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Driven by Isabel Coixet’s visually assured and deeply observant direction, Elegy charts the passionate relationship between a celebrated college professor (Ben Kingsley) and a young woman (Penélope Cruz) whose beauty both ravishes and destabilizes him. As their intimate connection transforms them—more than either could imagine—a charged sexual contest evolves into an indelible love story. With humanistic warmth, wry wit and erotic intensity, the drama explores the power of beauty to blind, to reveal and to transform. Co-starring Dennis Hopper, Patricia Clarkson and Peter Sarsgaard. Based on Pulitzer Prize-winner Philip Roth’s short novel The Dying Animal. From the director of My Life Without Me.

Elegy by director Isabel Coixet

When I read Philip Roth’s novel The Dying Animal the year it was published (2001), I thought, “some day a filmmaker will direct a movie based on this story.”

It never occurred to me that that filmmaker would be me. (I was never very good at predicting things—it never ever rains when I take an umbrella outside). Seven years later, the film Elegy, based on Roth’s work, will be on a screen near you.

Elegy is a journey into the mind of David Kepesh (Ben Kingsley), a Columbia University professor who knows everything about history, music, books and plays, yet doesn’t know the most basic things in life: how to love and how to accept love. He is enduring a fraught romance with Consuela (Penélope Cruz), a young student, and, he is unable to see the emotional void at the centre of his infatuation. He is a man who thinks it better to fantasize about being left than accept the challenge of being worthy of love. David’s problem (a problem Consuela does not have) is not that he is obsessive—it’s that he lacks love and has a profound fear of death. These are the themes of Elegy.

Ben Kingsley perfectly captures Kepesh’s twinkly arrogance, the supreme frailty of a man sustained only by his deceptive mind. Penélope is a luminous, frail, strong, brilliant Consuela. Patricia Clarkson is incredibly touching as Carolyn, the other woman in Kepesh’s life. Dennis Hopper is a genius as George, Kepesh’s true soul mate.

There are things a director cannot direct: one can pray for chemistry between your actors but, if it’s not there, there’s nothing you can do. The moment David Kepesh and Consuela Castillo begin to walk—holding hands in the streets of New York—or, the moment I saw the amazing Patricia Clarkson playing with her stockings or Dennis Hopper falling down in the poetry reading, I truly felt as if I were the most blessed director in the whole world. I still feel that way.