Darren E Burrows
Winner of the Sundance Film Festival’s Grand Jury Prize 2005, novicedirector Ira Sachs’s 40 Shades of Blue is a contemplative meditation on love,infidelity and wanting something you just can’t have.
The story centres on Laura (Dina Korzun), the Russian immigrant wife offictional Memphis Soul music producer Alan James (Rip Torn) and their livesin modern Memphis. Laura is a lost soul, emotionally detached from herhusband, living her life as spouse and mother a long way from home and notenjoying a single minute of it. This is until Alan’s married son Michael(Darren Burrows) pays a visit from Los Angeles and an edgy affair developsbetween them, threatening to pull both of their quiet bourgeois lives apart,as well as that of their respective partners.
Sachs has clearly learned a lot from Ken Loach. There is something of hisobservational documentary style about this film, where characters appear tocatch the eye of the camera, sitting like a silent observer, as they wanderin and out of shot. There is also the powerful feeling of lives unsatisfiedand alienated – even the financially successful Alan (played withunderstated brilliance by Torn) with his trophy wife that his given him ason, needs to find spiritual solace in the bottle and extra-marital sex.
Thedomestic backdrop of fading seventies dcor, unrenewed and fusty, coupledwith a washed-out look, provides a visual connection with the Britishdirector’s work. More importantly than that, however, Sachs wrestles in anAmerican context with the working class dilemma of sacrificing dreams,American or otherwise, for survival. The tragedy at the heart of this filmis the tension between wanting your dreams and the hollow lack of fulfilmentfelt at actually having them.
These big existential themes are treated with the requisite amount oflacunae and pathos in the writing, acting and cinematography. But, at heart,there still seems to be something laboured and unnecessarily heavy-handedabout what is a very slight story wherenothing-much-happens-but-happens-very-dramatically.
In this sense, it makesit reminiscent of Lost in Translation, another film that occasionallygives you a sense of being far too pleased with itself. These shortcomingsmay reflect Sachs’s lack of experience or his self-indulgence (he has notedthere is a significant autobiographical element to the film), butregardless, it does make you shrug your shoulders and think “well, sowhat?”
Moreover, there is, for me, far too much that is suggested and impliedrather than made explicit. Why does Alan cheat on his wife? Why does Laurastay when she is clearly so unhappy? And why does educated professor Michaelfall in love with this anaemic Russian woman who barely smiles or talks andapparently experiences no joy from him, or her son, or anything at all? Arewe supposed to conclude that it is in the human condition that we are to beunhappy and frustrated? That’s a rather depressing thought.
Nevertheless, it is in the intriguing style and the bleak execution, notin the non-sequiturs and unanswered questions, that the film draws much ofits strength. Those who enjoy Loach’s work will find plenty that isrewarding here. Others may find its story of lives led in quiet desperationa little too much to bear.