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04.28.10

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Phaedra

GHOST WRITER: Iben Hjejle is an author of supernatural novels and Ciaran Hinds a grieving widower seeking answers in 'The Eclipse.'

Shadow Dance

'The Eclipse' lays bare the texture of grief

By Richard von Busack


SUBTLE and searing, The Eclipse tells an ordinary tale of love and death interlaced with moments of terror. Eluding obvious genres, the film tracks Irishman Michael Farr (Ciaran Hinds), a recent widower living with his two young children in a picturesque coastal town. Although he has given up his own literary ambitions, he volunteers each year at the local writers festival. The film opens as participants begin arriving, among them a celebrated author of supernatural novels named Lena Morelle (played by Danish actress Iben Hjejle). Farr's initial meetings with the attractive Lena are complicated by the irritating presence of her former lover, an American writer living on his reputation, boozy charm and plenty of drink. As the philandering author, Aidan Quinn climbs out of his indelible good looks and into a richly over-the-top performance. His antagonism anchors the deeply textured moodiness of Hinds' portrayal.

Best known to American audiences as Julius Caesar in the opulent HBO series Rome, Hinds is an intelligent actor armed with powerful physicality. The mere slump of his shoulders conveys years of loss. His dark brow, heavy sorrowful face and awkward hands all lend almost unbearable pain to his portrait of a grieving man haunted by vivid apparitions. During most of The Eclipse, we are kept guessing about the nature of these apparitions. Are they nightmares? Figments of Farr's survivor's guilt? Or actual supernatural presences? Whatever they are, they amplify the growing intimacy between Farr and the visiting author.

Directed by Conor McPherson and adapted from the book Tales From Rainwater Pond by Billy Roche, the film radiates pared-down sophistication, as if providing a poetic, adult antidote to big-budget Hollywood 3-D spectacles. The pacing is Eric Satie by way of Jane Campion. Casting its own spell over the sustained power of the drama is the historic port town of Cobh, County Cork, whose worn streets and towering cathedral haunt the emotional slipstreams of this eerie film. As the shy warmth between Farr and Morelle acquires some depth, the odd ghost pops up with increasing and shocking vigor. Audiences literally scream over some of the sudden encounters, which appear with such restraint that we are all the more terrorized when they occur. The subtext may be Freudian, but it packs cinematic punch.

The noir look and feel of The Eclipse oozes portent. Every shot seems about to overflow with some darker meaning. And the metaphorical presence of the dead wife is everywhere, a peripheral rustling that is felt more than seen. The mise-en-scène editing, camera fixed so that characters can move in and out of the frame, allows us to be voyeurs, watching the moods develop and ripen. This filmmaking style also helps blur the boundaries of real and supernatural panic. Most deliciously, we really cannot tell just what the film is up to, even as we relish the primal courtship posturing between Hinds and Quinn, both seeking the attention of Hjejle.

Distinctly unpretty in a Kristen Scott Thomas way, the Danish actress is mesmerizing. Her character is utterly professional and yet just vulnerable enough to be moved by Hinds' raw grief. He is drawn to her at first to try to find out what she knows about his apparitions—"the ghosts in your books, they're so real"—and then to find solace in her embrace.

So this is how grief works, we realize, as all of the film's strands finally connect. This is how memory works. This is how the dead visit us. Darkly illuminated by the unforgettable Ciaran Hinds, The Eclipse works its way into the subconscious. Its emotional effect will fade slowly.

THE ECLIPSE (R; 88 min.), directed by Conor McPherson, written by McPherson and Billy Roche, photographed by Ivan McCullough and starring Ciaran Hinds, Iben Hjejle and Aidan Quinn, plays at the Nickelodeon.


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