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FORTY SHADES OF BLUE (director/writer: Ira Sachs; screenwriter: Michael Rohatyn; cinematographer: Julian Whatley; editor: Affonso Gonçalves; music: Dickon Hinchliffe; cast: Rip Torn (Alan), Dina Korzun (Laura), Darren Burrows (Michael), Paprika Steen (Lonni), Red West (Duigan), Jenny O’Hara (Celia), Liz Morton (Cindy, Babysitter), Joanne Pankow (Aunt Betty), Sam James (Andrew Henderson); Runtime: 108; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Margot Bridger/Ira Sachs/Mary Bing/Jawal Nga/Donald Rosenfeld; First Look Pictures; 2005)
“Aspires to tell us something revealing about compromised souls.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Director Ira Sachs (“Delta”) keeps the anxiety on high throughout this melodrama and ends it on a depressing note. Sachs and cowriter Michael Rohatyn set a plodding morbid mood that aspires to tell us something revealing about compromised souls and those who are too insecure or screwed up to ever experience real love. The psychological drama is offbeat, challenging, humorless, opaque and dense. It relentlessly shows a loveless relationship between the featured couple, and how the live-in girlfriend and her man’s estranged son are brooding characters who are both alienated from others and their environment.

The glum, pale complexioned, thoughtful, enigmatic, twentysomething blonde beauty Laura (Dina Korzun) is the out-of-place Russian-born girlfriend of the much older southern good ole boy Alan James (Rip Torn, the crafty actor will turn 75 after the film’s release), who has come from rags in the Old Country to riches beyond her wildest dreams in the New World. Laura has provided the much married womanizing, temper tantrum throwing and reptilian successful Memphis record producer, who made his rep producing black soul music, with a 3 1/2 year-old-son named Sam and companionship at events as a trophy girlfriend (proving the old boy has staying power in both bed and in the boardroom). Laura’s stoic stance of sticking with such an arrogant using character, who only brings down those close to him, comes from her attitude that I have nothing to complain about–no one she knows from her homeland is so pampered and has so many material things.

Alan’s estranged twentysomething son Michael (Darren Burrows) who is suffering from a rocky marriage and is the lonely neglected child from a previous marriage, pays a rare visit from his LA home to be at a tribute dinner to his dad and befriends the sullen Laura whom he meets for the first time. Michael recognizes they have much in common in their dealings with Alan, even though they have tremendous differences that they can’t even begin to articulate. Circumstances rather than love push the insecure Michael into a one-night stand with his father’s neglected and lonely wife, who sulks that Alan ditched her at the tribute to be with another woman.

There’s not much that gets said here that we can’t see for ourselves or hear through the bluesy background music. There’s lots of emotional agony displayed without it giving us a better sense of where this arty mood piece is heading (which actually might be a good thing and the film’s saving grace that things are not predictable and are messy like real life). In the last scene we can’t be sure if a sobbing out of control Laura who has been asked at last by Alan to be his wife, will get back in the car with Alan or walk away from the proposal. My problem is that I don’t have enough of a back story about her to know her decision. All we have to go on is that the lady has internalized a lifetime’s worth of grief and might be on the verge of cracking up whether she does or doesn’t enter into this loveless marriage.

The lousy father (a charmer with regrettable flaws rather than being a real monster) gets his comeuppance when his son at an outdoor music party attended by dad’s admiring business colleagues gives a tribute speech to dad and says: “Of all the sons of bitches, you are one of them.”

This American indie was a top award winner at the Sundance Film Festival.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”