Now that it’s Valentine’s Day, many singles might be searching for a film that expresses the holiday’s spirit.
Cinema can be a cathartic medium, a temporary escape from the conundrums of daily life. Three of the best romantic films from film history are L’Atlante, Ali: Fear Eats the Soul and In the Mood for Love.
Jean Vigo’s masterpiece, L’Atlante (1934), explores the tribulations that are part of all relationships. The story begins with the marriage of barge captain Jean and a villager named Juliette.
They embark on their married life together on Jean’s ship, L’Atlante, the name of a Greek goddess who, according to the dictionary, signifies “being very swift of foot; refused to marry unless the suitor should defeat her in a race.” The ship is populated by eccentric sailor Le pere Jules, a cabin boy and a coterie of cats.
Soon bored by the pedantic life at sea, Juliette secretly slips off ship to explore the exciting city of Paris. Jean angrily discovers she is gone and arbitrarily leaves without her.
The name of the ship is clearly a metaphor for this dramatic action. The film ends with the lovers happily reunited, however Vigo alludes to viewers that this will not be their last quarrel.
In the most tasteful love making scene I have witnessed, Vigo uses parallel (cutting back and forth between simultaneously occurring actions in different spaces) and accelerated (shots which are progressively shortened in length) montage between Jean and Juliette as they dream about each other when they are painfully separated.
Early on in the film, Juliette tells Jean that when she opens her eyes underwater, she could see her lover, “I saw you before I met you.” When Jean realizes his mistake of abandoning Juliette, he submerges his head into the frigid waters of the canal to witness a superimposed image of Juliette swimming up to him.
In the traditional, close-minded world of 1970s Germany, a 60-year-old native widow and a 40-year-old Moroccan garbage mechanic are simply not an acceptable couple. Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974) is a powerful story of intolerance and isolation. Emmi Kurowski, a lonely building cleaner, stops off at a dingy bar on her way home from work one day. The insolent bartender goads one of the patrons, Ali to dance with her.
Although separated by superficial characteristics, they like each other and their relationship grows. Simply being together incurs the wraith of the social establishment.
They are refused service at the grocers, the neighbor’s gossip and complain about them, a waiter at a restaurant provides poor service, and are mocked just for walking down the street together.
Enough is enough and they take a hiatus from the racist community on a vacation. When they return, Fassbinder makes a satirical stand as he shows that when the community treats them more favorably, it is out of selfish, needy financial concern.
The discrimination takes its toll on their relationship. Emmi begins wishing Ali could be more German, and Ali takes up drinking as he misses his homeland. The bittersweet ending depicts Emmi caring for Ali, who has succumbed to an ulcer, providing the work with its name. Fear, stress and worry eat at the soul.
In the Mood for Love, (2000) is a haunting film, one that will stay with you long after the film is over.
Set in Hong Kong in 1962, the film tells the story of Su Li-zhen and Chow Mo-wan played by Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung Chi Wai respectively.
Newspaper editor Chow Mo-wan and his wife move into an apartment across the hall from the voluptuous secretary Su Li-zhen and her husband.
It is soon discovered that our protagonist’s partners are unfaithful inciting their relationship to burgeon as they seek consolation in the adultery.
Sexual attraction mounts between them as they grapple with their partner’s infidelities and their feelings for each other. Despite their attempts at a chaste relationship, Chow asks Li-zhen to leave with him to Singapore ending the film with one of the most evocative images in recent cinema.
In the Mood for Love oozes with an atmosphere and tone of heartache. Under the bold style of director and writer Wong Kar Wai, the film expresses the sexual tension with a lush color scheme, slow motion and delicately composed shots.
Although not all appear in the film, Cheung wears a different seductive outfit in every scene. Wong Kar Wai creates fetishes of props such as handbags, ties, slippers and handkerchiefs to layer the film with sexual innuendos.
He also uses close ups of brief or near physical contact to allude to their sexual chemistry. The distance between Li-zhen and Mo-wan and their spouses is paralleled by Wong Kar Wai’s decision to place the spouses in off-screen space or to shoot them from behind.
This compositional metaphor allows us to subjectively feel their absence in their partner’s lives. An unforgettable violin-based score by Michael Galasso and Nat “King” Cole pulls at your heart and epitomizes feelings of abandonment and loss. These films are an essential part of any filmgoers’ appreciation of cinema or screenings of good love stories.
They explore the universal themes of lovers quarrels, social intolerance and heartache. This holiday season, singles should cozy up to a film classic and enjoy.
John Funk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.