Two women. One hotel room. One night. The new film from Julio Medem, reviewed by Gary Couzens.
In Rome, Alba (Elena Anaya), a Spaniard, and Natasha (Natasha Yarovenko), a Russian, meet and find a strong attraction to each other. They go back to Alba’s hotel room and make love. As the night progresses, they face a choice: should this be a one-off night of passion, or should they leave in the morning, return to their partners (female and male respectively) and never see each other again?
A director’s profile depends on the availability of his or her work, and when it comes to non-anglophone filmmakers that availability is often due mostly to one distributor. Without Artificial Eye, Eric Rohmer and Theo Angelopoulos (to name two Europeans) would barely be known in the UK. Basque-Spaniard writer-director Julio Medem is younger and has less of a track record than those two, but over the last two decades he has built up a solid reputation due to the efforts of one company, Tartan, who began by releasing his second feature, The Red Squirrel in 1994. They went on to distribute all Medem’s subsequent films up to the 2003 Basque Ball – and also brought out his debut feature Vacas on DVD. But Tartan is no more, so where does that leave Medem? His 2007 feature Chaotic Ana never saw a UK commercial release. Now Optimum have stepped in, giving Room in Rome a direct-to-DVD release. Some way into the end credits you will see that Room in Rome (Habitación en Roma, though the version on this DVD has the English title and credits).is a remake of a 2005 Chilean film, En la cama.
The long-held opening overhead shot of the Rome streets eventually pulls back to reveal that we are looking out from the balcony of Alba’s hotel room. And that’s where we stay for the entire film, with brief excursions into the corridor outside. Room in Rome is mostly a two-hander: the hotel night manager Max (Enrico Lo Verso) makes a few appearances, as does Alba’s partner Edume (a brief appearance by Medem regular Najwa Nimri) in video footage. Edume’s two children in the same video bring the cast list up to six. Even so, this is quite a polyglot movie: the two women speak English as a lingua franca for most of the film, though they both have sequences where they talk to themselves – or their mirror reflections – in their native languages. Max speaks in Italian and Edume in Basque.
Room in Rome could easily be little more than a piece of high-toned erotica, with two gorgeous leads frequently nude and engaging in sex scenes strong enough to earn an 18 certificate. I’ll leave it for someone more qualified than me as to how this plays to a female audience, though Medem avoids the obvious crass traps. However, this seems to have caused some self-consciousness on his part, as he takes pains to point out the symbolism of the paintings in the room, not to mention Alba’s name (Spanish for “dawn”). Certainly a late sequence involving Cupid’s arrow is a major miscalculation. He needn’t have worried: Medem is a master at conveying mood and tone, and despite its seeming limitations his film is entirely cinematic. Alex Catalán’s camerawork, Jocelyn Pook’s music and Montse Sanz’s art direction are all assets.
Older characters notwithstanding, this film is in the same ballpark as Richard Linklater’s pair Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. It’s not up to those two films, which have more of an emphasis on the falling in love than the making love – and for me, Medem’s best film The Lovers of the Arctic Circle is stronger for being just that. But Room in Rome is the work of a real filmmaker, and I’m glad to see him back.
Room in Rome is released by Optimum on a single dual-layered disc encoded for Region 2 only. (There is also a Blu-ray edition.) The disc begins with a series of trailers for other Optimum releases: Gainsbourg, The Concert and A Prophet. These cannot be skipped, but can be fast-forwarded.
The DVD transfer is in the intended ratio of 2.40:1 and anamorphically enhanced. Much of the film takes place in semi-darkness, so shadow detail is vital. Fortunately the DVD is up to the job. The picture has a slightly soft look, which I take to be intentional, but the colours are rich.
The mostly-English-language (see above) soundtrack comes in two flavours, Dolby Digital 5.1 and analogue Dolby Surround (2.0). There’s not a lot of difference as this is a very dialogue-driven film, but there is some directional sound here and there. Otherwise, the surrounds are taken up with the music score and songs. The default subtitle track has fixed ones for the non-English dialogue, but – unusual for an Optimum disc, but quite commendable – there are optional hard-of-hearing subtitles as well.
Apart from the Optimum trailers mentioned above, the only extra is Room in Rome’s theatrical trailer (1:55), which has on-screen text in Spanish.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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