The story of 18-year-old conjoined twins who make a living as pop singers sounds like an irritating exercise in quirk. Yet, in the capable hands of director Eduardo De Angelis, Indivisible exceeds expectations, inviting spiritual introspection, interrogating bourgeois ideals and posing unanswerable questions — like what it means to love someone so much that you don’t want to be separated from them. A fairy tale about separation, suffering and the painfully beautiful necessity of transformation, it was the perfect choice for opening night film of Open Roads: New Italian Cinema at Lincoln Center.
The film opens with an impressive tracking shot following three tattered streetwalkers as they walk across a dilapidated coast with bejeweled heels in hand. Where are they and who are they? De Angelis then takes viewers through a window into the cluttered bedroom of Dasy and Violet (real-life twins Angela and Marianna Fontana). It’s a memorable introduction because, in addition to seeing the girls linked at the hip, Dasy is touching herself with her mouth agape in pleasure while Violet sleeps beside her. The sexuality is straightforward and remarkably respectful. There’s a Virgin Mary figurine on the nightstand, but it’s clear that these young women are not at odds with their faithfulness. They’re normal girls with music posters, perfumes and piles of clothes.
Dasy and Violet are awoken by their tattooed, chain-smoking mother (Antonia Truppo) and before they can so much as eat a bowl of cereal, their slimy manager father (Massimiliano Rossi) and his team of profiteering minions cart them off to a bizarre birthday party gig. A drag queen lip-syncs to “Ave Maria” beside an empty swimming pool while a priest listens with a look of malice. Writers De Angelis, Nicola Guaglianone and Barbara Petronio do not reveal why the world of Indivisible appears so unreal, but they don’t need to. The movie is a fable, and like any good fable, the emotions of the people living inside it are what make it real.
Adorned in a spectral silver gown tailored to fit their bodies, the twins give a performance that’s part Britney Spears, part David Cronenberg — they’re beguiling, gorgeous and grotesque. Following their siren song, a greasy manager approaches and offers the girls a deal. Dasy is taken by his flattery but Violet most certainly is not. She’s the wiser of the two, able to see through the manager whose clients are more like sex workers than performers.
The money earned by the twins is enough to keep the family fed and their crummy home filled with junk, but their lives remain depressed. The society of Indivisible has undergone some kind of unspecified crisis and most of its people are impoverished. Their only joy in life lies with seeing “freaks” like Dasy and Violet perform, and De Angelis and his co-screenwriters seem interested in critiquing the capitalistic values that fuel such cheap spectacles.
The plot of conjoined twins has long been reserved for either soap operas or Farrelly Brothers comedies. But here, the dramatic possibilities of lifelong, biological companionship play out maturely and movingly. Violet and Dasy have always had differences — Violet likes sweets while Dasy longs for romance — but when they are told by a doctor they could safely be separated, the sisters are in agreement. They want the surgery. Yet, financial revelations and a botched runaway have a revelatory effect on the girls. They’re trying to find their way, but how can they when irresponsible adults, a failed economy and a handicap prevent them for living the lives they’ve imagined? As the film goes on and the sisters’ differences become more apparent, Indivisible become a twisted sort of love story about both the limits and possibilities of their bond.
It would be a crime to praise this film without mentioning the extraordinary score of singer-songwriter Enzo Avitabile. His eerie drumbeats will haunt the hazy space between your ears and when they’re taken over by a crooning saxophone in the opening shot, it’s a strange and stunning complement to the film’s already surreal setting. Throughout Indivisible, Avitabile’s music is integral to the mood and tone, and it’s wonderful to experience such a mesmerizing union between sight and sound.
Indivisible is an allegory. But unlike most allegories, which play with annoyingly fanciful images in order to shove their supposedly subtle themes down your throat, the ultimate message of the film is ambiguous (and that’s a good thing). Between the expressive faces of the Fontana sisters, the appalling greediness of their father and the ruined sensitivities of their mother, the film is filled with multifaceted ideas and unapologetic emotions. Indivisible is a fantastically imaginative coming-of-age tale, an opera of sweeping creativity and a universal human love story. It’s unlike anything you’ll see this year.
Erica Peplin (@ericapeplin) is a writer and editor for Spectrum Culture. She lives in New York.