Dir: Boaz Yakin. 2008. US. 100min

Boaz Yakin's dark drama is about the legacy of pain. We enter it through a smooth-talking scammer in Manhattan whose mother survived the Nazi camps thanks to a love affair with a doctor who experimented on prisoners. Death In Love shows that, as parents made moral compromises, so do the sons, long after the tragedy which marked their lives.

Death In Love has an obvious market in Jewish film festivals around the world. Its theatrical chances will ride on Josh Lucas's fine performance as the son, marked by his tormented upbringing, who cheats young women with the lure of modeling and acting careers. The forbidding title will probably confuse audiences, and Lucas's star power won't take it deep into foreign territories, although Jacqueline Bisset in the role of the mother may help. The film's best hopes for an audience rest in its Holocaust story and portrait of a Jewish family.

This is heavy going. Before director/writer/producer Yakin develops the story of the son, who is never named, we witness sequences of violent sex and bloody surgery, the fates that the mother had to choose between in the camps. He is a born salesman who likes his sex violent with the Asian woman who runs his crooked agency (Kai), is incapable of maintaining a relationship with the woman he loves. His neurotic younger brother (Haas), a gifted but angry pianist, still lives at home with his compliant father, whose identity is the film's big surprise.

Rage rules the family's life while at work the older son is challenged by a new agent (Brody) with uncanny seductive powers. They scheme to create a larger agency which the son will finance but the plan turns out to be a ruse and the son loses a huge investment, betrayed by those he trusted.

Yakin blends a web of stories here, plus flashbacks to a sterile Nazi clinic, and he ties them together well enough to keep the strands clear: angry survivor/mother, weak father, eldest son with survival skills, younger son who lacks them, and a bogus talent agency exploiting the vulnerable and credulous.

The script, with some echoes David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross in its depiction of a confidence game, is on target with the son's seductive pitches to girls whom he meets on the street. Lucas, who has some extraordinary moments here, also has the nuances and the much-needed humour to take the story beyond the mechanical 'Holocaust begets family pain begets dysfunction begets sexual frustration in the next generation.'

Yet the sexual frustration is indeed there. Between the two sons, we see enough masturbation to make you think of Portnoy's Complaint. Lukas Haas is a believable thirty-something son of such a mother, ungroomed and unworldly. The mother, meanwhile, is a once-beautiful woman who has retained her looks and her powers to seduce but who can't contain her anguish. She is no Joan Crawford, and Bisset's solemn acting reveals this syndrome as a deterministic cause and effect. She is bruised even before she gets to the Nazi doctor. In flashbacks we see her as a Parisian girl abandoned by her bourgeois parents as they go into hiding.

Death In Love has the feel of an Ingmar Bergman family story, although the pain in this Jewish family in New York is more spoken than unspoken, as in one of Woody Allen's efforts at transplanting Bergman to Manhattan ( Interiors, parts of Hannah and Her Sisters). The austere interiors of Dara Wishingrad's production design are made even colder by cinematographer Frederick Jacobi's camera.

Production companies/backers
DI Love (US)

International sales
(1) 424 288 2000

Boaz Yakin
Joseph N Zolfo

Alma Har'el

Boaz Yakin

Frederik Jacobi

John Lyons

Production designer
Dara Wishingrad

Costume designer
Sue Gandy

Lesley Barber

Main cast
Josh Lucas
Jacqueline Bisset
Lukas Haas
Stu Richel
Morena Baccarin
Betty Gilpin
Vanessa Kai
Adam Brody
Emma Bell