Star Cross'd Lovers on Curzon12
Our tribute to Star-crossed Lovers: Curzon12's monthly theme
We call it mad love. The French have a far more lyrical term: amour fou. Tales of obsessive love have been a mainstay of fiction for centuries, ranging from Romeo and Juliet to Cathy and Heathcliff, and Wiktor and Zula in simmering new release Cold War. Cinema has always played a pivotal role, as the latest Curzon12 selection explores (and it's free for Curzon members to stream!)
Doomed love is the perfect platform for film to expose heightened emotions and passions that know no bounds. Mainstream cinema might hold up the doomed love of Jack and Rose in James Cameron’s Titanic as the exemplar of the great cinematic romance. There’s also Scarlett and Rhett in Gone with the Wind (1939), Rick and Ilsa in Casablanca (1942), and Lara and Yuri in Doctor Zhivago (1965). But look deeper and you’ll find stranger romances in cinema’s past that tell a far stranger story. Henry Hathaway’s lesser known 1935 drama Peter Ibbetson, a film beloved by the Surrealists, found Gary Cooper and Ann Harding playing childhood friends who are separated, meet decades later and fall in love. But she is married to a wealthy businessman. A series of incidents find the lovers physically separated once again, but this time they have found a way to be together: in their dreams. It’s a strange, intoxicating film. And one that Lars von Trier, the filmmaker behind Antichrist (2009) might probably like. His film begins with the death of a child and the grieving couple, played with visceral intensity by Charlotte Gainsbourg and Willem Dafoe, taking refuge in a cabin deep in a remote forest. That’s when their problems really begin. Strange forces push them to increasingly perverse acts. Von Trier’s film is terrifying for the way it explores the unhealthy side of intense, all-consuming passion.
Wuthering Heights is another, albeit slightly more conventional, take on a passionate relationship that edges towards cruelty. It has been made for the screen numerous times, featuring Merle Oberon and Orson Welles (1939), Anna Calder-Marshall and Timothy Dalton (1970), Juliette Binoche and Ralph Fiennes (1992), and Charlotte Riley and Tom Hardy (2009). Andrea Arnold’s 2011 adaptation – arguably the most divisive of all the screen versions – emphasises the landscape as much as its two protagonists (played by Kaya Scodelario and James Howson). It’s a film where you ‘feel’ the coarseness of daily life on the Yorkshire moors. The romance, likewise, is equally rough. And its turbulence reflects the climate, as it beats down upon all forms of life in this unforgiving place. Arnold’s world is one of dank, swirling mists, earthy language and foraging by her and Emily Brönte’s characters for the best that their life can offer.
Goodbye First Love (2011), the second feature by Mia Hansen-Løve, was a marked shift from her moving family drama Father of My Children (2009). It followed in the tradition of amour fou tales in French cinema that date back to the heartbreakingly beautiful Pépé le moko (1937), Julien Duvuvier’s rhapsodic account of a love affair between a young French woman and Jean Gabin’s eponymous master criminal, who hides from the law in the labyrinthine streets of Algiers’ Casbah. Hansen-Løve’s film has parallels with a more recent – and hugely popular – tale of mad love: Jean-Jacques Beineix’s Betty Blue (1986). Béatrice Dalle became an icon through her performance and the film’s poster ranks alongside the various version of Alberto Korda’s iconic Che Guevara portrait as the image that has most adorned the walls of student digs. Dalle’s equivalent in Goodbye First Love is played by Lola Créton, a preternaturally gifted young actor who invests everything in her portrayal of a young teenage who falls in love, only to have her heart broken. It’s an extraordinarily intense performance.
Hester Collyer, the broken-hearted spurned lover at the heart of Terrence Rattigan’s play adaptation The Deep Blue Sea offers a distinctly British perspective on a love affair that breaks societal conventions. It may not appear as intense as the French films, or von Trier’s twisted universe. But don’t be fooled by outward appearances. Hester is being torn apart. In Terrence Davies’ immaculate screen adaptation, she is impressively portrayed by Rachel Weisz, an actor skilled in conveying a raging torrent of feeling beneath a brittle veneer of respectability and composure. Davies, a virtuoso filmmaker skilfully adept at evoking life in Britain’s recent past, is the perfect director to adapt Rattigan’s post-WWII play, losing none of its cultural nuances or emotional power.
Louis Malle’s The Lovers (1958) and François Truffaut’s The Soft Skin make up the remaining titles in this Curzon12 selection. The former was shocking for its time – an account of an extra-marital affair in which a couple break with the conventions imposed by their world, thus risking everything they have. Likewise, an affair in Truffaut’s searing drama has tragic repercussions for all affected by it. As with each of these films, Truffaut’s drama gives us a taste of the illicit – the thrill of being swept up by a tsunami of emotions – but manages to keep enough distance to hint at just how destructive these feelings can be.