Many reviewers have written about the connection between the Hollywood films of the 1970's and the Independent films of today. Often they are talking about the independent spirit that the two periods share. However, in the case of Forty Shades of Blue the comparison is close to literal. The film has the look, the feel, the acting and directing style of a seventies film - although it was only made two years ago.
Rip Torn plays Alan an aging musician in Memphis who is an obnoxious somewhat emotionally erratic personality who is nonetheless liked by everyone. He is twice divorced and now living with Laura (Dina Korzub) an aloof Russian immigrant 30 years his junior who has given him a young son.
They have a relationship that seems to be all on the surface. They go through the motions of their days and nights occassionally cheating on one anther when they get the chance but both sticking it out together as though there is no one else to run to.
Their relationship gets the a test when Alan's older son Michael (Darren Burrows) comes to visit. It's not that Michael shakes things up; he's a pretty laid back guy - but it is that he talks to Laura and ultimately confides in her the troubles he is having back in California with his own wife. In time, Laura takes to Michael because he opens up to her in ways that Alan never will - plus Michael is closer to her age.
Directed - or what some say is more observed by Ira Sachs - the film's plot becomes diffuse, the conflicts lose momentum, the character flaws all come to the forefront as the film makes a slow grind toward reality. Each of the characters in their own way are living quietly desperate, empty lives but they cannot find a way to let anyone know how they feel. And because of this the film itself begins to feel frustrating and empty. But, one could argue, that may be the whole point.
Adding to all this Forty Shades of Blue has a grainy natural-color look to it and there are a lot of cutaway shots to people's faces and to meandering action all of which sets the mood for the film. Many actors too look like they dropped in from a lost Robert Altman picture as the film reveals itself to be one about loneliness - even tragedy - even though no real tragedy takes place.
I'm not sure the whole thing succeeds as a 'story' because it purposely avoids resolving itself. But it does have a mesmerizing quality, the acting is terrific in an understated observed way and it sticks with you in ways that Hollywood films rarely do these days; Dina Korzub is especially fine in the role of the alienated Russian woman.
A big winner at Sundance in 2005 Forty Shades of Blues doesn't attempt to wow us, trick us or make us cry. It instead exists as an observant, gloomy, poetic slice of life. That alone makes it worth a look.