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L’IMMENSITÀ (2023) review

May 19, 2023


written by: Emanuele Crialese, Francesca Manieri and Vittorio Moroni
produced by: Lorenzo Gangarossa, Mario Gianani and Dimitri Rassam
directed by: Emanuele Crialese
rated: not rated
runtime: 97 min.
U.S. release date: May 12, 2023 & May 19, 2023 (limited)


“L’Immensità” is the latest film from Italian writer/director Emanuele Crialese and it is his most personal to date, an autobiographical story that can almost be viewed as a memoir. In it, Crialese is drawing upon his own experiences as a transgender preteen and not only how he viewed the world through a specific lens, but also how he viewed his mother. Tonally, Crialese deftly balances a vibrant whimsy to the evocative family drama, with the weight of a dysfunctional family and conservative expectations.

The film’s title likely refers to a popular 1967 song of the same name from Italian actor/singer Johnny Dorelli, but probably moreso for the English translation of the word, “Immensity”, since what the two main characters are feeling is so immense.



The story takes place one summer in the early 1970s, as a family of five have recently moved into a spacious apartment in Rome. The parents are free-spirited Clara (Penelope Cruz), an expatriate from Spain, and her emotionally distant husband, Felice (Vincenzo Amato, who starred in Crialese’s semi-autobiographical 2002 film, “Respido”), both of whom are clearly in a marriage that has flatlined.

The love, care, and attention their three children receive primarily comes from Clara, who is often childlike in her spontaneous playfulness. In one early scene, Clara leads the children – youngest Diana (Maria Chiara Goretti), Gino (Patrizio Francioni), and eldest Adriana (Luana Giuliani) – in a fun dance (to the tune of Raffaella Carrà’s 1974 hit “Si, Ci Sto”) as they set the table for dinner. The tone changes considerably when the father/husband comes home from work, a stern man who not only expects a meal, but peace and quiet too. It’s a scene with contagious energy, one that establishes the diametric differences that are prevalent in this family. Throughout the film, it’s easy to wonder how Clara and the philandering and often abusive Felice ever got together, but it’s clear that at this point she remains there for the children. At one point, Clara pleads with Felice to separate, but he dismisses that solely on the basis of how it will be perceived by others.

The story of “L’Immensità” is largely focused on the eldest daughter, who is going through gender dysphoria and prefers to be called “Andrew” or “Andrea” (which is primarily a masculine name in Italian) and chooses to wear short hair and clothes that are typically considered “boys”. Clara is aware of this and mostly accepting of it, opting to calling him “Andri”, while his younger siblings can’t comprehend it and Felice is dismissive and humiliated by it. These responses aren’t necessarily surprising considering the time period. In the 70s, such a child would be referred to as a “tomboy” and seen as a phase she would grow out of eventually. It’s only been in recent years that a greater understanding of gender identity is being acknowledged by a wider audience. Some still don’t accept it or understand it (often seeing it as an aberration), but at least it’s a subject that is being addressed and discussed now.



Of his family members, Clara is the only one Andrew can talk to or connect with. They have a playful game in which they run through streets of Rome together whooping it up and waving their arms for an entire block. In many ways, they often speak the same unspoken language, but they still have to contend with their mother and child status. Clara has established an open and truthful rapport with Adri, but as he navigates his identity it becomes a challenge as to how to communicate with her, not to mention how to describe what his truth is. He shares with her how he is awaiting a divine miracle, since “You and Dad made me wrong”, claiming he comes from another galaxy, “I’m not Adriana and you don’t have the powers to fix me”. Clara responds with a quite understanding. Perhaps she knows all too well how uncomfortable it can be in one’s own skin. After all, there is a certain restlessness and rebelliousness that Andrew and Clara have in common.

Against the wishes of their parents, Andrew leads her siblings through the nearby reeds on the other side of their apartment building, where they discover migrant workers living on the edge of a flourishing Rome. This is where Andrew meets Sara (Penelope Nieto Conti), a girl a little older than him, one who accepts him for who he presents himself as (it’s unclear if it’s out of naviete or a place of pure acceptance) and likely the first person in his life to do so. Of course, these residents are seen as lower status by the adults in Andrew’s life and he is told to stay out of the place beyond the reeds.



As the film progresses, more of the Clara and Andrew’s similarities can be seen. During a family gathering, Clara’s mother-in-law expresses concern for Adri’s behavior and Clara responds stating while she understands “children’s fantasies”, she’s more worried about the fantasies of adults who think they’re still children. This is a not-so-subtle dig at her husband’s behavior, but also a response to the way in which she is often seen by her own peers. At this same gathering, Andrew gets in trouble for leading the rest of the children through the underground drainage system. While the other mothers are scolding or physically beating their children, Clara takes the lawn hose and showers everyone with water, laughing out loud and running about. Other parents are aghast or annoyed at this behavior and even Andrew is embarrassed.

Later on, at a large holiday dinner attending by extended family, Clara joins Andrew under a long table where the adults are seated. It’s an attempt to prevent her child from getting in trouble, but it’s also a way to escape an environment she herself doesn’t feel comfortable in. Even then, Andrew shows signs of getting to the age where his mother’s behavior is too much and asks her to go back to her seat.

Crialese has stated that he had his own mother in mind when he co-wrote the screenplay with Francesca Manieri and Vittorio Moroni, since she was also a free spirit who had her own challenges fitting within the confines of what was expected of her. In “L’Immensità” we see the response to Clara’s behavior is to have her “go away for a while” to a sanitarium, which was a common response to behavior outside the norms of society back then.



The children of “L’Immensità” are first-time actors and that boosts the authentic feel of the film. They are largely supported by Cruz and Crialese, in a story that allows them to just be present as children, responding to a variety of real life situations. It’s no surprise that Cruz delivers a luminous presence, but it should be noted that it’s a complex role that she embraces with a subtle nuances. Giuliani is well-suited in the lead role as Adriana/Andrew, but her open-eyed presence is somewhat lacking during the black-and-white fantasy scenes where Andrew and Clara can be singing and dancing together as if they are in the kinds of musicals they watch on television.

That’s less a qualm and more of an understandable observation in a film that is quite thoughtful and sensitive in many ways. The production design stands out and cinematography by Hungarian Gergely Pohárnok accentuates the tone of each scene beautifully. Maybe what Crialese felt at the time was indeed immense, but what he has accomplished with “L’Immensità” is provide us with is an engaging coming-of-age melodrama that feels immense in its own right.





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