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David, a literary critic (Ben Kingsley), starts an affair with student Consuela (Penelope Cruz) and actually falls in love with her. His raging jealousy, paired with an inability to commit to relationships costs him dearly when he repeatedly disappoints the woman he loves. Years after the disappointment, a new form of relationship starts between the two, and David needs to prove whether he has grown up beyond the stage of irresponsible skirt-chaser.

I am baffled at the question who ever developed the idea of making a movie out of this Philip Roth book (you don’t need to know the novel has been written by Roth, by the way – it is so full of Roth prototypical people and situations that no other author these days would probably dare touching those subject matters of ageing, sex, fetish, desperation and dying). Hard enough to write a plot summary, as the plot is next to irrelevant. What is relevant is Ben Kingsley and Penelope Cruz, he at last showing again that he isn’t one of Britain’s finest for nothing and can do more than make a fool out of his abiliites in US C-movies. He gives a slightly too insecure older lover, desperate about his own inability to shut out his jealousy, addicted to the beauty and liveliness of his beloved one. He literally falls for her, but his effort to possess her without allowing her to possess him and draw him into her life dooms their love. And Penelope Cruz… Penelope Cruz… she is pulling off the roles where most stunning beauty is paired with sheer lust and pleasure and loveability. There is no pretentiousness around her, no playing with the power her amazingness gives her over her environment. Here she plays a woman who has all the powers she wants over the older lover, but instead of being the controlling vamp she shows a very straightforward desire to open up and merge her life with the life of the man she loves. Cruz is able to convey this desire by showing a naturalness that is almost not credible in combination with her stunning looks. Yet she does it: maybe the most beautiful most perfect actress to have appeared on the screen in half a century? I am only writing this in oder to be on the safe side, but I honestly cannot remember anyone, ever!, to match this combination of incredibleness. (Liv Ullmann may be the closest call.). Watch Volver again. Watch the Academy Awards, when she will probably win the Prize for what will go down in history as the greatest discrepancy between individual acting performance and film quality. She can polish you know what to shine.
This is a film consisting of one perfect performance and one that is very good. Plus extra appearances by a Dennis Hopper who tries hard not to play his clichee, and most of the time actually manages. Patricia Clarkson is fighting the emptiness of success and the desperation of age in the same way that David is fighting the need to allow other lifes to touch his. These characters are all caught in a downward spiral of ageing and wasting. That does not yet make a great film, but it provides a platform for very good actors to play on the topic of life and death. And the director shows again that disease and death are not just facts of life, but also drivers of character and catalysts of life.

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