It's a story Henry James might have told, had he dared, and it proceeds from a much-cherished James theme: the fate of innocents abroad. In this case they are a mother and son, Pamela Porterfield (Juliet Stevenson) and 18-year-old Paul (Kevin Bishop). An aspiring concert pianist, Paul was thrilled to be selected as page turner for his hero and role model, the world-famous Richard Kennington (Paul Rhys), when Kennington performed in San Francisco, Paul's hometown.
Some months later, Paul and Richard cross paths in Barcelona, where the pianist has just given a concert and intends to take a week off before returning home to Manhattan. Pamela has gone ahead with what had been intended as a family vacation, even though her marriage has unexpectedly broken up. High-strung and possessive, she begins to relax and regain her equilibrium with the advent of Richard, who takes mother and son to dinner every evening and encourages her shopping excursions and self-pampering. Meanwhile, Paul and Richard are supposedly off sightseeing but end up in Richard's hotel suite, in each other's arms.
Richard has accomplished the seduction of the virginal but willing Paul with considerate expertise -- and no false promises. Paul is a well-mannered and intelligent boy-next-door type. Approaching 40, Richard is not conventionally handsome but attractive, especially for his lack of pretense and considerable polish. When Richard realizes he is responding to Paul's love, he retreats but assures him that they will be able to see each other once Paul commences his studies at Juilliard.
What might well have been extended into the entire film, however, proves but a succinct prologue. Looming are Paul's discovery of what it takes to pursue an artistic career, of more romance and ultimately of mother and son, who hold surprises for each other and themselves.
The actors, especially Stevenson, give multifaceted portrayals. Allan Corduner's Mansourian, Kennington's powerful agent and longtime lover, is a worldly older man who has no scruples about protecting his own interests. If Mansourian is ultimately the liar in this tale, Geraldine McEwan's Novotna, Paul's piano teacher, is its admirably unsparing and blunt truth-teller. An elegant work, "Food of Love" is as consistently engaging as it is revealing.
* * *'Food of Love'
Times guidelines: Complex adult situations, sexual themes but discreet presentation, some language.
Kevin Bishop ... Paul Porterfield
Paul Rhys ... Richard Kennington
Juliet Stevenson ... Pamela Porterfield
Allan Corduner ... Joseph Mansourian
Geraldine McEwan ... Novotna
A TLA Releasing presentation of an ELS Films de la Rambla production in association with 42nd Street Productions and FFP Media Entertainment with the support of Eurimages. Writer-director-producer Ventura Pons. Based on the novel "The Page Turner" by David Leavitt. Executive producers Thomas Spieker & Michael Smeaton. Cinematographer Mario Montero. Editor Pere Abadal. Music Carles Cases. Art director Bel.Lo Torras. Set decorator Mercè Parés. Running time: 1 hour, 52 minutes.
Exclusively at the Nuart, 11272 Santa Monica Blvd., West Los Angeles, through Thursday. (310) 473-8530.