Tag: A Previous Engagement

Meet me in Malta

Monday, April 14th, 2008 | All Things, Film

On the slate for tonight’s film seminar: A Previous Engagement, which contrary to its British period piece-y sounding title is a romantic comedy, and one which rather unusually features a cast of characters over 50.

Juliet Stevenson stars as Julia, a Seattle-based woman vacationing in Malta with her husband (Daniel Stern). Unbeknownst to him, she is there to fulfill a long-ago promise to reunite with her French lover, Alex (Tchéky Karyo) with whom she had an intense affair on the island years earlier. The premise called to mind a bit of Before Sunrise — that wondrous film about “two nice kids, literate, sensitive, tentative, intoxicated by the fact that their lives stretch out before them, filled with mystery and hope, and maybe love.” Except here, the two parting lovers decided to meet not in six months, but in twenty-five years, after much of their lives have been lived. In the intervening time, the once aspiring writer Julia has become a middle-aged librarian married to a jigsaw puzzle-obsessed insurance salesman, and Alex an oft-divorced literary journal editor. Once the pair is reunited, complications ensue, and the results are mixed: part screwball comedy, part bedroom farce and part bittersweet romance.

Writer-director Joan Carr-Wiggin was tonight’s guest, and talked about getting this film made in a climate where most Hollywood films have a young, often male, sensibility. The economist turned filmmaker well understood the steep challenges a film such as hers would face in financing; in this case her husband, producer David Gordian, was able to fund the film in Canada and Europe, where Carr-Wiggins claims the system is much more welcoming towards women directors and character-based films than in the United States.

Because the film was fully financed at the outset, Carr-Wiggins had full control over her film – a rare privilege for a second-time director. She was able to cast her favorite actress in the lead; Stevenson has a long list of British television and film credits, but is probably best known for her role as cellist Nina in Truly, Madly, Deeply (1990) — the late great Anthony Minghella’s film debut.

While the film has a certain intriguing “What if…?” premise, the execution was a bit too ham-fisted for my tastes. (Does the husband really have to be so cluelessly boring, the daughters so gratingly self-absorbed?) Credit is due, though, for framing the story around a middle-aged woman — a demographic grossly underrepresented in current cinema — and for the not entirely predictable ending.

A Previous Engagement opened in New York and Los Angeles for Mother’s Day weekend, on May 9.

“There are all kinds of love in the world, but never the same love twice.'”
— F. Scott Fitzgerald, “The Sensible Thing”

Were truer words ever written?

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