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Wednesday, July 23, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 61.0° F  Fair
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MOVIES

Elegy: Hot for teacher

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Old age is creeping up on David Kepesh (Ben Kingsley), something that this New Yorker has managed to outrun until recently. In his 60s, with enviable work as a cultural critic and part-time academic, Kepesh remains strong in body and mind, but his illusory island of self-preservation begins to crumble once he becomes sexually involved with Consuela Castillo (Penélope Cruz).

Consuela, like many of his conquests, is an admiring student, many years his junior. She is not unlike the others who annually fall sway to his lust, yet there is a quality about her that stirs Kepesh's dormant desires for love and commitment, an awakening he finds all the more disturbing for having believed such impulses to have been vanquished decades ago when he chose to leave his wife and son. Kepesh is a recurring character in Philip Roth's fiction, and Elegy is based on his short novel The Dying Animal. The change in the title alone provides a sense of the movie's tonal shift from Roth's apologia for the randy American male to director Isabelle Croixet's (My Life Without Me, The Secret Life of Words) more humanist perspective.

It's a feat that Croixet and her exquisite cast pull off with knowing aplomb and subtle skill. Kingsley delivers a confident portrayal of a man who thinks he has kept all emotional entanglement at bay and has the cloaking bombast to prove it, while Cruz's depiction of a young woman at various stages of emotional maturation furthers her reputation as one of the most versatile actresses working today.

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