Cannes 2014: The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them

Flossie Topping

Ned Benson’s debut feature The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby was initially meant to be two films, Him and Her, showing a love story from two perspectives. However, when the films screened at the Toronto Film Festival last fall, buyers branded them ‘unmarketable’, and an eight-year project was handed a sorry fate. Thanks (or no thanks) to Harvey Weinstein, who bought Benson’s films, a third film has now premiered at Cannes, under the combined title, Them. Whatever happened in the cutting room aside, Them is a beautiful and emotionally affecting film, with outstanding performances from its leads, Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy.

Unconventionally, this love story begins at the end, with Conor (McAvoy) and Eleanor Rigby (Chastain) breaking their life together apart, ending their marriage and selling their New York apartment. There’s a sense that some tragedy has happened, but the details are revealed slowly and instead we are shown the couple struggling to move on from what has clearly been a life-shattering event.

Firstly, Eleanor tries to kill herself by jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge, then she moves in with her parents (Isabelle Huppert and William Hurt), refuses therapy, cuts all her hair off and starts taking psychology classes at Parsons. Conor’s side of things is not much better, with his restaurant on the brink of bankruptcy and his relationship with his father hanging by a thread. Worse still, when he tries to talk to Eleanor in the street, he almost gets run over by a car.

Although it might seem like the most depressing love story since Michael Haneke’s Amour, Benson’s romance does have some light relief from Viola Davis as Eleanor’s teacher and confidant, and Superbad’s Bill Hader as the chef in Conor’s restaurant. Between the two of them, you’ll be able to laugh through the tears, but otherwise it’s a gloomy and brooding affair, with the camera staying very close to the couple as we're dragged into their complex emotiverse.

Flattering Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy, Benson aims to tell the whole story of a couple: the good, the bad and the ugly. It’s an honorably experimental model, and hopefully one that audiences will have a chance to see in its intended three parts later this year.

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'The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them' is set for a U.S release on 26 September, 'Him' and 'Her' will follow in selected cinemas later in the year.

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