The Solitude of Prime Numbers
Based on a best-selling novel, this Italian/French/German co-production ticks all the boxes for “art-house cinema” while still managing to surprise and disturb. The tone is set as the film opens with a group of children performing in a play with no dialogue, until one of them inexplicably starts screaming.
The story continues, however, relatively benignly. We are introduced, through a series of flashbacks to their various ages, to our eponymous primes, Mattia and Alice. As a small child, Mattia is tasked with looking after his disabled sister, a burden he carries with absolute diligence. Meanwhile, Alice is the beloved daughter of emotionally inconsistent parents who push her into skiing.
In later life Mattia has grown into a silent, moody, if handsome young man. Alice is bullied by emotionally inconsistent school friends, and the two odd numbers (primes can only be odd) are brought together at a party where the pumping ’90s house music helps to create almost unbearable tension. Throughout, in fact, the soundtrack composed by Faith No More’s Mike Patton (!) serves to heighten anxiety, echoing Clockwork Orange‘s synthesizers and Jaws’ strings.
This is a story of secrets and tragedies, and an unusual relationship borne out of difference. Though at times difficult to watch, it is absolutely capitivating thanks to engaging performances by the younger children, and excellence from Alba Rohrwacher (who played Tilda Swinton’s ethereal daughter in the equally challenging I Am Love) and newcomer Luca Marinelli. Isabella Rossellini is superb as Mattia’s mother, paving the way for the film to descend to almost Lynchian depths of mystery and unease.
It’s not quite that bad. But it does get tough toward the end as the questions unravel to leak uncomfortable, and somewhat drawn-out, answers. Go, but don’t go it alone.