“If you want to end your life, end it. You don’t have to kill yourself to do that.”
Some movie couples do not marry for love. Some marry for citizenship, others for tax breaks. Whatever the case, in time, he and she fall in love. They live happily ever after. The Fatih Akin film, Head-On, is not that kind of fairy tale.
Head-on tells the story of a good-for-nothing, middle-aged wino who makes a living by picking up bottles at a club and a frustrated young woman from a conservative Turkish family. Depressed and eager to escape, Sibel convinces Cahit to marry her.
It takes some cajoling and wrist-slitting, but Cahit reluctantly agrees. After all, she promises to help him share the cost of living and to tidy up his filthy residence.
After their extravagant, traditional wedding, Sibel keeps her promise and lives with Cahit, not as a wife, but as his roommate. Her married status removes her from her parents’ and brother’s watchful eyes. She darkens her make-up, wears more suggestive clothing, and goes home with whomever she pleases.
While they both sleep with others, Cahit’s other love affairs are merely a means for him to relieve tension and to express a startling new emotion: happiness. Sibel’s girly décor, cooking talent, and free-spirited nature bring out the best in Cahit, a gloomy, volatile creature.
Unfortunately, Cahit and Sibel are too similar for it to work. Cahit brings out Sibel’s repressed longings. And the result of this newfound freedom is nothing but pain.
Beyond having an unorthodox beginning, Cahir and Sibel’s sort-of romance is, despite the gradual feelings, a marriage of convenience. She cleans his apartment and he helps her “to live, to dance, to fuck.”
“If you’re thirsty, you should drink water,” Cahit’s friend advises him.
Cahit does not save Sibel from her self-destructive ways. Rather, he takes her from one bottomless pit to another. An arguably far worse one than the one she had tried to escape from by wedding him.
She gives him a second chance at love, but he in turn introduces her to drugs and partying. Soon the draw of sweaty nightclubs, powdery substances, and sexually attractive men becomes too much for Sibel.
Initially, Sibel and Cahit seemed as different as night and day. But really, they are almost the same person.
Cahit’s feelings seem real, but Sibel’s appear to be nothing more than a mixture of gratitude and friendly affection. Her greatest love and hatred is for herself.
Marrying Cahit, to run away from her problems, is like drinking alcohol instead of water when thirsty.
While there are some tender moments, I have yet to be convinced about the depth and reciprocity of their love.
In describing his musical compositions, the celebrated composer, Angelo Badalamenti, says, “My (musical) world is a little bit dark… a little bit off-center. I think of it as tragically beautiful. That is how I would describe what I love best: tragically beautiful.”
That’s exactly how I like my romance films: tragically beautiful.
While love stories with happy endings have their merit, the unfulfilled and heartbreaking onscreen romances are so much more fascinating and brave because they really explore the depths of human emotion and the complicated nature of love.
These intense films don’t shy away from the many unexpected ways that people deal with horrible sadness. An image that will stay with me forever is that of the French woman licking blood from her fists to remind her of her deceased love from “across the Rhine.”
I will also remember Heath Ledger’s reticent Ennis throwing up in a barn, literally sick with grief. Or a lonely female assassin sobbing and masturbating after the object of her affection tells her to forget him in Wong Kar Wai’s Fallen Angels.
While some may find these seemingly overwrought expressions of great sorrow off-putting, I find that they are sorely missing from the cinema. In trying to not alienate the audience, many filmmakers are selling their story short by not showing these less flattering portrayals of pining and grieving.
More mainstream and “uplifting” films seem to advocate that there is a certain right and wrong way to love, to mourn, and to heal. They also often overly simplify these things.
The cheerier films also carry that message that everything will be okay in the end. Sometimes it just can’t be okay. Or it can’t be okay for a while.
In Hiroshima Mon Amour, there is hope that the unnamed woman will get over her German soldier lover, but is it a matter of days, weeks, years? And how do his death and his enemy status affect her? Would his death have haunted her less if he had been a French boy? I would argue that the underlying guilt over her forbidden love and the vigor of youthful romance made a lasting impact on her.
These “tragically beautiful” movies tell you that it may not always work out, as well as really explore the pain that often comes with being in love.
You may wonder why I would want to saturate my brain with these sad stories. Isn’t life sad enough as is?
I think it’s refreshing to have these constant reminders of the fact that things in life may not always turn out the way you want them to.
Also, there really is a magnificent quality to these darker sides of romance. The intense emotions are rich material to work with. Actors can show their range and talent in tackling these challenging roles. Directors can take more artistic liberties in conveying these emotions. If done right, these tragic love stories are more than just tearjerkers (a la The Notebook).
“Like the sun and the moon, my love will never change.”
It probably seems that I will like any film as long as Asian people are in it. I do wonder at times if there is some truth to that. But I would like to argue that I have an affinity for movies from this part of the world because Asian directors do certain things really well. In particular, Asian filmmakers seem to be especially skilled at taking traditional art forms and weaving them into the narrative structure. One example would be the South Korean film, Chunhyang.
Chunhyang is a visually and aurally poetic film about the forbidden love between a young noble and a courtesan’s daughter. Defying social mores which dictate that people from different classes cannot marry, the teenage lovers wed in secret and spend one blissful year together. They are forced to separate when the young scholar is ordered by his father to leave for the capital city to pursue his studies, but he promises to return for his love after he passes his government exams.
The lovers’ tale is told through p’ansori, Korean traditional music that is part speech, part song. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, p’ansori is “a genre of narrative song of Korea, typically performed dramatically by a vocalist, accompanied by a puk (double-headed barrel drum)” (“P’ansori”).
Using this traditional art form, the film depicts the hardships that the young bride must endure– first heartbreak then a fight to maintain her loyalty to her husband.
The film alternates between scenes of the p’ansori performer belting out his tune to a twentieth century audience and scenes of ancient Korea. Much of the story emerges from this ancient form of storytelling. Though I have, in the past, pointed out that narration can hurt the flow of a film or make it less meaningful, I do not find this narration objectionable in any way.
This elegant narrative style works well because its energy matches the lovers’ youth and vitality. P’ansori compliments the story; it does not feel disruptive. The singing figuratively and literally describes what is happening in an intriguing, commanding way. There are also breaks in narration, which makes it less overwhelming.
Chunhyang is essentially a film that celebrates the oral tradition and its ability to preserve important aspects of culture, such as this enduring tale of devotion and true love.
I have provided two clips below. One clip is of a p’ansori performance. The other clip is a trailer for Chunhyang. Unfortunately, the subtitles are in French.
Image creates desire. You will what you imagine. — JC Gallimore
When I watch a movie, I want to have a sensuous experience. I want to taste what the onscreen characters taste, smell what they smell, and feel what they feel. I also want the visual cues to clue me in to what is happening, instead of being beaten over the head with unnecessary dialogue. Sadly, (most) stateside movies do not have this effect on me.
I find that many American films lack visual lushness. By visual lushness, I mean voluptuous shots of scenery, objects, and people that make them seem tangible.
While there are plenty of movies that capture the magnificence of things that are already deemed magnificent, not many movies take everyday items, like a spool of cloth or a telephone, and turn them into something rich, something beautiful.
Thankfully, I found my heart’s desire in foreign films.
Watch this clip and you’ll see what I mean.
I can really feel the wood banister when Su Li-Zhen runs her slender fingers over it.
I have also included a clip from the celebrated Chinese film, Ju Dou, a cinematic achievement that is so delightfully luxurious. This film is decidedly light in dialogue, but much is shown through the use of color and symbolism.
My quest for finding movies that engage all my senses usually take me back to one place: the foreign film aisle or the foreign film selection on Netflix. I constantly find that films from other parts of the world make great use of cinematography and lighting.
It is no wonder that foreign films are often shown at “arthouse” theaters. Foreign directors seem to have a clear artistic vision. Nothing is coincidence. Red dye, chopped purple onions, hazy sunlight—every detail is carefully planned and of consequence to the story. This attention to detail heightens my experience as a viewer.
Fiction writers are often instructed to show more than tell. This golden rule should also be applied to movies. It is one thing when a character says, “I can’t live without her” and something else when you know he can’t live without her from the look in his eyes and the way he smokes his cigarette. The beauty of the cinema is that so much can be revealed or expressed through the visuals. So why not play with lighting and color? Why not use different camera angles to convey the significance of an object or illuminate a particular aspect of the film?
Far too often, US films about romance lose their potency because there is more telling than showing. In thinking about how I would have redone The Notebook, I would have omitted some parts of James Garner’s narration. For instance, for the scene when he and Allie first met at the fair, he reads from the notebook, “They had nothing in common, but after seeing Allie that night, something inside Noah snapped.”
Perhaps Cassavetes and the screenwriters were being faithful to the novel, but successfully adapting a novel to the big screen involves careful consideration of how to make the story resonate. This scene would be more effective if the narration stopped at, “We met at a country fair…” Then the camera could pan back and forth between Noah’s admiring glances and Allie’s radiant face.
In contrast to the overt expressions of love in many Hollywood films, foreign films, such as In the Mood for Love, are much more subtle. You know that the two main characters love each other, but it is not because they say so.
Why is it so important that watching a movie be a sensory experience? I think it’s partly just who I am. When I read, I like lush prose. Similarly, when I go to the movies or enjoy a movie at home, I want it to appeal all my senses. While this is a personal preference, I also believe that my favorite types of movies, movies about star-crossed lovers, benefit from this visual style. What better way to communicate desire or any other kind of emotion than through gorgeous images?
How is showing, not telling applicable to these films? A major aspect of most star-crossed romances is that one or both of the lovers must suppress his or her true feelings. As the film characters must restrain from expressing themselves, the filmmakers must exercise restraint in their portrayals of passionate, but forbidden or troubled love stories.
Because they exhibit these qualities, foreign films speak to the dark romantic in me.
“Well… I guess I’ll see you around, huh?”
Brokeback Mountain has it all—beautiful cinematography, praiseworthy performances, sensitive direction, compelling story—I could go on forever. However, what sets it apart from other films is not its visual beauty or performances, but the director’s treatment of the most universal, but often mishandled topic: love.
Cinema romances of late are mostly fluff. All sex and nothing else. All talk and nothing else. I am itching for more movies that genuinely explore the power of love. I want to see real people emotion. I also want to believe that love prevails, even in death.
Here, there’s no girl throwing herself at her father’s feet screaming that she must be with her lover. There is, however, a man retching in an empty barn because he believes he’ll never see his greatest love again.
Ang Lee takes Annie Proulx’s short story turned screenplay and crafts it into a haunting, affecting love story. There is never a moment when the emotion feels excessive. The way that Ennis’s (Heath Ledger) face lights up when he sees his lover, Jack Twist’s truck pull up to his driveway is priceless. Equally worthy of comment is his wife’s stricken expression when she catches him and Jack kissing passionately.
Lee artfully combines just the right amount of emotion with dialogue to convey the anguish of two people who know that they can never be together. Brokeback Mountain also contains one of 21st century cinema’s best love scenes, scenes that are both tender and urgent.
In the hands of another director this unique and poignant tale could have been easily transformed into a sappy mess. Lee’s skill with drama shines.
While other films deal with onscreen romances by throwing in a bunch of unnecessary and meaningless sex or Romeoesque professions of love, Brokeback shows restraint and compassion.
Furthermore, the love between Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist exemplifies true love, or at least, how I envision true love in my mind.
True love trait number one: It is not based purely on looks or lust. Sure, they are physically attracted to each other, but it all begins as a supportive friendship.
True love trait number two: It endures. Distance and marriage do not lessen their love for each other. If anything, being apart intensifies their feelings for the other person.
Because Brokeback features two men who are in love with each other, some feel that the film is advocating homosexuality. However, to me, Brokeback Mountain was not made to promote certain lifestyles or with a political agenda. Rather, it means to examine the intricacies of human emotion. It touchingly and effectively looks at love’s resilience and beauty.
Brokeback Mountain will stick with you, make you cry, and leave you aching for its star-crossed lovers and their wives.
“I’ll remember you as symbol of a lover’s forgetfulness.”
The place is Hiroshima and the time is 1959, fourteen years after a bomb left the city in ruins. A French woman comes to this part of Japan to star in a movie about peace and meets a Japanese man. They become lovers, lovers in a Hiroshima that appears to be okay, that does not look like it is still scarred and healing from the wreckage.
The opening sequence bombards the audience with startling scenes, sometimes hard to stomach, but impossible to look away from. Burned bodies, bleeding bodies are juxtaposed with perfect, sweat-drenched arms and legs. Two lovers entwined. Women in beautiful kimonos lying on hospital beds. And a little later, one is assaulted with the image of a young woman kissing her dead soldier lover, her mouth covered in his blood. What does it all mean?
The inhabitants of Hiroshima are now far-removed enough from the war and destruction to go to museums and look on their history, as if they never experienced it for themselves. Hiroshima is dotted with classy European-style hotels and other refined venues. The men and women walk about, gorgeously-outfitted, impeccably groomed. No one would know that a little over a decade ago, faces were burned beyond recognition, skin was slipping from backs, and streets were carpeted with debris.
It is in this place where suffering seems to be a thing of the past that the French woman and her Japanese lover embrace, caress, kiss, and talk. Though tender, there is also something feverish and desperate about their lovemaking. Outwardly, it seems that World War II is far behind them, but their conversation revolves around death and war. He only wants to discuss Nevers, where she is from, and the city that they are in now.
“You saw nothing in Hiroshima,” he says to her.
“How could I not have seen it?” She insists.
What did she not see? Destruction? Pain?
This strange and rather unromantic discussion continues until sunrise, when she leaves for work, to act.
Though they know that they will have to inevitably part ways in sixteen hours, the pair clings to each other, making the best of what little time they have. After they meet for a second time, he takes her to a fashionable tea house, and it is here that she reveals the cause of her torment.
She was eighteen in Nevers, living with her parents, when she met and fell in love with “the enemy,” a German soldier. He died, leaving her mad with grief. As a sign of mourning, she shaved her head and let the whole city know about her forbidden romance. This scandal caused her father to lose his business and brought shame upon her entire family.
Return to the present. Walking the streets of Hiroshima alone, the French woman observes that Hiroshima is “tailor-made for love. “ It is vibrant with lights, an Eiffel Tower-like structure looms in the back, and the streets are bustling with activity at early dawn. But Hiroshima is not just a city for romance. It is a place to heal.
Hiroshima, so hurt and traumatized like the French woman, is, ironically, what will make her come to terms with her sadness and to move on. The Japanese man acts as an agent to help her find inner peace. He forces her to relive what’s so painful in order to recover, even slapping her to bring her to the present and awaken her to reality. His attempts to exorcize her demon allow her to reflect upon her life in the years after the end of the war and to see what she must do in order to overcome her anguish.
In the climatic bathroom scene, she drenches her face in a washbasin and thinks about the cause of her pain and what led her to Hiroshima. Her internal monologue reveals that she and her German lover planned on running away to Bavaria together, but when she came to meet him, he had been shot and was already dying. She languished away in a state of near insanity, until one day, when she noticed the warmth of her body and that she was, unfortunately, still alive. At her mother’s urging, she left her hometown for Paris and heard upon her arrival of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings.
Now looking at her reflection, the woman realizes that she had come to Hiroshima, which will be remembered forever as a place of mass destruction, hoping that it would reunite her with the past and keep her from forgetting. She wanted to be in a place that reminded of death and to embark on another affair because this would bring her closer to the man she had loved and lost. With this realization, this self-knowledge, she becomes free.
The movie ends with her telling her lover, “Hi-ro-shi-ma. That is your name.”
To which he responds, “Your name is Nevers. Nevers in France.”
While this film is called, Hiroshima Mon Amour, it is not so much a love story as a story about grief, memory and reconciliation. Hiroshima represents what the woman should strive to become, a survivor. Though many lives were lost or devastated, this Japanese city still managed to rise from the ashes and to move forward.
The woman tries to forget her fallen lover, telling him in her mind, “I consign you to oblivion.” She dismisses their relationship as a “dime store romance” and calls herself a “silly girl.” But the key to recovery is not to forget, but to accept the past and go on with her life. She learns this from Hiroshima.
“If you’re a bird I’m a bird.” (awwww *rolls eyes*)
The Notebook has been hailed by moviegoers, both male and female, as one of the most romantic and moving films of recent years and given the thumbs up by the czar of movie reviews, Roger Ebert. Still, I never considered watching it because I was turned off by its mainstream appeal.
It had none of the qualities I desire–zany couples, seemingly unromantic circumstances, and a hint of darkness. Instead, this film is laden with all the trappings of a stereotypical tearjerker. He can’t be with her because she lives in a mansion and he has dirty nails. Boo hoo hoo.
But yes, it is the story of star-crossed lovers, and I saw it on sale at Target… I decided to give it a try, thinking that this would be a case of when a stellar cast saved an unoriginal plot. Sadly, I was wrong.
A masterful storyteller makes the same old story interesting and new. This cannot be said for The Notebook.
Instead of invoking empathy, James Garner’s chronological narration reminds more of a voiceover for a History Channel program. “And then, they fell in love. And then, he joined the military.” Not in those exact words, but that’s how it felt to me.
And though Ryan Gosling is an undeniably talented actor, I like him much better as a villain than a Romeo. I usually like dark, brooding types, but Gosling creeps me out more than intrigues….something about those manic expressions… I learned from IMDB that Gosling wore brown color contacts because Garner has brown eyes, but changing the color of his eyes cannot help to rid them of that devlish gleam, better suited to rakes, murderers, and psychopaths.
Just the fact that Nick Cassavetes calls this the worst film that he directed says a lot.
I was similarly not moved by another Sparks’ novel movie adaptation, A Walk to Remember. I’m still not sure if the saccharine storylines didn’t do it for me or if it was the directors’ interpretations of these tragic love stories that did it. In either case, Nights in Rodanthe is not on my to-see list.