Dir: Silvio Soldini
There are many instances, I’m sure, in which the cultural idiom and subtext of foreign film titles are lost in translation; and perhaps the powers that be believed Come Undone to represent such a scenario. Still, the title as it stands in stateside screenings suggests an unraveling, a destruction that is not, at its heart, what director Silvio Soldini conveys in this poignant, timely and quietly unsettling film. The original title is Cosa Voglio di Più – or, in English, “what more do I want.” Juxtaposed with the notion of lives torn asunder, this latter title – evocative instead of a frustrated, unquenchable and indefensible yearning – seems far more appropriate to Soldini’s examination of contemporary discontent.
Anna (Alba Rohrwacher) and Alessio (Giuseppe Battiston) are happy enough: comfortable, with a nice apartment and steady jobs, they represent a pretty decent domestic ideal. Alessio is such a sweet guy – funny, earnest, handy with home repairs and useful in the kitchen – and pretty, docile Anna seems, if not besotted, at least content with their life together. It’s hardly some grand romantic dream – but not too shabby either, especially since Alessio is devoted, thoughtful and eager to start a family…in short, to offer Anna the kind of stability that has become so difficult to come by in our fast, precarious, recession-ravaged world.
The future looks promising, in a sweetly domestic sort of way. For a moment it seems as if Soldini is going to stay here, to explore the simple pleasures of this couple’s quirky, prosaic life. But then Anna meets Domenico at an office party. A swarthy, handsome catering manager and jack-of-all-trades, Domenico (Pierfrancesco Favino) is striving to create the same ideal of stability for his own young family in the face of industry turndowns and mounting expenses. Hampered by feelings of inadequacy exacerbated by his wife’s well-to-do background and his own fierce pride, however, Domenico practically bubbles with the need to escape from the pecuniary responsibilities of family life.
When Anna and Domenico find one another, their mutual desperation for distraction and release pulls them close like magnets to metal. The ensuing flirtation is almost painful to watch – not because it isn’t well acted and rife with desire, but because palpable guilt and fear plagues that desire from the start and guarantees an unhappy end to their liaison. This is a testament to the skills of both Favino and Rohrwacher, as well as to Solidini’s direction: all three impress upon us that Anna and Domenico’s affair is neither simple nor fun nor romantic, but instead a dangerous push against the walls of reality that will forever alter the shape of their lives. Their desire is raw, rough, desperate – tough to take, at times, like the depiction of any other merciless addiction meant to keep the truth at bay. And what evolves for both Anna and Domenico into a dire need they call love is in fact just that: an addiction, an escape from their respective fears of financial insecurity and permanent attachment that cannot be sustained.
Quiet, beautifully edited scenes like that of Domenico with his wife and children at the park, or of Anna and Alessio smiling over a pair of Peronis and some re-heated chicken at the dinner table, are the lynch pins of Soldini’s take on the restlessness of modern Italian social culture. What more do they want, we may well ask ourselves, seeing in these slices of life a downright enviable contentment. But as the film draws to a close we are left with an unfinished feeling — a sense that Soldini mightn’t have known what to make of his own observations in the end. Surely there should be more completeness, more direction – more moral guidance drawn from this affair. Come Undone doesn’t harness as much of its potential impact as we might wish, particularly from a director as talented and intuitive as Soldini. But it makes us feel the sting when Anna leaves Domenico for the last time, feel the pain of static yearning to which she has sentenced herself by pushing the boundaries of happiness. It is both just and wildly unfair, and that’s the truth…so what more do we want?
by Lauren Westerfield