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A single man

20 October 2009
Published in Attualità, Culture, Opinioni
by Giovanni Biglino

single_man_02In 2004 Tom Ford, ed fashion guru and recognised as one of the most influential designers of the past two decades, doctor said goodbye to Gucci. A few years later, order after launching a luxury men’s clothing brand and, en passant, a range of fragrances and an eyewear collection, he made a stylish entrance into the world of film-making. His first feature movie, A single man, has recently been acclaimed by the press at the Venice Film Festival, where the protagonist of the movie (Colin Firth) was awarded the Coppa Volpi prize for best actor. The movie has now been screened at the Times BFI 53rd London Film Festival.

Tom Ford not only produced and directed A single man, but he was also involved in the writing process, adapting to the screen the homonymous book by Christopher Isherwood. The novel was originally published in 1964 and was dedicated to Gore Vidal, one of Isherwood’s literary friends (including WH Auden and Aldous Huxley). Recounting the story of a single day of life seen through the eyes of an ageing professor, the book is thus analogous in its setting to other illustrious examples, from Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway to Ian McEwan’s Saturday. A whole life in one day, with its tragedies and simple most unbelievable events, with breathtaking details (that dress, that book, that specific word in a sentence) and ordinary actions. Tom Ford said: “I first read the book [...] in the early 1980s and was moved by the honesty and simplicity of the story. At that time, I was in my early twenties. Three years ago, after searching for the right project to develop as my first film, it occurred to me that I often thought of this novel and its protagonist, George. I picked it up and read it again. Now in my late forties, the book resonated with me in an entirely different way. It is a deeply spiritual story”.

The movie has a fast pace, paused with moments of contemplation. The death of a lifetime lover and companion is haunting the day, with memories and reality alternating; an encounter with a stranger; a depressed friend shares pain and lost hopes while a young student (portrayed as a pure symbol of Youth, yet sensual and himself troubled) appears on the scene. And the simple actions and objects: the bread in the freezer, a cup of coffee in the morning, a pencil-sharpener, the neighbours, dinner. Simple everyday life. Adding to the pace are the music and the rich, accomplished performances. Colin Firth is Professor Falconer, caged in his suit and his glasses, caged in the pain of a loss. It is his voice that accompanies those daily prosaic actions, like shaving – and again, Virginia Woolf – or drinking coffee, making his thoughts resonate. The catalyst, the accident, the memory of it. His partner, Jim, is played by Matthew Goode (Match point, Brideshead revisited). And then is the friend, Charlotte, as troubled and depressed: not long after her applauded performance in Savage grace, Julianne Moore again plunges into the Sixties in style, this time putting on a British accent.

single_man_01Above all, the movie is visually stunning. Tom Ford clearly resorted to all his sense of composition and taste for colour and light, creating a very well crafted film. The attention for the detail: a certain way of putting on make up, a sweater, a shade of colour. Tom Ford has rather designed the movie. He offers his own version of the Sixties: usually depicted as colourful, Los Angeles in 1962 is now sleek, sexy, brown, black, beige, gray, very modern. The atmosphere is at the same time austere and sensual. And then the attention for the human body: a sweaty tennis match, eyes framed in eyeliner and close-ups, the intricate hairstyle that Julianne Moore manages to pull off. Bodies, eyes, hair that are somehow reminiscent of a TV commercial or of a poster seen on the side of a bus. Needless to remember where Tom Ford trained his eye, his taste creates a movie that is aesthetically ravishing but at the expense of spontaneity. Great performances by Colin Firth and Julianne Moore are certainly not diluted by a glossy picture in which even a bank clerk looks like Jacqueline Kennedy, but, albeit it is tragedy that pervades a single day in a man’s life, the movie is too glossy to be dramatic.

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