Room in Rome – Strangers in the night: Alba & Natasha enjoy a brief encounter in the Eternal City

Room in Rome - Natasha (Natasha Yarovenko) & Alba (Elenya Anaya)

Chosen for the closing night of this year’s Spanish Film Festival, Room in Rome is a playful, teasing and very sexy film about a one-night stand.

This intimate rendezvous takes place between two women in a hotel room in Rome – a fleeting encounter in the Eternal City. It is the summer solstice, the shortest night of the year, and Alba (Elena Anaya) and Natasha (Natasha Yarovenko) are strangers from opposite ends of Europe (Spain and Russia) who have chanced upon each other that evening in a bar.

We don’t witness that encounter, but somehow Alba, who is gay, has persuaded Natasha, who is straight, to return with her to her hotel. A game of seduction and resistance then begins, during which the two women spin tales about themselves that may or may not be true.

Is Alba the fugitive wife of a Saudi prince? Is Natasha a tennis player? An actress? Has she a twin sister? Are ‘Alba’ and ‘Natasha’ even their real names?

Room in Rome - Alba (Elena Anaya) & Natasha (Natasha Yarovenko)

The pair shed their clothes very quickly but are much more reluctant to lay bare their souls. Each wishes to preserve the life she is due to resume the following day.

Yet as the night unfolds, they gradually allow glimpses of their true selves – an emotional striptease that is fraught with peril. By opening up to one another they may not be able to contain this encounter to the hotel room.

“This stays here within these four walls,” asserts Natasha at one stage, and Spanish writer-director Julio Medem takes her at her word. His camera never leaves the hotel room – save for the dizzying travelling shots that top and tail the film.

Having restricted himself to a single set and a single night (and dawn), Medem then finds ingenious ways – both spatial and temporal – to open up his film from this confinement. The women use a laptop to swoop over the globe and zoom in via satellite imagery on their respective homes – giving them an opportunity to hint at further revelations about their lives. The frescoes and paintings on the hotel suite’s walls and ceilings, meanwhile, open up vistas on more than 2,000 years of European art and history.

Room in Rome - Natasha (Natasha Yarovenko)

Medem’s camera lingers most, however, on the women themselves. You can see why. Anaya, dark-haired, lithe, and Yarovenko, blonde, willowy, are both gorgeous. Yet their performances are much more than skin deep; each gives her character an emotional depth that makes their liaison as touching as it is erotic.

Medem, best known outside Spain as the maker of Lovers of the Arctic Circle and Sex and Lucia, is hardly the first to weave a tale from the chance collision of attractive strangers far from home. Indeed, his film is based on a 2005 Chilean film, En la cama (whose one-night stand was between a man and a woman), which itself owed a debt to Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise.

Even if others did get there before, Medem still has enough wit and inventiveness to sustain our interest in Alba and Natasha’s one-night stand, and to make us care how it turns out. Though, I must admit, Jocelyn Pook’s insistent and repetitive soundtrack does outstay its welcome long before the dawn arrives.

Released by Optimum Home Entertainment on Blu-ray & DVD on 18th October.

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