Friday, September 17, 2010

The Solitude of Prime Numbers

Luca Marinelli and Alba Rohrwacher as Mattia and Alice
The Solitude of Prime Numbers (Italy, 2010) directed by Saverio Costanzo, 116 minutes at Isabel Bader Theatre 

Completely won over by Paulo Giordano’s (pictured below) phenomenal book of the same name, The Solitude of Prime Numbers, which we read for our book club this year, I was anxious to see this film at the festival. Both the director and the lead actress, Alba Rohrwacher, were present to introduce the film but, alas, they had to leave for flight and couldn't stay for a Q&A.

Prime numbers, we learn in the film, can only be divided by one and themselves. Thus the singularity of the lives of Alice, pronounced A-lee-che (Alba Rohrwacher), and Mattia (Luca Marinelli), two damaged individuals who forge an unlikely connection as teenagers. Both harbor secret histories. The two are played by three sets of actors representing the characters at the ages of eight, as teenagers and as adults. All are excellent.

In the book, the action happens chronologically. Here, in the film, time travels between the three stages of their lives: child, teenager and adult. Urged on by her father's competitiveness, Alice has a disfiguring ski accident as a child when she gets lost in a snow storm and gets left behind by her skiing party. Eight year old Mattia abandons his mentally-challenged twin Michela, whom he secretly despises, in a park to avoid taking her to a birthday party and loses Michela forever. 

The parents are clearly seen to be culpable. Mattia's are seen as smothering and neurotic including a surprising appearance by the very maternal Isabella Rossellini as Mattia's mother looking appropriately unglamorous and careworn. Alice's father is demanding and harsh, her mother completely aloof and detached.

The teenage Alice (Arianna Nastro) singles Mattia out in highschool where he has developed a frightening reputation among the other kids for harming himself - his body a testimony to the self-abuse, riddled with cuts. She is known as "Gimpy", taunted for her damaged leg and for her social awkwardness by the popular girls. When they are thrown together at a party by the resident mean girl Viola Bai, presumably to humiliate the two awkward teenagers, they disappoint her by achieving a sort of tentative intimacy even though they have no physical contact in one of the best scenes of the film. 

Costanzo shoots a near wordless scene in which the only sound is the pounding disco beat of the party which heightens the tension between both Mattia and Alice, when they are alone, and then between Viola and Alice when Alice rushes to assure Viola that she has indeed struck up a romantic relationship with Mattia. This intimacy enrages Viola who likely only befriended Alice so that she might continue to humiliate her. The scenes with the girls tormenting Alice are the most affecting. Saverio Costanzo  captures the malicious glee of Alice's tormentors perfectly.

The relationship between Mattia and Alice can't seem to sustain itself. Mattia is morose and nearly cataonic in his social responses to other human beings. Mattia moves to Germany to do his Ph.D. and becomes a brilliant and acclaimed mathematician. Alice, more modestly, becomes a photographer of weddings. We see very little of the two as adults. Mattia is successful but isolated, slovenly and seemingly depressed. There is a hint of Alice's other relationship with Fabio her husband but not the details. We merely see them as unhappy individuals.

At almost two hours, I heard a couple of other filmgoers complain of the length but missing from the film are a few key scenes in the book which might further explain the state of mind of the adults. Most pertinently missing is the scene where Alice wreaks revenge on Viola as an adult - she runs a bewildered Viola ragged taking photos of her at her wedding then destroys the photos. Alice is no shrinking violet as an adult but can be mean-spirited and cruel too. Mattia is set up with woman who shows an interest in him but he appears incapable of connecting with her or anyone else. Also missing from the film is the troubled relationship between Alice and her husband Fabio which becomes violent and self destructive.

Isolated and alone and appearing to be starving herself, Alice has an anxiety episode in a grocery store and sees a girl whom she is convinced is Michela, Mattia's twin. The girl disappears and Alice cryptically summons Mattia who comes immediately from Germany. She says nothing of what she saw but Mattia is immediately drawn to the last place that Michela was seen as if to atone for his transgression. 

The film ends on a note of hope. They re-forge a bond, fragile but hopeful. This was definitely the best film I have seen at the festival.

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