First love never dies, they say. But if you managed to push it out of your life for ages only to long for some sense of closure when it storms back with the memories of the past, can you really fight back? With the story of teenage loves and suicides, the adaptation of Julian Barnes’s novel turns out to be a satisfactory film.
When Tony Webster, an owner of a camera shop dedicated to vintage Leicas, receives a letter informing him that the mother of his first Love has left his best mate’s diary in her will, he heads to the attorney straight away. Soon it turns out that the journal is now in possession of his first ex-girlfriend who doesn’t plan to fulfil her mother’s last wish. The incredible curiosity pushes the main Character to pursue the chronicle of the past at all costs – and face everything that happened in his early twenties.
When you ask an elderly person to tell you about their adventures of youth, they normally share them with a spark in their eye and a lot of attachment to their student days. And who doesn’t like these stories that your grandparents would tell you on a quiet summer evening? The Sense of An Ending possesses a similar kind of charm, and that’s down to a puzzling character (despite his oddities!) and the promise of a secret that’s about to be uncovered. In flashbacks, it jumps back to the Swinging Sixties, and it’s difficult not to give into the atmosphere of the decade.
The director Ritesh Batra manages to outline and hold onto character profiles, too: we get to know Tony, Veronica and Adrian well ahead of the love triangle story unfolding before our eyes. The girl’s indecisiveness and the friends’ bond based on poetry and existentialism bring the much-needed explanations. How come the characters grew older, but not any wiser? Their stubbornness to hold grudges that haunts the film at the beginning is utterly perplexing, but soon we understand the weight of the burden every key player in the story had to carry throughout their lives.
Bringing this tightly woven net of feelings to life was resting primarily on Jim Broadbent’s shoulders. Even if his Tony is an irreverently unbearable character at a first glance, he makes his hero a little bit more personable by adding the right amount of self-deprecating, sarcastic note to portray him in a satiric, exaggerated manner. With him, shooing potential customers away from the shop, stinging his ex-wife at any given opportunity, and not even trying to be nice to anyone who interacts with him, the postie and the lawyer included are not cardinal antisocial sins anymore. Charlotte Rampling of 45 Years appears a couple of times, evoking Veronica’s mysteriousness
The film even gives us a couple of funny moments: it plays on Tony’s obsessiveness, the modern ideas of his daughter, the conversations he has with his ex-wife and best friend. And maybe the fact that it sometimes is indecisive about the spectrum of emotion it wants to deliver lets it down a bit. It enlists what it wants to do, but it doesn’t hit you with a climactic moment. Instead, it revels in leaking little details that slowly build the entire picture. That’s why the emotional impact is spread evenly throughout the build-up and wears a bit thin towards the end.
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