The story, frankly, is not a startlingly new or original one: aging academic, David, (Ben Kingsley,) more in touch with his libido than his heart, falls for Consuela, a stunning student, 30 years his junior (Penelope Cruz!) and gets in touch with all those difficult feelings he never knew he had. His closest friend and confidant, George, (Dennis Hoppe
r) tries to talk sense into him, but he's a goner. Subplot: an estranged middle-aged son (Peter Sarsgaard) with whom he finally, through near-tragedy, finds common ground. So it's all about age and dying, love and sexuality, fathers and sons and friends and lovers, in short, the vulnerability of the human heart...
I know, it all sounds a bit hackneyed. What makes it a truly engaging and touching story is the quality of the acting. Ben Kingsley and Penelope Cruz manage to create--and, harder, to maintain the spark of what the movie folk call "chemistry"; their passion seems real, at once tender and painful, edgy and profound. It doesn't hurt, of course, they they are both terrific-looking people, whose character shines brilliantly in their faces, and particularly their eyes. Their love scenes are frank, courageous, compelling, and erotic. And once they get past the bodies--and David past the difference in their ages--they find something very much like love.
As Consuela, Cruz manages to hold her own both as a character and an actress with the powerful Ben Kingsley. A young woman of extraordinary beauty, she exudes a power of her own that transcends her physical attributes. Unwilling to be David's toy or "mistress," she falls in love slowly, with mindful circumspection and full awareness of her own wants and needs; and when her great challenge comes, as it does, she handles it with equal measures of grief and grace, showing herself to be more mature, in important ways, than her older lover.
What a great role for Dennis Hopper, too--and how beautifully he plays it! As the poet-friend and academic colleague of Kingsley's character, George acts--surprisingly, perhaps, for Hopper--as what the French call the "raisonneur," the voice of reason, paled by the towering passion on the other side. He keeps trying to reel David back in to the safer path of sanity, to change him back into the simple, randy bed-hopper with whom he, George, had always been comfortable in the past, because in bed-hopping there is no risk, no emotional investment, no potential loss. I'll refrain from revealing the powerful even shocking climax in the relationship between these two aging charmers. Suffice it to say that this one scene alone is worth the price of the ticket.
The father-son relationship is also played out well, resolving itself in another turn of the plot that brings two together in a way that has eluded both of them since David abandoned his wife and young son years before. The son's anger and frustration, his struggle with self-pity and the need for his father's love, are delicately played by Sarsgaard opposite the domineering, seemingly uncaring Kingsley. It's only when they discover common ground that they can come to a still tentative peace between them.
In all, this "Elegy" is a satisfying and convincing human drama, one that engages us in the lives of its participants with very human feelings for their various predicaments and challenges. If you haven't yet seen it, I'd encourage you not to miss it.