Adore: Anne Fontaine’s Sensual Tale of Women, Starring Naomi Watts and Robin Wright

Marking the English-speaking debut of the French director Anne Fontaine, Adore examines the relationship between two lifelong friends who dare to violate conventions of sexuality and morality.

The friends are played by Naomi Watts and Robin Wright, who render mesmerizing, multi-nuanced performances that may represent career-heights for both of them, but especially for Wright.

When it played at the Sundance Film Fest, in January, the feature was called “Two Mothers,” an observant, well-written screen adaptation by Christopher Hampton from a novella by Nobel Prize winner Doris Lessing.

Now titled Adore, a better moniker, this provocative drama is made for mature audiences and not just because it includes erotic scenes between middle-aged (fortysomething) women and younger men half their age, but mostly because it dares to raise issues that are seldom tackled in mainstream Hollywood cinema.

Set in a lush Australian seaside town, Adore unfolds as an intimate romantic fable, following the paths of two women as they slowly and daringly plunge into unexpected but exciting domains.

Lil (Naomi Watts) and Roz (Robin Wright) have been close friends since they were little girls growing up in their small coastal town. Their routines consisted of racing each other to the nearby beach, plunging into the ocean, or swimming out to an old dock, where they would remain for hours while exposing their hearts and souls.

In due time, both women married and then each gave birth to a son. The children were still young when Lil’s husband was killed in a car accident, leaving her a single mother. Roz was there to see her friend through tragedy, and she also made sure that Lil’s son, Ian (Xavier Samuel), knew she was there for him, too.

Roz’s husband, Harold (Ben Mendelsohn), encourages their boy, Tom, to strike up a friendship with Ian. Lil and Ian visit their friends’ house frequently, during which they freely behave as one extended family.

Years later, Lil and Roz continue to spend languorous hours on the same beach where they had shared their childhood secrets and dreams. Blonde, beautiful, and light on their feet, the two women could pass as sisters. More importantly, they perceive their camaraderie as natural (and given) as the air they’re breathing.

The friendship that evolves between Ian and Tom (James Frecheville), who are now handsome teenagers, parallels that of their respective mothers. Like all adolescents, Ian and Tom need to make decisions about their adult lives, but for now, they’re happy to spend their days surfing and swimming, while their mothers lounge nearby. Looking out at the ocean, Roz and Lil marvel with bemusement at these young gorgeous males, which inevitably reminded them of their own youth.

Harold, a drama teacher, is offered a job at a Sydney University. Roz is unsettled by the prospect of leaving her lifelong home, but she asks Harold for some time to adjust to the idea while he’s off in Sydney. It is during those two weeks that the group dynamics change–in unpredictable directions.

Indeed, now forming a quartet, Lil, Roz, Ian, and Tom spend their last days of summer doing everything together–chatting, swimming, eating and laughing. Soon, various tensions begin to color and shape the interactions: suppressed emotions and latent transgressive desires come to the fore. The two femmes are clearly in love with each other, but unable to admit this fact, they decide to engage in sexual relationships with each other’s son.

Freudian psychologists will have a field day deconstruction the emotions and passions of Lil and Roz as they go to bed and get involved with the younger men.

Under the precise gaze of director Fontaine’s camera, Adore is replete with physical sensuality of the kind that’s seldom seen on American screens. But ultimately what matter is the deep and complex exploration of such gray-shaded matters as love, family, morality, and desire as they affect the two women and their respective lovers.