Review by Jack Foley
ISABEL Coixet’s Elegy boasts a typically intense and thought-provoking character study from leading man Sir Ben Kingsley but still struggles to engage as emotionally as it should.
Based on Philip (The Human Stain) Roth’s novella The Dying Animal, the film has plenty to say about the nature of sexual obsession, mortality and men’s inability to grow up but struggles to avoid becoming smothered by its own pretentiousness.
Kingsley plays 60-something literature professor David Kepesh, a celebrated author and serial seducer still harbouring regret over the one marriage that failed. Vowing not to make the same mistake twice, he enjoys regular no-strings-attached sex visits from a high-powered businesswoman (Patricia Clarkson) and enjoys discussing his exploits with best friend George (Dennis Hopper), a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet.
His life becomes more complicated, however, when he falls for beautiful young student Consuela (Penelope Cruz) and – after successfully seducing her – becomes convinced that his overwhelming desire will drive her away. But even Kepesh can’t anticipate what fate has in store for them once he realises he’s falling in love…
Coixet’s film seems designed to attract the type of response from critics that will find them heaping praise on the cast for the bravery of their performances, particularly as the older stars spend an awful lot of time in semi-undressed states.
But just as Kepesh confides to George at one point that Consuela will need a little culture before being [and this is coarse, we know] f**ked, so the film feels like it’s attempting to dazzle us with intelligent artistic references (classical music, famous painters, renowned prose, etc) before getting down to the nitty-gritty of seeing Cruz with her clothes off.
At its basic level, Coixet’s film begins as a tale of lust that’s made more uncomfortable by the age gap that exists between the protagonists. And audiences may have a hard time believing that such an attraction could ever exist between these two people.
Admittedly, the latter half of the movie – when Kepesh and Consuela must confront their own mortality – does offer a little more for audiences to consider, but even then there seems to be an over-emphasis on beauty rather than emotion that prevents it from really tugging at the heart-strings.
The film does have some important things to say about man’s immaturity and tackling responsibility and it’s classily shot, especially in its depiction of New York, but there’s a coldness to it, too, that stems from the lack of warmth to be found in many of the characters (Kepesh in particular).
Hence, what should have been a deeply involving and thought-provoking drama feels very long-winded and fails to match the devastating intimacy of Coixet’s last film, the genuinely heartbreaking My Life Without Me.
Running time: 108mins
UK DVD Release: March 16, 2009