One is a lonely number
A region 2 DVD review of FORTY SHADES OF BLUE by Slarek
 

Laura is young, Russian and austerely beautiful. Alan is considerably older, American and brashly self-confident. Alan enjoys all aspects of his successful life, while Laura appears sadly distanced from hers. As Alan's partner of some years, she fulfils her role as girlfriend and mother to their child, but without cheer or passion. We soon learn that Alan is a respected music industry bigwig – it's some time before we find out how Laura ended up in his life, and even then details are thin on the ground.

An air of melancholy hangs over the story from the start, with Laura repeatedly isolated in frame and seemingly alienated from everyone around her. This is emphasised, and perhaps even overstated, by Laura's nationality and the marked age difference between her and Alan, a shortcut to audience identification that can't help but carry an air of conservative conformism, the suggestion that mixed nationality or age group relationships are inevitably doomed to fail, which I can assure you from happy experience is just not the case.

The arrival of Alan's son Michael proves a significant event for Laura, who until this point has never met the man. Initially curt towards her, Michael soon proves a positive influence, restoring light to a life that was on the brink of flickering out (that the two are of similar age only reinforces my comments above). From here on in, plot-wise at least, we're in familiar romantic-dramatic territory, something Sachs on the commentary track confirms was a deliberate decision. Where Forty Shades of Blue does differ pleasingly from its stable mates in its refusal to suggest that just meeting who you think might be the right person for you will actually solve anything in the long term.

But where the film really comes into its own is in the detail, both character and background, which gives it an air of authenticity and sense of place that is rare for a normally stylised genre. This is especially evident in the care taken over the casting and the uniformly excellent performances. Veteran character actor Rip Torn absolutely nails the character of Alan, a larger-than-life womaniser who nonetheless genuinely cares for Laura and whose sadness when things start to go wrong is conveyed with the smallest of gestures or the most subtle of facial expressions. Matching him all the way is award-winning Russian actress Dina Korzun (who will be best known to UK audiences for her role as asylum seeker Tanya in Pawel Pawlikowski's Last Resort), whose portrayal of Laura perfectly captures her sense of isolation, sadness and even despair, as well as the visible transformation in her few moments of hope and joy. Almost overshadowed but every bit as effective is Darren E. Burrows as Michael, engagingly low key in the manner of John Sayles-directed Chris Cooper.

Adopting a tone of observational naturalism, the film has been compared to the work of Woody Allen and Robert Altman, who often favour character and texture over plot, and the comparison is largely justified, though there is an overriding sadness to Forty Shades of Blue that you'll find in few of Allen or Altman's works and is more akin to European cinema (also a stated influence). Like them, the pleasures here are often in the smallest moments, whether it be the hesitant uncertainty of embarking on an affair that the whole audience knows has to happen, or the understated, controlled awkwardness that occurs when you have to face your partner afterward.

sound and vision

Anamorphic 1.85:1, this is a low-budget work and does sometimes look it, with grain and resulting compression artefacts very visible in places, partly, I would imagine, the result of shooting largely in natural light or with practicals, which must have pushed the film speed up. In other respects the print is fine, with decent colour and contrast. Daylight sequences inevitably look better than dimly lit interiors.

Stereo 2.0 and 5.1 tracks are available – front separation is better on the stereo track but the 5.1 has more subtlety, but also has a greater volume range, and it's best not to crank up the sound on the quieter dialogue scenes, as the music in the recording studio or nightclub will knock a hole in your wall, but sounds great.

extra features

The Commentary by director and co-writer Ira Sachs is a consistently interesting one and covers a lot of ground, including some surprising influences, from Ken Loach and Chris Menges to Satyajit Ray and Patricia Highsmith. Appropriate to the film's approach, Sachs talks more about the detail than the plot and motivation, and really adds to your appreciation of this aspect of the work.

The Deleted Scenes (12:57) are non-anamorphic from tape copies, but cut and partially sound mixed. There is quite a bit more swimming pool stuff, which is briefly talked about in the feature commentary.

The Interview with Co-Writer Michael Rohatyn (18:51) covers the various script drafts, the inspiration for the Alan James character, the various influences on the film – Truffaut's La Peau douce in particular – and the development of the project. There is a very noticeable hiss on the soundtrack, but it's all interesting stuff so we'll ignore that.

The Interview with Ira Sachs and Dina Korzun (49:56) runs for a substantial length and gives a lot more screen time to Sachs, but he has plenty of interesting to say that largely adds to rather than repeats the content of his commentary. Among the subjects covered are the genesis of the film, the casting of lead and background characters, the selection of cinematographer Julian Whatley, the score, the prize win at Sundance, and how growing up as an in-the-closet gay man in Memphis gave him an understanding of what it is to be an outsider in the company of others. Dina concentrates almost exclusively on her interpretation of the character Laura and playing her in the film. She does discuss the ending, so don't watch this before the film.

Behind the Scenes (14:58) is essentially a 4:3 DV-shot EPK, a mixture of interview material (some of which covers ground discussed elsewhere) and brief on-set footage. The interviews are more interesting that the footage of the filming.

There's also the expected Theatrical Trailer (2:39), which is a reasonable sell.

summary

If you are OK with the generically familiar plot turns, then feel free to revel in the character detail and performances, which alone make the film very worthwhile viewing. Artificial Eye have once again delivered a fine DVD, and an object lesson for all those special edition pretenders that spread a single disc's worth of material over 2 DVDs.

Forty Shades of Blue

USA 2005
105 mins
director
Ira Sachs
starring
Rip Torn
Dina Korzun
Darren E. Burrows

DVD details
region 2
video
1.85:1 anamorphic
sound
Dolby 2.0 stereo
Dolby 5.1 surround
languages
English
subtitles
none
extras
Commentary by Ira Sachs
Deleted Scenes
Interview with Michael Rohatyn
Interview with Ira Sachs and Dina Korzun
Behind-the-scenes featurette
Trailer
distributor
Artificial Eye
release date
23 October 2006
review posted
22 October 2006