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‘The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby” is a sprawling, three-part love story opening on Valentine’s Day that wraps itself around the senses like a thick curtain. Director Ned Benson is trying to do something radically different as he takes us through a single love story told from three different perspectives: hers (“Her”), his (“Him”) and the combined “Them.” That’s a total of nearly five hours in the company of New York couple Eleanor (Jessica Chastain) and Conor (James McAvoy), who meet, fall in love and break up, but whose lives and fates remain inexorably intertwined.

At present only the first two installments, “Her” and “Him,” are being released locally, but they’re still an emotionally draining experience.

Once you get past the length and complexities, “Eleanor Rigby” is compelling and ambitious. Here, at last, is a monogamous (yes!) love story with sincerity and passion, commitment and endurance — all the things that were laughed out of the cinematic arena sometime in the late 1990s by haughty cynicism and epicurean wit.

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him and Her (Love Stories: Eleanor no Aijyou and Conor no Namida)
Rating
Director Ned Benson
Run Time 95 minutes ("Him"), 105 minutes ("Her")
Language English
Opens Feb. 14

Chastain, whose performance in “Zero Dark Thirty” defined that film, plays Eleanor as a young woman with brains and genuine kindness. Her encounter with Conor and their subsequent heated relationship unfolds against the backdrop of an East Village in the throes of rampant real-estate development, with construction sites everywhere. Benson stays on the streets and brings in the locals for extras, and the street scenes have a gritty immediacy enhanced by the scruffiness of the leading couple. McAvoy in particular mutes all glamor and seems to have assembled his entire wardrobe from a thrift shop.

Things are fine as long as Eleanor and Conor adore each other, laugh and frolic and enjoy brunch in the way of New York couples. They even go out to a nice restaurant, dine by candlelight and run from the premises before paying the bill. But once they move in together and have a child, adult responsibilities weigh heavily on them both. Then tragedy strikes, and Eleanor takes off rather than trying to pick up the pieces with Conor.

“Her” highlights Eleanor’s overwhelming pain and the fear that her life has been irrevocably destroyed. Having nowhere to go, she turns up at her parents’ house in upstate New York where her college-professor dad (William Hurt) urges her to take lectures on campus, thereby putting her in touch with his deeply inspiring colleague Lillian Friedman (Viola Davis). In the meantime, in “His,” Conor is flailing about like a lovesick dog, pursuing Eleanor with all he has because, heck, he just plain refuses to lose her. Eleanor, on the other hand, is clear about her love for Conor, but she just can’t stand to be in the same space with him anymore.

The couples’ wounds and pain are so obvious, you have to ask yourself: Is love worth it? The films, though meticulously analytic, offer no easy answers.

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