Room in Rome (Habitación en Roma)
For a film that I initially thought was going to be focused more on the lesbianism and the physical relationship side of the story, I was hugely surprised and was very wrong. Don't judge a film by a blurb and trailer alone, especially Room in Rome. There's so much more to the film, and none of it feels cheap titillation.
Actually the film turns out to be rather beautiful.
The night they spend together is peppered with moments of seduction but is mainly about the two girls edging through their brash exteriors and getting to know each other while exploring the lavish hotel room, all the time waiting for dawn to return them to their lives.
The first thing you notice about the film is that the camera does not leave the hotel room. At the beginning we see the two ladies arrive outside the hotel and the camera carries out a seemingly impossible tracking shot which ends up leaning over the balcony and watching them from above. When they enter the hotel the camera tracks back, surveys the room, and meets them as they walk into the room.
The shot, which gives a great feel to the film from the beginning, sets the tone from here on out. There are some really strong shots throughout and despite the location being confined to the hotel room the camera is still always moving and bringing out some new detail of the room. There are some wonderfully composed shots with warm and intimate lighting that set a fantastic mood.
Another strong aspect of the film is how the hotel room plays such an important role in the film. The characters don't just move around it but they interact with the pictures and the décor. Although they are confined to the room there's an interesting use of the laptop computer to expand the story and develop the conversations that are really the staple of the film.
It's perhaps here that I should point out just how much the film is about the sexual relationship between the two women, something that from watching the trailers and reading the blurb you might be expecting. There are only a few scenes where sex is the focus, but I have to say it's all filmed and portrayed rather beautifully.
Sure there's an erotic element to it, but it never has a feeling of it being rude or dirty, you know what I mean when you think about many of the sex scenes in Hollywood films. With Room in Rome I was surprised how beautiful and natural the nudity and sex felt. They helped punctuate the relationship between the two characters and pull them closer, and they felt incredibly tender, a phrase that does well to describe how these scenes were shot.
It's not about these moments though, although they do add to the development of the characters and their relationship, it's the latter two aspects of the film that are the focus, the characters and how their relationship grows through the night. There is a very real sense of a burgeoning relationship, something on a cusp between the two that could turn at any moment, and it does at a number of points in the film.
Room in Rome is superbly scripted, Julio Medem has done a great job with both the writing and the directing, and I'm surprised that it's a man who wrote this script. I was amazed how well I connected with the story, relating it to some of my own experiences in life, but then it goes to show how well the film was written.
I loved the stage play feel of the film with scenes of dialogue that draw the characters towards each other, revealing something new about each of them, breaking through the bravado and lies of their initial stories, and either ending in a very intimate moment, a misplaced line that distances them, or an emotional outpouring from one of the women.
Between each of these scenes the camera and the soundtrack take us through to the next, moving the characters together again or pulling them apart after the previous scene brought them closer or distanced them. I loved this parry back and forth between the characters as Natasha's defences are slowly broken down and allow her to fully reveal herself to Alba.
The two actresses do a good job, although I think that for the most part Elena Anaya as Alba gives the strongest performance, and to be fair to Natasha Yarovenko who plays Natasha, Alba is the character who has more range of emotion. Yarovenko doesn't seem to be totally comfortable at the start of the film, which suits her character's position, and come the second half she's much more relaxed and stronger in her role.
It's now the time to mention just how stunning both actresses are in the film and how they cope being naked for almost the entire film and seeming so relaxed with that. You wouldn't see Hollywood actresses doing that, and yet in Hollywood any nudity that could get through contract clauses and censors would be thrown in for nudity sake and there wouldn't be anything close to a natural feeling about it. With Room in Rome you genuinely feel relaxed and at ease with it, feeling it's integral to the story and not just for titillation.
The beauty isn't just about them both being naked, although I do admit that they both have wonderful bodies, at times the emotion conveyed in Anaya's face moves from heartbreaking to utterly seductive.
One of the best scenes of the film is when both characters are in their dressing gowns, which attests to how strong they, the script and the filming actually is. The balcony breakfast scene is one of the best in both the filming and scripting, the quiet moments being some of the strongest and between this and the closing scenes, they deliver the most poignant and touching moments of the film.
I did feel the moments here, and the following scenes, carried some of the strongest emotional weight of the film, and you can really feel that the choices here are going to affect the rest of their lives, with the choices being so close between them being together and drifting apart.
I do have to call into question a couple of moments though, one being the culmination of the ongoing theme of the ceiling painting of cupid. That final moment in the bath was head scratching and was out of form with the rest of the film, it felt too fantastical for a script that had relied on the real and tangible between the two and everything physical in the single location. I really didn't like it and it didn't belong here. However the film does recover well afterwards.
I also had a few small issues with the stories the two were playing out, and how after each intimate scene between them, emotional and/or sexual, they revealed a little more, or changed something different in the previous story to reveal a closer truth. I liked the way this worked, but it didn't quite flow so well at the start, and it's only afterwards you can see how this pattern should have worked and could have been a stronger element in the tale, I felt it should have pulled me along a little better with it.
The audio was surprisingly good for a film very much like a self contained stage play, sparring as it did between two characters and concentrating on dialogue. There was a strong choice for the soundtrack which did utilise the 5.1, and the film did gently bring the rear speakers to life in a few scenes. Come the breakfast balcony scene, one of the only scenes where the camera is actually outside of the confines of the room, the street sounds and the coming to life of the city are present in the rears.
The picture was very good and despite the film being at night and in a darker room, it held up well and delivered a good level of detail. At times this is actually quite deep as we pick out images of the paintings on the walls and the ceiling mural. All the time the picture was warm and inviting, and the colours strong without being overpowering.
Despite the 5.1 audio track and the strong picture, the DVD could have benefited from an audio commentary or perhaps a featurette. It would have been great to hear from the actresses about their experience on the film and more so to hear from the director about the difficulties of filming and writing in such a confined location. I was torn between giving the film four stars and the DVD three, but the film has to get the recognition, despite the lack of extras.
Yes, Room in Rome does have two extremely beautiful and sexual women who are naked for most of the film, and there are a number of intimate moments between the two, however none of the film feels as though it's overly sexual or that any of these scenes are anything more than is needed by the story.
There are some very intimate moments, but they are beautifully and very sensually portrayed, there's not a moment of titillation or feeling that any if this isn't in character and you're a cinematic voyeur, quite the opposite. The film carries forward the European feel to the sexuality and the nudity, and you can understand its place in the film very easily.
It's very well scripted with the two beautiful leads providing engaging performances that at times are mesmerising. The film does a great job of connecting with the audience on an emotional level. There are touching moments, extremely poignant moments, and some heartbreaking ones too, and it's so easy to see some of these moments from your own past. It made me think about these small and brief moments and choices that can have so much impact on the rest of your life.
Then there's the strong style to the film, and the cinematic moves between each scene. Overall I think Room in Rome deserves far more credit and notice than it has, and it definitely needs to be viewed differently from the way some of the marketing has portrayed it. It's a beautiful film in script, in style, in the performances of the two leading actresses, and the actresses themselves.