Beautifully acted, intelligently written and sensitively directed, Loren & Rose showcases Jacqueline Bisset’s underappreciated, not always well-displayed talents. This is a beautiful film, memorable and carefully crafted, which succeeds on many fronts, but most of all as a welcome vehicle for a wonderful, brilliant star. One of the constant joys of the movie world, she is still, at 79, nothing short of gorgeous.
LOREN & ROSE ★★★★ (4/4 stars)
She plays Rose Martin, a fading movie star who hasn’t worked in years but is still revered for her shocking breakthrough in a 1972 drama called Lisa Overnight. Critics and audiences alike praised her performance, but she never repeated the success. In the intervening years, she wrote a cutting book — about the difficulties adult Hollywood women face in finding work in an indifferent industry with no memory — which angered those who remembered her from the past. Now only a few of her old fans remember her, mostly from a handful of embarrassing horror movies.
But out of nowhere comes a young director named Loren Bressher (Kelly Blatz), fresh from some success on the film festival circuit, who is eager to stage her comeback in an art film he’s written. His reputation is based on a 12-minute short film about his mother’s death, and now he wants Rose to star in his first feature film. They meet in a small cafe in Topanga Canyon. Sipping her favorite drink – gin, maraschino liqueur and violets soaked in brandy – she is wary but curious, talking gently but candidly about her life, her career and her journey down “a rabbit hole of self-loathing.” It is Bisset’s largest and most colorful role since that of François Truffaut day by night, and she doesn’t waste a single frame.
Over a period of six years, this unlikely couple is shown for three different meals in the same country inn – enjoying an exotic starter, a filling entrée and the kind of dessert best eaten with eyes closed. During these three meals, we watch them grow from casual and wary to deeply revealing. Whether describing her quest for spiritual escape in a monastery in Bhutan, exploring the parameters of her imagination, or selectively sorting through her thoughts and using words for emphasis, she is endlessly fascinating. His emotional vulnerability and her pithy candor and jaded sophistication make them a perfect match in a platonic relationship that grows with decency and compassion. Sensitively hurt and grudgingly insecure, the boy learns to open up enough to talk about being betrayed by his first boyfriend, a wound the older woman understands all too well from her own life. As the friendship grows, so do their emotional states, like courses on a menu.
Imploding with inner passion for rich and esoteric foods, bathed in the atmosphere of natural light with a dazzling smile, looking into the souls of other people with perception, Bisset burns a hole through the screen in scene after amazing scene. They discuss their sources of inspiration in the artists they admire, from Cezanne to Harper Lee, and find mutual bonds they never thought possible. She discusses the art of Nazimova, the pitfalls of suicide, the breakdown of her troubled relationship with the daughter she lost in a custody battle. He responds warmly with confessions about his toxic relationships with older men.
She is funny, honest, direct and enchanting. She also has cancer. The most heartbreaking aspect of Loren & Rose is how two people of different ages learn to trust, love, and contribute each other’s lives in an intense, mutually beneficial friendship, and how they then learn to adapt to encroaching tragedy and ultimate change. The woman helps him develop into a creative artist and proudly face the future, and the boy helps her face the end with strength and courage. All accomplished, I must add, with complete naturalism and not a hint of sentimentality or forced emotion.
Loren & Rose is the kind of exemplary film that depends on the value of feelings expressed through words. Fortunately, the economic direction and illuminating dialogue, triumphs of nuance and revelation, are both from Russell Brown, a smooth and meticulous filmmaker worth keeping an eye on. What a pleasure to hear a score by Chopin, Debussy and Mozart. Kelly Blatz, a likeable young actor with impressive emotional range, holds her own in every scene with Jacqueline Bisset. With a good role and the time and space to develop it in her own way, it is a thrill and a dream to see the depth and scope of her craft and intuitive vision in a film that finally deserves her. She gives such an extra dimension to every scene, even the one without dialogue, that you can easily know exactly what she is thinking and feeling. There’s a moment when she tastes creme brulee on a spoon, closes her eyes and whispers, “Bliss.” Unforgettable.
Observer Reviews are regular reviews of new and notable movies.