‘Longing’ Review: Richard Gere Investigates His Dead Son in an Off-Putting, Uncomfortable Remake

In Savi Gabizon’s “Longing,” an English-language remake of his own award-winning 2017 Israeli drama, Richard Gere stars as Daniel Bloch. He’s an old, wealthy businessman who suddenly finds out he has a 19-year-old son. You’ve probably seen this plot point enough times that you can already imagine where the film is going. He’ll meet the boy, they’ll develop a bond and in the end he’ll probably show up at the last possible minute to the kid’s dance recital or something.

But only seconds after Daniel finds out he has a child, he finds out he doesn’t anymore. His son died a few days ago, so they’ll never get to meet. Daniel never wanted a kid in the first place, but the opportunity was handed to him and then taken immediately away. There are five-car pileups that don’t give this much whiplash.

“Longing” tells the story of a man who feels obligated to show up to his son’s funeral, and gradually — almost by accident — learn more about him. It turns out, his son Allen was quite the hellraiser. His best friend immediately comes to Daniel asking for money, since Allen drowned with five pounds of marijuana on him. They’d intended to sell it, but now they can’t and the dealer is threatening him. Yet somehow, Daniel is more interested in finding out whether Allen liked sports.

We never see that kid again, even at the film’s climactic gathering of Allen’s family and friends. Presumably he got murdered. That’s the thing about Gabizon’s film — it has an annoying sense of misunderstood menace. The people he meets are so elusive about Allen that you half expect to find out he never existed; that this is all some sort of David Mametian con job, where half the population of Canada conspires to bilk a rich factory owner out of his money.

Daniel doesn’t just fail to pick up on these upsetting signals, he grossly misinterprets them. He’s biased, sure, but when he finds out Allen was expelled for writing a gigantic pornographic poem about his French teacher on his high school’s outer wall, Daniel’s response is that Allen was a beautiful poet and the faculty overreacted. I’m not sure we’re looking at the same King Kong-sized sexual graffiti, Daniel. Oh yeah, and Allen painted that graffiti LAST YEAR and it’s somehow still on the wall of the school. They haven’t sand-blasted it off or even covered it with a tarp. Allen’s teacher should sue the hell out of them.

Speaking of Allen’s teacher: Alice (Diane Kruger) tries to be polite to Daniel, but when he discovers Allen wrote an entire journal of obsessive poems about her, and when Allen’s teenaged girlfriend says he used to follow Alice around all the time, he assumes his son was a nice boy with a little crush and that Alice must have led him on. He pushes and pushes until he develops his own creepy fixation on her and has a dream where she’s the size of a skyscraper, naked, straddling the school building, while Allen responds sexually from the ground below and urges his father to do the same.

It’s a striking image, one is forced to give it that, but it’s an exceptionally creepy one. And while it is perhaps understandable that Daniel is oblivious to how far down the rabbit hole he’s fallen, it’s hard to fathom just how oblivious this film is about it. Daniel isn’t getting to know his son, he’s forming an unhealthy parasocial relationship with his memory. He talks about Allen like he knew him intimately, describing personality traits and anecdotes he either learned secondhand or has made huge assumptions about, and nobody — even Allen’s mother, Rachel (Suzanne Clément, “The Origin of Evil”) — calls him out on it. He’s gone from invested to disturbingly presumptuous. I guess that’s where Allen got all his stalker traits from.

Gere is a powerfully disarming actor, and the right filmmaker can weaponize his quietude to great effect; his aloofness can be extremely sweet or incredibly frightening. “Longing” is a baffling film because, this time, it’s his very sweetness that is scary. His good intentions and lack of self-awareness lead him to make bizarre, manipulative choices while romanticizing a kid who, frankly, seems like a total monster. If Gabizon’s remake had wanted to talk about that and come to any sort of conclusion about Daniel Bloch’s behavior, it might have been an impressive examination of paternal delusion.

But although “Longing” acknowledges the horrors that Allen has wrought, it isn’t interested in judging him. Not even fairly. It’s a film that’s full of love, but it’s an unhealthy love that’s detached from reality and the movie seems detached as well. It’s too maudlin to convey its own moral complexity and too foreboding to be sentimental. It’s an odd, unpleasant film that leaves you longing for the exit.

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