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Family drama on a Norfolk beach

5 June 2009
Published in Attualità, Culture, Opinioni
by Giovanni Biglino

jean-simmons-giant-filmsShadows in the sun, the second feature movie from director David Rocksavage, is a moving family drama in which all members of cast are perfectly chosen and deliver touching performances. In the late Sixties, Hannah (Jean Simmons), an old woman rummaging through letters and memories of a lifetime, is assisted in her last days by a mysterious young man, Joe (Jamie Dornan). Hannah’s son, Robert (James Wilby), and two grandchildren, Kate and Sam, visit her in the idyllic and remote country-house in Norfolk where she lives, only to remain intrigued and perplexed by the presence of Joe. Indoors of books and poetry and outdoors of open skies and sand dunes alternate, in a story about continuity and the feel of memory.

The movie is very well crafted. David Rocksavage’s first feature movie, Other voices Other Rooms, was an adaptation from Truman Capote, whereas now it is possible to sense a personal, autobiographical touch. “The atmosphere of the film is inspired by my memories of summer holidays with my grandmother, but the actual story is fictional” the director revealed. As much as poignant, the movie is aesthetically pleasing, with beautiful photography directed by Milton Kam -  long shots on the Norfolk coast, indulging on the overwhelming landscape, with Joe walking along the shoreline against the clear sky.

In a balanced script, jealousy mixes with poetry (with a soft spot for Yeats). Like the sea, not too distant, words echo in Hannah’s mind. Her character, at times theatrical at times fragile and brittle, is brilliantly interpreted by Hollywood legend Jean Simmons. She was Estella in David Lean’s Great Expectations, she acted with Marlon Brando and Laurence Olivier, starring in movies that made the history of cinema, such as Spartacus and Guys and dolls. Her performance is natural and utterly elegant. On the other hand, Joe is played by Jamie Dornan, well-known model for Calvin Klein and Dior Homme and singer, whose debut came in Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette. He delivers a convincing performance. He has said about his character: “I like him because we don’t know so much about him, he’s really mysterious and enigmatic. That’s the lovely thing about Joe – he keeps you guessing”.jamie-dornan-giant-films

In the words of Hannah: “Joe is a free-spirit, he moves with the seasons” and he is a pivotal character in the plot. Apart from Hannah, who has built an unclear relationship with him (the viewer is left wondering: how? and when? adding to the mystery), Hannah’s son Robert, played by James Wilby (Howard’s End, Gosford Park) is clearly suspicious and, in a sense, anti-Joe while his daughter and son are attracted to him, the first being seduced by the inscrutable young man and the second looking up to the detached adventurer.

Reconcilement is on its way but the characters in the story (and the director of the movie) favour delicacy to drama. Something soft, subtle, arising from tension and unsaid things. And the gracefulness of some scenes is accompanied by an adequate musical score (Mahler, and Schumann performed by the director himself).

Shadows in  the sun is somehow reminiscent of L’heure d’été by Olivier Assayas. The household, the presence of a matriarch, the exploration of sentiments and of the difficulty to express some of those feelings. As much as L’heure d’été was extremely French – in the setting, in the fine gestures of Edith Scob – this movie has a distinct British flavour, the smell of woods and deserted beaches and a sense of careless elegance. Also, the role played by art and collecting and inheriting works of art in L’heure d’été is here played by literature and poetry, the pleasure of handing down a sentence or a verse with a special meaning, a sentimental inheritance, a precious heritage of quotations.

james-wilby-giant-filmsA movie that portrays with tact that fragile and undefined thing called human relationships, may it be a son jealous of his mother’s companion, or a young girl seduced by the adventurous free-spirit, or an old lady enamoured of literature and life who wishes to live a few more days through the dreams of a beautiful young man. As David Rocksavage has said: “I wanted Hannah’s love of life and the gift of her new friendship to shine through the pain of her illness and the simple joy she gets in hearing a poem read aloud to her. In the end, it is her personality that brings the family together and in Jean Simmon’s portrayal of Hannah I seem to hear echoes of laughter from a distant past”.

Presented at several festivals – including Dinard British Film Festival, Festival International du Film de Marrakech and the Hamptons International Film Festival – and winner of Best screenplay and Best film at WorldFest-Houston, Shadows in the sun is released today across the UK.