Cruz plays a dignified, sheltered student from Cuba named Consuela whose vulnerability is exploited by literary professor David Kepesh Ben Kingsley in order to get her into bed. The film screened in competition at the Berlin Film Festival. Kingsley does not help, either, with a performance that is mannered and stagy, especially when paired with the apparently effortless grace of his co-star. Miscast in a role that requires a great deal of charm to make the character something more than a randy old goat, Kingsley sometimes appears to forget there is another person in the scene. Kepesh has a mistress Patricia Clarkson closer to his own age who visits his bed every three weeks and a fellow intellectual Dennis Hopper with whom he shares tomcatting tales.
The Spanish director brilliantly infuses this singularly American, mostly-male affair with a decided female perspective and a cinematically mature visual palette in a way that would have been lost had an American or a man or a combination of the two taken the reins. David Kepesh Ben Kingsley, who gets better with each year is a respected cultural critic, best-selling author and professor who the audience immediately sees as a man who is going over the top of his peak and beginning a slide towards the inevitable decline into old age and impotency. Kingsley brilliantly skewers the type with a bracing performance. David is, in many ways, a caricature of the wise old man who feels the need to suck the life force out of young women to make him feel more connected to his failed youth. David is a vampire of sorts, a wounded animal glimpsing his own mortality, kept alive by instinct. He preens, he is arrogant, and he is selfish.
P hilip Roth's angry, painful novella The Dying Animal, about Roth's recurring and now ageing character David Kepesh and his self-lacerating affair with a beautiful young student, has been intelligently transformed into a movie called Elegy. The change of title is a clue to how the text has been softened and sweetened - elegies are composed in honour of dead people, not dying animals - but the result works perfectly well on its own terms, and it is substantially better than the last Roth adaptation to reach the screen, The Human Stain. As the story of a love affair and its long, unhappy endgame, it looks interestingly like a middle-period Woody Allen with fewer laughs, a wintry, desolate Annie Hall, complete with a silent flashback-montage of the affair's most bittersweet moments at the film's close.
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