Room in Rome (Director: Julio Medem): My disillusionment with the work of Julio Medem continues. After one great film (1998’s Lovers of the Arctic Circle), I’ve found the rest of his work creepy and self-indulgent. His last film, 2007’s Chaotic Ana (review) infuriated me, but when I saw the synopsis for Room in Rome, I thought he might be able to deliver a simpler, more character-based story.
Alba (Elena Anaya) and Natasha (Natasha Yarovenko) meet while drinking at a bar in Rome and Alba invites Natasha back to her room after what we assume to be a mutual attraction. Natasha claims never to have been with a woman before, and is reluctant to let herself be seduced by the more experienced Alba. But one thing leads to another and the two experience an intense one-night stand. So far so good. They’re both beautiful women and based on Medem’s previous work, there was bound to be an abundance of flesh on display. I was even prepared for a bit of talkiness in the service of character development. But true to Medem’s self-indulgent style, we get so much more than we can believe.
The women spend the first half of the night lying to each other about who they are. Spaniard Alba makes up a story about being spirited away with her mother by a Saudi prince to live in luxury, while Russian Natasha claims to be an actress. One of the things that annoyed me so much about Medem’s previous film was the constant desire to show off, manifested in lots of different locations around the world. In this film, we still get to travel around the world; only this time, bizarrely, it’s using Bing’s Virtual Earth software on Alba’s laptop. This gimmick is repeated so often that it becomes almost a Microsoft commercial.
The characters speak to each other in English despite the fact that we later find out they can both speak Italian and Spanish. This makes the dialogue sound even more ridiculous than it would in another language. When it turns out that Natasha has a twin, who’s a tennis player and who is actually an actress, it’s hard to tell where the tale-spinning will stop. Natasha confesses that her name is actually Dasha and that she is really just a lowly art historian. Coincidentally, Alba’s room is filled with Renaissance paintings that the two women can discuss when they’re not writhing around with each other. Alba’s real identity is even more ludicrous. She’s a mechanical engineer who’s invented a form of ecologically-friendly transport. When they both end up singing Volare in the shower, you might think it couldn’t get much sillier. And then it does, with Max the opera-singing room service waiter.
Medem is certainly an able filmmaker and even a capable stylist. But his films so often seem to be reaching for profundity and failing miserably. Ponderously paced, and with a repetitive and annoying soundtrack, Room in Rome is able to take all the fun out of what might have been a sexy premise. The characters feel fake, the romance feels fake, and like a one-night stand, the next morning leaves you feeling empty of anything except regret.