'Correspondence' ('La corrispondenza'): Film Review

CORRESPONDENC still 1 - Olga Kurylenk and Jeremy Irons - H 2016
Courtesy of 01Distribution
The tears are all onscreen.

Jeremy Irons and Olga Kurylenko pair off in Giuseppe Tornatore’s ghostly love story.

A hot May-December love affair between aging astrophysicist Jeremy Irons and his student Olga Kurylenko turns into a long-distance romance filled with undying passion in Giuseppe Tornatore’s quite original, highly improbable and curiously cool Correspondence. With an important early-inning plot twist that makes it difficult to describe without a major spoiler, suffice it to say that their romance has mysterious overtones, though nothing to get fantasy fans worked up. It’s more up the alley of mature audiences whose fantasies involve Bond girls (Kurylenko is the poster girl for Quantum of Solace) falling at the feet of elderly, married academic lovers.

That may be too restrictive, and it’s possible that the attractively packaged story, which is lavishly scored by Tarantino’s favorite composer, Ennio Morricone, could play well as an exotic date movie after some festival consideration. Filmed in picture-perfect England and Scotland with a bit of scenic northern Italy thrown in, it’s an easy watch, though it certainly could have benefited from a little British warmth and humor (totally absent here.) The English dialogue is also much too elaborate and stilted to be anywhere near believable, further undercutting any remnant of realism.

The setting is quite different from the snobbish art world of The Best Offer, another of Tornatore’s idealized love stories, which ended in a satisfying ironic catastrophe. Here the message is that love conquers all, and even if some tears must be shed, it makes life worth living. And though far from the disturbing cruelty of The Unknown Woman, it sticks close to its strong female protag, who emerges from a creaky tale to assume almost mythic dimensions.

Tornatore has said he has been mulling over the story for nearly 20 years, which may explain some of the curious retro-tech that dominates the gimmicky plot. When early on in the film Scottish professor Ed Phoerum (a tender, dashing Irons) finds himself at a great distance from the beautiful young woman he has deeply loved for the last six years, Amy Ryan (Kurylenko), he ingenuously contrives to communicate with her via a non-stop series of letters, packages, text messages and video CDs. One would think two brainy scientists would latch onto the benefits of social media, but there’s nary a trace of Skype or Facebook here, or even a USB stick. Instead, voiceovers redundantly read out each sms and email as they appear onscreen. It seems more like tweedy 84 Charing Cross Road than the 21st century.

From London to Edinburgh to a romantic island getaway in Piedmont, he leaves a trail of “correspondence” that she obediently tracks down. His plan is to keep the flame alive with Amy even though he can’t hold her tenderly in his arms, and it seems to work, efficiently disrupting her life. She nostalgically plays his homemade CDs on an ancient laptop, until she stumbles onto his camcorder and memory cards, which really cause the tears to flow. But like watching someone laugh at their own jokes, Amy’s emotional responses to her absent lover replace the audience’s, and the whole sad love story is strangely unaffecting.

After the opening bedroom scene, Irons gamely steps into the role of disembodied talking head. Obsessed with Amy, he shamefully forgets his wife and kids on the back burner, while he none too subtly manipulates Amy's feelings. As his role in the film diminishes, Kurylenko’s grows, and she becomes a super-heroine of sorts: not only is she prepping her doctoral thesis on an obscure topic in astrophysics, but in her spare time she earns money as a daring, nay reckless, stunt-woman. In a wig and flame-proof cat-suit, she cuts a fine figure in several improbable but amusing action sequences. Her final stunt is cleverly worked into the narrative, just like another part of the backstory eventually "explains" her Oedipal obsession with Ed, who must be 30 or 40 years her senior.

Technical work from Tornatore's usual crew is top class and harmonizes well to create a mood of suspended fantasy.

Production companies: Paco Cinematografica in association with RAI Cinema

Cast:Jeremy Irons, Olga Kurylenko, Simon Johns, James Warren, Shauna MacDonald, Oscar Sanders, Paolo Calabresi

Director, screenwriter: Giuseppe Tornatore

Producers: Isabella Cocuzza, Arturo Paglia

Director of photography: Fabio Zamarion

Production designer: Maurizio Sabatini

Costume designer: Gemma Mascagni

Editor: Massimo Quaglia

Music: Ennio Morricone

Casting director: Jeremy  Zimmermann

Sales: Umedia

121 minutes