A Month by the Lake
1995, PG, 99 min. Directed by John Irvin. Starring Vanessa Redgrave, Edward Fox, Uma Thurman, Alida Valli, Carlo Cartier, Allessandro Gassman.
REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., Oct. 13, 1995
In the movies, Italy is a place for lovers. No wonder, then, that in the enchanting A Month by the Lake, the romance of that country once again undoes Anglo-repressed desire, much like it did in A Room With a View and Summertime, to name a couple. Here, the setting is the breathtakingly beautiful Lake Como on the eve of Europe's descent into the second world war. Although the sight of fascists marching in the street forebodes devastating change for the Continent, the focus of A Month by the Lake is not upon the affairs of the state, but rather upon the affairs of the heart. It is the story about the folly of love, as portrayed in the seemingly unsure romance between a never-married Englishwoman, who is in the prime of her life, and a fellow Englishman her age, who is foolishly sidetracked by the flirtations of another woman much younger than himself. Thankfully, A Month by the Lake is more Merchant-Ivory than Masterpiece Theatre: It's a movie of manners that's not constrained by the conventions which inform it. Irvin, a director who is too often underrated, keeps the narrative at an engaging pace, particularly during those scenes in which the members of the film's love triangle jockey for position. (At times, this movie toys with farce.) There are also some interesting sexual politics here, both of a traditional and contemporary nature; women have their place, of course, but they nonetheless make things happen. Aside from the picturesque milieu of northern Italy -- which is, some may argue, the film's leading attraction -- the cast also makes estimable contributions towards making A Month by the Lake worthwhile. Although somewhat out of her league, Thurman captures the gawky allure of youth and -- more importantly -- its careless cruelty. Thurman occasionally seems a bit stilted and mannered, but it's a characterization that works, given the pretensions and frustrations of her American ingenue abroad. As the priggish and piggish major, Fox is marvelous; he's full of sound and fury, signifying nothing usually, but nevertheless capable of a passion long dormant. But -- no surprise here -- it is Redgrave who ultimately transfixes you in A Month by the Lake. Her face (those cheekbones!), as stunning as the film's landscape, is a veritable register of conflicting emotions, one that can convey the anguish of love one second and its joy the next, without any seeming effort. Her role in A Month by the Lake is not a showy one, by any means, but her greatness in it is further proof that she is, indeed, one of the cinema's greatest actors.