Two lost souls scarred by events in their youth recognize each other’s loneliness in “The Solitude of Prime Numbers,” Italo helmer Saverio Costanzo’s ambitious yet flawed cinematic deconstruction of Paolo Giordano’s eponymous bestseller. As in his previous adaptation, “In Memory of Myself,” Costanzo is more interested in translating the novel’s deeper themes into images and sounds rather than simply tracing its narrative, but after a strong start, “Numbers’?” storytelling becomes too oblique to really speak to those unfamiliar with the source material. Euro presales have been brisk, but beyond home turf and book fans, ticketbuyers won’t be numerous.

Rather than following the novel’s linear chronology, which placed the traumatic childhood events upfront, Costanzo and Paolo Giordano, who helped adapt his own novel, go for a nonlinear approach that threads three timelines together as the pic slowly builds toward its first — and, it turns out, only — major crescendo, some 45 minutes in.

In 1984, fussy child Alice (Martina Albano) is forced to go skiing with her overbearing father (Maurizio Donadoni). Her peer Mattia (Tommaso Neri) tries to cope with his mentally impaired twin, Michela (Giorgia Pizzo), who often has screaming fits. In high school in 1991, the easily intimidated Alice develops something of a crush on Mattia, a gifted but quiet student who occasionally cuts himself; 10 years later, Alice works as an assistant photographer while Mattia is a brilliant young mathematician who has received an offer to study in Germany.

As in the book, their story is not a conventional romance. Both protags are emotionally stunted youngsters, and one of the best things about the new nonlinear structure is how it emphasizes that the defining character moments of these awkward loners occurred at parties — immensely crowded events full of complicated social codes.

Editor Francesca Calvelli neatly alternates between a fateful 1984 birthday party that Mattia attends without Michela; a high-school disco bash in 1991 in which Alice hesitantly tries to make a move on Mattia, who’s more interested in the childhood scar from a skiing accident that makes her walk with a limp; and the 2001 wedding of their classmate Viola (Aurora Ruffino), where Mattia finds the courage to open up to Alice. The pumping beats of the 1991 shindig spill over into the other parties, acting like a kind of deafening audio glue that further underlines the withdrawn protags’ unease.

But after this lengthy, tour-de-force buildup, Costanzo and Giordano struggle to turn the damaged protags into fully rounded personalities in the way the novel did, with much of the book’s second half reduced to slightly surreal or enigmatic images for those unfamiliar with the source material.

Alice’s eating disorder and Mattia’s preference for the infallible world of mathematics are only hinted at here. The first shots of the last half-hour, set “seven years later,” show Alice and Mattia’s ravaged, naked bodies to shocking effect, but beyond these powerful images, there’s only an intermittent sense that both are unhappy in their own skin — one of Giordano’s major themes.

Besides the strong Rohrwacher (“I Am Love”), young cast is composed mainly of newcomers, who are all impressive, as are vets Isabella Rossellini as Mattia’s troubled mother, and Filippo Timi in a bit part as a birthday clown. (He’s also credited as a screenplay collaborator.)

Agile widescreen lensing and other tech credits are crisp. The poetic title is used in a wedding speech by Viola — incongruously so, since she’s a prom-queen type, not a math nerd.

The Solitude of Prime Numbers


  • Production: A Medusa Film (in Italy) release of a Medusa Film, Wildside presentation of an Offside, Bavaria Pictures, Les Films des Tournelles, Le Pacte production, in association with Medusa Film, Sky. (International sales: Le Pacte, Paris.) Produced by Mario Gianani. Directed by Saverio Costanzo. Screenplay, Costanzo, Paolo Giordano, based on the novel by Giordano.
  • Crew: Camera (color, widescreen), Fabio Cianchetti; editor, Francesca Calvelli; music, Mike Patton; production designers, Antonello Geleng, Marina Pinzuti Ansolini; costume designer, Antonella Cannarozzi; sound (Dolby Digital), Gabriele Moretti; casting, Jorgelina De Petris. Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (competing), Sept. 9, 2010. (Also in Toronto Film Festival -- Contemporary World Cinema.) Running time: 118 MIN.
  • With: With: Alba Rohrwacher, Luca Marinelli, Isabella Rossellini, Martina Albano, Arianna Nastro, Tommaso Neri, Vittorio Lomartire, Aurora Ruffino, Giorgia Pizzo, Maraurizio Donadoni, Roberto Sbaratto, Filippo Timi.