Four Last Songs
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Four Last Songs

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During the summer it seem that the only movies out are those big budget blockbuster action flicks. Sure, they have their place but occasionally some people may want something different. Thankfully DVD releases at this time of year include alternatives. In this case there is a little, independent film, ‘Four Last Songs’ that offers the audience a nicely paced romantic comedy-drama. Produced by BBC Films this movie combines an excellent cast, writing and direction to provide a gentle film that will entertain without busting your ear drums. While it is doubtful that this film will ever make any critic’s ‘best’ list it remains a solid film that showcases the talents of all those involved. Like many representatives of the romance genres this one admittedly does required a health ability to suspend belief. Some of the situations and predicaments the characters endure are stretching things a bit but just remember, you can forget reality a lot while watching a movie, its okay, really. This film sets out to provide a little diversion, a touch of whimsy and gently told story and in this the movie does work.

The film takes place on an out of the way Mediterranean island of Mallocan, Spain. Larry (Stanley Tucci) is an expatriated American pianist who is basically feed up with life. At this stage in his life he had hoped he would have left some mark on the world but so far this has not occurred. He has one idea, to present a concert on the little island that would feature the works of a brilliant composer, Valentin Lucinsky, who just happened to have lived and died on that very island. The islands is well populated with people from other places all looking to either achieve or escape from something. As the film begins Larry is shown zipping down a countryside road on his scooter, nicely setting the easy going pace for the film. He has just written the widow of the composer, Veronica (Marisa Paredes) about his planes for the gala dedicated to her late husband. Larry drives to an estate of some size. While still grand it is now only a dusty remnant of its best days of splendor. In the past many have requested permission to perform her husband’s work but Veronica has always denied them. Larry pushes the point boldly stating that he has a musician who both understands the island and her husband’s work, Narcisco Ortega (Virgile Bramly). Larry also wants to present the concert in the amphitheatre that Veronica built for her husband. Veronica agrees but with a few stipulations. Larry has to get a hold of her husband’s grand piano, she will choose the music and she has to be consulted with every detail of the presentation.

Larry and his girl friend Miranda (Jessica Stevenson) have a gig at a local restaurant playing the flute and piano for the diners. Miranda is uncertain of Larry’s new endeavor. He tries to explain that at this point in his life he needs something to make it all seem worthwhile. Also at the restaurant is Sebastian (Hugh Bonneville) an arrogant entrepreneur who has designs to take over the event. Sebastian has his own problems that arise in the form of his loopy and typically drunk brother Dickie (Rhys Ifans). It is not as if things are going smoothly for the lamented Larry. He has to deal with the mistress of the composer, Helena (Emmanuelle Seigner). She is the self proclaimed muse for the late composer and is in possession of four previously unheard works, the last four songs of the title. Since Helena is quite beautiful it sparks a good deal of jealousy with insecure Miranda. Adding to the complications is the arrival of Larry’s long lost illegitimate daughter Frankie (Jena Malone). What started as a simple idea, to honor a man and his music, has become a major source of contention for all involved. Larry just wanted to do something that would have people remember him and finds himself in a quagmire of predicaments.

The name of the writer-director, Francesca Joseph, may not be very well known now but this is a woman to watch. This is his second feature film and he demonstrates that he can handle the complexities of the romantic comedy-drama. I keep thinking of the initial shot of this film with Larry on the scooter. If the summer blockbusters are the Harley’s of the film industry, this one is a little Vesper. The Harley is faster, sleeker and more powerful but the Vesper gets you to your destination and allows you to enjoy the scenery along the way. In this film the scenery is extremely important. It is not only lovely to watch but it provides the world set apart feel that is so vital to make the plot work. Joseph took on a lot with this film; the sheer number of characters and sub plots is a daunting thing to handle, especially for a relatively new director. While he loses track on occasion he manages to hold this film together without sacrificing the gentle nature of the tale. He does have a natural eye for composing each frame of this movie. The beautiful background never overwhelms the actors; it just sets the stage as it should be. Considering the number of plots here the pacing is all important and Joseph nails it. The situations heap one upon another over the course of the film, not just dumped on us all at once.

This is also a great cast of actors. Stanley Tucci has been working at his craft for a couple of decades now, mostly as a character actor. Whether on the big screen ort television he never fails to give a great performance. A movie like this one demonstrates Tucci’s ability. He is able to hold this film together letting the audience understand Larry. Here is a man that knows he will never be remember as a great composer or one of the best pianist around but this concert will be his legacy. He has the ‘every man’ quality that has women looking to his sensitive side while also being the kind a man other men would like to hang out with and have a few beers. Jessica Stevenson is wonderful as the neurotic girl friend. She takes her character close to going over the top but never crosses the line. She is just fun to watch here. One of the latest queens of the Indies is Jena Malone. She has a natural, uninhibited style that pulls the audience into her performance. There is no affectation in her work just an talented young actress who knows how to deliver her character.

This film was originally produced by BBC Films and is presented on DVD through Union Station Home Entertainment distributed by Anchor Bay in association with the Starz cable network. Even though this is a plain vanilla presentation the technical mastering is perfect. The anamorphic video has one of the best color palettes I’ve seen in a long time. The transfer is without flaws of any kind. The Dolby 5.1 audio is mixed to highlight the dialogue. The channel separation is very good but considering the type of film the sub woofer is not used often. This is a wonderful alternative to the over the top films of the summer and once that you will enjoy year round.

Posted 07/14/07

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