Category Archives: Romance

Love on the Run {Luca Guadagnino’s I Am Love}

Imagine a sunny day in the Italian countryside. Among wild flowers and a hazy line of mountains, hidden in the tall grass Tilda Swinton is naked and her nipples resemble the gooseberries that are growing around her. She and an Italian chef make passionate love in this languorous setting in Io Sono L’amore or I am Love (2009). In fact it is almost melodramatic to see their bodies – skin turning red with a sweaty pinkish glow in the sun and pores erupting into goosebumps while bees buzz and flowers bloom. Lest I sound like someone vying for the bad sex in fiction award, Luca Guadagnino, the director has made a very sensual film. Together with Tilda Swinton playing a Russian who is married to an Italian and speaks both languages here, I am Love delivers her passion for food…and love successfully onto the screen for us to savour and relish.

For it is a ‘yummy’ film for the eyes. And the ears. The lush opening sequence is set to a score by John Adams – and it recurs throughout and ends the film as well on a highly dramatic note. We enter Milan and the plush interiors of the Recchi family’s villa. Swinton’s Emma is a very attractive mother of three who seems comfortable in her environment and lovely clothes. Yet there is a constraint that we do not encounter till she meets her son’s friend Antonio – a chef in his father’s restaurant but looking out to start one of his own with his own experimental delicacies. Her break from the family towards an affair with Antonio, and her subsequent choice at the end may make people feel that the story is forced or flawed. But it represents the traditional Italian outlook towards family life (like in Godfather for example) and Emma’s digression – a break up of that system. Not just a system of family but also one of money and capital.

Being a fan of Italian filmmakers like Antonioni and Fellini and their fashionable alienation themes, I couldn’t help but to make a connection between Monica Vitti (L’Avventura, Il Deserto Rosso) and Swinton – though this seems like a very disparate comparison.  The similarity I find lies in the quest and longing for something more vibrant beyond the rich Italian society of their characters. This dynamism enters Emma’s life in the form of food and a person cooking it. A love that travels through the stomach and fills her to the brim wanting more. Yet is it but a strong physical attraction in the cliché setting of a younger man falling for an older woman? Probably. But Swinton is brilliant in making you feel for her loneliness and intense joy in her new-found life. She returns back to nature reborn and goes on to have fantastic sex in the wilderness. Whatever way you look at it, you might find it pretty tasty.

P.S: I’m not sure why story writers do not get Indian names right. Waris Ahluwalia who plays a Sikh man in the film is named Shai Kubelkian!

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Brighter than Sunshine

 

Somehow I have always seen Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) in the month of December. Huddled in the cold in a quilt, when I saw it for the first time three years ago it left me with a feeling of cuddly tearful warmth. More than that, it was such a high to decipher its screenplay and identify with all the characters. The quiet creative anti-social Joel of Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet’s Clementine as ‘just a fucked up girl looking for her peace of mind’ in Ugg boots, the infatuated pretty Mary of Kirsten Dunst, an annoying  Elijah Wood’s ‘Patrick baby boy’ or the attractive bespectacled Stan of Mark Ruffalo. So I saw it again within a span of a few days. No film before that had left me with that tremendous feeling of having found something that was as yet intangible and unexplainable.

And you get that from everybody who has seen it. They will have that look on their face and you just understand. Yes, I know what you mean. Yet, each of us relate and engage with it personally. Why would this film have such an effect otherwise? Charlie Kaufman wrote the screenplay after he broke up with his girlfriend and it’s amusing to think about that every time up until today even when I saw it again after all these years on a rainy windswept cold winter’s day.

It’s difficult to make romantic cinema work. You either enter the cliché mushy territory that can leave you sick and disgusted. Or you enter the chick-flick zone which is another no-no (or only maybe very rarely). The Rom-coms haven’t gone a long way ever since When Harry met Sally (or at least I think so). Else there is always Woody Allen. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind really comes in like a ray of light with its unique meld of science-fiction, romance, melancholy and philosophy.  

So I remember the dialogues and recite them along.

Constantly talking isn’t necessarily communicating.

You know me, I’m impulsive

The operation is brain damage

My crotch is still here, just as you remembered it

My God, there’s people coming out of your butt.

Meet me in Montauk

The story and dialogues get a new life with Michel Gondry’s direction. I can see the visual tricks and the turns and Clementine’s changing hair colors that express her personality and stages of her relationship with Joel.  Just like her changing blue, green, orange and red hair – this film is also eternal because it means something different every time. Sometimes it is catharsis, sometimes it is longing.  The white snow at the end of the film falls like a clean slate. We fade out into the color of whitewash or even cold dew. We can feel its droplets condense to Beck’s soundtrack. Yes, I need your loving like the sunshine, everybody’s gotta learn sometime.

How happy is the blameless vestal’s lot! / The world forgetting, by the world forgot / Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind! / Each pray’r accepted, and each wish resign’d. – Alexander Pope

Happy New Year!


Romancing the Tragically Beautiful

Mohabbatein (2000)

Many a Hollywood and Bollywood romantic film has stuck to stereotypes. Either the audience can revel in these stereotypes as an escape into the life of characters and plots that they can fantasize about. Or discard them as over-the-top simplifications of an otherwise complicated life. In most cases, there is distinct sexism. We usually use the word “hero” for a Bollywood male character. The entire connotation, is that he is at the centre and everyone’s world revolves around him. Today, the form of the Hindi film may have changed but this standard stereotype still exists in the content subtly.

Or there is another kind of romantic drama – a tragic comedy, where no body stays together forever and the ending is open-ended. Their characters are more true to life, also more likable and identifiable….and to some extent aspirational.

I’m picking two films, for reasons being, that both bring out complexities of human relationships. They define the mysteriously tragic and comical ways of the heart, and still leave you with hope.

Sparsh (1980)

khaali pyaala, dhundla darpan (empty veseel, blurred mirror)


I saw Sai Paranjpaye’s Sparsh once again a few months ago. I saw it last as a student in college and it was a thoroughly moving experience then, if not greater now. No doubt Naseeruddin Shah as the blind headmaster of a children’s blind school is masterful, but so is equally Shabana Azmi as a woman in grief over the loss of her husband.

Both these characters want to step out of their loneliness but don’t know where to begin and how. Individually before they come across each other, they are almost self-sufficient in their pre-occupations – hers being music and his being his profession. But they come together, touched by something that each offers the other. At one point, Shabana’s character Kavita feels close to being selfish – in her quest to regain her happiness through the love of the children in the blind school where she begins volunteering. Is she being only pitiful? Or is there a genuine inspiration and love in her for the children and Naseeruddin’s character Aniruddh? And is Aniruddh being too harsh on himself and Kavita and letting go of a real chance at love?

I really appreciated these faults, the apprehensions on both sides, fears, complexes and baggage of the two leads. And it’s all coming together into something beautiful.

Manhattan (1979)
“I think people should mate for life, like pigeons or Catholics.”

Why is life worth living? Asks Woody Allen’s character in his film Manhattan.

This is one of my favorite Woody Allen films, it has the signature Woody characters, humour, monologues and conversations, and the ironies of love. The cityscape in black and white and the classical and Jazz musical score transport me into old world Hollywood, while watching a very contemporary story. In the above scene, after Issac’s monologue ends, his desire to meet Tracy who he has dumped, gives the scene an almost a fairy tale feeling….where he, the protagonist is seizing the moment, to get back what he lost in one last-ditch effort. And it’s the monologue in the opening of the film, that sets us for the rest of the story to an end that depends upon our imagination and point of view.

Issac: Chapter One. He was as tough and romantic as the city he loved. Beneath his black-rimmed glasses was the coiled sexual power of a jungle cat. I love this. New York was his town, and it always would be..

Diane Keaton’s Mary is pretentious, intelligent and confused. The brief appearance of Meryl Streep as Issac’s lesbian ex-wife is hilarious. And one of the most touching scenes – Issac with his young son in a restaurant on their day out in the city of New York. Issac is disillusioned with his television writing job, his best friend doesn’t mind cheating his wife for Mary, a snobbish art journalist. This to my mind, leaves the very young Tracy as the only character, pure in her intentions and passions in the bustling metropolis.

And to end, here’s a song by Julie Delpy and Nouvelle Vague from her film 2 days in Paris! A wonderful directorial début after her roles in Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise/Before Sunset….films I have seen repeatedly, and never tire of.

“I want to stay for a while…until it’s time to let go.”


Ray of Light {Eric Rohmer’s The Green Ray}

I had been planning to watch Eric Rohmer’s films for a long time. His recent death, and then reading about his films and life only spurned me on more. So I decided to watch Le Rayon Vert or The Green Ray (1986).

Being my first Rohmer, and having nothing of his previous or subsequent work to compare with, it was a virgin territory for exploration. And it was a wonderful exploration of the inner workings of a woman’s mind, loneliness and beating it, idealism and a sense of dejection or hopelessness with life. Rohmer depicts all this in a style which is beautifully slow-paced as its central character Delphine deals with her emptiness.

Delphine is a secretary in Paris all set to spend several weeks vacationing. But having been ditched by her girlfriend for the trip, is forced to go alone. Only to return, leave again and come back again. Her complicated relationship with a guy (who we never see but is somewhere in the mountains) keeps haunting her, she is unable to stay amidst company for long, and yet does not want to be alone. She longs for a new connection with someone, and cannot stand her female friends telling her that she needs to “take action and go out and find a man.” She says, “I find what you say… just talk.”

With all the dilemmas of not being able to find a suitable partner, Delphine encounters instances of hidden forces at play. Why does she find different cards from a pack lying in her way, whether in Paris or a sea resort? Rohmer weaves the natural tribulations of life with magic very well here.

And magic, she does find at the end. I love the way Rohmer depicts complicated emotions so simply, eloquently. I listened to Delphine’s monologues and identified with her. As a viewer you enter her life and feel her loneliness whether she walks along the sea, sunbathes on crowded beaches by herself or walks around mountain ridges. At the end, you are left with a feeling to believe in – as Jack Kerouac puts – “the holy contour of life.”

I picked up this quote of Eric Rohmer from one of his obits – “Art is a reflection of our time. But isn’t it also an antidote?”

There is no better film than Le Rayon Vert as an antidote.


Boy, She’s got you High {Marc Webb’s (500) days of summer}

2009_500_days_of_summer_wallpaper_004

You could say I’m going commercial/romantic on this blog as I write about Marc Webb’s (500) days of summer, but as the tagline of the film says – “This is not a love story. This is a story about love.” And how I enjoyed it. I laughed, nodded, felt sad and hummed all the way through.

It’s a lovely film, about well – your boy meets girl variety, but told in a way, that is probably the best way you think about your own love stories. Back and forth – through the good times and the bad….and the unknown present. The soundtrack goes hand in hand with the story, and is a pleasure.

Love is a fantasy, Love is a lie, Love is fate, Love is suffering…….themes that are woven extremely well in this narrative, without being mushy, but funny, and without taking away the depths of every emotion. I also appreciated the homage to Bergman with the hilarious sequence of Tom watching himself on-screen in a theatre in a Bergman film like The Seventh Seal where he’s playing chess with Cupid! At this moment we know how down and out he is, broken-hearted over his break-up with Summer, but can’t help but laugh at this sadness that makes all of us mull and wallow over the losses of love in darkness. Marc Webb takes us through the highs/lows, expectations/realities of love very effectively leaving us with that eternal yearn for that perfect balance.

I also thought that the setting of Tom’s job in the greeting card company could not have been better. A lovely metaphor for the ever-searching outlet of expression – that has always been utilized by us.

This is a story about Tom and Summer, how they meet, and how they part ways. I realized how each one of us are a Summer and a Tom at one time or another.

And we wait for Autumn, and Winter too, and Spring. So cheers to Love – whatever it may mean!

Whats this about? I figured love would shine through
We’ve lost romance this world has turned so see through
Open your mind, believe it’s going to come to
Romance alive and hope

(She’s got you high by Mumm-Ra)