Monday, May 30, 2011

Room In Rome

The 2010 film Room in Rome answers the age-old cinematic question:
Can a film be romantic, erotic, and geographic?
Apparently, yes. On one level, the film is an echo of the 2005 En la Cama, which is actually cited in the closing credits. In both films, a passionate love affair plays out -- with many emotional ups and downs -- within the confines of a single night and a single hotel room. In both cases, the lovers struggle with the tension between the unexpected passion of the present and commitments elsewhere, which in each case includes impending nuptials.

What sets the newer film apart is its explicit use of geography. (The explicit use of sex is common to both films.)  The film opens and closes with Natasha and Alba in a courtyard, viewed from high above. Throughout the film, the stories they tell each other about their lives are mediated through -- of all things -- Bing Maps, a Microsoft competitor of GoogleEarth. I am not making this up!

As the lovers/strangers grapple with their feelings for each other and with questions about anonymity and honesty, the dialog frequently turns on what they have inferred and implied about the satellite imagery they have viewed together. Even the timing of the images -- which is often not noticed by viewers -- has implications for the characters, as does the spatial resolution available.

I will not spoil the final scene, except to say that director Julio Medem is clearly conscious of how online availability of satellite images has changed our understanding of social spaces. The "inverted" view of Rome in its broad geographic context reminds us that orientations can be arbitrary.

Geography bonus: The characters show that learning a second or third language can have benefits.

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