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Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson star in this powerful and visually arresting fusion of poetry and drama. The Song of Lunch is based on Christopher Reid's narrative poem following the story of an unnamed book editor who is meeting his former love 15 years after their break-up for a nostalgic lunch at the Soho restaurant they used to frequent. The woman is now living a glamorous life in Paris, married to a world-renowned writer. The unnamed editor has failed in his writing career, detests his mundane publishing job and regrets the end of their love affair. When he arrives at the restaurant, he finds it under new management and much changed, and this seems to fuel his resentment about growing older and being left behind. The stage is set for an emotional and bittersweet reunion. As the wine flows, and the couple rake over their failed relationship, nostalgia slowly turns to recrimination.
Turning a piece of literature into a film isn't easy, and while the task is even more daunting when the literature in question is a poem, director-screenwriter Niall MacCormick has done a worthy job of it with The Song of Lunch, a brief and earnest meditation about the reunion of two lovers at a London restaurant. In adapting Christopher Reid's 2009 work, MacCormick appears to have hewed to the format of the original, with the majority of the story (such as it is) told by the male of the couple (Alan Rickman); indeed, there's a good deal more voice-over than dialogue, and his former lover (Emma Thompson), whom he meets for lunch 15 years after their breakup at what was once their favorite Italian eatery, has very little of the latter. Nonetheless, their dynamic is established quickly and indelibly: he's a frustrated poet, a fellow who describes himself as "not nice" and "a figure of folly and pathos" and hates his book-editing job, while she's living happily in Paris with her husband (a successful novelist with "a wintry smirk") and kids. Only one of these people is sorry their love affair ended, and the meeting does not go well. She's straightforward, sharp, and honest; he's a self-absorbed, self-pitying drunk who's defensive about the failure of the one book of poems he managed to get published, and his demonstrable unlikability makes it difficult to care about him, to say the least. All of this is a bit stilted, not to mention laborious (even at a slight 50 minutes), but MacCormick livens things up by effectively applying cinematic touches like flashbacks to the lovers' earlier days; long, lingering shots (some in slow motion); and close-ups that highlight every detail of this unhappy event. The Song of Lunch isn't a lot of fun, but the mere fact that it's trying to do something a little different is commendable. --Sam Graham