Film review: Adoration

by **

Dear Dad

When you try to marry French surrealism with British saltiness in an Australian summer, you don’t always end up getting a piquant love-story under the sun.

Adoration, based on Doris Lessing’s novella The Grandmothers, is a movie that examines inter-generational sexual intimacy that in some respects defies credulity here although the tale is apparently drawn from real-life events.

Roz (Robin Wright) and Lil (Naomi Watts), best friends since childhood, are next-door neighbours in an idyllic coastal town in New South Wales, Australia.

After her husband takes up a job in the city, Roz spends a lot more time with Lil, widowed more than a decade ago, and their sons are close as brothers.

So, while the mothers are sun-bathing and ocean-swimming and walking bare-feet on powdery white sand, 19-year-old Tom (James Frecheville) and Ian (Xavier Samuel) are riding the waves with an “unearthly aura”, “like gods”.

They live as one happy extended family until Ian finds himself decidedly attracted to his best mate’s mum. And Tom decides to seduce Lil as well.

In spite of being riven by incomprehension and guilt and shame, the mothers, swooning with unbridled desire, at first can see no reason why they must put their involvements to an end.

Under the charge of French director, Anne Fontaine, the women appear more concerned with being left behind in the wake of time than with holding back their children’s (marital) future.

The film is gorgeously shot and it has a stellar cast in Watts and Wright, who despite — curiously — to seem not to have aged a day over a show-time of 15 years, delineate expressions of carnal hunger and despair at losing the young lovers to girls their age in vivid detail.

But Christophe Beaucarne’s stunning cinematography bleaches out any emotional dimension in the narrative: there is a woeful lack of deeper attachment beyond the pairs’ erotic appetite for each other. As such, this makes it hard to invest in the characters with understanding or empathy. The account would have been morally more complex if there were perceptible feelings behind those bobbing outlines and excited silhouettes.

It is, however, when the plot turns to see Tom seeking out Lil a few days after his wedding to a girl he supposedly fell in love with that the drama’s overall credibility feels somewhat compromised, even if it does not obfuscate the underlying motivations.

And though the story is based on Lessing’s writing that we know is imbued with an acerbic tone, albeit with a whiff of homophobia, the screenplay by British playwright Christopher Hampton is frustratingly jejune.

The saving grace of the whole production — if the aesthetics of brawn and sea and nudity are just not enough — is perhaps Samuel’s actorly genius. Admittedly, the nature of his character may have earned my bias. The only one to display visceral devotion for the object of his passion, Ian’s churning agony at being coercively separated from Roz is touching and poignant.

Far from a morality tale that the late novelist had envisioned, the final scenes contemplate the unexpected ramifications of doing what is presumably ethically correct.

Yet, for all that it is and is not, Adoration, forces us to meditate on weakness of the flesh and its susceptibility to lust with our eyes open. Piquant or not.