As in his previous film The Untouchable, Benoît Jacquot’s sublime and brooding film Villa Amalia, an adaptation of Pascal Quignard’s novel, also explores themes of identity and fugue. This ambiguity is suggested in the film’s opening sequence, as a distracted Ann (Isabelle Huppert) – having just witnessed her long-time partner, Thomas (Xavier Beauvois) near the doorway of another woman’s home one evening – fails to recognize her childhood friend, Georges (Jean-Hugues Anglade) in the street. In a sense, the juxtaposition of their shared childhood in Brittany (which, in turn, evokes the region’s Celtic and French biculturality), and her delayed response to the calling of her birth name (having adopted the surname, Hidden – an Anglicization of Hidewitz – for her professional career as a concert pianist and composer that alludes to her estrangement from her Romanian Jewish father and his ethic roots) is also a reflection of Ann’s ambiguity and figurative rejection of her identity. Withdrawing from colleagues, refusing to take on commissioned work, and deciding to sell her shared apartment and all of its contents – including her collection of pianos – Ann gradually begins to divest herself from the life she has known, paying a final visit to her estranged mother, saying goodbye to friends, and asking Georges to keep a remote house that he once inherited for her, before setting off on her own journey to the volcanic island of Ischia on the Italian coast. But the island also proves to have its own entanglements: an Italian woman (Maya Sansa), on the verge of a breakup with her boyfriend, finds kinship with Ann despite the language barrier, a divorced lover’s adolescent daughter begins to spend more time with her than with her workaholic father, and a fragile, emotionally abandoned Georges who is facing his own mortality. Jacquot creates a sense of fracture through narrative ellipses, dislocation, truncated conversations, and extended silences (most notably, in Ann’s visit to her mother who may be suffering from a degenerative memory disorder) that reinforce her increasing isolation. Set against the idyllic, but weatherworn abandoned hilltop cottage, Villa Amalia becomes an embodiment of Ann’s self-imposed exile as well in its haunted history of love and loss, beauty and austerity, celebration and mourning.
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