An intense affair between a married astrophysicist and a grad student is thrown off course after the professor’s sudden disappearance in Giuseppe Tornatore’s stilted English-lingo mystery, “Correspondence.” Even if Tornatore were deliberately aiming for the artificiality that clings to nearly every frame, the pic would still feel needlessly airless, hampered by an Italian-to-English script translation that may be precise but lacks naturalism. The romance exists largely via video messages and voiceovers, which tends to impede the chemistry between Jeremy Irons’ and Olga Kurylenko’s characters, whose psychological profiles remain fixed on predictable single issues. At home, the Italian dubbed version might generate modest change, but international sales are another matter.
Amy Ryan (Kurylenko) juggles grad studies in Higgs boson theory with an unlikely sideline as a stuntwoman for action pics. She’s in a heady six-year affair with the considerably older Ed Phoerum (Irons), a warm yet bookish expert on string theory and such. When they’re first seen exchanging passionate kisses after a hotel tryst, Ed asks purposefully, “Can you think of anything we don’t know about each other?” The question remains unanswered until nearly the end, although its presence hangs in the air for most of the two-hour running time.
Since Ed has a family in Edinburgh and Amy lives somewhere in England (establishing shots were partly done in York), their relationship is largely expressed via Skype, letters, emails and SMS; why every text has to be seen as well as heard in voiceover, including “laugh out loud,” is perhaps the pic’s biggest mystery. Ed’s uncanny ability to ensure flowers are delivered exactly when they’re Skyping, or a notecard is received the moment his email is read, makes the relationship exciting, filling in physical absences with tangible expressions of support and love.
Then at a conference, it’s announced Professor Phoerum has died. But how can this be? Amy still receives messages and video discs from Ed, in which he reassures her that he’ll never abandon her. Certain that he’s alive but frustrated he’s not letting her contact him, Amy goes to Edinburgh and then to the picture-postcard Italian villa that was their hideaway together, desperate to find a way to communicate with her lover.
While that correspondence continues, there’s little correspondence between Amy’s studies on astrophysics and her work as a death-defying, Lara Croft-style stuntwoman. In fact, several such scenes are likely to cause titters because they feel so out of place. Once Tornatore makes clear how Amy’s need to keep escaping death in such a spectacular manner connects with that niggling secret the star-crossed lovers didn’t know about each other, the revelation feels awfully pat and simplistic.
They do, however, shake up the increasingly monologue-filled scenes in which Amy sends video messages to Ed. Tornatore has a novel version of the story that’s being published at the same time as the film’s release; no doubt the movie’s talkiness is less problematic in the book, which can’t suffer from the contrived nature of the English, nor the occasionally misjudged rhythms of English speech patterns. The incidental background conversations by extras are risible, most notably during a scene in a coffee shop. Such slip-ups weren’t noticeable in Tornatore’s previous “The Best Offer,” another mystery with an older-man-younger-woman dynamic.
The doe-eyed Kurylenko does her best to hold the pic together, and her conviction in excitedly reeling off astrophysical theorems is impressive, yet the actress is hard-pressed to breathe three-dimensional life into a character whose inner conflicts feel so manufactured. Ed is even less satisfying, though granted his screen time is almost exclusively one-sided; Irons puts on his British thespian suit and injects as much charisma as the script allows. Side roles tend toward the Dickensian or the atmospheric — presumably boatman Ottavio (Paolo Calabresi) is darkly intense in order to increase the air of mystery, but the overplaying falls flat.
Visuals are ultra-clean and precisely lit, lending a further sense of artificiality to each set. Ennio Morricone and Tornatore have been collaborating for 25 years, so they know exactly what they want from each other. Here the music shifts from late Romantic lushness to insistent orchestrations with an electric guitar to compositions reminiscent of Universal mystery films from the 1940s.