MPI // 2010 // 108 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // March 2nd, 2011
A night of passion that will change their lives.
We can measure a medium's acceptance as art with one simple test: how do people react to its depiction of nudity? Sculpture? No problem; they sell naked statues in the Home Depot garden department. Painting? Obviously, all kinds of nudes are hung in museums, and I've never seen a single person get carded. Books? Certainly, the local library is filled with both pictures and descriptions of naked people. Films? Here's where it gets tricky. A little here and there is okay on film, but too much (or the wrong body part), and suddenly there's panic. Which is a total shame, because it means an interesting film like Room in Rome will be ignored by most film viewers because it couldn't get anything other than an NC-17 rating, and will almost certainly be known only as "that movie where the two women are naked most of the time."
When in Rome on holiday, Alba (Elena Anaya, Talk to Her) seduces Natasha (Natasha Yarovenko, Diary of a Nymphomaniac). The pair spend their last night in Rome together in a hotel room, sharing strange misadventures that cause them to connect on an emotional level neither of them thought possible.
Two things distinguish Room in Rome from most "erotic" films. The first is the fact that the film takes on a lesbian romance, and its two stars spend much of the film naked in between their several bouts of lovemaking. There will obviously be those viewers drawn to the film for that simple reason; to see two attractive young women engages in activities carnal and sensual for an hour and forty minutes. Those viewers will be satisfied. The film treats the erotic aspects of its subject with artfulness and dignity. Yes the young ladies are naked, and yes they make love, but this isn't pornography. The lighting is much more subtle, the camera angle's chosen for composition not to see the details of their coupling.
The other thing that sets Room in Rome apart is the fact that, as its title suggests, it's about a room in Rome. Aside from an opening scene where Alba and Natasha arrive from the cobbled streets, the rest of the narrative occurs between the four walls of their hotel room. The pressure cooker of those four walls turns what could have been an anonymous one-night fling between a committed lesbian (Alba) and a bi-curious stranger (Natasha) into a situation where the pair learn more and more about one another, growing closer with each passing second. In a pair of amazing performances, we see the women slowly take off their emotional clothing, baring themselves in new ways long after they've taken off their street clothes. It's this emotional nudity that's at the heart of Room in Rome, and it's this heart which will allow the film to live on long after the hype about the actresses' nudity has died away.
As my opening paragraph makes clear, it's hard to not talk about art in relation to Room in Rome. First, that's because of the film's setting. Rome is one of the most art-centric cities in the world, famed for its museums and artistry of its ancient architecture. Then there's the art found in the room itself, including paintings and architectural flourishes that keep art on the audience's mind even during the sex scenes. Finally, director Julio Medem frames his actresses like living art, and several of the scenes from this film could be hung in a gallery.
Room in Rome looks very good on DVD. The 2.35:1 transfer has a lush beauty, with rich colors. The darker scenes look surprisingly good, with no macroblocking or serious noise. The English 5.1 track keeps the dialogue audible and the film's music clear, even if the surrounds don't get much use. The only extra is the film's trailer.
Room in Rome is a slowly unfolding character study that demands a bit of patience to get to its emotional conclusion. Those just looking for bare breasts without rhyme or reason should look elsewhere. Equally, those offended by the female form in its natural state should stay far away, since there's an abundance of nudity in the film. It's also a shame that some extras couldn't be rounded up for this release. I'd love to hear Medem talk about the classical influences on his framing, and a featurette with the actresses discussing their preparations for their roles would have been great.
I hope most viewers will come to Room in Rome for the lesbians and stay for the gorgeous cinematography and emotional complexity. Although a little slow in parts, the film provides a fine character study, and is worth a rental for fans of modern drama, even if the disc is woefully light on extras.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 108 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated