25, 2011

MIFF session 2 : The Solitude of Prime Numbers

A surprise. The copy in the festival guide led me to expect a kind of Miranda July draught of fine warm quirk. The opening scenes don't disabuse this impression. A boy and girl in separate scenes coping with odd family life. A girl copes with a competitive father who wants to turn her into a competitive skier. A young boy copes patiently with his retarded twin sister. You know they will meet and it will be odd. What we need is style to support the oddness and some gravity to support the style. Well we get all of that.

The overall story plays out in three time zones, childhood, adolescence and adulthood (though this last is itself split up). Basic arc? A boy and girl, unrelated, start out in life as perfectly functioning beings until meeting with their own personal cataclysms which send them plummeting into withdrawal. But the arc is fractured. You get to know these two better as adults first and then when the time is judged right to reveal the shaping disastrous experiences we get to see those.

Between those experiences and the pitiable adulthood this pair attains we get quite a lot of the adolescent experience. Alice is cruelly bullied but her National Geographic Afgan Girl stare breaks through (subtly and credibly) to the bully in chief, Viola who then takes the frail outcast under her wing. At a party where the big kiss is meant to happen between Alice and the geeky Mattia this goes sour when Viola's gaze after her protege reveals a kiloton of homoeroticism and basis for near future self loathing. So, Alice either kisses Mattia or doesn't and will still go back to victimhood. The party sequence where this takes place could be from a Gaspar Noe film (acid lighting, eardrum shattering bass and human beauty in dirty colour.

I'm going to stop describing the plot now. Not for fear of spoiling it. I'll stop there because this film is less about plot than the revelation of important experiences and their often saddening results. This is a film about unhappiness but draws a lot of its audio visual inspiration from genres which feature little sadness, horror and giallo thrillers. Long slow tracks down school corridors, the Carrie-like bullying scenes, and Gaspar Noe's teen shindig all contribute to a film filtered through another type of film. The director and female lead were present at my screening and I was itching to ask about their effective use of Morricone's la-la girl voice music from The Bird with the Crystal Plumage but then saw that Mike Patton had been in charge of that (and someone else asked, anyway).

The strength of this film is in its performances. The players in each time zone go to the ends of their parts, convincing at every moment. Isabella Rosselini is particularly strong as Mattia's mother. The two adult leads, Luca Marinelli (Mattia) and Alba Rohrwacher (Alice) take us down into their pendulum pits with unflattering concentration. We follow because we are compelled by their bravery. Not fun. Not meant to be. But sincere without the apologetic cuteness. Not Miranda July, in other words.

PS-- the Q&A session after this screening was not heralded well enough to prevent the outflow of most of the audience. This was a pity as the interaction was pithy if brief and well worth the trouble. Alba Rohrwacher began answering a question in English (which was fine) and explained something humorous but took the responding laugh to be directed at her use of English. It would have been too awkward to have corrected this so she finished her answer in Italian. Pity.

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