Sometimes the Japanese title for a foreign film manages to grasp the very essence of the story and display it with the deft, loving care of a jeweler placing a necklace in a glass case. The Japanese title for “Adore” (previously known as “Two Mothers”) is “Utsukushi e no Hokai,” which roughly translates as “The Destruction of a Beautiful Image.” And that’s what “Adore” seems to boil down to.
Lacking much-needed emotional scope and nuance, it presents a gorgeous picture, tells us to worship it and then proceeds to smash it before our eyes.
The two mothers — Roz (Robin Wright) and Lil (Naomi Watts) — have been best friends since childhood, and are neighbors in an idyllic Australian beach town where they’ve lived most of their lives. Lil is a widow and Roz is married to Harold (wonderfully underplayed by Ben Mendelsohn), who’s nice enough, but feeling isolated from his family — Roz and Lil are so tight they may as well be married. And their respective sons, Ian (Xavier Samuel) and Tom (James Frecheville), have been best friends since they were toddlers. When Harold is offered a cushy job in Sydney, he first assumes Roz will go with him, but soon sees that she’s not prepared to leave Lil, the house or the boys. Especially the boys.
The two mothers and sons are cocooned in a micro-universe of adoration, about to combust into an all-consuming sexual desire.
When Tom sees Ian leaving his mother’s bedroom at dawn, he decides to start an affair with Lil and the four become even more inseparable, frolicking on the beach by day and sinking into sweet honeypots of sexual bliss by night. Moral quandary is more or less a nonissue: Lil and Roz agree that they’ve “crossed the line” but that doesn’t mean they’re ready to change the situation. On the contrary, the more they feel that line receding into the distance, the better it all feels — the sex, the swimming together, Roz and Lil’s mutual pondering about whether they could be lesbians and the delicious sensation of having a sexual secret. It’s all good.
“Adore” is based on Doris Lessing’s novella, “The Grandmothers,” and the narrative is compelling and evocative. In the hands of director Anne Fontaine, however, the emotional darkness and guilt that sometimes closes in on Roz and Lil is deleted in favor of an expertly framed and very attractive tableau.
You’ll see the image of two lovely women, whose physical appearances defy every law of gravity, and their equally breathtaking sons whom they describe as “gods.” OK, they’re kind of goofy and seemingly have no thoughts apart from surfing and sex, but still.
Ultimately, the film fails to address the hardest part about taboo affairs: having to come to terms with the damage and legacy of uncontrollable lust. No one can walk away from this stuff unscathed, but “Adore” is inclined to disagree.