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Monday, August 4, 2008

Evening (2007)


'Evening' Shines

Halfway through Lajos Koltai's "Evening," a woman on her deathbed asks a figure appearing in her hallucination: "Can you tell me where my life went?" The line could be embarrassingly theatrical, but the woman speaking it is Vanessa Redgrave, delivering it with utter simplicity, and the question tears your heart out.

Time and again, the film based on Susan Minot's novel skirts sentimentality and ordinariness, it holds attention, offers admirable performances, and engenders emotional involvement as few recent movies have. With only six months of the year gone, there are now two memorable, meaningful, worthwhile films in theaters, the other, of course, being Sara Polley's "Away from Her." Hollywood might have turned "Evening" into a slick celebrity vehicle with its two pairs of real-life mothers and daughters - Vanessa Redgrave and Natasha Richardson, and Meryl Streep and Mamie Gummer. Richardson is Redgrave's daughter in the film (with a sister played by Tony Collette), and Gummer plays Streep's younger self, while Redgrave's youthful incarnation is Claire Danes.

Add Glenn Close, Eileen Atkins, Hugh Dancy, Patrick Wilson, and a large cast - yes, it could have turned into a multiple star platform. Instead, Koltai - the brilliant Hungarian cinematographer of "Mephisto," and director of "Fateless" - created a subtle ensemble work with a "Continental feel," the story taking place in a high-society Newport environment, in the days leading up to a wedding that is fraught with trouble.

Missed connections, wrong choices, and dutiful compliance with social and family pressures present quite a soap opera, but the quality of the writing, Koltai's direction, and selfless acting raise "Evening" way above that level, into the the rarified air of English, French (and a few American) family sagas from a century before its contemporary setting.

Complex relationships between mothers and daughters, between friends and lovers, with the addition of a difficult triangle all come across clearly, understandably, captivatingly. Individual tunes are woven into a symphony.

And yet, with the all the foregoing emphasis on ensemble and selfless performances, the stars of "Evening" still shine through, Redgrave, Richardson, Gummer (an exciting new discovery, looking vaguely like her mother, but a very different actress), Danes carrying most of the load - until Streep shows up in the final moments and, of course, steals the show. Dancy and Wilson are well worth the price of admission too.

As with "Away from Her," "Evening" stays with you at length, inviting a re-thinking its story and characters, and re-experiencing the emotions it raises. At two hours, the film runs a bit long, but the way it stays with you thereafter is welcome among the many movies that go cold long before your popcorn. By janos451

IMDb
Amazon: (Watch exclusive interviews with the cast of Evening, view the trailer and more stills)

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