Filmmaking is a uniquely cruel industry – especially for aging women. Stardom is fleeting, and countless actresses have long had to navigate diminished opportunities as the powers that be consistently prioritize the younger and the prettier. Of course, one is hard-pressed to duplicate the generational beauty of Jacqueline Bisset, the legendary actress at the heart of writer-director Russell Brown’s Loren & Rose. Bisset plays the titular Rose, an aging actress yearning for a quality part after the latter portions of her career petered out into artistic, if not commercial, irrelevancy.
We begin in the aftermath of Rose’s passing. As her possessions are auctioned off, we are introduced to the promising and idealistic filmmaker Loren (Kelly Blatz). The film’s story structure echoes Citizen Kane as Loren reflects upon his professional and personal relationship with Rose. They first met in a fancy restaurant where she interviews for a substantial part in his follow-up to his award-winning short film that took the European festival circuit by storm.
This sets the stage for a series of interactions (on separate occasions) around the dinner table that almost always segues into existential conversations regarding life and art. Viewers who have seen My Dinner with Andre will feel right at home. Their initial meeting – the appetizer – is almost strictly professional in nature. By the time we get to dessert years later, it’s clear that they have developed a strong platonic friendship.
“…Loren reflects upon his professional and personal relationship with Rose.“
It’s not hard to view Loren & Rose as being somewhat autobiographical in nature for Bisset. She’s an artist who worked with some of the past century’s greatest filmmakers, including Polanski, Truffaut, and Huston – to name just a few. As far as acting résumés go, it’s hard to top that. Given the parallels between the real-life actress and the fictional Rose, it’s thus obvious that the character of Loren is stoked beyond belief for the opportunity to direct an actress he obsessed over in film school.
Because a two-hander like this puts immense pressure on the cast, the film’s success largely hinges upon the two leads’ performances. Bisset dominates, and we can’t help but be enraptured by her screen presence, which tends to overshadow the work of her junior sparring partner. This isn’t a dig on Blatz’s performance per se, but the actor he’s sharing scenes with has been honing her craft longer than he’s been alive. As such, it’s almost a foregone conclusion that the audience will more readily gravitate toward the more seasoned pro with pathos and charm to spare.
Loren & Rose is tailored for an intelligent audience. While the film stands on its own, it helps to know Bisset’s history as a performer and her overall career trajectory. Will a viewer who doesn’t remember her from Bullit or Day for Night appreciate the film? Sure, but there’s just no denying that this back-pocket knowledge amplifies Brown’s intended effect.
Ultimately, those hungry for a film that prioritizes a great performance over cheap thrills will not be disappointed. That Loren & Rose can also serve as an homage to a great but underrated actress is just an amuse-bouche on top of an already great meal. So, let’s get out our silverware and get ready for the main course. Bon Appétit!
Loren & Rose screened at the 2022 Santa Barbara International Film Festival.
"…Bisset dominates, and we can't help but be enraptured by her..."