Room in Rome (Habitación en Roma, Spain, 2010)

Stranger in lu(s)v(t)

Stranger in lu(s)v(t)

As far as I know Room in Rome didn’t get a cinema release in Britain, somewhat surprising as it written and directed by Julio Medem, whose films like Sex and Lucia and Lovers of the Arctic Circle (Spain-France, 1998) made some impact. Add the highly marketable bodies of Elena Anaya (a Medem and Almodovar regular) and Natasha Yarovenko, who spend virtually the whole film in states of undress, it’s even more surprising that no distributor would take the risk. Medem said it was his most successfully pre-sold film after Sex and Lucia. The film is  mostly in English, presumably for commercial reasons. Fortunately I stumbled across it on Amazon Instant Video (not comfortable with giving that company a plug) and thoroughly enjoyed the ‘strangers spend a night together’ narrative.

As a heterosexual male I would have to admit that the women’s bodies were part of the attraction but Medem’s fluid visual style, even though it’s virtually wholly set in a hotel room, and the beautiful cinematography (Alex Catalán) make this a visual feast. For much of the film the women, only one of whom is a lesbian (Anaya’s Alba), about their lives; Medem’s (he scripted, loosely based on  In Bed (En la came, Chile, 2005)) postmodern playfulness is in evidence in these tales, but not excessively so. In the original the couple are heterosexual. I don’t know why Medem switched the gender of one of the lovers, though he does favour female protagonists, but the characters’ sexuality seemed incidental.; they are two strangers who connect for one night.

The central question of the film is ‘can strangers fall in love ‘at first sight’ or is it lust that is driving them?’ To succeed in engaging an audience (other than those who only want to feast on the pornographic elements) for nearly two hours requires powerful performances and both the leads are brilliant. Anaya is a great actor but Yarovenko was new to me and she matches the Spaniard’s performance; they are both entirely convincing. It could be good to see more of her in film.

Beyond the performances, it is Medem’s direction, where the camera will drift off to admire the paintings in the room (Cupid appears several times), that gives the film weight for me; I’m not sure why that is the case. Others found it pretentious in part and Jocelyn Pook’s soundtrack also divided opinion: I loved it.

 

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2 Responses

  1. Yes, it’s strange that Medem, a critical favourite in the 1990s and 2000s, should be dropped by UK distributors. His 2007 title ‘Caótica Ana’ was a significant hit in Spain but also not released in the UK. Unfortunately he has joined several other leading Spanish filmmakers ignored by the UK arthouse market.

    How does this film compare to ‘Blue Is the Warmest Colour’ in terms of its representation of the two women?

    • Despite the similarities, two women getting to know one another, ‘Room in Rome’ is much less intense than ‘Blue is the Warmest Colour’; this isn’t a film about ‘first love/lust’; these are more experienced women. Reports suggest that the leads in ‘Blue’ felt that the director, Abdellatif Kechiche, was exploitative and I thought the amount of sex scenes was excessive in the film (which I like a lot). While there’s a lot of sex of ‘Room in Rome’ there’s also a lot of dialogue where the women are naked, or near naked, but it’s clear their state of undress is about baring their ‘souls’ rather than for titillation.

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