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.
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 that they are not.
arrival of Alan's son Michael proves a significant event
both 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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
also the expected Theatrical Trailer
(2:39), which is a reasonable sell.
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.