Reviewed by: Maryam Ghorbankarimi

David Kepesh (Ben Kingsley) teaches Practical Literary Criticism at college. Having made it a habit, in order to avoid sexual harassment suits, to sleep with his students after they have been given their grades, he is besotted with one of his new students, a Cuban-born beauty named Consuela (Penelope Cruz). Although he achieves his aim by initiating a love affair with her after the graduation party, he starts to have feelings of jealousy, and becomes obsessive, stalking her on the nights they are not together.

These feelings are new to him, having never been attached in the same way to anyone with whom he had an affair. But despite these feelings he never attempts to move on to the next level in their relationship, although it is made clear in the film that this is what Consuela really wants. He even avoids meeting her family on several occasions, fearing they will not approve of their relationship. On top of this, he continues to meet regularly with one of his ex-students, Carolyn (Patricia Clarkson), without ever mentioning Consuela. Kepesh therefore limits their relationship to a merely physical one. He becomes increasingly obsessed with Consuela’s body, specifically her breasts, and calls her body a work of art.

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With Kepesh's inability to undergo an emotional commitment, and with Consuela's wanting to move on, can there be any hope for their relationship? His poet friend George (Dennis Hopper), who throughout the film acts as his counsellor, tries to make him see the inevitable by telling him that he should not worry about growing old, but rather that he should worry about growing up.

Elegy is well acted by both the lead and the supporting actors, which helps in carrying the emotional load of the film forward. Penelope Cruz, although still not as good as she could be, gives one of her better performances in English. Ben Kingsley, also not in one of his most memorable roles, offers a believable performance.

Kepesh’s voice narrating the story is quite dominant throughout the film, and illustrates his inability to go beyond Consuela’s body to see her as a person. Consuela’s presence is truly as an object of desire, which is quite unexpected as the director is a woman, and she has not made an attempt to make Consuela anything but a mere sex object. The final act is quite unforeseen, too, with a request from Consuela which transforms the plot completely and carries the film to its dramatic conclusion.

Reviewed on: 20 Jun 2008
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A college lecturer becomes obsessed by the student with whom he is having an affair.
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Director: Isabel Coixet

Writer: Nicholas Meyer, based on the book The Dying Animal by Philip Roth.

Starring: Ben Kingsley, Penélope Cruz, Patricia Clarkson, Peter Sarsgaard, Deborah Harry, Dennis Hopper

Year: 2008

Runtime: 108 minutes

Country: US


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