Forty Shades of Blue

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The two recent Bill Murray ennui-fests, Broken Flowers and Lost in Translation, illustrate how quietly introspective moments of passion and betrayal can have a cumulative emotional effect as devastating as the soapiest tear-jerkers. In that vein, Ira Sachs’ sophomore feature, Forty Shades of Blue, is a similarly pure, distilled vision of romantic denial, familial angst and parental neglect, directed in a haunting style. It’s everything American independent films have forgotten to be: subdued, observant and far more concerned with the characters’ inner lives than with anything they might say or do.

Sachs’ graceful, gliding camera reveals everything his characters won’t. The opening scenes show blustery Memphis music mogul Alan (Rip Torn) on his way to receive a lifetime achievement award; at his side is his near-silent, alienated Russian girlfriend Laura (Dina Korzun). A brainy, successful woman in her homeland, Laura was swept away to America by the impulsive Alan, and now, years later, despair has set in: She’s a marginalized woman, just a piece of arm candy. Though she gave birth to Alan’s child, the couple never married. They live together, but she still answers the phone awkwardly: “This is Miss Laura.” She finds an unlikely soulmate in Alan’s son Michael (Northern Exposure’s Darren E. Burrows), a father-to-be whose contempt for dad only grows as he witnesses Alan’s mistreatment of Laura firsthand. Predictably, Michael becomes attracted to Laura; but what’s more interesting is how the three main characters reconcile their own emotional infidelities.

Sachs doesn’t allow satire or contempt to infect his portrayal of the modern American South, instead capturing scenes of kindness and cruelty in an objective, near-documentary style. His characters have a life of their own: What little dialogue there is seems to have been dreamed up on the spot. Alan is a hypocrite, to be sure, but Rip Torn uses selective ignorance of his girlfriend’s feelings to mask a greater fear of being left alone. Like a young Catherine Deneuve, Korzun’s stiff, haughty elegance illustrates how she feels alien in this environment, unsure of how to interact with all the blustery Southern belles around her. Sachs intensifies her loneliness by placing her outside the action, usually at the edge of the frame.

Admittedly, this is slow-going stuff; even for a ponderous drama, there might be one too many shots of the characters staring off into space, looking forlorn. But these moments of contemplation make the blow-ups even more emotional: When Korzun cries, her face seems to break. This is a character who falls back on her limited grasp of English to hide her true feelings, a personal betrayal that Sachs obviously finds more heartbreaking than any sort of physical infidelity.

 

Showing at the Main Art Theatre (118 N. Main St., Royal Oak; 248-263-2111).

Michael Hastings writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com.

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