Forty Shades of Blue

 

 

An oblique drama which appears to be about a retired Memphis music producer and ends up being more about his much younger Russian, possibly cash-up-front, wife. Rip Torn plays Alan, the legend, blustering egomaniac and serial boozer whom everyone appears to idolise, on the surface at least. The remarkable Dina Korzun is Laura, the Russian import whose eyes tells us she’s dealt with far worse than Alan, but even so she wishes he’d treat her with a bit more respect. The film does little more than observe them as they go about their muted life… until Alan’s son, Michael (Darren Burrows) turns up to throw a metaphorical hand grenade into the mix. There’s a lot to like here – Rip Torn’s muted performance as the guy who’s seen better days, whose appalling behaviour is discounted on account of who he is. There’s not a shred of the comedy booming he delivered in Larry Sanders or Men in Black or Dodgeball. But as the film winds on, it’s the story of Laura that starts to assert itself. Because she’s still young enough to get out and change, if she’s prepared to give up life with Alan. Ira Sachs has made a film that can’t be half-watched, a quiet melodrama that seethes below the surface, where what’s not said is as important as what is. It’s the story of one man’s slide to oblivion but also about a woman standing at the gates of opportunity. The fact that the man is a record-biz mogul – an industry also on its knees – and an American at the end of the American century is surely not coincidental either.
© Steve Morrissey 2006

 

Forty Shades of Blue – at Amazon

 

 

 

 

4 thoughts on “Forty Shades of Blue”

  1. First, the plot summary is incorrect in a couple minor ways. Laura, the Russian girlfriend of Alan James (Rip Torn) met him in Russia on a business trip/ conference (according to a long conversation in the film between Laura and Michael (Alan’s son). Second they don’t live in a penthouse, but on the banks of the Mississippi, in a sprawling 70’s era house (NOT luxury but great set). Michael is not a freelance writer, but a literature Professor (as he discusses in a couple instances in the film – but would probably rather be a free-lance writer).

    I saw this film at the Best of Fest (Sundance) Screening in Park City, UT, knowing that it was the juried Grand Prize Drama winner with high expectations. After having seen several other films, and having been attending the festival for 15 years, I was very disappointed and quite perplexed that it went away with this honor.

    The film plods along revealing the characters as boring, sad, and shallow ghosts. The only exception is Alan (Torn) who does a wonderful job (but he always place this sort of role – a curmudgeonly, outwardly genial, jerk). The story is fairly simple, and verges on Oedipal themes, however, there is no real impact of the relationship that develops between Michael and Laura, as it takes place in a miasma of moral uncertainty. Alan and Laura are not married; Alan openly courts another girlfriend and has other transient relationships, Laura picks up men in bars and has a fling here and there, and Michael is ambivalent about most everything.

    The story moves so slowly and the characters have such restrained reaction to what would seem as provocative situations, that the viewer comes away with a sort of numb bewilderment. The dialog is simply awful, and often distracting. Laura goes around saying things that you might expect a Russian Tour Guide to say (which she was year ago). It would be fine if she said and reacted in this way occasionally, from a realistically portrayed film such as this, I want more: more emotion, more anger, more. Laura is just sad – throughout the entire piece.

    Michael’s dialog is even worse. He’s a Literature Professor, but seems illiterate. He says things that at times are harder to understand than Laura with her Russian accent. And the content of what he say’s are often out-of-place and silly. His character is also the most shallowly portrayed in the film. He is simply blank. It is never believable that he would have a relationship with Laura.

    Don’t bother with this film. If you want to see something similar, but with considerable more depth, see The Ice Storm.

  2. Film-making with such an eye for detail and nuance is rarely to be seen in America and I’m overjoyed that the Sundance committee stepped forward to recognize it. Forty Shades of Blue is a fascinated witness to heartbreak and refuses all melodrama, all sentimentality in favor of fully lived characters that are shocking in their naturalism—the Russian actress in particular is astonishing but what is even more astonishing is the subtlety with which the director observes her. It is the most careful portrait of loneliness I have ever seen.

    Unlike most directors who point us in every frame at their star or their theme, Sachs–like Robert Altman–often points out details and people of the setting (Memphis) so that we are quite sure we’re not seeing actors at all, and the effect is not the closed-room feel you would expect of a love triangle, but a place and time fixed forever by the lens. Ira Sachs has coaxed great performances from his actors, his hometown and the musicians who perform like a Greek chorus throughout. It’s quite a masterpiece.

  3. This is a quietly brilliant film, a real gem, mostly because every frame of Forty Shades of Blue reeks of cinema; it’s a film lover’s film, and, maybe more importantly, a lovers’ film, a romance/drama that is human, complex and entertaining at the same time.

    I was blown away by Sachs’ attention to details and command of his actors. There’s nothing flashy to his naturalistic approach, yet the three main actors/lovers shine, and the camera feels at ease even in the most intimate moments.

    If this movie was in French, it would be up for an academy award as a foreign language film, in the U.S. they will treat it as a small, indie film. That’s reality. But the reality this film captures, a triangle between a Russian woman, her much older, legendary music producer husband and his son, speaks to a greater truth – that people are fragile and wanting, that life in the West is so good, it makes us soft and even more fragile and wanting and selfish and human than we want to acknowledge. That at the end of the day we all want to love and be loved and be safe. When was the last time you saw a movie so simple and giving in its complexity?

    It’s set in Memphis, but it speaks an international language and I hope this film gets seen everywhere, not just festivals.

    This is the first Ira Sachs film I’ve seen (his IMDb lists another feature, The Delta, and some shorts) but I’m certain there will be many more. Let’s just hope Hollywood doesn’t corrupt his unique talent and respect for movies and human beings.

    Oh, and it’s got some great music too.

  4. Forty Shades of Blue is an extremely beautiful and moving picture, that slowly crawls under your skin, and stays with you for a long time. The character Laura becomes a nuanced and credible person, and her portrait is the main reason that the movie works, but the other main characters also show moving performances. All is weaved together in a very well-written screenplay, and complemented by beautiful cinematography and pace, that allows the story and the characters to develop. It is a movie that suggests, rather than exemplifies, not much is said, but much happens – I was deeply touched after seeing this movie, the Sundance award was so justified! You have to take your time, and let the movie SHOW you a story – this is not action, this is a drama – give it a shot, and you will be rewarded! 9 out of 10

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