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A Single Man

Released 2009. Director: Tom Ford

GRIEF HAS NEVER LOOKED SO ELEGANT. AS A MEDITATION on loss, A Single Man is a cinematic work of art. It’s a mood piece; a visual concept that – ironically – brings to life the complicated emotions of mourning the passing of one’s life partner.

Professor George Falconer, a meticulous and outwardly distant man, is battling a hidden inner devastation after Jim, his partner of 16 years, is killed in a car accident. The time is 1962 and same-sex couples are not socially accepted. George isn’t even welcome at the funeral because it’s for ‘family’ only. The bereavement normally experienced and taken naturally as a given at times like these becomes an intensely private matter George cannot share with anyone else. His grief is bottled up tight so no one sees it.

This is a career-redefining performance for Colin Firth, as he internalises his sorrow and his polished exterior cracks ever so slightly. A nuanced character study compact and layered. Truly a classy performance worthy of his Oscar nomination.

The movie takes us through one day in George’s life, possibly his last day as George carries out a carefully arranged suicide procedure, laying down paperwork, leaving letters for his friends and getting the final details of his life in order. George spends his day recalling his life together with Jim, even as he’s counting down his own clock to the end without anyone else knowing. He exchanges pleasantries with his neighbours. He teaches his class. He has a drink with a student who seems to have a crush on him. He pauses for a cigarette and a brief conversation with a stranger. He catches up with his old friend Charley who has no idea this is the last time she’ll see George alive.

Because the relationship between George and Jim is not accepted, acknowledged or understood by those around him, George mourns the loss all alone. Even Charley, who is George’s oldest and dearest friend, seems unable to understand or appreciate the depth of emotion between George and Jim. George’s encounter with his student Kenny shows all the signs of a last gasp before going under. George lets his guard down in uncharacteristic abandon and unexpectedly finds a flicker of hope over his existential despair.

Complementing Firth’s performance is director Tom Ford’s sharp sense of aesthetics. Befitting Ford’s reputation as a fashion designer, this is cinematic equivalent of an impeccably tailored suit. Art direction and production design in A Single Man is artful yet understated. Eduard Grau’s cinematography exudes a mellow, warm glow in painstaking, perfect period details. A colour palette that for some reason makes me want to reach for a glass of Scotch on the rocks.

Ford’s directorial debut is exquisite thematically and immaculate visually. His interpretation of A Single Man takes Christopher Isherwood’s seminal novel about love and isolation to a grand, private universe of visual and visceral dimension.

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