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Deep Blue Sea

Thursday, October 20th, 2011 by

Several friends and I saw the US Premier of Deep Blue Sea, the new film by Terrence Davies based on the 1952 play by the prominent British playwright, Terrence Rattigan. The film has been acquired by Music Box (better known for “The Girl With … ” series of Euro imports). Many “P&I” attendees (“Press and Industry”) at the Hamptons International Film Festival premier screening on Friday night walked out 15 minutes or less into the film, thinking (undoubtedly) “not suitable for American audiences.” The film stars Rachel Weisz in the lead role as Hester. Tom Hiddleston and Simon Russell Beale have the lead male roles as Freddie (the RAF pilot and lover) and Judge Collyer (the husband).

The film (in my view) is unlikely to be controversial. The extraordinarily slow pacing is accompanied by a stunning selection of music (the “Violin Concerto”) from Samuel Barber (a modern American composer well known to American film audiences for the “Adagio for Strings”, the theme song for Oliver Stone’s “Platoon”). The restraint in Rachel Wiesz’ acting, emphasized by slow movement in key scenes, creates a tension for which squirming restlessness is all but a dead end effort to escape. The film’s plotline (summarized by The Guardian as: “the story of a married woman’s affair with an RAF pilot”) seems like it has been seen and told in different ways many times. These things are not the stuff of controversy.

The blog “flickering myth” has an interview with Terrence Davies in which he discusses his sources of inspiration for the film. In this interview, he points to the well established tradition of “women’s romantic films” and references the isolation of Hester between two men who cannot respond to her: her husband the lawyer because of his rigidity and repression; and her lover, the former pilot, whose war experiences have seemingly made him incapable of emotional commitment. In retrospect, that strikes me as a more likely avenue for discussion (but perhaps not controversy).

Hester (Rachel Wiesz) refers to her love affair with Freddie Page (Tom Hiddleston) as “more natural” — but he is not interested in the relationship and cannot respond to her emotional needs of him. At our post-screening dinner, a female friend accused him of “emotional abuse.” Meanwhile her husband, Judge Collyer (Simon Russell Beale), brings her a book of Shakespeare’s Sonnets as a sign of his affection, perhaps an elegant and gentle offer but equally unresponsive to her needs and desires.

But why is not being able to gauge, understand and respond to the mystery of affection as compelling a theme for men, comparable to the woman’s struggle of being “torn between two lovers” (for example, from the Mary MacGregor country music crossover hit of the the late 70′s)?

Several important IndiePix films in the last year have focused on the struggle between men against women and women against men. In Samson and Delilah, the strong willed aborginal teenage woman provides an anchor for her life and that of her young man; in Women Without Men, four women struggle with their roles in a male dominated society, carrying that conflict from home into the streets; in That Girl In Yellow Boots, a young woman struggles with five different kinds of abusive, oppressive men in a search for a father who is profoundly disappointing. These are globally important films from prominent and talented filmmakers, focusing on a theme of compelling urgency and emotion.

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