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‘Indivisible’ Review: It’s About More Than Splitting Up

Somewhere between Lanthimos and Korine, Edoardo De Angelis’ third feature is thriving.
By  · Published on October 3rd, 2017

Somewhere between Lanthimos and Korine, Edoardo De Angelis’ third feature is thriving.

Many family dramas look far and wide for handy metaphors to particularize the long-haul agony of togetherness. The death of some patriarch. The wedding of some more fortunate and departing sibling. A scary-looking avalanche.  Indivisible, Edoardo De Angelis’ third feature and his first to find success on the international festival circuit, feels no need to find kitchen-sink angles to position his family on the rocks. It is a messy parable about family, growing up and letting go. It’s about the anguish of realizing that the world is a lonely and barren place, cynical and small. But I don’t want to bury my lede here. Indivisible is also the story of a pair of conjoined twins and their efforts to split.

Dasy and Viola are sisters, joined at the hip by what a doctor helpfully tells them are a “mass of capillaries.” (They are played by real-life twin siblings, Angela and Marianna Fontana.) Their parents, either making the best of things or playing the part of exploitive carnies, put them on the touring circuit. Small church parties, convocations, weddings. It is nothing excessively egregious: the sisters can also sing remarkably well, so it’s not a total old-school freak show. We’re supposed to think the parents are the story’s villains but their performances ring too true for that script. Titti the mother (Antonia Truppo, often in a flaming green jacket that looks like a fragrant lily pad against the film’s damp mise-en-scène) is particularly affecting in her anguish: “You don’t want them separated because they could die on the operating table. You love them and worry about them,” she tells her husband Peppe (Massimiliano Rossi) and it’s that dramaturgical touch of lying to yourself that she works especially well. Rossi, on the other hand, attacks his role like the story’s Rasputin, evoking the similarly sinister patriarchs of Yorgos Lanthimos’ earlier and equally physical dramas. Most egregious: he forbids them from singing the Janis Joplin songs they love in lieu of his own tedious verses. Lanthimos also feels like a clear influence of sorts, with family affairs like Dogtooth and Alps that are similarly keen on beating out the metaphorical power of diligently surreal situations.

Dasy and Viola’s names are also a clear Italian riff off the real-life story of Daisy and Violet Hilton, the British conjoined twins who were managed by economically industrious barkeeps who bought them from an impoverished mother and had them touring circuses from the age of three. The twins are perhaps most remembered for their appearance in Tod Browning’s Freaks, which once inspired the frame of a “Treehouse of Horror” episode of The Simpsons and also one of those seasons of American Horror Story. The Hiltons eventually sued their handlers and won, as they had been pocketing the sisters’ earnings and, we must suppose, without their best intentions at heart.
De Angelis doesn’t leave things as clear-cut. Indivisible also doubles as a tone poem on the Neopolitan slums, a locale that will be very familiar to literary types, readers of Elana Ferrante’s bestselling Neapolitan series will feel at home. Her novels’ “dangerous, dirty and seductive” terrain find their visual companion in De Angelis’ empire of abandoned mattresses, crumbling roads, and all kinds of Gummo-era Harmony Korine destitution. When numerous characters ask the twins why they would ever want to ever be normal in such a world, it’s a reasonable question.
A classier film, perhaps, would have less of Korine’s dreariness and more of Lanthimos’ zany unpredictability. Rossi is a gambling hound because of course, he is, of course, and it’s revealed that he lost their savings to the nefarious slot machine, which renders the whole Lanthimos-esque moral question strangely moot. Viola holds together the film–the more loving, religious, and earnest of the twins (who says conjoined twins have to have the same personality?), she doesn’t want to stop sharing a body with her best friend. This is a knot that De Angelis wisely leaves tangled, something to chew on when you’re all alone.
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