A SHORT LIST
OF FILMS ABOUT LOVE
~ by john b. cribbs ~
Another Valentine's Day is set to flex its unrelenting claws, and lonelyhearts who'd rather share February 14th with a stack of DVD's than with a special somebody aren't fretting over what kind of flowers to purchase: their only concern is whether they lent out the "Simpsons" disc with the classic "I Love Lisa" episode on it.
But in case they're wondering which Valentine-themed films to choo-choo-choose, I cooked up a quick list of some of my favorite screen romances, most of them a good case for avoiding love entirely.
ALI: FEARS EATS THE SOUL
r.w. fassbinder, 1974
The lovers: Ali (El Hedi ben Salem) and Emmi (Brigitte Mira)
The situation: Forbidden romance.
The relationship: Inspired by the class-divided love of gardener Rock Hudson and Jane Wyman in Douglas Sirk's All That Heaven Allows as well as Fassbinder's own rocky relationships (he and Salem had a stormy affair that ended in tragedy), a Moroccan gasterbeiter and middle-aged cleaning woman defy the prejudices of family, friends and co-workers in an unlikely union.
Most romantic moment: Watching him shower, Emmi simply says: "I love you, Ali."
Celebrity couple counterparts: The publicly-condemned elopement of pop star Britney Spears and Taco Bell clerk Kevin Federline.
Happy ending?: On the verge of despair. Just as the two are growing closer, he develops an ulcer that the German medical system will never be able to fully cure thanks to his lowly social status. Still, they're together and that seems to count (and comparatively it's one of the happier Fassbinder endings.)
The message: Love does not discriminate - society does.
See also: All That Heaven Allows, In a Year with 13 Moons, Far From Heaven.
ALL THE REAL GIRLS
david gordon green, 2003
The lovers: Paul (Paul Schneider) and Noel (Zooey Deschanel)
The situation: Meaningful love.
The relationship: Paul, the most unlikely lothario in terms of looks, is the town stud who falls for his best friend's virginal sister, just returned home from boarding school.
Most romantic moment: "I dreamed you built a garden on a trampoline, and I was so happy I invented peanut butter."
Celebrity couple counterparts: Cary Grant and Dyan Cannon.
Happy ending?: Confused and frustrated by his attempt at chivalrous celibacy, she cuts her hair and hooks up with the first guy to give her the eye. He blows a gasket, they try to make it work, but the wonder of new love is gone. He moves on to other responsibilites while it looks like she's going to end up with an even uglier dude.
The message: Love and physicality are not mutually exclusive.
jean vigo, 1934
The lovers: Jean (Jean Daste) and Juliette (Dita Parlo)
The situation: Newlyweds.
The relationship: Hastily married to sea captain Jean, Juliette tries to handle life on his cramped ship with two other crewmen, one of them the strange second mate Pere Jules (Michel Simon.) She soon longs for the excitement and freedom of Parisian life.
Most romantic moment: Physically separated, husband and wife are united by a soft dissolve from one lover looking at the other, alone in different beds.
Celebrity couple counterparts: Hank Baskett and Kendra Wilkinson, if their reality show had been set on a boat and either of them had been tolerable.
Happy ending?: Simon carries Juliette back to the boat in a scene that precedes An Officer and a Gentleman by almost 50 years. She learns to honor her commitment, Jean learns that she's the only thing that matters more than his ship. Love triumphs and it's a happy ending for all... except for Vigo, who died the year of the film's release, at age 33, of tuberculosis.
The message: Love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage.
See also: La belle et la bete, Toni, La bete humaine, Fabiola, Casque d'or.
BAD TIMING: a sexual obsession
nicolas roeg, 1980
The lovers: Alex Linden (Art Garfunkel) and Milena Flaherty (Theresa Russell)
The situation: Subtitle says it all.
The relationship: Psychology professor becomes infatuated with an erotic American free spirit. Estranged from her Czech husband, she indulges in binges and one night stands while he chases her around Vienna. Constantly rejecting him physically and being rejected emotionally, she becomes more unstable.
Most romantic moment: Roeg cutting between Milena's orgasm and her tracheotomy. Gross!
Celebrity couple counterparts: Jodie Foster and John Hinkley with an afro.
Happy ending?: Instead of rushing her to the hospital after a suicide attempt, he takes sick advantage of her comatose body. Mulleted cop Harvey Keitel has something to say about it.
The message: Nothing quite says I love you like obsession, necrophilia and Art Garfunkel.
See also: Insignificance, Betrayal, Castaway (1986), Whore, Bitter Moon, Damage.
terrence malick, 1973
The lovers: Kit Carruthers (Martin Sheen) and Holly Sargis (Sissy Spacek)
The situation: Killing spree couple.
The relationship: The tagline sums it up nicely: "He was 25 years old. He combed his hair like James Dean. She was 15. She took music lessons and could twirl a baton. For a while they lived together in a tree house. In 1959, she watched while he killed a lot of people." An improbable set of outlaw lovers before criminal couples on the road became its own trendy subgenre.
Most romantic moment: Kit offers to one day buy Holly a big, thick steak. She doesn't want a steak, but it's clearly the sweetest thing he's ever said to anyone.
Celebrity couple counterparts: Charlie Starkweather and Carol Ann Fugate, whose cross country death trip the film is loosely based on.
Happy ending?: Although Kit says, "Nobody's coming out of this thing happy, especially not us," he does get the notoriety he was after, she's grown faster in a few weeks than most women do in several years. She's had life experience, and it only took a handful of murders.
The message: Crime doesn't pay. Sideburns and freckles are sexy.
See also: Bonnie and Clyde, The Honeymoon Killers, Dillinger, Thieves Like Us, True Romance, The Frighteners.
kar-wai wong, 1997
The lovers: Lai (Tony Leung) and Ho (Leslie Cheung)
The situation: Relationship's end.
The relationship: Lai tries to tame his precocious philanderer boyfriend Ho. It's hard to tell what you want more: Ho to stop screwing around, or Lai to accept him for who he is. Actually what you'll probably want most is less footage of waterfalls.
Most romantic moment: A tango in the kitchen.
Celebrity couple counterparts: Ellen Degeneres and that two-timing Anne Heche.
Happy ending?: Despite what the title may lead one to believe, these two aren't content to be around each other. Lai goes off with another man, Chang, to find himself.
The message: Turns out that lonely people are all the same.
See also: Fox and His Friends, The Blind Girl and the Dog, Days of Being Wild, In the Mood for Love, Unknown Pleasures.
fatih akin, 2004
The lovers: Cahit (Birol Unuel) and Sibel (Sibel Kekilli)
The situation: Self-destructive sympathizers.
The relationship: To gain freedom from her oppressive Turkish family, a club-hopping party girl makes a deal with a violent, suicidal alcoholic to get married so she can move out of the house.
Most romantic moment: After realizing he may actually love her, Cahit responds to a joke his wife makes about having kids by saying, "You want to?" Not picking up on his genuineness, she laughs.
Celebrity couple counterparts: Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen.
Happy ending?: A sad yet healthy one. After he spends time in prison for manslaughter and she goes through a horrific life of binge drinking and assault, they reunite as better people and finally have a real honeymoon. But they were never good for each other - and she knows it, leaving him at the bus stop.
The message: Two fucked up people do not cancel out each other's bad qualities. This movie kind of makes you hate love.
See also: Faces, Sid and Nancy, Breaking the Waves, Distant, Irreversible, 5 x 2.
THE MUSIC LOVERS
ken russell, 1970
The lovers: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (Richard Chamberlain) and Nina Milyukova (Glenda Jackson)
The situation: 19th century sham marriage.
The relationship: Tortured Russian composer Tchaikovsky, a maniacal egotist and self-deluding homosexual, marries nymphomaniac Nina based almost solely on an admiring letter she sends him. Unable to write good music or deal with her crazed affection and disgustingly opportunistic mother, he soon abandons her in St Petersburg for life in luxury at the country mansion of a wealthy benefactor.
Most romantic moment: Drunk and amorous in a train carriage, Nina grapples pathetically at her unreceptive new husband until she passes out stark naked on the floor. Trust me, that's as romantic as it gets.
Celebrity couple counterparts: Obviously, Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes (minus the genius aspect.)
Happy ending?: After being whored out by her mother and driven insane, Jackson's Nina gives herself over to the filthy denizens of a madhouse while Chamberlain's Tchaikovsky dies of cholera at age 53. So... not really.
The message: Narcissistic artists and nymphomaniacs should probably steer clear of any relationships.
See also: Women in Love, The Rainbow, Pandemonium, Tchaikovsky's "First Piano Concerto."
park chan-wook, 2003
The lovers: Oh (Min-sik Choi) and Mi-do (Hye-jeong Kang)
The situation: Mystery pairing.
The relationship: Having been locked away in isolation for 15 years, Oh seeks vengeance on the man who imprisoned him with the help of young Mi-do, who shares a strange bond with him.
Most romantic moment: Watching him in raw octopus-eating squallor, she almost magically falls in love.
Celebrity couple counterparts: Mackenzie and John Phillips.
Happy ending?: Absolutely - Oh is reunited with his daughter!
The message: Ignorance is bliss.
See also: Lolita, Chinatown, The Sweet Hereafter, "Fear Factor."
PIERROT LE FOU
jean-luc godard, 1965
The lovers: Ferdinand "Pierrot" Griffon (Jean Paul Belmondo) and Marianne Renoir (Anna Karina)
The situation: New wave romantics.
The relationship: Bored with his humdrum family life, Ferdinand absconds with babysitter Marianne (who calls him "Pierrot") for life on the road. The pair come under fire from gangsters, gas station attendents and an ominous midget.
Most romantic moment: She writes a beautiful poem about him. He tells her that she bores him to death.
Celebrity couple counterparts: The carefree Billy Bob Thornton and Angelina Jolie.
Happy ending?: She betrays him, he shoots her and in a fit of passion kills himself by strapping dynamite across his head. It may not be happy, but it's pretty awesome.
The message: "I'm glad I don't like spinach, because if I did then I would eat it, and I can't stand the stuff."
See also: Breathless, A Woman is a Woman, Jules and Jim, Lovers on the Bridge, Simple Men.
a SHORT FILM about LOVE
kryzsztof kieslowski, 1988
The (non)lovers: Madga (Grazyna Szapslowska) and Tomek (Olaf Lubaszenk)
The situation: Voyeuristic fixation.
The relationship: Young postal worker Tomek spies on promiscuous thirty-something artist Magda, who lives across the street. When she discovers his peeping, she becomes cruel and manipulative.
Most romantic moment: After she humiliates him, he opens his wrists, draining the blood into a basin.
Celebrity couple counterparts: Me and Eva Green.
Happy ending?: Uncertain of his fate, the tables turn and Madga becomes the stalker. The final poignant scene is of her finally tracking him to the post office, where he smiles and tells her "I'm not peeping on you anymore." Closure!
The message: Infatuation is a covetous pseudo-love.
See also: Peeping Tom, Les Mistons, Rushmore, She Reminds Me of a Cannoli.
alfred hitchcock, 1958
The lovers: Detective Scottie Ferguson (Jimmy Stewart), Madeleine Elster (Kim Novak) and Judy Barton (Kim Novak)
The situation: Acrophobic necrophilia.
The relationship: Boy meets girl. Girl commits suicide. Boy meets another girl. Boy tries to turn second girl into first girl, unaware that second girl was first girl all along. Deception, spousal murder and trippy Saul Bass dream sequences ensue, supplying Brian De Palma with years worth of aesthetic references.
Most romantic moment: "If I let you change me, will that do it? If I do what you tell me, will you love me? All right. All right then, I'll do it. I don't care about me anymore."
Celebrity couple counterparts: Elton John and Marilyn Monroe/Princess Diana.
Happy ending?: Decidedly not. In getting her to confess to the nefarious plot of her employer, Stewart sends Novak careening off the same ledge he had been duped into believing she fell from originally. The girl dies, the villain wins, but at least it makes for a nice circular storyline.
The message: Let it be.
See also: Spellbound, Obsession, Body Double, High Anxiety.
~ FEBRUARY 10, 2010 ~