Dir: Ira Sachs, 2006, USA, 105 mins
Cast: Rip Torn, Dina Korzun, Darren E. Burrows
Review by Michael Blyth
One of the problems in making a film that deals explicitly with the implicit emotions of its characters is that it can often result in a rather uninvolving experience. And indeed, Ira Sachs’ infinitely subtle melodrama ends up being just that – an admirable, but emotionally vacant, affair.
Alan James, a legendary music producer, lives in Memphis with his Russian wife, Laura, and their young son. Their peaceful, if sometimes strained, home life is disturbed when Alan’s grown-up son, Michael, pays a visit. Initially suspicious of Laura, Michael soon grows increasingly attached to her and the couple begin to embark on a muted love affair.
Stylistically, the film looks beautiful. Sachs’ expert use of mirrors, tiles and cold surfaces effectively evokes the icy harshness of the central marriage, while the drained colours lend a fitting sterility to proceedings. But a meticulous mise-en-scene is no substitute for an involving narrative. Much like Ang Lee’s similarly chilly The Ice Storm (to which the film bears several resemblances), 40 Shades of Blue lets the scenery do most of the talking when the people themselves remain silent. But Lee’s far superior exercise in unspoken angst benefited from genuinely sympathetic and fully-realised characters, while Sach’s morose gang ultimately lack any substantial depth.
Where the film really excels is in its central performances from Rip Torn and Dina Korzun. Torn is as brash and confrontational as one would assume, having managed to refine his expertise for playing obnoxious loud-mouths down to a fine art. While Korzun, as his long-suffering wife, is nothing short of a revelation. Every part of her near-silent performance is pulsing with unexpressed emotion. She remains consistently engaging, even when the film’s rather plodding pace and all too familiar plot developments begin to grow tiresome.
40 Shades of Blue went down a storm at the Sundance Film Festival, and it’s not hard to see why. All the staples of a solid US indie hit are here – soul-searching discussions, expressive locations and miserable families. And indeed there is much to admire. But ultimately, this is a character study, where you fail to form any significant connection to any of the characters, and that, despite its merits, makes it a failure.
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