Saturday, September 7, 2013

And While We Were Here/ Adore/ A Teacher

Cougars Go Indie                           
by Mark Dispenza

This month features the release of three different takes on the older woman/ younger man romance by three different women filmmakers.

I don't know what cougar zeitgeist could have compelled these women to this material at the same time, but the resulting films are distinct and thought-provoking.  The stories are also much less about sex and more about the emotional journeys of the primary characters.

All are in limited release (read New York / Los Angeles) or available on VOD platforms such as on-demand cable, iTunes or Amazon Instant.

And While We Were Here

Kat Coiro, a multi-hyphenate who acts, writes and directs, delivers her best feature yet with And While We Were Here.  It is also the most accessible and conventional of the the three films.  That being said, the plot points that underscore the film are mostly subtle, which means the viewer has to pay close attention to grasp the nuances of the main character's emotional journey.

That's a bit more challenging than it sounds.  The film moves at a slow pace, and one gets the feeling that Coiro was most concerned with the look of the film, which was beautifully shot on location off the Amalfi Coast of Italy.  That combined with the well-developed acting chops of Kate Bosworth, mostly carries the movie.

Kate Bosworth and Jamie Blackley

Bosworth plays Jane, a woman in a relatively young marriage, who recently suffered a miscarriage.  The incident also left her physically damaged and unable to have children, a terrible sentence, as children figured prominently in the young couple's plans for the future.

Her husband, Leonard (Iddo Goldberg), is a classical musician with a new gig on the island of Ischia.  As the couple arrives there, the tension in their marriage is evident.  Leonard tries to be the dutiful husband and support the emotionally devastated Jane, but she sees through it and realizes that he's just going through the motions.  A childless future was not what he had in mind.  What makes matters worse is that the two of them truly love each other, as evidenced by their feeble attempts to withhold their emotional pain from the other. The problem is that it isn't working, and Jane has begun to realize that.

While Leonard is off playing with the orchestra during the day, Jane transcribes an interview with her grandmother for a book she is writing about her hardships during World War II.  She finds inspiration there - a mixture of hope amid great pain.

She also begins to explore the island and encounters a college-aged teen named Caleb (Jamie Blackley).  Caleb is smitten with her and relentless in his pursuit of her attention.  Jane becomes charmed by his youthful enthusiasm and sense of adventure, and despite her initial resistance, begins to fall for him.  He enables her to recapture the wonder of her own earlier years and sense of endless possibility.

She will face a choice.  Does she escape her pain and leave with Caleb to join him on his travels to explore the world, or does she return to the dutiful, loving Leonard and continue to face the pain of his disappointment?


The premise of Adore is bound to raise a lot of eyebrows, as it did during its premiere at Sundance this year.   The story, based on a novella by author Doris Lessing, is about two lifelong friends who fall for each other's sons.

The screenplay by Anne Fontaine, another multi-hyphenate who also directed the film, is a remarkable take on a very challenging subject.  What makes the script so interesting, other than careful plotting and very good dialogue, is that it offers a compelling window onto its subjects, without moralizing or drawing obvious conclusions.  Every time a new plot point develops, you expect the story to turn in an obvious way, but the beauty is that it rarely happens like that.  The viewer's expectations and opinions are challenged every step of the way.

You'll feel you should be revolted by the choices made by Robin Wright, as Roz, and Naomi Watts, as Lil, but somehow they seem strangely acceptable within the world these characters inhabit.  The film was beautifully shot on location on the Australian coast, and the two leads make very sexy cougars.

Robin Wright and Naomi Watts

As I pondered the meaning of the story, I kept coming back to the insularity of the primary characters.  They live in a small town hours from the big city, and it's an idyllic existence.  They want for little, have the beauty of the ocean right in their backyards, and their relationships with each other are lifelong and comfortable.  When each character is offered the opportunity to leave and pursue something bigger and better, they can't do it.  They live in a comfortable world with few challenges.  Why risk it?

In real life I know a lot of people who live lives of similar insularity, but that doesn't make them bad people, and none have taken it as far as Roz and Lil, at least as far as I know.  It's an inbred existence but is it wrong?  You have to decide for yourself.

A Teacher

There's much less beauty and lot more emotional tension in A Teacher, Hannah Fidell's character study of a high school teacher's demise after she chooses to pursue an illicit relationship with one of her male students.

Lindsay Burdge does an outstanding job of depicting the changes that occur in her character's emotional state at each step of the way, often relying more on body language and facial expression than dialogue.  it's certain you'll be seeing a lot more of her in future films.

Lindsay Burdge

It's clear from the start that the teacher, Diana, has emotional issues.  She lives a lonely, predictable life, yet finds it extremely difficult to relate to adult men when offered the opportunity.  As she digs herself deeper into an emotional well, she is tempted to act on fantasy with one of her students.  Eric, played by Will Brittain, offers a perfect opportunity.  He's a sexy, good-looking young man who is already popular with girls his age. A hot young man like that should find Diana to be but one more sexual conquest, and he's less likely to get entangled emotionally with her.  But there are flaws in Diana's logic, and they come from a place she hasn't been looking - her own damaged psyche.

A few close calls spook her, and suddenly the risks inherent in their relationship become primary in Diana's mind.  She can lose her job, suffer terrible humiliation and even go to prison.  She decides to break it off.  The problem is that she has already become dependent on the relief that emotional drug provided.  It won't be as easy as she believes to go cold turkey.

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