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Old 03-16-2010, 01:27 PM
A Single Man

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(Tom Ford, 2009)

There is a curious bond between film and fashion design: both are fundamentally visual art forms. Before the addition of sound in the late 1920ís, motion pictures were just that: moving images, pure visuals in essence. Unlike in novels or plays, the film medium forced artists to tell their stories visually, and to use words sparingly. In a similar manner, fashion design can also tell stories, although the types of stories woven into clothes are far more abstract than the more straightforward plots of films. Another element that ties the two together is that both filmmaking and fashion design are worlds in which art is directly tied with profit making: no matter how strong or deep the artistic ambitions of the work, at the end of the day, your goal is to sell tickets/clothes. This commercial element separates both film and fashion design from the other fine art forms. And what better a marriage of these two worlds than to have an established fashion designer direct a motion picture.

And the results more than show: A Single Man is a deliciously visual film, in which Ford seems far less interested in telling a story through words, and instead, shifts his focus to establishing a mood, a character, emotions and feelings and thoughts are all mixed up in a primordial soup of images. Essentially, A Single Man is a character study, taking place over a single 24-hour period and depicting the impact various individuals in various degrees of romantic involvement with the protagonist. We have his lover, killed in a car crash, the scars of which burn so deep that they drive George to suicide. We have Georgeís best friend for life, infatuated with him but whose feelings are not returned, as she is of the wrong gender for Georgeís taste. And finally, a young student of Georgeís, representing perhaps a fleeting hope of a future love, of the simple naivety of the future generation. All these characters drift in and out of the film as we see events through Georgeís point of view, and it is quite a unique one at that.

In order to solidify our connection with George, Ford employs what may be one of the most interesting uses of color I have seen in a recent film. The entire movie is de-saturated and drained of color, to emphasize Georgeís dreary existence. And yet, every once in a while, something will literally brighten up Georgeís life: the smell of a wild flower or the perfume of his secretary, his friendís green eyes, or the angelic, beautiful face of young Kenny, so full of hope and joy. Memories of his time spent with his deceased lover, on the other hand, are presented in stark black-and-white, beautiful memories but deadly and dreary to dwell on. It is a stroke of visual genius that is more than complemented by the fantastic and sleek cinematography, and top-notch 1960ís period production and costume design, with an astute attention to detail, no doubt stemming from Fordís own personal familiarity with vintage clothes, not to mention the beautiful, sweeping musical score composed by Abel Korzeniowski.

But the true crowning achievement of the film is its central performance. Colin Firth is nothing short of mesmerizing as the hollow George, drifting almost dream-like through what he thinks will be his last day on earth. It is an incredible, admirably subtle performance, in which Firth perfectly captures every gesture, every restrained emotion, and truly delivers a fascinating character study worthy of the greatest actors. Firth has always stuck to more lighter, romantic comedy fare like Bridget Jonesí Diary, Shakespeare in Love, Love Actually and Mamma Mia!, but I had always felt the potential was there. But he truly shines in this role: I think itís safe to say that it is the single finest moment of his career, not to mention my personal pick of the best lead male performance of 2009. Another performance really stands out, and that is Julianne Moore as Charley, Georgeís platonic friend for life. It is a slightly more showy performance as Charley is characterized by an overtly sympathetic and bubbly personality, despite her loneliness and her tragically unreciprocated feelings towards George. It is an excellent performance that perfectly compliments and enhances Firthís turn, and I am surprised that Moore didnít get more attention for it.

A Single Man is not a film about story, but rather, about a man, and more broadly, about a man in a certain time and what that means considering the context. Itís the 1960ís, the sexual revolution is just beginning, and open homosexuality is becoming more and more commonplace. It is not an issue that is overtly discussed in the film, but it is an important theme that is quite prominent. Where does young Kenny stand in all this? Does his seduction of George stem from genuine romantic feelings, or is he simply part of the ďhip, bohemianĒ revolution, experimenting sexually but nothing more? George was deeply and genuinely in love with his life partner, and yet it is hinted that his parents did not approve. Ford takes the correct approach and does not bring up these themes and implications directly: rather, he lets the visuals, the images, and the charactersí actions speak for themselves, and the result is a remarkable piece of filmmaking, especially considering that it is a directorial debut. If Ford ever considered a career change, this would be the perfect field for him.

RATING: 8/10.
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