Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Republic of Love (2003)

Director: Deepa Mehta                                    Writers: Deepa Mehta & Esta Spalding
Film Score: Talvin Singh                                 Cinematography: Douglas Koch
Starring: Bruce Greenwood, Emilia Fox, Edward Fox and Jackie Burroughs

This is an absolutely fascinating film. It certainly didn’t start that way, however, and I was tempted not to keep going. But once Bruce Greenwood and Emilia Fox finally meet, the whole thing takes on an absolutely magical quality that defies conventions and still succeeds in being a tremendously entertaining romance. I hesitate to call The Republic of Love a romantic comedy because the expectations of that genre are definitely very different while this film nearly borders on being a straight drama. At every turn the film does something different than expected, and I attribute that to it being made in Canada rather than Hollywood. In a way it’s almost too simplistic of a story for Hollywood, something that town would claim could never work. But it does. The film is based on the novel of the same name by Canadian writer Carol Shields. It’s a very literary story, with the narrative alternating between the two protagonists, and director Deepa Mehta along with Esta Spalding did a terrific job adapting it for the screen.

The film begins with the one concession to its literary beginnings, with Bruce Greenwood’s character as a baby being mothered by twenty-seven beautiful young women training to be homemakers. The story then shifts to the present day with Greenwood talking to his actual mother on the phone. He’s a late-night radio host, divorced three times and currently single, with no hope of meeting anyone. Meanwhile Emilia Fox is in the middle of a loveless romance with Lloyd Owen who is, literally, putting her to sleep. When he suggests he move in with her, that’s just the impetus she needs to break it off. It’s not until a birthday party at the home of mutual friends that they finally meet and, wow, what a meeting. The two fall for each other hard, the sure sign of disaster in a romcom. But she’s off to Paris the next day and once she’s gone he can’t stop himself from writing her a love letter, quickly becoming convinced that he’s blown it by doing so. But when she returns he’s waiting at the airport and they have the perfect reunion. Another red flag for audiences, and they’re right because the rest of the film is an emotional shocker.

The first thing that stands out to the viewer is the visual style of the film. There is as much an emphasis on setting as there is on character. The subway, the streets and the buildings of Toronto are clean, pristine and present a perfect winter backdrop for the film, again defying conventions by eschewing a spring romance. Director Deepa Mehta is an Indian director based out of Toronto, and she definitely brings the spirit of Bollywood to the film, deemphasizing the humor in the genre and ratcheting up the drama in a skillful way. She also brought in composer Talvin Singh to give the film score an Indian sound as well. But again, it’s not overwhelming and somehow fits with the story. In fact, at the beginning of the film when she’s showing the deterioration of Fox’s relationship, she has Owen bring home a Bollywood film and Fox falls asleep while watching it with him. The blend of cultures works, giving the film an undercurrent of the exotic and the fantastic while dealing with the mundane evolution of relationships.

My favorite aspect of the film is definitely Bruce Greenwood. For much too long he has been working in supporting roles, and it’s great to see him as a lead. After his breakout in the television drama St. Elsewhere he delivered a tour de force performance in the mini series Twist of Fate, but languished in TV after that, only recently returning to the big screen in a series of modern science-fiction films including the new Star Trek series. Mehta wanted him because he’s Canadian, and while he didn’t come onboard right away, he eventually trusted her vision and became one of the film’s producers as well. Emilia Fox is wonderful as his love interest, thirty years old and still scared of never achieving the perfect relationship that he parents have. She also gets to act opposite her real-life father, the great British actor Edward Fox. Rounding out the cast are Jackie Burroughs as Greenwood's mother, best known for her iconic performance playing Christopher Walken’s mother in The Dead Zone, and the immediately recognizable Jan Rubes from Witness. This is not a standard romantic comedy in any way, but I really think fans of the genre will appreciate it. The Republic of Love is a beautiful film and most definitely a rewarding screen experience.

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