Melbourne loves festivals. If you can think of anything cultural, there is bound to be a festival in its honour here in Melbourne. It’s probably because of the shocking weather – we need something to occupy our time. Currently in town is the Melbourne International Film Festival, where art house, foreign language, downright kooky and pre-release films are on offer. So my friend and I treated ourselves to The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him.

The first feature length film(s) by Ned Benson, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby is actually three films in one. The Melbourne International Film Festival was showing parts Her and Him back-to-back (we couldn’t get tickets to Her), and Them is set to be released later this year.

The story centres around a strong couple that have their relationship irrevocably changed after a devastating incident. While Conor (James McAvoy) believes that the only way to move on is to look towards the future, his wife, Eleanor (Jessica Chastain) has been sucked into a depressive blackness that she feels she has suffered through alone. After a suicide attempt, she tells Conor that she ‘needs to disappear’ and for him to stop contacting her.

We watched the ‘Him’ version, which tells the story from Conor’s perspective: the anger and confusion that he feels after Eleanor lives; his vulnerability that he eventually shows to his friends; and eventually, the acknowledgment of pain that he too has been suffering since that horrific incident.

The beauty of Benson’s project is that the films can either be seen together, or as stand-alone films, but in saying that, I do wish I had seen the Her perspective too. Simply because from the viewpoint of Conor, Eleanor comes across as cold and unforgiving – I wanted to know how she got to that stage where she fell completely out of love with the man of her dreams.

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby is one of those films that just breaks your heart. You don’t necessarily cry (although I did) because there aren’t any truly heart-breaking moments in the film, but the whole film is just filled with so much emotion you can’t help but leave with a terrible ache in your stomach. I’ve had that ache whenever I’ve thought about the film since. And while the plot could have at times been corny, the performances by Chastain (the role was actually specifically written for her) and McAvoy were so astounding that they just made the whole film feel genuine.

What resonated with me most about the film is that it questions relationships, and why it is we fall in love with that one person. After all, how can one person change our lives so irrevocably? And what do you do when something shakes that foundation of love so strongly that it tears you apart? Can you ever truly ‘move on’ from someone that you’ve shared your life with?

Benson’s first attempt of a feature length film was definitely ambitious, and while there were aspects of the film that could be improved, particularly plot flow, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby is a haunting, beautiful film. It deals with how different people cope with grief, and how one can move on from that stage of sadness in their life. For such a sensitive topic, it has been dealt with beautifully.

I’m keen to watch the ‘Them’ when it is released later this year, but if you’re in Melbourne and keen to go to the film festival, then I’d recommend Him or Her too.

Have you seen The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby? Have you been to the Melbourne International Film Festival? Let me know!

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