A delicate meditation on life, death, love and time, And While We Were Here caught me completely by surprise, in all the best ways. Directed by Kat Coiro (Life Happens), this relationship drama, set on the picturesque Italian island of Ischia, has some big questions on its mind but somehow remains nothing less than feather-light. And though I usually balk at slow-burn films, And While We Were Here swiftly won me over with its stunning backdrop, deeply affecting performances, and intriguing philosophical bent.
Kate Bosworth gives the best performance of her career as Jane, a depressed tourist trapped in a loveless marriage who spontaneously enters into an affair with a younger man she meets while wandering Ischia. In every scene, Bosworth commands the viewer’s attention with work more emotive and utterly mesmerizing than anything we’ve previously seen from her. Though And While We Were Here is too constrained (it clocks in at just 83 minutes) to let Bosworth develop her character as fully as I would have liked, she takes what she’s given and does with it a startling amount. Her finest moment comes during the film’s searingly intense final act, when Jane confronts her emotionally distant violist husband Leonard (Iddo Goldberg) about the fatal flaws in their relationship. Bosworth’s complex portrayal of a woman lost in her own life is a truly staggering accomplishment.
Goldberg is also superb as Leonard, a complex but quiet man who always prefers the company of his instrument over Jane. Though he does love his wife, Leonard does so from a distance, pushing her aside in favor of work without realizing how close he is to losing her. Only a murmured “I love you” and the occasional lovemaking, bereft of all affection, makes it past the wall that months of stony silence between the two has erected. Goldberg communicates Leonard’s unwitting cruelty and conflicted heart with a wonderfully nuanced performance, and because of that, the film is able to capture the pain and suffering of an imploding marriage from both sides.
When Leonard’s neglect grows unbearable, Jane, wanting more than perfunctory romance and fearing that her future has already been decided for her, breaks away by impulsively beginning an affair with 19-year-old Caleb, played by relative unknown Jamie Blackley. Bursting with vivacity and excitement, the British actor is perfect for the role, showcasing a blend of charisma and nervous energy that is both true to the kind of character he is playing and wildly enjoyable to watch. Though his chemistry with Bosworth is not immediate, watching the two of them interact and build a rapport throughout the film is both liberating and profoundly touching.
As the love triangle between her characters develops and quietly, slowly builds to a tense final act, Coiro cleverly alternates between examining them from afar, like a photographer capturing wildlife, and bringing the camera in uncomfortably close, as if putting them under a magnifying glass. Coiro’s equally fascinating treatment of Ischia as a paradise just out of her characters’ grasps gives the film the feel of an introspective, acutely personal travelogue. Matteo Messina’s terrific orchestral score aids her in this endeavor, conjuring up vivid images of Italy’s cobblestone streets all by itself.
Just as captivating as the film’s direction, acting and score is its outstanding cinematography. And While We Were Here is perhaps one of the best advertisements for a trip abroad to hit screens in recent memory; Ischia is a breathtakingly beautiful place, and Coiro makes sure to capture as much of it as possible in her film. The idyllic setting also serves a thematic purpose; though the area is as close to paradise as any of the characters have ever come, none of them appreciate it because of how wrapped up they are in their own relationships. It’s a subtle but clear point also referenced by the film’s confessional title.
Regrettably, the film’s script is not as strong as it could have been, with some weak lines and inconsistent character developments detracting from And While We Were Here‘s overall impact. The damage isn’t bad, but it prevents the film from living up to its full potential, and that’s a real shame. The film’s length is also restrictively short, though I can’t really decide whether increasing the size of the film would have allowed the characters more room to grow or whether it would have simply made the story more tedious than endearing. Luckily, Coiro’s knack for directing her audience, and her hugely talented cast, helps to make up for the film’s weaker aspects.
And While We Were Here is a film with long pauses that speak more loudly that any of its dialogue; an astounding amount of wrenching emotion seeps through many of the film’s silent scenes. Films as ruminative and unhurried as this are certainly not for everyone, but And While We Were Here‘s tranquil, wordless beauty left me breathless. I was utterly enchanted by the film’s gossamer aura, beautiful cinematography and carefully nuanced characters.
Viewers looking for a sexy, fast-paced romance may be frustrated by what And While We Were Here has to offer, but those in search of more thoughtful fare should find themselves as engrossed and surprised by the film as I was. It’s a wonder, and a testament to the skill of those involved, that such a small film can be so incredibly compelling, indelibly haunting and quietly devastating.
This review was based on an online screener which we received access to for reviewing purposes from Cinedigm. And While We Were Here releases theatrically on September 13, and on Cable VOD, Amazon, Xbox, iTunes, Playstation, CinemaNow, Vudu, Google Play, Youtube, and DVD (through Well Go on 11/12/2013).