‘Indivisible’ (‘Indivisibili’): Film Review

Courtesy of TIFF
Angela and Marianna Fontana in 'Indivisible'
Beauty and the beasts.

Conjoined twins fight to be separated in Edoardo De Angelis’ off-beat drama.

Fresh-faced sisters Angela and Marianna Fortuna make a noteworthy screen debut as Dasy and Viola, the bubbling, singing Siamese twins who are far less grotesque than the greedy charlatans who exploit them in Italy’s lower depths. With an unspoken nod to the tragic lives of the real-life English twins Violet and Daisy Hilton, after whom they are named, director Edoardo De Angelis explores the psyches of the girls as they turn 18 and begin to dream of a normal life. After its bow at Venice Days and Toronto, this involving, fable-like drama looks like the perfect cross-over from festivals to art houses.

Side-stepping what could have been a cheap, morbid peek into the lives of two beautiful teenagers who were born joined at the hip, Indivisible strikes out on its own path, sounding an exhilarating note of freedom for its protags. Born into abject poverty in the camorra-infested lands around Naples, the girls become a symbol of rebellion against exploitation and human trafficking.

De Angelis’ first two off-beat features Mozzarella Stories (exec produced by Emir Kusturica) and the surreal gangster yarn Perez were set in the same toxic environment. Their strong, kitschy colors are slightly muted in Indivisible, where the story is better developed around characters the audience identifies with and cares about.

Here, the establishing shot is not an overhead fly-by of skyscrapers, but a tawdry dawn breaking on a beach littered with bonfires, where tired prostitutes trudge home to ramshackle houses made of cinder blocks. Dasy and Viola lie side by side in bed, woken by their blowsy alcoholic mom Titti (Antonia Truppo) and told to get ready to perform at a private party. Their sad-sack dad Peppe (Massimiliano Rossi), who writes their songs, loads them onto a van advertising the “Indivisibles”. Since he deposits a share of their earnings in the bank for them, it doesn't seem like the worst arrangement, given the circumstances.

The party turns out to be a First Communion bash for a pudgy little rich girl and is the height of Neapolitan kitsch, delightful and a little chilling. A massively tattooed lady in an evening gown belts out Ave Maria as a dance number, while her suave handler (Gaetano Bruno) attempts to persuade the twins to work for him. But when they start to sing, their heavenly voices are pure charm.  The quality of the music, which was written by folk singer Enzo Avitabile, is palpably beyond poor Peppe’s talents, and an early signal that this is a fantasy film and not reality.

Though the sisters are identical twins, their sunny personalities distinguish them almost at once. Viola has a sweet tooth; Dasy like to drink. They dream of absconding to Los Angeles, and Dasy dreams of being with a man. When a doctor suggests they have no vital organs in common and could be surgically separated, Viola can’t imagine living apart from her twin; Dasy can think of nothing else. The film’s second act describes their naïve attempts to raise cash for the operation, as their handlers throw off their masks of family love and defend their right to exploit them.

One of the least convincing characters is a would-be charismatic priest (Gianfranco Gallo) who travels with huge Jesus statues and rallies the local Nigerian ex-pat community with a few shouted banalities in English. He hangs around the family for no clear reason, perhaps sensing opportunity, and is the most cynical of them all. When Dasy begs him to help, he coolly tells her she’s better off marketing herself as a freak.

Surprisingly, given the ferocity of the location (the film is set near Castel Volturno, where Matteo Garrone’s Gomorra was shot), De Angelis keeps violence off the screen, though the threat is always present. In a tense sequence aboard a yacht, the sensation that the twins are in physical danger gives the whole scene great impetus. Its incredible ending, like the film’s unlikely conclusion, is shot with so much conviction it works.

The cast is well-chosen and directed, beginning with the charming Fontana sisters, and including the all-too-human Truppo and Rossi as their inadequate, but not monstrous, parents. Ferran Paredes Rubio’s pro cinematography stresses the fable-like quality of the tale.

Production companies: Tramp, O’Groove in association with Medusa Film, Mediaset Premium
Cast: Angela Fontana, Marianna Fontana, Antonia Truppo, Massimiliano Rossi, Tony Laudadio, Marco Mario De Notaris, Gaetano Bruno, Gianfranco Gallo, Peppe Servillo
Director: Edoardo De Angelis
Screenwriters: Nicola Guaglianone, Barbara Petronio, Edoardo De Angelis
Producers: Attilio De Razza, Pierpaolo Verga
Director of photography: Ferran Paredes Rubio
Production designer: Carmine Guarino
Costume designer: Massimo Cantini Parrini
Editor: Chiara Griziotti
Music: Enzo Avitabile
World sales: True Colours
Venue: Venice Days, Toronto Film Festival 
100 minutes