“L’immensita” is a family drama and transgender coming-of-age film, the fifth feature from director Emanuele Crialese. Based partly on his own life experience, this thoughtful, highly personal story feels especially poignant, if a little unfocused.

Set in the bustling city of Rome in the 1970s, the film tells the story of unhappy married couple Clara (Penélope Cruz) and Felice (Vincenzo Amato) and their three children. Feeling unfulfilled and stuck with an abusive, unfaithful husband, Clara mopes around a lot while Felice is out cheating with his secretary. She eventually uses the time to bond with her kids, becoming a true friend to her eldest, preteen Adriana (Luana Giuliani). Their relationship changes (and actually grows stronger) when Adriana proclaims that he is now going to identify as a boy, preferring the name Andrew. It’s the feeling of alienation and not being comfortable in your own skin that brings the pair closer together.

Crialese has crafted a touching story about the love between a mother and her child. Clara is struggling with the responsibilities of being a grown up, while Adriana is navigating the already rough waters of adolescence and gender identity at a time when it wasn’t openly discussed nor understood. The loving support between the two is simply beautiful, and the point is driven home by skilled performances from Giuliani and Cruz.

Crialese relies on too many fantasy sequences that detract from the drama that’s at the heart of the story, and it makes the film seem as if it lacks clear direction. The ending in particular is a letdown, especially after much repetition that came before. Despite a few missteps, “L’immensita” is a multifaceted and lovely film about two relatives who feel like outsiders in their own lives.

By: Louisa Moore

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