Thursday, February 16, 2012

Valentine's Day Hangover by Stephanie Huettner

Stephanie Huettner has been a popular contributor to CineRobot's tops lists the past few years [and in the comment fields under the name Rumblefish], but starting today she's going to have a monthly column for whatever cinematic subject she wants to discuss. I'm excited to see what she will write about in the future months. First up--Valentine's Day. 

We can all breathe easy, for another Valentine’s Day has passed. I’ve never been a fan of this parade of gooey emotions, often going out of my way to dodge Cupid’s arrow. I’m just not in to that kind of rose petal romance. As such, I’ve very rarely been inclined to swoon for traditional romance films. I like movies that take a good, hard, honest look at love and all of its pitfalls. Here are a few of my favorite unromantic love stories.

Great Expectations (1946, 1998)
Like many of Dickens’s famous tales, this one has undergone numerous cinematic treatments. The two that jump out most notably to me are David Lean’s 1946 version and Alfonso Cuaron’s 1998 modern-day take. There are multiple love stories gone bad within this world. The one which has become shorthand for unrequited love in modern culture is Ms. Havisham, the bride left at the altar. She lives, literally, in the ruins of her wedding day (Dickens wasn’t known for his subtlety) laid out in a decaying old mansion. She brings the young hero, Pip, to her mansion to play with her beautiful young ward, Estella. Havisham grooms Estella from an early age to lure men in to love her, but to feel nothing herself. In this way, she thinks, will she be avenged for being scorned on her wedding day. Lean’s version is traditional, but oh so very dark. It’s creepy, ominous lighting and haunting visuals earned it the Academy Award for Best Cinematography. Cuaron’s version, set in Florida in the late 1990s, isn’t without its flaws, but does have the great Anne Bancroft playing the role of Havisham. She takes it all the way to crazy town and then some. The film also possesses a magical romanticism in the early scenes between Finn (instead of Pip) and Estella, which makes it all the more tragic when this beautiful facade comes crashing down around them. As our modern-day Havisham croaks ruefully when her callous plot has come to fruition: “Ain’t love grand.”

The Piano Teacher (2002)
Isabelle Huppert gave a breakthrough performance as Erika, the titular character, in this dark drama about the sexual fantasies of a repressed woman and one of her students (Benoit Magimel). Those familiar with the work of Michael Haneke (The White Ribbon, both versions of Funny Games) will know to mentally prepare for what is to come. And yet, no matter how many of his movies you’ve seen, they never get any easier to deal with. While Erika’s advances are actually returned by the student, this doesn’t lead to any personal breakthroughs or triumphs. In fact, it has the opposite effect. This was the first movie I ever borrowed from David Nofire (known as Vern Snackwell on CineRobot). When I returned it to him, I had taped a review snippet on the front of the box which read “A great date movie!” This is true only if you want that date to be your last.

Audition (1999)
Takashi Miike’s infamous film is about a widower who is trying to move on with his life as he prepares for the departure of his only child. The man is convinced by a film producer friend to hold a fake audition for a film in order to meet a potential new wife. He is fascinated by one woman in particular, and the two begin dating. What follows is over an hour of sweet romance, followed by one of the most disturbing blood baths in modern cinema.

What’s Love Got to Do With It (1993)
This film tells the true story of Ike and Tina Turner, whose long-term personal and professional relationship was anything but a fairy tale romance. This is probably one of the most notorious show business “love stories” of the 20th century. Ike and Tina rose to fame together, both extraordinarily talented and charismatic. Unfortunately, their personal life was shattered by Ike’s inability to control his temper or his fists. They eventually separated, and Tina was able to maintain a solo career. Angela Bassett should have picked up an Oscar (she was nominated) for her stellar performance as Tina, and Laurence Fishburne (also Oscar-nominated) is a fair match as Ike. What to take away from this film but the idea that we are better off not depending on another person to make our dreams come true. What’s love got to do with it? What’s love, but a second-hand emotion?

He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not
This delightfully twisted tale of love and obsession came out just after actress Audrey Tautou hit the international scene in Amelie, winning the hearts of film lovers the world over as the Parisian pixie. It was thus brilliantly marketed as a quirky romantic comedy with Tautou once more as its charming lead. The film opens with shots of pretty roses of all hues, Tautou emerging out of them, face aglow. She is wildly in love with a doctor (Samuel Le Bihan) and is sending him a rose to commemorate the first anniversary of their meeting. What it looks like and actually is are two very different things. It gradually becomes clear that the loving relationship she thinks they have may be something entirely different. Even if you predict some of the twists and turns that He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not takes, it’s still a pretty sweet ride.

Well, sweethearts, I hope these cinematic treats aren’t too hard to swallow. As Liz Lemon likes to say: “Happy Valentine’s Day, no one!”


hidden staircase said...

ah, audition! fond memories of discovering the talents of takeshi miike at the SIFF (Seattle) screening that year with joshua at the cinerama. no, i did not turn my head and remember vividly a long still with a body part resting way up in the right corner of the screen while the 'action' was taking place in the far lower left. takeshi's super long camera shots are beautiful. a super dark, creepy but beautiful film which i do not intend to ever watch again. amazing, but once was enough!

hidden staircase said...

sorry! hope that isn't too much of a spoiler!

Joshua Blevins Peck said...

I agree with you on all five of these choices! Some are more "fun" to watch for various reasons, but all provide a different take on romance and love quite a bit opposite of what you'll see in the current release THE VOW or ONE FOR THE MONEY.

Joshua Blevins Peck said...

Staircase: No more than a spoiler than is in the trailer--so I will allow it, ha.

We saw AUDITION at the Cinerama! Best theatre in Seattle. We saw it with a group of people and I seem to recall the majority did not like it--although a few of them had no idea what was about to be sprung on them...they were in for a wild ride.

hidden staircase said...

viewers were shocked at that one and i seem to recall hearing gasps! i do love the cinerama. now can get choco popcorn or a mix of choco and regular popcorn! i prefer a 2 regular to 1 choco ratio!

Rumblefish said...

I should note that in Cuaron's
version of "Great Expectations" the character of Havisham is called "Ms. Dinsmore."

hidden staircase said...

i've been wanting to see this audrey tautou flick...thanks for the reminder!

also, i may check out the cuaron version of GE. the gyneth aspect always turned me off!

Rumblefish said...

After re-watching it for the article, my biggest issue is that the version of Estelle in this film is much nicer than in the book (a real problem for that story). Also, Gwyneth and Ethan were still in their mid-20s when they made this, but they look goofy playing teenagers, so get ready for that.