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Sci-Fi-London 2015: The Lovers Review

by Luke Ryan Baldock

The LoversDirector: Roland Joffe.

Cast: Josh Hartnett, Bipasha Basu, Tamsin Egerton, Alice Englert, Simone Kessell, Tehmina Sunny.

Certificate: N/A

Running Time: 105 minutes

Synopsis: A love story set over parallel universes, a scientist (Hartnett) exploring the depths for lost treasures ends up in a coma. From there we are transported to India during Britain’s attempts to turn vast stretches of land into its empire. Here, a Scottish soldier (also Hartnett), falls for an Indian warrior who has visions.

Romance and quantum physics are unlikely, but rewarding, bedfellows. They can also be very divisive, as proved by 2006’s The Fountain. The idea of love spanning time and universes is something that could be very sappy and overly sentimental, but it appears that Roland Joffe shows all of the charm and understanding that Darren Aronofsky was able to slide into his similarly themed tale. This is quite the relief given that Joffe’s filmography has never quite retained the greatness he showed in the 80s with his triple bill of The Killing Fields, The Mission, and Shadow Makers. A producer credit on Super Mario Bros. isn’t going to help anyone, but like with all things with passion behind them, it is clear that Joffe is quite enamoured with the idea of quantum physics.

Hartnett gives quite possibly his best performance to date as both an American scientist exploring the ocean depths in the near future, and as a Scottish soldier begrudgingly following orders from cowardly Englishmen. The two are linked by a pair of rings known as The Lovers, which as legend has it, will always find each other. The film itself plants most of its narrative in the sequences set in India, to the point where your brain is constantly wondering when we will return to the future segments. This imbalance is the only real distraction and fault in an otherwise very adoring and classical feeling film.

The romance itself feels archetypal, with Hartnett’s soldier falling for a woman on the side of the enemy (Basu), but their chemistry is gradually built upon through a number of sweet, not sickly, scenes. Hartnett capitalises on his signature understated charm, but also holds enough power as to make a believable officer. Basu is also a strong character, herself being a warrior and protector of the royal family who must battle with her own premonitions of betraying her future love. The romance is also always expanded through scenes of action and intensity. The two are drawn together while being constantly pursued, or preparing for an encroaching attack. It results in a film of epic scope that doesn’t need to slow down in order to find emotion.

The film itself is stunning on all accounts. The costumes, sets, and locations are beautiful, but Joffe never feels the need to show off. Unlike modern Hollywood epics, where grandiose sweeping shots and bombastic music must highlight every small detail, the world of The Lovers feels lived in and true. Despite its relatively low budget, the film never feels constrained either. 1778 India feels as authentic as it possibly could, with only Hartnett’s sometimes faltering accent remaining as a clue to the fact it’s a film production. A lot of practical effort has gone into making of this film, and although it would be hyperbolic to even suggest there are echoes of David Lean’s best work, it is certainly the closest we have gotten in perhaps the last two decades.

Dirk Brosse’s score owing a lot to Clint Mansell’s from The Fountain, while still holding enough originality and power to warrant many a listen. It conveys emotion without having to broadcast what it’s trying to achieve, much like Joffe’s direction. The Lovers is a strong film that seems to have been rejected by most audiences. Having toured the festival circuit for a few years now, it’s not surprising that such a classical love story with a sci-fi edge has found it hard to find a home. The main storyline could have survived without the futuristic flourishes, and the imbalance in the narrative does sometimes feel awkward. Overall though, this was a heartfelt and delightful film that kept me absolutely engrossed and involved.

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