Designer Tom Ford has exquisite taste, and his first movie is an exquisite movie. Based on a story by Christopher Isherwood, as adapted by Ford, it is the story of one day in the life of a British literature professor in Los Angeles, shortly after the loss of his male lover in a car crash. It is November 30, 1962. And so the awful isolation of grief is multiplied by his inability to acknowledge what they were to each other and who he really is.
Ford’s images are so meticulously arranged they feel like a perfume commercial. There is a remote quality that distances us from what is going on. But there are moments, as when we see a flashback of the professor (Colin Firth) getting the news from a sympathetic relative who has to deliver the message that the funeral is “family only” where the grief and the pain of holding it in is raw and real and devastating.
Firth is revelatory as the professor who feels that his truest self and his deepest emotions are invisible in a world in which being gay is still “the love that dare not speak its name.” We see in memory the man he loved (the always-enticing Matthew Goode) and in the present his encounters with a curiously attentive but respectful student (Nicholas Hoult, all grown up since “About a Boy”). And he spends the evening with his closest friend, a boozy fellow British expatriate (Julianne Moore) with whom he believes he can be almost completely honest, but who still sees him as she wishes he was. There is a hint that all of what happens on this last day could be in his mind; I suspect that it is, but either way, we are caught up in his emotions and his story.