The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby

Note: even though the festival is already finished, and most sleep deprivation by your reviewers overcome, we are still going to try and bring you a few more insights from Cannes this year, beginning with this review.

After premiering the paired double cut Him and Her at TIFF last fall, first-time director Ned Benson brought the shorter one-film cut Them  of his The Disappearance Of Eleanor Rigby  to the Un Certain Regard sidebar. The cut, reputedly heavily influenced by producer Harvey Weinstein (who was present at the gala screening, and seems to have great belief in it regarding end-of-year accolades), gives a balanced look at the disintegration of a relationship, whereas the two other versions told the story from the viewpoints of both protagonists separately, respectively Conor (James McAvoy) and the titular Eleanor (Jessica Chastain).

These two were at one time married, but a family tragedy, the details of which are slowly revealed, has broken up their idyllic relationship. After a failed suicide attempt by Eleanor the couple is completely separated, with her not wanting to see him at all while she is trying to get her life together again. The reason why her rejection is so strong also comes in fragments, as Benson seems to want the audience to struggle as much to come to grips with the situation as do his protagonists. Conor still wants Eleanor back, but whether she is willing to work as much on that remains a question until the very last frame of the film, at least in this version.

The main focus of the film and story is exploring the relationship between two people from both angles, and how their subjectivity can render the same events in a different way. It will be interesting to see how this cut compares to the other two, as in them both viewpoints should technically have more room to breathe. Still, in two hours Benson manages to sketch a nuanced look at two people who have grown apart after a tragic event, but are still working through it, and from both characters’ perspectives. It doesn’t have lofty goals or deep themes, but is just very well done and especially well told, by the director as well as his two leads.

One does feel that the supporting cast and their stories and relationships with the two leads, especially in the case of Conor and his father (played by Ciarán Hinds), get a little lost by the wayside in this two-hour version. This is a shame, because the supporting cast turns in strong work in little screentime: Jess Weixler as Eleanor’s sister and Viola Davis as a grounded, world-weary college professor in particular excel. Unfortunately Isabelle Huppert, in a role that’s way too small for her talents, gets relegated to nothing more than a running gag. But the screen belongs to Chastain and McAvoy here, who both give near career-best performances, and whose chemistry is heartfelt, even in the scenes where their characters are having their difficulties. A scene late in the film in which they deal face-to-face with the tragedy that broke them up is a showcase for both actors.

The story unfolds in a relaxed and believable manner, even if it wears its indie sensibilities on its sleeve: having a lead character named after a Beatles song, even if its melancholy is attuned with the events in the film, seems a bit gimmicky, and Davis’ character as well as Conor’s friends are straight out of the indie playbook, right down to their dialogue. Still, the film manages to keep the intrigue for its two main characters throughout the running time, and manages to persuade at least this reviewer to check out both other versions as well, out of curiosity, but also out of love for the nuanced storytelling and the characters.