Tuesday, 3 March 2015

2 March, 2015: Love is Strange (2014) ****

“When you go to stay with somebody if you stay too long you are in danger of getting to know them more than you care to”

This is a bitter-sweet movie about unremarkable people dealing with a small crisis and learning far more about each other than they care to. Those who go to the movies for thrills and spills will be mystified by it; those who expect movies to explore and elucidate the human condition will be sucked in.

After nearly four decades together in lower Manhattan, Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina) finally tie the knot. At the Catholic School where George works, parents, staff and students are all aware that he is gay and fully accept him, but a clause in his contract has been breached by the marriage and he is summarily dismissed. Ben, who is somewhat older, relies on a modest pension, and without George’s salary they cannot afford to remain in their Manhattan apartment.

The two guys must rely on friends and relatives to put them up until George is able to secure another job and they find an affordable apartment. Ben stays in Brooklyn with his Nephew and his wife and son. There is no spare room so he ends up sharing a bunk bed with their somewhat volatile teenage son. George sleeps on the sofa of the apartment downstairs which is rented by two gay cops and seems constantly to be in party mode with friends streaming in and out all day and very loud music (anathema to George who is a classical musician).

Ben and George are old-school with impeccable manners and a reluctance to cause trouble or offence to others. As what was supposed to be a brief temporary arrangement starts to take on permanence, both men become acutely aware that their very presence has changed the dynamic of the relationships of their hosts. The friendship with which the original offers of help were made is stretched to breaking point and tempers start to fray. And hardest to bear is the separation for two men who have not lived apart for nearly forty years.

The combination of wonderfully restrained but compelling lead performances from two seasoned actors, the excellent supporting performances, the writing of Ira Sachs and Mauricio Zacharias and Ira’s sure-footed direction makes you care deeply about these people. Add to this, some sumptuous cinematography by Christos Voudouris (Manhattan has never looked more beautiful since Woody Allen’s eponymous movie), piano music by Chopin and a penultimate scene which will rip you apart, and what you get is a very fine movie. Hat’s off to the thirty-two producers, executive producers and associate producers who raised the money – a true indie movie.

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