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Elegy


By Wendy Ward | Posted 8/20/2008

Elegy captures the pathos of love lost--at once as beautiful and sad as a fading photograph of a delicious moment in time. Maybe the gorgeously shot scenes and still-life quality of much of the movie steals the heart and turns it romantic, though. Elegy, based on the Philip Roth novel The Dying Animal, is a funeral song not just for a lost love, after all, but a lost man.

David Kepesh (Ben Kingsley), a college professor in New York, is aging well. He's been divorced so long it barely comes up in conversation, and when it does it helps his case, as it frees him up to fuck freely. And he does--students and his lady friend, Carolyn (Patricia Clarkson). He's handsome, writes reviews for The New Yorker, and interviews authors on his weekly radio show Book Talk. He is a charming navel-gazer whose eyes dart to see who might be watching.

When he pursues and seduces an older student, Consuela Castillo (Penelope Cruz), he is surprised by the depth of his emotions, even as he uses his props and skills: His art books get poured over, his abandoned dark room gets a visit. Is it Consuela's Cubanness? Her dark eyes and dark hair? Light and earth infuse Consuela; she has a delicate voice and dainty wrists yet a sensuality almost masculine in its heaviness. When Consuela remarks how large her hands look in a photo, you see that she is somehow right.

Their love affair is filled with wine, walks on the beach, and a mutual attraction to what the other possesses: he her youthful perfection, she his sophisticated culture and opinions. Feeling vulnerable, David quickly turns jealous and surprises Consuela at a Latin dance club with her "brother," and in a moment it's unsure who has the upper hand: seasoned teacher or sexy, exotic innocent.

Much happens in this lovely movie: Middle-aged men discuss affairs of the penis and heart in cafés, and on racquetball courts when David gets together with his best friend, successful poet George O'Hearn (Dennis Hopper); David's estranged son Kenneth (Peter Sarsgaard) calls and stops by with his bitterness at being abandoned long ago; hearts get broken; people get sick. Director Isabel Coixet handles it all with such a sensitive and fleeting touch it makes you wonder how big her hands really are.

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