Isabel Coixet directed 'My Life Without Me' back in 2003. I enjoyed the film very much and spent a lot of time getting a DVD copy for myself. I remembered Coixet's name and waited to see if she could make a film as good as 'My Life Without Me'. 'Elegy' has its good moments, coming close but no cigar. What?
Ben Kingsley plays a cultural critic, David Kepesh, that has his own classes at the University. He understands superficial beauty and when getting his eyes on Penelope Cruz's character, his life will change. A woman that is worth the "Perfect 10" mention, is beautiful inside and outside. But can Kepesh understand the beauty in front of him or is she just a "trophy"?
To be honest, I had difficulties to keep my eyes wide awake at the beginning. There's a lot of dialogue, which is by no means a bad thing, but they just don't get anywhere with it? I don't know if it's highly intellectual to keep on asking "How many have you been with?", "How'd you do it?" etc. And another thing that bothered me a bit was that the two characters had like zero passion between them. How are you supposed to believe that this love they have would be any more special than others?
What I liked about 'Elegy' was the two lead actors work. Ben Kingsley did a great job as the emotionally handicapped older man. The further the movie goes, the further is his character developing. Penelope Cruz is truly one of the most beautiful women on the face of the Earth. I've enjoyed seeing her perform on the screen and I like her versatility.
'Elegy' was in the end somewhat of a disappointment. I enjoy serious drama but it doesn't have to be boring. The chemistry between the leads is in no way passionate, so it was hard to "get in to the mood". The actors on the other hand, do a very good job. Patricia Clarkson as Kingsley's fuckbuddy is also very good, in fact maybe the strongest performer in the whole movie.
If you're still hesitating about watching 'Elegy', here is a strong reason why you should watch it: Penelope Cruz's breasts. Nuff said. Why you shouldn't see it? If you dislike dialogue based drama and find it highly impossible to get through the first 30 minutes without snoozing to Lalaland, don't bother.
I would have to say this movie really works and all of the cast in it do very well and are convincing. Whether or not you would enjoy this probably does relate in some way to your age. I think someone over 30 may appreciate it more than say a teenager, just because it does deal with things a younger person may not have felt or experienced yet, and they may find it somewhat slow.
The central theme is a tome to ageing, and how a man who still believes himself vibrant has to confront the perceptions and preconceived notions of others. He worries, and ultimately dooms the only true love he has found by not being able to overcome that hurdle; which is shocking considering his intelligence and otherwise worldly view.
Cruz is taken by this man 30 years her elder, and it's not due to some puppy love or nievete - some seem to forget that she's not just a college student - she worked as a para-legal before she decided to enter college. No, she sees something in him and falls in love with him, not for what he represents, but for the man himself. I think that in many cases she knows him better than he knows himself. That he ultimately lets her down by overthinking things is the nexus where the back third of the film has its few missteps, but the New Year's eve ending, with her coming back into his life after two years, while seeming contrived and a bit cliche, allows Kingsley to attone for his mistake and find redemption for his soul in the final line "I'm here".
Kingsley plays David Kepesh, a professor, writer, and literary critic who has always, and wishes to continue, lived without committments -namely, has always slept around without forming any bonds with women. He got married, and got out just as quickly. But he isn't a bad man: he acknowledges his own impossibility to settle with one partner, and understands how people can misunderstand that. He has a certain regard for people. You can see it in his eyes. Yes, his practices are undoubtedly mysoginistic, but he is honest about them like someone who simply doesn't know better. Although I didn't like this character, I liked him. Kingsley's voice, his eyes, build and destroy David. He's perfect. David then meets Consuela, a beautiful Cuban student that he simply wants to sleep with... but, after a date to the theater, and after the first encounter, he can't help but asking her back over and over again. They discuss things, they go places. His determination to obey his lust -what feels natural to him- is still there. He falls in love with her, and she with him. Because he can't bear the feeling that this time he could, he would be willing to consider a future with Consuela, his fear pushes her away. Once again he's alone. And then I won't tell you the rest of the story :)
Elegy's great focus is the corporeal aspect of human beings. The characters' souls shine through their exterior thanks to Cruz and Kingsley alone. Paraphrasing what David's friend George, movingly played by Dennis Hopper, suggests to him one evening, it's of primary importance to look past the outside in order to really know a person. Elegy often ponders on the importance that David gives to the body, to lust, and that may drive him away from truly identifying that what he loves is what comes through the pores of Consuela. He is also very concerned about the decay of his body, the source of most of his happiness at the end of the day. He is self-conscious about his age difference with Consuela, about her preferring younger, more vigorous bodies to his, utterly ignoring that there might be something else to her affection.
As I said before, much of the power of the film resides in the strength and creativity of tthe actors. They do great things with their characters. Coixet is very inobtrusive, refraining from going overboard with unnecessary visual rambling or stylizing the argument too much -because it could've been just sappy. Elegy reaches a beautiful equilibrium. Maybe that can make it too passive for some, but I thought the coldness benefited it.
The film ends in a dramatic, although slightly optimistic note. Maybe there's room for reflection for the characters, but by the end of the film this story is no longer only about them. It's a dialogue, directed straight to you and requesting a response as the credits roll.
Charismatic professor David Kepesh (Ben Kingsley) glories in the pursuit of adventurous female students but never lets any woman get too close. When gorgeous Consuela Castillo (PenÚlope Cruz) enters his classroom, however, his protective veneer dissolves. Her raven-haired beauty both captivates and unsettles him.
Even if Kepesh declares her body a perfect work of art, Consuela is more than an object of desire. She has a strong sense of herself and an emotional intensity that challenges his preconceptions. Kepesh's need for Consuela becomes an obsession, but ultimately his jealous fantasies of betrayal drive her away. Shattered, Kepesh faces up to the ravages of time, immersing himself in work and confronting the loss of old friends. Then, two years later, Consuela comes back into his life?with an urgent, desperate request that will change everything.
Elegy is an excellent film. I've been never really a fan of Ben Kingsley but I've seen him in countless films before but I just didn't stick with his movie career. But now, with Elegy, I can say that I'm already a fan of his. Ben's performance is one for the books, it was powerful, intense and the chemistry between him and Penelope Cruz's Consuela is surprisingly amazing. The character development between the two is told in a touching, beautiful way by director Isabel Coixet and I'd like to think that what they had is more than a carnal affair. It was a romantic friendship and they were there for each other in times of dire need. Penelope Cruz gives the best performance yet whose acting slate also includes heavy set dramas like Volver and Vicky Cristina Barcelona. This easily makes her one of the best actresses of her generation. Elegy is an erotic tale with a sense of beauty and brilliance. A must see.
Both Ben Kingsley and Penelope Cruz give very credible and moving performances. They are assisted very ably by the secondary actors too. Patricia Clarkson - looking quite stunning, smoking in bed with 60s Denueve Hair or being seductive in just underwear and killer heals. And a curmudgeonly turn by Dennis Hopper who, rather against type, is quite warm and cuddly.
It's good to see a film that can give us flawed imperfect people and doesn't manipulate us into judging them - instead of the usual nice fluffy types that can render this kind of film mawkish and sentimental. It also makes a change to not be patronised with a tidy ending (whether happy or sad). Not only are things left quite open about the characters fate but also with questions left unanswered. A bit like life really.