Friday, August 29, 2008


I have never read a book by Pulitzer winner Philip Roth and after finding that his work is called by some women as “old men’s fantasies about affairs with young woman” I can assure you that I’m not interested at all. But I could never have guessed this if I only saw this movie adaptation of one of is novels, that a New York Times critic calls “a polite take on an insistently impolite novel”.

I have been looking forward to see this movie since I heard about it for the first time and more when it was screened in competition at the 2008 Berlinale and other international film festivals. What really attracted me was the director, Catalonian Isabel Coixet, as she has a few quite extraordinary films. I was not disappointed and the movie totally exceeded my expectations, this is an extraordinary movie made by an extraordinary director.

Isabel Coixet is such an exceptional director that she was able to extract from Ben Kingsley a performance that I’m sure will get many accolades, honors and perhaps even an Academy Award nomination. He is absolutely outstanding in the role of the 62 years-old lothario professor. Magnificent performance!

But what really surprised me is the outstanding performance by Penelope Cruz. Let me share that I do not find this actress beautiful or attractive and I believe that she’s a great actress when she’s doing non-English speaking roles. No doubt that Coixet skilled directing was able to extract from Cruz what I call her first outstanding English-speaking role! It was about time as Cruz really can perform very well. But, what truly surprised me is that in some takes Penelope Cruz looks outstandingly beautiful, that’s extraordinary camera and lighting work. Please do not take this comment as me being sarcastic, as is not; it is just plain truth to my eyes.

Supporting roles by Patricia Clarkson, Dennis Hopper and Peter Sarsgaard are a good complement, but this movie absolutely belongs to Kingsley and Cruz.

But where Coixet excelled is in the amazing tech specs of this movie that has excellent darkish and sophisticated cinematography, the most unbelievable music that totally fits what's happening and Coixet personally supervised, great editing, a slow pace that allows contemplation and slow story development, and many remarkable scenes with outstanding framing and marvelous use of light. This movie really looks and feels like a sophisticated European arty movie, even when is an American production. But then you have a director and lead actress that are from Spain and a British lead actor, all helps to have the feeling of seeing visuals from arty European cinema.

So, what’s the story about? Well, exactly what I mention before, as is about David Kepesh (Ben Kingsley) a lothario that has lived all his life having short term affairs, except with Caroline (Patricia Clarkson). But everything changes in his life when he meets Consuela Castillo (Penelope Cruz). I cannot say that I didn’t enjoyed the story, as I did enjoy the seducing stage, the insecurities that come with age especially when you have a younger partner, and I even enjoyed the way the story ends. But definitively the story was attractive to me because of the excellent performances, the director style and the excellent tech specs of this movie.

So if you’re in the mood of watching a “low-budget” (only 13 million) American production that does not look American, with excellent performances by Cruz and Kingsley and a director that one critic honors (you have to take it as an honor) by saying, “There's a poetic irony to the idea that it took a female filmmaker to finally do justice to Philip Roth on screen”, then this is a movie that you have to see.

If the American marketing of this movie got to you and you want to see this movie because of the sex scenes, Penelope naked, etc. etc., I’m sure that you will be bored to death like many male American viewers express across the net. This is mostly an arty cinema movie, with something not really common in the genre: a direct and easy to understand story.

I did enjoy this movie more than what I expected and I recommend it to mature audiences that enjoy good dramas in arty European alike movies.


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