Friday, January 29, 2016

Islands in the Lava

When people talk about childhood trauma, they generally refer to things that happened to the child rather than things the child was guilty of. There may be trauma involved with a sense of guilt impressed on a child by an abuser but the trauma connected to issues where the child has grown into an adult to find they've done something wrong even from the perspective of maturity is quite distinct. In 2010's The Solitude of Prime Numbers (La solitudine dei numeri primi), we meet two young people, one a victim of trauma caused by others, the other a victim of his own thoughtless actions. The film is effective in its establishment of character and a little eerie, there being the suggestion of supernatural forces at work. Some might argue the film's ending is a little too simplistic, but the film at that point for me took on a rather sweet, fairy tale quality.

There's a nice exercise in intentional disorientation in the first part of the film as we're introduced to three children in a non-linear narrative but it seems at first that we're being introduced to two. One of the characters slowly becomes distinct from another. This storytelling decision later ties two of the characters together and simultaneously gives the story some of the spookiness of a ghost story while also putting one character in a unique position to forgive the third.

I want to avoid going into too many explicit details specifically because of how effective this disorientation is for the narrative. By the end of the film, though, I will say we're dealing with a man named Mattia (Luca Marinelli) and a woman named Alice (Alba Rohrwacher). The film is Italian, making her English name all the more interesting and I think it was intended as a reference to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, especially for one remarkable scene where we see Alice intruding on the memories of another character by finding her way through a hedge corridor in a dream.

The non-linear narrative helps us see the difference between the personality of the guilty child before the crucial event and after. And we can see how the experience has fundamentally changed the child and held influence over their decisions for the rest of their life. To the point where the previously bright and relatively normal kid thinks nothing of slicing open an arm when dared--but refuses to do the same to someone else.

The film is shot with a lot of creative dissolves and sort of dreamy lighting choices. There's always the sense of being inside someone's head, either the shut off, self hating party or the obsessively in love, almost codependent party. Both are caught up in their own heads and in those unbreakable solitudes they are oddly united.

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