"Chris & Don," about the 34-year love between British-born writer Christopher Isherwood and California painter Don Bachardy, begins and ends in states of sunlit happiness tinged with shadow.
The two met on the beach near Santa Monica, Calif., in 1952, when the expatriate writer was 48 and Bachardy was 18. It was, Isherwood wrote, "a fated, mutual attraction." But it was complicated -- by the big age difference and by the fact that Isherwood had had an affair with Bachardy's older brother, who suffered from manic depression.
Fast forward to 1986, when Isherwood died of prostate cancer in the Santa Monica house where Bachardy still lives. Bachardy had dedicated himself not only to caring for his partner, but to drawing him. The movie recounts these final days as a sort of extended ecstasy for both men. The portraits of Isherwood show a sense of contentment and peace, but also the grimace of pain and the indignity of physical decay.
"Chris & Don" relies heavily on Bachardy, now in his 70s but spry enough to bike everywhere. Isherwood "taught the boy all kinds of wicked things," Bachardy says, laughing. Isherwood put Bachardy through art school and got his famous friends to sit for portraits by the budding artist.
There were rocky times in the relationship, as the two struggled with infidelity and jealousy. Still, they remained a couple for a remarkably long time, supported each other creatively and basked in the sunshine of each other's love. Now that's a story.