JDIFF Review – Love Eternal

After his father dies in front of him, Ian (Robert de Hoog) becomes increasingly isolated and introverted. When another tragedy befalls him, Ian sets out to try and understand the world in the only way he knows how; by getting closer to death.

Based on the novel In Love With the Dead by Kei Ôishi, Love Eternal was adapted for the screen by Irish director Brendan Muldowney. Muldowney’s first film – Savage – was a meditation on a man whose life was turned upside down by a violent event,so it is easy to see why this story appealed to the director.

Robert de Hoog carries Love Eternal with his performance as the almost catatonic Ian. As he drifts closer to death – including his own – Ian finds a way to relate to the people around him, becoming fascinated with the obviously heartbroken Naomi. De Hoog is engaging and surprisingly warm, and his observations about life and death are acutely observed. Pollyanna McIntosh carried tragedy on screen as Naomi, but manages to create the delicate balance of a devastated woman trying to hold herself together and give the impression that everything just may be OK. Although other women drift in and out of Ian’s life, it is Naomi with her will to survive, even though she has no idea how to keep going, that captures his imagination.

Since In Love With The Dead is a novel that has themes of necrophilia running through it, it would be easy for the film to turn into a sordid, uncomfortable affair, but Muldowney’s screenplay makes Ian a character who is desperately seeking an emotional connection and a way to join the land of the living, rather than a man who is trying to have sex with dead people. Ian’s doorway into the world of life is via the dead, but he emerges at the other side, giving the film a feeling of hope, rather then despair. Muldowney’s observation of people dealing with bereavement is astute and to the point, with many of the statements and themes being universal and ultimately human.

As a director, Muldowney allows his character to be still, and does not shy away from the more uncomfortable aspects of death and bereavement. Ian may deal with loss in a more extreme way than most, but Muldowney makes his detached curiosity gentle, like a child observing something new for the first time, rather than something depraved or macabre.

Love Eternal is a curious, dark yet strangely uplifting film that deals with death and the lives lived by those left behind. Acceptance and grief are part of this film, but somehow it ends on a note of hope, rather than despair. De Hoog and McIntosh shine in a film with a potentially bleak subject matter that is handled incredibly well. Not for the squeamish or the faint of heart, but definitely worth a watch.

Rating: 4/5

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