Elegy: A melancholy chamber piece

Ben Kingsley and Penelope Cruz slow dance around love

click to enlarge AFTER-SCHOOL SPECIAL: Penelope Cruz and Ben Kingsley cross the student/teacher divide in Elegy. - Samuel Goldwyn Films
Samuel Goldwyn Films
AFTER-SCHOOL SPECIAL: Penelope Cruz and Ben Kingsley cross the student/teacher divide in Elegy.

In Isabel Coixet's Elegy, Ben Kingsley plays David Kepesh, an intellectual and avid womanizer whose age has crept up on him, leaving him staring out the window of his handsomely decorated Manhattan apartment and pondering how it's still possible he's "engaged in the carnal aspects of the human comedy."

If this sounds like Philip Roth territory, it should — Elegy is an adaptation of yet another Roth novel about the complex dovetailing of mind and body (among other things), and Kingsley's Kepesh is a quintessential Roth hero, a tortured soul of enormous intellectual and sensual appetites, equally at home quoting Tolstoy and Bette Davis. A renowned literary critic and popular college professor, Kepesh is also fond of seducing female students 30 years his junior, but when he becomes involved with a beautiful grad student named Consuela (Penelope Cruz), Kingsley's fiercely independent character becomes obsessed, consumed by jealousy and riddled with paralyzing doubts that ultimately tear the relationship asunder. Could it be love?

Kingsley is very good here (a welcome return to subtlety after the broad strokes of The Wackness), and Cruz is even better, but the film simply seems too enamored of melancholy for melancholy's sake to really be effective, and it never quite manages to convincingly detail the process by which basic physical desire transforms into something known, for better or worse, as love. Elegy is essentially a chamber piece, a slow (very slow) dance between two characters that plays out largely in silence or accompanied by haunting minor key works by Satie and Beethoven, and the movie's tragic downward spiral ultimately makes for a disappointingly turgid and conventional love story.

Elegy (R) Stars Ben Kingsley, Penelope Cruz, Patricia Clarkson, Peter Sarsgaard and Dennis Hopper. Opens Aug. 22 at Burns Court in Sarasota. 2.5 stars

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