The beauty of this moment is that it hints at where Adore is taking us. As life long best friends Lil (Naomi Watts) and Roz (Robin Wright) lovingly observe their sons from afar, we gather that these are more than mere looks of admiration. These are glances of temptation. The subtlety of Watts and Wright’s acting talents discard any creepiness that could have found its way into the scene. Instead, we witness two, middle-aged women who are silently teasing themselves with What if.
This is how much of the first act of the film carries on: best friends laze about their lavish beach homes, tanning, drinking, eating, all in the close company of Lil’s son, Ian (Xavier Samuel) and Roz’s son, Tom (James Frecheville). After one particularly festive night of casual partying, Ian makes a sexual advance toward Roz, which she hesitantly accepts. Tom catches them in the act, and instead of saying anything, he walks over to Lil’s house and announces what he’s seen. Shortly thereafter, Lil and Tom neglect their innocence by cashing in on their sexual tension.
So here’s the thing. In any other movie, the scenes I’ve described could be viewed as sleazy. But director Anne Fontaine is more controlled than that. Instead of depicting these respective affairs as vulgar acts, she displays them as mature moments of passion. The film constantly toes the line of going too far, but never officially does. It’s risqué, but never perverted. Erotic, but never lewd.
It’s also very smart. Once Lil and Roz learn what the other has done, they don’t react violently. There’s no screaming or casting of blame. They’re both equally guilty and they both know it. So they have a conversation. A controlled, mature conversation in which they acknowledge their single, careless mistakes, and promise to never do it again. A promise that is quickly broken.
Adore (which premiered at Sundance as Two Mothers, and is being released in some countries as Perfect Mothers, both inferior titles) is a film that aims to challenge us. Aside from its salacious subject material, the film is patient in its execution, and unnerving in its character choices. Some scenes are extended conversations – arguments or testaments of love. Other lengthy sequences contain not a single word of dialogue, while other scenes are brief, with only a few sentences passed. Point is, Fontaine and her co-writer, Christopher Hampton, know exactly what to show us and how long to show it. Not a single second is misspent in this film, nor a line wasted.
As Lil and Roz, respectively, Watts and Wright deliver some of their finest work to date. These are fearless, nuanced performances in which the women embrace their sexuality, but never shy away from letting the insecurity of age creep in. I rarely agreed with the decisions Lil and Roz made, but I never once judged them for their actions. In fact, I sat on the edge of my seat, wondering desperately how they were going to untangle this mess.
Christophe Beaucarne’s cinematography deserves specific mention as well, as Adore is one of the most gorgeous films I’ve seen so far this year. The way Beaucarne catches light glistening off the ocean, or slightly overexposes a moment of intimacy, or reflects a spotlight off a cocktail dress during a stage production, all speak tellingly to the scene at hand. He can say as much with the beautiful landscape of Australia’s New South Wales as he can with Naomi Watts’ swollen, despondent reflection in a bathroom mirror.
There’s so much left to say about this film, all of which the film can say far better than I. Truth is, Adore is one of the most tonally unique films I’ve seen. Although I quickly became entranced by its spell, I was always aware that it could push too far and turn me away. Scanning other reviews for the film, it’s clear that Adore is not for everyone. It’s a complicated story with little regard to any and all complications, with a consistent balance of love, loss, and anguish. I loved every second of it, but can’t promise that you will as well. A