Sunday, April 04, 2010

A Single Man

The Dreaded Gaze

I will now officially kick myself for missing out on this during last year's Tokyo International Film Festival, where director Tom Ford (yes, THE Tom Ford the fashion designer) was present to present his debut film at a gala premiere, with time set aside for interviews as well. For its theme, A Single Man may not have made it to our shores, but I'm glad it did despite some wrangling which made its release a little later – but better late than never.

As a debut film by a helmer better known for his style in the fashion world, making that transition outside of one's comfort zone is never easy, but one thing's for sure, that certain sense of style never got lost, and neither was its substance light. It had all the trappings of a well made movie that is ostensibly beautiful to look at, yet accompanied by plenty of heavy emotions that it seeks to overwhelm and bring out that tinge of depression if you would share it with the protagonist, Colin Firth's English language professor George Falconer.

For all his modern world (well, the 60s rather) material wealth of a glasshouse, that Mercedes Benz parked in the garage, and sets of impeccably designed suits (well, by Tom Ford himself no less), George is hurting inside ever since his lover Jim (Matthew Goode) passed away in a car accident. For 16 years they had lived a life of bliss, undisturbed in a neighbourhood suburb where the American dream was quite alive in L.A, though now come under threat from the Bay of Pigs incident. Its set in the present, with George going about with much dread his daily life, reminiscing his wonderfully happy past in a series of flashbacks, and currently contemplating suicide to call it quits.

But of course ending one's life is never simple, and frankly takes quite a lot of guts and desperation, of which he has two persons to thank for in subtly and subconsciously giving him a reason to live on. The first will be good friend Charley (Julianne Moore) his neighbour, where we're shown that she's the first person he ran to in an effort to seek solace over bad news. A divorcee herself, the story by Christopher Isherwood presents her as a what-if since obviously they both click, and in a pivotal scene, their bantering of how their lives would probably be for the different should they have, somehow, hooked up together.

Then there's the personification of the future to look forward to, where it is fairly obvious his student Kenny (Nicholas Hoult) is never trying to hide the fact that he's hitting on his teacher, with those puppy doe eyes and obedience, coupled with youthful exuberance to counter that of a senior citizen's ailing heart. Winner of the Best Actor award at last year's Venice Film Festival, Colin Firth owns this role and brings out a spectrum of emotion from despair to hope and desire, as a man looking to end his life in the best way possible, with his plans largely intervened by Fate, though it comes with a warning to be careful about what you persistently wish for.

In its technical areas, the film's colours and tone mirrors in parallel the emotion felt by George, where we start off with shades which are grey and strained especially when he's alone, but with friends and those he would want to be close with, or when it flashes back to his happier past, warmth colours get chosen, and it becomes a lot more vivid. If there's another film that made use of music the same way this one did, it'll be Wong Kar-wai's In the Mood for Love. Here, the tunes by Abel Korzeniowski bring this film to a different level like a waltz that's emotionally rhythmic in its pace and delivery. Shades of Wong Kar-wai also continues in its use of that clock ticking that's almost always in the background to signify the passage of time as well as how iconic moments in our lives define us, just as how time is also something important in the narrative stages of the story reliving the past, spending the present and being hopeful of George's future.

Tom Ford scores in his debut feature, and it's fairly obvious his eye for style permeates throughout the film seen in the quality of the art direction, production sets, costumes and make up, with a powerful emotional tale that makes everything else worthwhile. It's one thing making a film with homosexual themes that can be emotionally replicated should you switch character genders around, but it's another ball game altogether when that doesn't work, which signifies a true blue genre tale. This is eye-candy at its best, with an emotional core attached. Highly recommended!

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