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Love & Sex 2006: The Ecstasy and the Agony

February 8, 2006, 12:00 am
By
Movies to make you think twice about giving your heart away.


Ah, love. Ah. Paris in the springtime, roses in June, a kiss is still a kiss, two drifters off to see the world-so frilly and harmless it seems, initially, this flower-bedecked lane leading to insanity-or, as a colleague once put it, "the velvet-upholstered road to hell."

The Screener has always found her own cynical take on non-cinematic romance best summarized by one of Dr. Ian Malcolm's asides in, yes, Jurassic Park II. As assorted folk gaze raptly at large carnivorous reptiles, Jeff Goldblum says darkly under his breath: "Ooh! Aah! That's how it always starts. Then later there's the running, and the screaming…"

The following films were culled from a recent soggy breakup's worth of big-budget wallowing.

If agony be the end of love, play on!


***image5***Roman Holiday (1953)
Directed by William Wyler
With Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn

Love hurts: As Princess Ann (Hepburn) and journalist Joe Bradley (Peck), irrevocably separated by centuries of class and lack of same, exchange their tearful but wordless goodbyes, your then-wee reviewer waited confidently for the next scene-the one in which Joe surely follows her back to the Grand Duchy of Wherever to say, "I can't live without you"-only to see, abruptly emblazoned across the screen: THE END.
 
Most excruciating moment: When the once-hardbitten Peck stands behind velvet ropes, crushed in with all the other gentlemen of the press, unable to speak for emotion, his eyes shining as he looks his last upon the woman he loves…oh yes, there will be tears.


***image2***The Children's Hour (1961)
Directed by William Wyler

Based on the play by Lillian Hellman
With Audrey Hepburn, Shirley MacLaine and James Garner

Love hurts: If you're not down on love already, boy howdy you will be after viewing this little number. Two women who run a boarding school are accused by a malicious student of the revolting practice of…that is, they have…no, I can't, it's just too horrible for words! No one ever utters the word "lesbian" but, once the supposedly false accusation spreads, the school's shut down and Hep's white-lace wedding with old Maverick called off, it becomes clear that Shirley MacLaine is in fact one of…you know, she's a…she does have unnatural feelings, and for her best friend Karen! While Martha's striking herself and wailing about how sick and dirty she feels, you start to feel rather ill yourself; and as everything spirals down into its grim denouement, you're almost forced to conclude that love should never dare speak its name, period.

Most excruciating moment: A brilliantly paced sequence of Hepburn strolling outside, realizing something is wrong inside the house, walking toward it, walking faster, breaking into a run-it's absolutely hair-raising, especially if you lean toward the interpretation that, post-James Garner, Karen might just be warming up to that unnatural idea….


***image7***Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf (1966)
Directed by Mike Nichols
Based on the play by Edward Albee
With Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, George Segal and Sandy Dennis

Love hurts: Fresh-faced new faculty member Segal and his naïve bride go to George and Martha's house for "an after-party party" that turns into hellish hours of intellectual vivisection; the horrified looks on their innocent young faces are pretty much duplicated on the audience's as we're forced to watch dipsomaniacs Burton and Taylor verbally love-tap each other to death in their diabolically convoluted, mutually sadistic game of martial marital malice. Amidst scathing dialogue that at its best is reminiscent of Beckett or Pinter, and even at its worst is like the moment when Zozobra's head finally explodes, gleam razor-edged gems like, "I swear, if you existed, I'd divorce you."

Most excruciating moment: Toward the end of the film, Burton's professor abruptly plays a very high-stakes card, causing Taylor to crumple and fall toward the floor, gasping, "You cannot do that! You can't decide these things for yourself! I will not let you!"


***image4***Out of Africa (1985)
Directed by Sidney Pollack
Based on the book by Isak Dinesen
With Meryl Streep and Robert Redford

Love hurts: As with The Amityville Horror, it makes Out of Africa all the more wrenching to know that Karen Blixen and Denys Finch-Hatton really existed, and it all played out as tragically as it's depicted in Pollack's golden-hued paean to the art of losing. For the film to work, though, you have to switch off the anti-colonialism detector in your brain, because otherwise its casual imperialistic thoughtlessness will set your teeth on edge. If the story pulls you in, though, you'll be sniffling long before Streep quotes AE Housman with a quavery voice at an African graveside.

Most excruciating moment: As they're dancing in the empty plantation house, the coffee farm lost and all Blixen's boxes packed to go back to Denmark, Finch-Hatton finally says to the Baroness, hoarsely, almost angrily, what he's refused to admit for most of the film: "You've ruined it for me, you know…being alone."


***image6***Sense and Sensibility (1995)
Directed by Ang Lee
Written by Emma Thompson, based on the novel by Jane Austen
With Emma Thompson, Hugh Grant, Kate Winslet and Alan Rickman

Love hurts: Technically this really isn't an agony film, because it does, after all, end well for everyone involved (except James Willoughby, but he was rather a rotter anyway). But we include it here for some key scenes of anguish and despair. And, it has a brilliant script that will distract you completely from your own severed limbs for the duration of the film. The Dashwood sisters are typical Austen heroines, impecunious but clean, thrifty and reverent; and they both have the misfortune to fall in love with men who turn out to be unavailable and unobtainable. So why can't they fall out of love with them? Oh, Jane-it is our sad duty to report that after two centuries and roughly squillions of novels, we still haven't figured it out.

Most excruciating moment: A tie between the scene when Elinor, being criticized by Marianne for being emotionless, suddenly turns on her younger sister, striking her chest with her fist and demanding vehemently, "What do you know of my heart?"-and the one in which Hugh Grant's character makes an abrupt reappearance and declaration, whereupon Elinor bursts into startling, loud, harsh sobs as her tightly coiled self-control finally unravels.


***image1***The Bridges of Madison County (1995)
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Based on the novel by Robert James Waller
With Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep

Love hurts: Stay with me, here. First off, the film is ineffably better than the weedy Nicholas-Sparks-esque "novel" on which it's based, mostly because of the desperate chemistry between an openly aging Eastwood and Streep. Eastwood's Robert Kincaid is another ersatz golden boy with a receding hairline whose solo adventures are beginning to resemble avoidance rather than reckless daring. Streep is stolid and tragic as Francesca, the transplanted Italian housewife whose sense of duty is so integral she can't allow herself the luxury of happiness with her lover. If you don't find it heartbreaking when Eastwood stands in the rain watching her leave, his thinning hair plastered to his scalp, an almost childish expression of bewildered devastation on his face, you're practically inhuman.

Most excruciating scene: The traffic light is red. Streep's hand tightens around the car door handle. Her husband speaks to her obliviously, not noticing that she is in tears and writhing in pain, horribly torn. The light turns green. Eastwood's truck doesn't move. The husband honks his horn, confused. And just as Streep's hand involuntarily begins to open the door-


***image3***The English Patient (1996)
Directed by Anthony Minghella
Based on the novel by Michael Ondaatje
With Ralph Fiennes, Kristin Scott Thomas, Juliette Binoche and Naveen Andrews

Love hurts: In case you've been living in the Cave of Swimmers for the last decade, Binoche plays World War II nurse Hana, who cares for a heavily scarred and amnesiac burn victim (Fiennes) known only as "the English patient"; but Hana grows increasingly curious about his story, which we see in flashback. Fiennes and Scott Thomas are luminously ruined, totally undone by their incendiary adulterous love affair, completely blistering and believable.

Most excruciating moment: Fiennes, exhausted and half-dead from exposure and thirst, stumbles toward the desk of bored Allied officers, pleading, "A woman is dying-my wife! Is dying 70 miles from here!-" only to be deemed Teutonic, thwacked on the head and dragged out of the way of other, more important bureaucratic tasks.

 

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