Come Undone: Adultery, Italian Style

12/02/2010 3:00 PM |

Come Undone
Directed by Silvio Soldini

Thirtysomething cohabitating Anna (Alba Rohrwacher) and Alessio (Giuseppe Battiston) lead comfortable lives in Milan. They go out with their couple friends, play charades, and schlep crates of fresh vegetables home from the farmers market. Alessio’s a blessing around the apartment, where his handyman skills help him replace a shower curtain Anna hates with a new homemade stall, which they immediately christen. One night, they are awoken by a phone call from Anna’s brother-in-law—her sister is in labor and needs a ride to the hospital. Once home, Alessio casually suggests that Anna get off the pill, and she acquiesces, though her chief impression of her sister’s childbirth was how “violent” it was.

At an office party, Anna’s attentions keep drifting to the cute caterer Domenico (Pierfrancesco Favino). She flirts with him alone, and even asks him out for a coffee, which he refuses before giving her his card. They end up getting that drink, which leads to making out at her office after hours, and follow-up commingling at a rather seedy, four-hour-at-a-time hotel where the lighting’s red and the walls are covered in mirrors (which assures that there are “no vampires,” Domenico pointedly notes). As it happens, Dom is married with two kids. Ruinously, the two fall in love.

As ever in the adultery film, it’s a vicarious joy to watch the lovers suffer for their passion, though the two are never unsympathetic. Anna’s reasons for drifting are unclear, but the fact is that Alessio is a slob, borderline obese and more interested in reading various oversize books (under light of clamped flashlight) than he is in Anna’s frustrations. A regular in director Silvio Soldini’s films, Battiston nails an aloof, asexual insufferableness that makes his nice not enough. The blue-collar Dom’s problems are more bottom line. After his first hotel session, he comes home to a crying baby, an overflowing toilet (courtesy his budding oceanographer daughter), and a wife nagging about the family budget.

Soldini wrests this simple and potentially worn out material from redundancy with a lucid, detail-centric style. His unobnoxiously unsteady camera largely stays clapped on Anna, whose giddy joy at new love is touching because doomed. The film’s stance on risk-and-punishment extramarital sex might seem finger-waggingly old-fashioned in 2010, but the stakes have a less high-pitched, life-or-death seriousness than in the older films in the adultery canon. Just as the lovers’ meetings have a pleasant, naturalistic quality, the impending fallout feels like something softer than total disaster, in a modern way.

Opens December 3