ADORATION. Starring Naomi Watts, Robin Wright, Xavier Samuel, James Frecheville, and Ben Mendelsohn. Directed by Anne Fontaine. Rated MA15+. Restricted. (Strong sex scenes and coarse language). 111 min.
Not to be confused with the 2009 Canadian film of the same name by Atom Egoyan, this film is an erotic drama about two mothers who have affairs with each other’s sons. The film is an Australian-French production that was shot around Seal Rocks in NSW, and has been screened on the International Film circuit. It is based on a screenplay by Oscar winner, Christopher Hampton, who was responsible for the film adaptation of Ian McEwan’s “Atonement” (2007), and is based loosely on Doris Lessing’s short novel,” The Grandmothers”, published in 2003.
Two women, who have been best friends since childhood, Roz (Robin Wright) and Lil (Naomi Watts) lie side by side on a pristine beach in Northern NSW watching their teenage sons enjoying their time surfing. They have managed art galleries and yachting companies and are both professional, competent women in what they have achieved. Most importantly, they have been friends for life, and they feel very much at ease in idly discussing the attractiveness and the physicality of the young men surfing in front of them. But more is at stake than just conversation.
Lil’s son is Ian (Xavier Samuel) and Roz’s son is Tom (James Frecheville). Tom learns that his mother has had a passionate one-night stand with his best friend, Ian. He tells Ian’s mother, Lil, about it and decides to take revenge against his friend by seducing her. Tom’s affair with Ian’s mother is both a way of getting back at his friend, but also a way of wounding his own mother, who, he thinks, has betrayed him. The original motives are lost, however, as the attachments between those involved grow in intensity as the film progresses.
The film impacts on viewers at two levels. Made by a female director, it is about the psychological interaction of two mature women, and explores their unconscious in a provocative way. Lil is widowed, and Roz is married unhappily to an Australian academic (Ben Mendelsohn), who has decided to work in Sydney. The film shows Lil and Roz as attractive women, struggling with the threat of approaching years, both being tempted sexually by what each (and society) would regard as forbidden fruit. At another level, it explores in an intense and personal way, the erotic attraction between two nubile teenagers driven by awakening sexual desire and two desirable women caught emotionally in a situation which they have encouraged for different reasons.
The result is a controversial movie that explores the personal psyches of adults and teenagers, who choose to behave irresponsibly. The film shows the change in the friendship between Roz and Lil, and reveals what happens when sexual desire starts to rule the lives of four people. Naomi Watts plays her role fearlessly and gives an intensely personal performance, as she has done in other movies (like “The Impossible”, 2012; and more daringly, in “Funny Games”, 2007)). Her immoral actions, as also those of Roz, change the way the two women relate to each other and to their sons. All four are emotionally scarred by what occurred, and know that their interactions with each other will never be the same. Roz and Lil play unsuccessfully at being “grandmothers” to their sons’ children, until passion intrudes again.
This is a film full of sensuality, and immoral desire, and is a compelling tale of misguided attraction. The tone of the movie is coherently languid and sensual throughout and the acting and photography are excellent, but the film plays very loosely with the complexities of family loyalty, conventional morality, and the rules of normal emotional attachment.
This movie is definitely not recommended for the unwary. “Adoration” is a misleading word for describing any of the relationships depicted in this dramatically intense, and absorbing film.
Peter W. Sheehan is associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.
Out November 21 2013.