Elegy (2008)

Director:  Isabel Coixet
Cast:  Penélope CruzBen KingsleyDennis Hopper
Plot:  Cultural critic David Kepesh finds his life, which he indicates is a state of "emancipated manhood", thrown into tragic disarray by Consuela Castillo, a well-mannered student who awakens a sense of sexual possessiveness in her teacher. 

Genre:  Drama / Romance

Awards:  Nom. for Golden Berlin Bear. 
Runtime:  113min 
Rating:  M18 for sexuality, nudity and language.

In competition for the prestigious Golden Bear in this year’s Berlin International Film Festival, Elegy is Spanish director Isabel Coixet’s fifth feature film.  It is one of the year’s most abstract pictures, exploring themes so deep that some viewers might find it tough to digest.

Based on the novel “The Dying Animal” by Pulitzer-winning author Philip Roth, Elegy has several lines quoted directly from the book about love, marriage, sex, loss, relationship taboos, and growing old.  It is a melting pot of concepts and ideas that are not as well-realized on screen as what is observed in the book.

Elegy stars Oscar-winning veteran Ben Kingsley as David and Oscar-nominated Penelope Cruz as Consuela.  David is a renowned professor, who falls in love with his student Consuela, whom he feels does not know the true potential of her beauty.  Despite their immense age difference, their desire for each other becomes more than a one-night-stand.

Is this true romance?  Is this the love that David has been seeking for an entire life?  After numerous flings with many women and the occasional dirty talk with fellow friend George, played by Dennis Hopper, David seems like the ‘love guru’ that everyone looks up to.  Yet he knows nothing about what he seems to know.

In a way, the entrance of Consuela represents a sexual awakening for David, who even though appreciates their romantic ventures, does not treasure the meaning of true love until the effects of time give both parties a rude wake-up call.

In Elegy, Cruz has perhaps her most challenging role ever in an English-language film.  Consuela is a complex character to grasp; but Cruz nails the character so comfortably that she is equally at ease delivering her lines with emotion as well as shedding her clothes for several key nude scenes with Kingsley.

Elegy has the potential to be a powerful film.  Unfortunately, there is a feeling of emptiness at times, and occasionally, the narrative meanders without a clear focus, with a couple of sequences that stray to what appears to be ‘intellectual discussion’ between two old men.  Thankfully, Kingsley and Cruz give superb performances that are enough to cover up most of the flaws of the film.  It is never quite the sum of its parts though. 


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