Review by Sean Boelman
When Penélope Cruz is involved in a project, it is sure to get a great deal of buzz and attention. While the Italian film L’Immensità might disguise itself as a star vehicle for the acclaimed Spanish actress, it actually attempts to be something much more personal and intimate, even if it doesn’t succeed in doing so.
The film follows a young trans boy growing up in 1970s Italy as he feels out of place in the world with everyone except his mother. It’s another one of the semi-autobiographical films about filmmakers’ childhoods — except instead of classic cinema being the source of homage, this time, it’s Italian pop music.
At the core of the film is a very cute and rather compelling trans coming-of-age story. Unfortunately, despite being the most interesting thing about the film, these LGBTQIA+ themes are often weighed down by a plethora of generic subplots — including one about the spousal abuse faced by the protagonist’s mother.
There are several dream sequences throughout the film, and while they are enjoyable, they do drag the film’s narrative to a halt. The role these scenes have in the character’s inner journey is obvious, but the fact that Adriano Celentano’s nonsense song “Prisencolinensinainciusol” is such a significant plot point in a film is pretty baffling.
One of the film’s failures is that it really fails to create and capture an intriguing family dynamic. It’s almost inexplicable that the film feels somewhat emotionally cold given the fact that it is heavily inspired by Crialese’s own experiences. But for a film that explores the relationship between a boy and his mother, it’s frustrating to see the film settle for bland adulation.
Of course, the reason many audiences will be drawn to the film is the star power of actress Penélope Cruz (who does indeed speak Italian). As always, she turns in a tremendous performance full of humanity and empathy, even when her character is often reduced to the melodramatic trappings of being a battered wife.
Young actress Luana Giuliani is also quite strong in her role. Although much can be said about the issues of representation and how it would have been preferable to have a trans actor in the role, the guidance of a trans director makes the portrayal feel authentic and in good taste despite the obvious limitations.
L’Immensità is a nice little coming-of-age film, but it lacks the specificity to make it an essential entry in queer film canon. Penélope Cruz is exactly as great as one would expect, making a worthwhile film out of a somewhat underwhelming script.
L’Immensità is playing at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, which runs January 19-29 in-person in Park City, UT and January 24-29 online.