Thursday, November 27, 2008

Two Lovers and its Antecedents

One of the better films I've seen of late is James Gray's Two Lovers, a beautiful love story, filmed like a thriller that I imagine will resonate more with male viewers than female. Which is not to say that women won't like it either, of course. What sets the film apart from so many others on a similar theme is its recognition of the cruelly pragmatic choices taken in the pursuit of love. The films that do the same can, in my own experience, be counted on one hand. I won't give too much away (because any plot summary will) but the focal scene in the film - through which the subjective pain of the Joaquin Phoenix character is fleshed out in such a moving way - belongs to Isabella Rossellini, Phoenix's onscreen mother. I only mention it because the scene itself carries an echo from cinema history, from a film conceived by her parents, both of whom made very difficult decisions for their time 'in the name of love'. That film is Voyage to Italy, which was itself a precursor of Ingrid Bergman's own divorce from Roberto Rossellini. The film in which Bergman and George Sanders' marriage frays visibly shows one of the most moving of cinematic break ups, and quite appropriately, it references Joyce's The Dead, that most devastating of literary texts on the lingering infidelity of past love (and the unhappy couple are themselves bestowed with the old Galway name). I'm pretty sure Gray knew what he was doing when he cast her...