While We Were Here
Kat Coiro’s second feature While We Were Here was one of the surprises among this year’s American independent films. This spellbinding film depicts the sensual awakening of a young American woman who accompanies her husband on a professional trip to the island of Ischia, near Naples.
Her grandmother’s story, which she is transcribing from audiotapes, is superimposed on her own. This is a journey through space but also in time. The description of a couple of bourgeois artists (she is a writer, he is a musician) under the sunny Mediterranean skies inevitably recalls a foundational film of modern cinema, Roberto Rossellini’s Journey to Italy (Viaggio in Italia, 1954), which recorded the existential crisis of a couple as the symbol of a radical, ontological rupture with psychologically explanatory and traditional cinema.
The choice of black and white to distil the dazzling colours of the natural surroundings is no accident. Rather than straying into touristic contemplation of one of the most beautiful landscapes in the world, the director opts to concentrate on her heroine’s moral and – let us not mince words – political choices.
Here the hedonistic atmosphere serves as a trigger for the frustrated young wife. It is rare for a short-lived adulterous affair in an American – and sadly, not only American – film not to take a puritanical and moralising but a liberating approach far more feminist than it is libertine.Olivier Père