UPDATE: Since the review below was written, this movie has been renamed Adore for the English-speaking market (or Adoration in some places). The title in France was Perfect Mothers. I’ve updated the review’s title to reflect this change.
NEW RELEASE FILM REVIEW: French Film Week || Director Anne Fontaine | Writer Christopher Hampton (based on the novella The Grandmothers by Doris Lessing) | Cinematographer Christophe Beaucarne | Starring Robin Wright, Naomi Watts, Ben Mendelsohn | Length 100 minutes | Seen at Gaumont Convention, Paris, Thursday 4 April 2013 || My Rating good
As an Australian/French co-production (and entitled Perfect Mothers when I saw it in Paris), it’s tempting to credit the naturalistic acting style to the former, and the overwrought romantic storyline to the latter, but perhaps it’s unfair to suggest that Australian cinema shies away from dealing with rather twisted affairs of the heart. That certainly isn’t the case here.
The story, just to set it up briefly, deals with the eponymous mothers, Lil (played by Naomi Watts) and Roz (played by Robin Wright), whose entire lives appear to have been spent in each other’s company in the same sleepy seaside Australian town. In the space of the credits sequence, the film skips forward from their adolescence playing in the sea, to their own children (both boys) playing in the sea around the time of the funeral of Lil’s husband, to when their boys are fully grown, all on the same stretch of light-saturated beach. It’s all presented as fairly idyllic — sitting out by the sound of the sea sipping sauvignon blanc in the sunshine — and we never really get much of a sense of the rest of the town (except that there’s an office where Lil works, and a small theatre where Roz’s husband and son work). The point at which it all starts to unravel a bit, and where the (French) title gets its ironic sting, is when it becomes apparent that their respective children have developed romantic attachments towards the other’s mother, and that these feelings are reciprocated.
However one feels about the somewhat incestuous theme of the film, there is real delight to be had in the acting, which feels unforced and fresh. Wright’s Australian accent only occasionally falters, and both she and Watts do really well with the uncomfortable subject matter. It’s to the film’s (and the actors’) credit that it’s the relationship between the two mothers, rather than that with the (rather bland) sons, which anchors the story and feels like the primary interest of the film.
The location is well-chosen too, since it has to be convincing in its hold over the characters. Roz’s husband early on moves to Sydney to take a job, and his wife’s excuse that she can’t bear to be parted with their home town is nicely framed by a shot where the husband is arguing with her about why she’d want to leave, just as they move in front of their floor-to-ceiling bedroom windows that seem to take in an entire 180 degree view of the breathtaking coastline outside. Suddenly it doesn’t really matter what Roz might say, the point is made for us by the camera.
Stylistically, there’s a great deal made of the location, with shots that threaten to fade to white in the glare of the Australian summer sun. There are also plenty of extreme close-ups, held just slightly uncomfortably long, of faces in conversation, really getting into the pores of these sun-dwelling characters. It’s the characters’ faces that also motivate the latter parts of the story, whose developments push further the melodrama at the heart of the scenario, but are also fair to the characters and their difficult situation.
Quite aside from what will be perceived as the risqué subject matter, it’s daring enough in its own right to see a film about the strong friendship between two middle-aged women, and for that alone I recommend this film.