Film Review


Director: Isabel Coixet
Starring: Ben Kingsley, Penelope Cruz, Dennis Hopper, Patricia Clarkson
Rating: **1/2

Some films belong to a genre so niche that they are often tagged as ‘complex, vague and outrageous’. They are not necessarily badly made but the only fault lies in their inability to connect with the masses. Elegy comes under that category. An accurate adaptation of Philip Roth’s The Dying Animal, it is a dark romance that crosses the boundaries of decent and pleasurable viewing.
David Kepesh (Ben Kingsley), a professor of literature in his mid sixties, has two favourite subjects --- Practical Criticism (that he teaches) and Women. His obsession with women, especially the erotic flings with his young female students has led him to a broken marriage, an estranged son and a mistress of twenty years, who was also his student once upon a time. Kepesh is known for his seasonal preys and the latest entrant on the list is the lovely Consuela Castillo (Penelope Cruz) of Cuban origin, a new student in his class whose physical beauty, mainly her ripe breasts, attracts him instantly towards her. The regular round of theatre, piano sessions and dinners between David and Consuela finally end up making them much more than bedtime companions. They fall in love.
After a period of going steady and being pretty much the love birds, Consuela invites David to her graduation party, hosted by her family. She insists that he meet her family this time after his deliberate attempts of evading all her other family get togethers in the past. For the cynic that David is, he is scared to confront the 30 odd years age gap between him and Consuela while meeting her family and skips this one too. This causes a separation between the two. After being disconnected for a long time, Consuela comes back to him one fine day with news of her suffering with breast cancer. She asks David for a favour that she can only ask from him owing to the devotion he has had towards her body --- a nude picture of her upper body, which will be ruined by the doctors soon.
Elegy very well has an overdose of sex and nudity, what with the maximum scenes being in bed, that does get on to you after a point, but then it also has this inevitable emotional touch that one can so naturally relate to. The chemistry between Kingsley and Cruz is intriguing. Apart from theirs, there are several other wonderfully appealing equations in the film. The one between David and his dutiful friend George O’Hearn (Dennis Hopper), who keeps counseling him on all his relationships, is low-key yet omnipresent. The dramatic moments between David and his son Kenneth Kepesh (Peter Sarsgaard), when the latter comes to him to discuss his alleged extra-marital affair are very touching and so is the unconventional relation between David and his mistress Carolyn (Patricia Clarkson).
With an extraordinary charm and personality, Kingsley effortlessly pulls off a layered character that epitomises an old hungry animal, desiring more and more flesh, and yet so human in many ways. Only an actor of Kingsley’s caliber is capable of flaunting as well as struggling to curb the animal instincts within him the way he does. Cruz, on the other hand, is every bit the goddess of beauty. She simply looks ravishing and her chemistry with Kingsley reminds one of the fairytale ‘The Beauty and The Beast’. Whereas Coixet’s direction, its satisfying but drags a bit in some scenes.
Along with the aspect of love and lust, Elegy quietly plays on the underlying factor of aging, justifying Tolstoy’s quote: “The biggest surprise in a man’s life is old age.”


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