Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Victor Levin's little treasure, 5 TO 7: Out of the blue comes the best love story in many a year

An instant classic, as well as the finest love story -- small, endearing but enduring, full of surprise, sadness and joy -- that I've seen since can't-remember-when, 5 TO 7, the new film by a fellow named Victor Levin (shown below), will surely knock the socks off folk looking for a movie romance that is funny, moving, believable and intelligent.

For foreign film buffs, the title 5 to 7 can only bring to mind the wonderful Agnes Varda movie, Cleo from 5 to 7. Comparisons are not inapt, as this new film, though much more "mainstream," is also quite French (in its attitudes, along with two of its stars). Its purpose -- together with entertaining us royally -- is to make us think and consider possibilities for relationships that we may not have allowed ourselves as yet enough freedom to fully engage. As writer/director, Mr. Levin's set-up could hardly be more European: a struggling young writer (Anton Yelchin, below, right) and a slightly older woman (Bérénice Marlohe, below, left) become involved, initially purely for a trysting relationship -- that will take place between the hours of, yes, 5 to 7pm.

Where this relationship goes will not be difficult to guess, but how it gets there, and how it engulfs us -- ah, that's something else. Mr. Levin has a splendid touch with dialog. I have not heard anything quite this good in a love story since, well, the time of the classics. And Levin doesn't do "racy," either. He's not trying to get us all hot and bothered with double entendres and the like. He want us to listen. And hear. And the conversation is so good that we hang on every word.

Visually, the director and his cinematographer (Arnaud Potier) do some lovely things with middle- and long-distance shots, over which some of that crack dialog is heard. This gives us viewers distance, as well, so that we see (and hear) the relationship as it grows and deepens -- without so many of those crass close-ups that eventually seem to cheapen things.

We see three generations in the process of this storytelling, too, with the older one brought to terrific life and art by Glenn Close (above, left) and Frank Langella (above, center), who play the Yelchin character's parents with tremendous humor and grace.

The "other man" -- just how European this movie will seem becomes plain when you discover his identity -- is played with his usual flair and substance by Lambert Wilson (above, left), while that man's mistress is played by an actress we can't get enough of, Olivia Thirlby (below).

The casting here is inspired, and so are the performances -- especially those of Yelchin (vital and engaging at every moment) and Ms Marlohe (below, who has both great beauty and a lovely, ever-so-slightly-withholding presence that often marks one of the differences between American and European actresses).

The cast also includes a number of important New Yorkers who actually play themselves (one such honcho is shown below). Mr. Levin, or his casting directors-- Billy Hopkins and Heidi Levitt -- must have some connections to have gotten these people to agree to their cameos. Or maybe it was the screenplay itself. Who would want to pass up the chance to be a part of a motion picture this good?

Culture clash, coming-of-age, love, lust, and the important of children and family. All of these are somehow given their due, along with themes of creativity, writing, and what counts as art. This is quite a lot to pack into a mere 95 minutes. But damned if Mr. Levin has not done it.

His final scene strikes such a amazing balance of strength and poignancy that you'll be holding your breath, while his final line of dialog is simply magical (and, I suspect, more truthful in actual example than not). His film is also an ode to the park benches (above, with their little plaques) of our sometimes fair and way over-entitled city.

In fact, the movie is a tricky kind of ode to that entitlement. What makes 5 to 7 a fantasy (for anyone except the wealthy) is that all this only happens here to those of entitlement. Our young man is no starving writer; in fact, as helped along by his wealthy parents, he lives pretty damned well. And all those he get involved with are living well, too.

This does nothing to lessen the film's intelligence nor its beauty. But a fantasy -- for those of us in the no-longer-middle-class or the working-poor -- it most certainly is.

5 to 7, from IFC Films, opens this Friday, April 3, in New York City at the IFC Center and probably elsewhere, too. The following Friday, April 10, it makes its VOD debut, so just about everyone across the country can discover the pleasures of this wonderful, intelligent and almost shockingly mature love story. 

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