Film Fest 7: 'Adore' (2013)
Review by Mercedes Weidmer
Adore (2013), is an unconventional romantic drama, directed by Anne Fontaine, written by Christopher Hampton and based on a novella by Doris Lessing. Naomi Watts and Robin Wright are cast as Lil and Roz respectively, two mothers who have grown up as close as sisters, and who fall in love with each other’s sons.
The film is at its core a challenge to traditional notions of ethics, love and relationships, leaving the audience polarized: to approve or not approve as it were. The story however does not lean one way or another, neither provoking nor providing judgment. Instead, Fontaine presents us with a tempting ‘what if’ scenario, testing the limits of what is moral and acceptable. The overarching problem that confronts (and perhaps even disgusts) many audience members is the hint of incest. Fontaine makes clear that these two women are as close as sisters, growing up side-by-side and eventually raising their children the same way. Roz and Lil then are effectively second-mothers/aunt figures to the boys. The film explores the various ‘kinds of love’; Roz and Lil’s love is an absolute, life-long sisterhood, a bond that can only exist between two women; and the relationship that Roz and Lil have with each other’s boys, a parent-figure, which then transforms into older lover. The problem lies in the combination and transformation of one love to another: from parent figure to lover.
What makes this possible is the film’s setting. These two women have been raised on a beach in New South Wales, as then are their sons. This creates a gender duality that brews the tension and sensuality on which the film rests. Their husbands, some might wonder, are either dead (the film opens with the death of Lil’s husband) or absent. Both mothers and sons are rooted to their beach, as is then their relationship. This is what ushers in the audience’s acceptance and even empathy for the characters and their situation. Their ‘Shangri La’ reminds us of a holiday destination, where one escapes society to bask in the sun and freedom of the sea. The only difference is: these women live in their Shangri-La, their lives are infused with a constant ‘when in Rome…’ joie-de-vivre, leaving the audience thinking “Why not?” It is this predicament which sits at the film’s core, is it the question that the director Anne Fontaine poses the audience, and what in turn the audience find themselves puzzling over throughout and after the film.
Fontaine suffuses the film with a subtle religious allegory and guilt that recalls European art-house dramas. The four routinely swim out to a tanning dock, away from the prying eyes of town members and judgment, free to “be sinful” and bask in the impartial sun that gives them all a golden glow which us viewers can only dream of attaining. This beach cove, remote and idyllic, is their Eden, and they all are eating from the same apple. It’s the duality of the film that gives it such a poetic balance: two mothers, best friends, both almost middle aged, and their sons, “like young gods”. It is easy however, to focus on the sexual here, on the sinful act of love itself that crosses the line, but these morally ambiguous affairs are simply a symptom of a larger issue in the film, as it transcends the physical into the deeper and murkier waters of the emotional. Fontaine presents us with their situation, honest and heartfelt, surprising even to the mothers themselves but tempting nonetheless.
These women are portrayed in all their forms: friend, wife, mother, lover. This is an unconventional story of the different kinds of love, and the moral lines that can be crossed … but perhaps not one to watch with mum.
Lemire, Christy, ‘Adore’ Review, Rogere Bert Reviews online, September 6th, 2013.
Scott, A.O. A Valentine for One, A Mother’s Day Card for Another, New York Times online, September 3rd, 2013.
Wise, Damon Sundance Film Festival Review 2013: Two Mothers - first look review, The Guardian online, January 21st, 2013.