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Elegy (DVD Review)

8 Mar, 2009 By: Billy Gil


Street 3/17/09
Sony Pictures
Box Office $3.6 million
$27.96 DVD
Rated ‘R’ for sexuality, nudity and language.
Stars Ben Kingsley, Penelope Cruz, Peter Sarsgaard, Patricia Clarkson, Dennis Hopper, Deborah Harry.

Elegy details the May-December romance between a middle-aged college professor (Ben Kingsley) and his beautiful young student (Penelope Cruz). If it sounds like an old man’s fantasy, that’s kind of how it plays out.

David Kepesh is a divorced writer, critic and professor with a long line of flings with younger women. Consuela seems like only his latest conquest, until the Cuban beauty gets under his skin, forcing him to face his trivial life.

Isabel Coixet, directing a screenplay based on Philip Roth’s The Dying Animal, does well by corralling the finest cast for which one can ask. Kingsley is almost too good to be unlikable as the controlling Kepesh; Patricia Clarkson and Peter Sarsgaard are excellent, as always, in small roles as Kepesh’s no-strings-attached lover and son, respectively.

The problem with Elegy lies in its lack of energy. While trying to explore the complexities of relationships in an austere fashion, it forgets to infuse its relationships with much passion. Cruz, so great and fiery in films such as Volver and Vicky Cristina Barcelona (for which she recently won an Oscar) is relegated to being the dutiful babe with more than half a brain. Only in one scene — in which Kepesh is admiring Consuela’s bare breasts, and she intently asks, “Do you like them?” — do you feel that shiver of intensity that she can convey.

While the film is good at leaving you wanting more, its mediations on aging and death should have been exploited further to offset the older-man-with-a-younger-woman thing, although by the end the film becomes genuinely touching.

So, Elegy, with its many fine qualities — namely its acting — is not quite what it could be, but does well as a sort of Sunday afternoon, not-so-taxing but still mindful romance. Restraint is good, but better when it pays off.   

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