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Everybody is allowed to do a job just for the money, I know that I do,
but when it comes to the acting profession, I irrationally think that I
expect a little bit more from our finest thespians. I don't know why. I
just do. Take, for example, the actor Ben Kingsley.
Ben Kingsley sometimes annoys the hell out of me. He is one of the best actors in the world, but sometimes plys his trade in the likes of films like "Thunderbirds", "A Sound Of Thunder" and "The Love Guru". Such a waste. Such a shame. Thank God he occasionally realises how good he is and signs up for a movie as sublime as "Elegy".
"Elegy" is a great movie. Ben Kingsley is supreme in it. He plays David Kapesh, an expat British teacher and writer. Kapesh is selfish. He is a player and a commitment phobe, who takes and drops lovers at the drop of a hat. That is until he meets Penelope Cruz's Consuela Castillo, with whom he begins a pretty standard affair and, against all expectations, and much to his dismay, falls in love with her.
"Elegy" has some seriously good, sure footed performances. Ben Kingsley is on Oscar worthy form. It is as different, but as good a performance, as his Oscar nominated turns in "Sexy Beast" and "House Of Sand And Fog". Patrica Clarkson, as Kapesh's long standing mistress, defines hurt and betrayal, Penelope Cruz completely puts word to the lie of one daft critic who said that she simply cannot act in the English language, but the surprise here is Dennis Hopper: His performance as Kapesh's best friend is light years away from the eye rolling villain that he normally portrays to make a crust.
"Elegy" is erotic, touching and beautiful. I think that it is a cracking movie and deserves a bigger audience.
Perhaps the most moving aspect of this very moving adaptation of Philip Roth's "The Dying Animal" is Penelope Cruz's extraordinary performance. Ben Kingsly is also superb but we're kind of used to see him explore different universes with absolute ease. From "Ghandi" to "Sexy Beast" Penelope Cruz is a whole other story. From "Volver" to "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" to "Elegy" in rapid succession have transformed this Spanish beauty into one of the best actresses of her generation. She gets under your skin and transmits the emotional journey of her characters with a powerful strength that lasts and lingers. The truth she carries is all consuming and makes the experience totally unforgettable. Her performance alone makes "Elegy" a must see.
"Elegy" is the fifth movie Ben Kingsley has done this year and its been
so good to see him back in form the last couple years cause I honestly
thought that doing "Bloodrayne" was his way of saying "I'm losing my
mind." Nicholas Meyer wrote the movie from a novel by Phillip Roth. The
last time Meyer adapted something from Roth we got Anthony Hopkins
playing a black guy in "The Human Stain", and that was just one of many
problems that that movie had. "Elegy" was directed by Isabel Coixet
though, who I really only know from the short film "Bastille", one of a
group of films that can be found in the all-around beautiful love
letter to Paris film, "Paris J'Taime." She seems well-suited for this
love story, as do Kingsley and Penelope Cruz. Only the question is, can
they all make a better movie than "The Human Stain"? Kingsley plays
cultural critic David Kepesh, a man who spent most of the 60's sexual
revolution unfortunately married. Now a divorced college professor,
Kepesh has devoted much of his after graduation activities to hitting
on former students, his most recent conquest being Consuela Castillo
(Penelope Cruz), a hard working woman from a Cuban family. Just
Consuela awakens a sense of passion in him and soon he is thrown into a
confusing situation where he jealously wants to have her for his own
but his fear of commitment to another woman has him pushing her back
when she wants to get closer.
At times funny and heartbreakingly moving, this movie mostly just makes you think how lazy most men are when it comes to relationships. I found it interesting how even a cultural critic, a man who spends his life looking for deeper meaning in everything, can look at a woman and only see a sex toy. That what a woman holds inside is a short substitute for what she holds outside. David being self-conscious about his age adds another dimension, backing up that long held belief by men that women are also more concerned with what's on the outside as well. It's all material that has been worked over before in countless romances and the ending relies on that old romantic cliché of throwing in a fatal disease that threatens the life of one of the characters but in general director Isabel Coixet creates a moving, heartfelt love story complete with sensual sex scenes, beautiful piano-background music and some really nice (and tasteful) shots of Penelope Cruz's boobs and ass.
There is also some really excellent acting going on in this movie. Kingsley charges into his role like a lion, showing David's brashness in preying on the young girls he so dearly missed out on during his married youth, but he also brings regret, vulnerability, and cluelessness to David that make him worthy of sympathy. And Penelope Cruz couldn't be better as his above-age Lolita, bringing a soft-spoken sexiness and warmth to a woman trying mightily to disarm a man primarily drawn to women as play things. And where has Dennis Hopper been? This is one of his best performances in a long time, playing a man whose gone through the wringer a couple times with relationships himself who now offers up his own wisdom, coupled with some comic relief as well. Patricia Clarkson does what she can in a small role as an on-again off-again sex buddy for David. She has a fantastic scene in the movie later on where she describes what life is like for older women but then unfortunately the character is never seen again.
"Elegy" doesn't simmer with romance but it's not exactly a slow-moving disaster either. It offers up some food for thought and it's artfully created while Kingsley, Cruz, and Hopper each supply fantastic performances. If you're interested in a May-December romance, this one fits the bill just fine for the time being.
This is the first time that Roth has been successfully transferred to the screen. An uncompromising movie for grownups with two exquisite central performances, and some very nice supporting turns by Clarkson, Hopper and Sarsgaard. What impressed me about this movie is that it dares to be slow, dark, almost meditative. Roth's short book does not have much plot to it, so that adapting it to the screen runs more risks than would be the case for one of his more developed novels. But the director and screenwriter make a virtue of the book's spare narrative elements. It takes its time studying faces, glances and shadows. I will be happy if I see another movie half as good this year.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Elegy comes with sophisticated cultural ambiance. Based on a novella by
Pulitzer Prize winning author Philip Roth. A trailer peppered with
interesting academic speculation. A score dominated by Bach, Beethoven
and Satie, tastefully kept up to date with interludes of salsa or the
eclectic Madeline Peyroux's singing Cohen's masterpiece, Dance Me to
the End of Love. Gravitas imparted by Ben Kingsley as an established
professor of literary criticism and his colleague (a remarkably suave)
Dennis Hopper, award-winning poet. Elegy announces its colours by
appealing to the culturally elite. Or at least those that can tell
their War and Peace from Kelly's Heroes.
But translating the good and the great of literary acclaim into two hours of watchable cinema is necessarily a task of abbreviation, as director Coixet and screenwriter Meyer know too well, having previously worked together on The Human Stain. Pages of philosophical rumination rarely transcribe into pithy dialogue, circumscribed voice-overs, or the more visceral drama of visual image. Roth fans may come to altogether different conclusions based on subtexts gleaned from the novella. Even the rest of us may form radically different opinions. Each of us, as Kingsley's character would say, brings our own self to any work of art. We see it through our own eyes, situation, prejudices and projections, and it lives on well beyond our thoughts on it.
Do you dislike objectivisation of women in film? Penelope Cruz, the charming young student who comes into Kingsley's orbit, is relentlessly objectivised in the first two thirds of the movie. So much so that you may have formed a judgement by the time that objectivisation is finally questioned and the person behind the dazzling smile and art-book eyes revealed. Or are you perhaps a fifty-something year old single male? If so, you may feel more indulgent towards Kingsley's obsession and the film's emotional self-analysis. Or do you feel the more immediate revulsion for middle-aged teacher seducing pretty young student? Are you an art lover perhaps? Maybe picking up on the questions of how we perceive art, do we really perceive it truly at all (and maybe relate that to how people perceive each other). Only the most liberal viewer might ask if there can be any true love across the age divide, a true meeting of minds. And then apply those questions (and the underlying real perception of another human being) to the question of love when no age difference forces them uppermost.
The theme of professor-student illicit liaison is well-worn. So much so that it barely deserves a whole movie to itself. What raises Elegy above the bar is the seriousness with which it addresses its subject. Kingsley's character tries to stay a step ahead of the stereotype and what he perceives as inevitable failure, analysing it with his (married but unfaithful) friend Hopper. Belief in personal freedom is at odds with long-term meaningful commitment. After initially trying to dissuade him, Hopper comes out with an insightful key that can apply to other situations as well as Kingsley's. "Beautiful women are invisible . . . we're blocked by the beauty barrier." Like approaching a work of art, meeting another person is a case of seeing what we see (or want to see) in them. The Muse. The Blonde. (Or in reverse, The Cultural Man, the Tough Guy, the Protector, the Mentor.) Even before we add gender stereotypes. We see the sexualised side of a person we are interested in or at least not a gender-neutral persona. Roth's point is that when we meet someone who is particularly beautiful or handsome, then it can become much harder to connect to the person underneath. Age differences emphasises this (Kingsley 'worships' her beauty). And the viewer is led by the nose to see her (objectivised) as he sees her. As "a work of art." As something beyond reach (emotionally in the long term, if not sexually). She is beautiful. She dresses well. She looks good naked. She's intelligent and attentive, with a sense of artistic appreciation. And she has a disarming directness and sincerity.
Kingsley also has an on-off sexual partner, a glamorous business woman closer to his own age (played by Patricia Clarkson). They seem well-suited. But it is late on into the film that we see that they too had only gone as far as the image they wanted of each other. "Is this our first real conversation?" she asks him. Then there is his friend Hopper. A friendship for which he only just manages the sense of 'elegy', the heartfelt sense of regret that has the power to correct and connect if only there is a second chance.
And what of Kingsley's son (Peter Sarsgaard)? His appearance highlights one of the greatest weaknesses of the film. Kenny bursts onto the scene to tell his father that he has been having an affair shock, horror! Kingsley, polite and fatherly, is really far too involved in his own dilemma to care that much. It reminds us that we have spent far too long angsting over who he is playing the double-backed beast with (a literary allusion which is given second-hand accuracy in the film, which attributes it to Shakespeare, who of course stole it from Rabelais). Unless we are voyeuristic, the question of who-is-shagging-who is one of the most uninteresting story lines for any film. But the emotions can hold some value if well addressed. Yet they are not here addressed with the depth of a novel. We have to make several additions ourselves, analysing the throwaway words of wisdom. The interchanges with Hopper have been underused. Too many viewers will have been lost gazing at Cruz's breasts. And the life-changing event that puts her and Kingsley on a deeper level is due to external circumstance rather than any astute self-analysis.
Elegy deserves respect for the heights it aspires to. But Coixet and Meyer need to make Roth more accessible to achieve the recognition for which they so yearn.
'Elegy' is a small, yet powerful film for adults. Focusing on a
relationship between a well-respected college professor (Ben Kingsley)
and his former student (Penelope Cruz), 'Elegy' shows the audience a
multi-faceted, complex man whose past experiences with women and his
own family have dampered his ability to participate in a healthy
relationship with a woman he is truly infatuated with.
The film was carried by a masterful performance by Kingsley, who successfully portrayed Kepesh as a complex man with complex relationships. His desire and lust for Cruz was so emotional and real that I believed it for every second until the very end. Kingsley was able to spark empathy with the audience as a victim of numerous losses in his life: his wife, family, son, best friend, love interest (Cruz), and most importantly, it was his loss of youth that made Kepesh the man he is when we first meet him.
I truly believed his internal struggles with adapting to life as a man romantically involved with a much younger woman (30 years his junior).
In Manhattan, the middle-aged writer, art critic and professor and
aspirant piano player and photographer David Kepesh (Ben Kingsley)
questions that his age does not affect his sex drive and recalls words
of Bette Davis ("Old age is not for sissies") and Tostoi ("The biggest
surprise in a man's life is old age"). Despite of his great culture,
the intellectual David is a man that has grown old but never grown up,
and he is unable to last a relationship, including with his oncologist
son Kenneth Kepesh (Peter Sarsgaard). The exceptions are his old poet
friend and confident George O'Hearn (Dennis Hopper) and the independent
businesswoman Carolyn (Patricia Clarkson), with whom he has an affair
for more than twenty years. When he meets the elegant, educated and
gorgeous Cuban student Consuela Castillo (Penélope Cruz) in his
literature class, he feels a great sexual attraction for her and
seduces her in the end of the period. They have a love affair for one
and half years, but David is always insecure being thirty and something
years older than the student. When Consuela forces David to come to her
graduation party and meet her family and friends, he takes a decision
that affects their relationship forever.
The Spanish Isabel Coixet is certainly one of the most sensitive directors of the cinema industry. "My Life without Me" and "The Secret Life of Words" are among the most beautiful, touching and heartbreaking movies I have ever seen. "Elegy" is another wonderful movie of this awesome director that deals with another real theme, the aging of men, which could be difficult for a female director to understand and correctly disclose on the screen. However, the romance works mainly because the lead male role seems to be tailored for Sir Ben Kingsley (it could be Sean Connery a couple of years ago). I can not imagine any other actor that could personify David Kepesh as portrayed in the story. Further, Penélope Cruz deserved the Oscar for her performance, with a more realistic character than in "Vicky Cristina Barcelona". The Academy wrote right through wrong performances. She is incredibly gorgeous in the role of Consuela Castillo. The always excellent Patricia Clarkson, the irregular Dennis Hopper and the "disappeared" Peter Sarsgaard have also memorable performances in this outstanding romance. The cinematography and the music score complete this beautiful work of art. My vote is eight.
Title (Brazil): "Fatal" ("Fatal")
... and David Kepesh (Sir Ben Kingsley) knows it, as he quotes her in
the beginning of "Elegy". Kepesh is no sissy, but old age isn't for him
either. He's a professor who's had a "friendship with benefits" with a
woman (Patricia Clarkson) for twenty years, as he begins a torrid
affair with the beautiful Consuela (Penélope Cruz), thirty years
younger than him. Consuela and David fall in love with each other, but
harder than finding the right person is the fear of losing them, and
they will find some obstacles to their relationship.
This is an adult film about love, fear of commitment/loss, and death. Isabel Coixet proves again to be the most exciting name to come from Spain since Pedro Almodóvar after "My Life Without Me", "The Secret Life of Words" and her segment "Bastille" from "Paris, je t'Aime", she delivers another mature, sensitive, and very peculiar film (her next project, "Map of Sounds of Tokyo", looks very promising as well). Sir Ben Kingsley and Patricia Clarkson are exceptional as usual; Dennis Hopper, as Kingsley's best friend, gives his best performance in a long time (he has a fantastic scene with Kingsley and Deborah Harry, who plays his wife). Peter Sarsgaard is also pretty good as Kingsley's son, and although Cruz doesn't shine as much as in "Non Ti Muovere", "Volver" or "Vicky Cristina Barcelona", she fits the role and makes you believe any man would be easily infatuated and obsessed with her.
The ending might seem a little melodramatic at first, but it's both poignant and adequate. Although not a perfect film, "Elegy" is easily one of the most poetic, rewarding experiences you'll have this year. Don't miss it. 9/10.
I thoroughly enjoyed this film. As someone who is not familiar with Philip Roth's works, I found the story to be interesting and moving. What really made the movie so enjoyable to me was the focus on the interpersonal relationships between David Kepesh(Ben Kingsley) and several of the supporting players. For example, some of the film's most poignant moments came in the scenes featuring Kepesh and his best friend (played by Dennis Hopper.) While these scenes did not necessarily serve to move the plot along, they painted a picture of the daily struggles Kepesh faces and also the layers of his only true friendship. In addition, it was heart-wrenching to see Kepeshs' son (Peter Sarsgaard), now a 40-something man married with children, resorting to his father for advice and consolation. We found out that Kepesh left his son and wife many years past, and while his son has never truly forgiven his father, he finds himself committing similar mistakes (adultery) that lead his father to become the flawed, relationship-challenged man he is today. These complex relationships, in addition to several others in the film, allow us to closely examine this fascinating point in the life of David Kepesh.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In Elergy I see many reviewers have overlooked what this movie really
speaks of, and by that also the intent of the book and writer Phillip
Roth. After reading every review here I only noticed one or two that
were referring in part to what I felt this film was truly about.
Ben Kingsley gives one of his best performances. Every move, every look is carefully chosen to portray the depth of emotion. It did that. I have never been a fan of Penelope Cruz, yet she captivated me. Why? Her beauty. I think what was missed and I see others question her portrayal as sexism, is that it went far deeper. Kinglsley when questioned by his friend if he ever saw beyond her "beauty" did not give a direct answer. She was beautiful the film was shot to make her heart wrenchingly beautiful but I also perceived that in every way he looked at her it was not simply this beauty.
He was not a man that had not ever met a beautiful woman, or young student. This was not a first. To say the attraction was sexist is to simplify what occurred. For the first time in his life, he did not know what to do. He fell in love and it was far more than with just the way she looked. The film used subtle nuances, such as him watching her as she slept, or after she left picking up her hairbrush and holding it. It was easy to see that for a man who had, had many young beautiful women she was different. I read others complaining it did not show her intelligence even though we were told she was cultivated and brilliant. It was not necessary to depict that. Why do I say that? It is clear that while she was beautiful, it was everything she did. Every time she spoke or moved. He repeats later as does she that each remembers every second in total clarity. This is a story showing one thing, the complexity of the human relationship. The complexity of love.
Torn between wanting to possess her completely and to never let her leave his side; he is conversely fighting inner turmoil. What he never had even considered possible nor comprehended the depth of its impact on his life, changed his life forever. In a internal fight with conviction that she will leave him and the age difference means one day she will wake up and decide to go, in fear from the way she makes him feel. There is no sexism here this is a story of a man who falls in love and is struggling to manage the balance between the joy of this and the anxieties.
In the end we see him sabotage the relationship. This is not as some may think in the moments when he followed her in sexual jealousy; that was a man trying to make sense of why he felt this way when living nearly his entire life no one and nothing ever touched him so deeply. The sabotage is his doubt in been able to keep her happy, his fear of losing her, his fears that it can not last, and so he ends it by at a moment when she needs him to show her his love he lets her down. The pathos is so strong. As he parks his car and calls her to say hes broken down. The internal fight rages and he has lost. He has given away the only thing he has ever loved, due to fear.
He spends the next 2 years trying to forget but as he says himself who am I fooling, it has changed me forever. When she returns in an ending that they wanted to cut but Roth refused. Cruz returns and she has breast cancer. She asks him to photograph her. Says no one ever loved her body like he did, he says he can't believe that. Yet we know it is true, he loves her so deeply that no one else could. It is heart wrenching as he photographs her topless. After the surgery he is there when she wakes his son having found when she was been operated on. She lied about the dates.. why? I believe it was a test would he be there this time. As the film ends she says they took her breast and now she has lost her beauty and this part speaks to all I have said above, he kisses her and holds her.
In conclusion, this film if you have the depth to absorb it is heart rending. It speaks to each of us whom have lived long enough to have begun to realize the intricacies of our hearts and minds. How our pasts influence who we are and how we behave. Truly though it is a love story and love is perhaps the most complex of emotions. It is a film to watch carefully to study each movement and be caught up in the honest view of two peoples relationship with one another. It is hard to watch and not be touched or brought to tears. Overall the acting was superb, cinematography, and direction too. I think this will remain an underrated film that contains deeper meanings that many will miss, it will however remain one that I will not forget anytime soon.
As others have said, this film will appeal more to the European audience.
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