A carefully observed autumnal character study loosely in the vein of 2007's Starting Out in the Evening, Elegy is based on a novel by Philip Roth, and directed by Isabel Coixet (My Life Without Me). The film charts the relationship between a celebrated, notably indepedent and emotionally distant college professor, David Kepesh (Ben Kingsley), and Consuela Castillo (Penelope Cruz), a gorgeous student who punctures his wry, protective veneer. As their affair ignites, frays and recommences, Kepesh must come to grips with the possibility of a deeper love — something with which he's never felt comfortable.
I initially felt that Elegy, as adapted by The Human Stain screenwriter Nicholas Meyer, with undulating rhythms that alternate between gallop and yawn, wasn't quite built to cover as much narrative ground as it does, even at 112 minutes. Upon a second viewing, though, the ambition of its narrative roots feels much more firmly anchored and deeply etched; this is an intimate and quietly engaging film, and one perhaps made for the confines of a small, dimly lit den, with a glass of wine. The major leg up that Elegy has on a lot of thematically similar tales of power-imbalanced romance is that Kepesh is of course a very literate and self-aware figure, so we enjoy an articulated sense of inner turmoil, of how one no-strings-attached lover (Patricia Clarkson) is merely a comfortable point of carnal contact with past self-confidence, while a similar arrangement with Consuela scares him so. In fact, despite the fact that he's had more than 50 lovers to her five, Kepesh becomes preoccupied with her sexual past.
Even as he takes the advice of a fellow ladies man and colleague (Dennis Hopper), and pushes Consuela away, Kepesh can't locate peace, or centeredness. Part of the reason stems from his estranged relationship with his married son (Peter Sarsgaard), who feels compelled to act out in the same ways that his father did years before. The performances here are committed and quietly engaging (Cruz does wonders with her eyes), and Coixet, serving as her own camera operator, beautifully captures the lingering, jangled spaces between all parties, and how even the most intelligent among us can build up a justification for walls of isolation.
Housed in a regular plastic Amaray case, Elegy comes presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, with an English language Dolby digital 5.1 surround sound audio track and optional English subtitles that can of course be utilized in conjunction with the disc's audio commentary track with screenwriter Meyer. Though marked by long passages of silence, Meyer is a smart guy and his commentary showcases his thoughtfulness, especially when he discusses how he picked a title to capture "the movie version of the novel," and how it grapples with coming to terms with age. Meyer also confesses he's not typically interested in traditional plot hooks so much as "people trying to figure out which way is up, and how to just live."
The only other bonus supplement is a five-minute making-of featurette comprised of brief interview clips with Coixet and the stars, with Kingsley solemnly intoning, "Love, loss, age, jealousy — we're here to define words that get very lazily used." This is a half-notch above your typical EPK-type featurette, mainly due to the insightfulness of its contributors, but overall there's still more disc input needed from Kingsley, Cruz and Coixet. Rounding things out are previews for Volver, Breaking Bad, I've Loved You So Long, The Lodger, Fragments, What Doesn't Kill You and other Sony home video titles. To purchase the DVD via Amazon, click here. B+ (Movie) B (Disc)