Love Makes the World Go 'Round
By D. Scott ApelLove. Amour. Amore. Liebe. Karlek, laska, lyubof, agape. By any name, love makes the world go 'round.
The language of love is indeed international. While Valentine's Day may be a uniquely American holiday, love claims no such national boundaries. And what's more heartwarming -- or more universal -- than a good romantic movie? A hefty jolt of "reel love" will make our heads spin ... and make the world reel around a little longer; a little more convinced of the power of love.
Video empowers us to borrow Cupid's wings and soar around the world in search of love -- or at least in search of some of the world's greatest romantic movies. We've chosen the most soft-hearted and sentimental films available on video from a number of movie-producing countries around the world: virtually every one a world-class film. All are in the original language of the country of origin, with subtitles, unless noted.
So let these cassettes give your heart wings, and fly with us around the globe to witness one of these "foreign affairs":
SWEDEN: My Life As A Dog (1987; Paramount; rated PG; 101 mins.) From the land of Bergman and six-month winters comes this art-house favorite about an 11-year-old boy trying to come to terms with major changes in his life ... changes that include a terminally ill mother, and his first love, a tomboy who doesn't want people to know she's a girl. A touching, quirky film, filled with humor and humanity.
SCOTLAND: Gregory's Girl (1981; Embassy Home Entertainment; rated PG; 99 mins.) Director Bill Forsyth (Local Hero) won a British Academy Award for this charming tale of young love. Teenage Gregory, smitten with a classmate who has replaced him on the soccer team, awkwardly tries to romance the girl. A sweet and touching bit of fluff about adolescent attitudes, embarrassments and pleasures. In English -- with accents that are a joy to hear.
ENGLAND: Romeo and Juliet (1968; Paramount; PG; 138 mins.) What's this? A movie directed by Italian director Franco Zeffirelli and starring Italian actress Olivia Hussey in a play set in Italy -- and we've listed it as a British film? Well, it is indeed a British production -- and don't forget, the Bard himself was English! This is a lavish, lush and lovely version of Shakespeare's tale of the star-crossed lovers, full of beautiful sets and -- naturally -- lovely language. (While many modern young lovers might have seen Leonardo Di Caprio and Clare Danes in Baz Luhrman's recent modern-day remake, don't miss the chance to see the timeless, tragic tale in its intended setting.)
FRANCE: It is to laugh, yes? Ha ha! Who could possibly choose one from among the dozens of romantic films from the country synonymous with amour? A partial list of recommended movies would include Hiroshima, Mon Amour, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Stolen Kisses, Jules and Jim, Claire's Knee and Cousin, Cousine (the original version of the American flick Cousins, starring Ted Danson and Isabella Rosellini). Other romantic classics from France include A Man and a Woman (1966; Warner; unrated; 102 mins.; dubbed), the tender story of a couple falling in love despite past tragedies; and Beauty and the Beast (1946; Embassy; unrated; 90 mins.), director Jean Cocteau's haunting, enchanting version of the fairy tale which illustrates that love is more than skin deep.
GERMANY: Sugarbaby (1985; Lorimar; R; 99 mins.) A romantic comedy from Germany? Are we kidding? Nope. This sweet treat tells the offbeat tale of a Reubenesque mortician's assistant with a passion for candy -- and for an innocent train conductor, whom she pursues and seduces with her twin skills. Cooking is the only one we can mention -- but the other is much more fun.
SPAIN: Carmen (1983; Media Home Entertainment; R; 102 mins.) Spain's premiere flamenco dancer stars as the director of a dance company staging a production of Bizet's Carmen. As rehearsals become more intense, he and his fiery leading lady are drawn more and more to each other and eventually find themselves living out the tragic story of seduction and treachery.
ITALY: Dark Eyes (1987; CBS/Fox; unrated; 118 mins.)This Oscar-nominee stars Marcello Mastroianni as a philandering Italian with a domineering but rich wife, who falls in love with a young Russian woman around the turn of the century. His search to find her and their heartache at parting are bittersweet irony at its best. A beautifully photographed film, full of lush countryside scenes and evocative music.
KENYA: Out of Africa (1985; MCA; PG; 158 mins.) Since there are so few films from any African nation available on video -- and since we could hardly overlook an entire continent on our "around the world with romance" voyage -- we've chosen the most romantic movie made on location in Africa. Meryl Streep, portraying writer Isak Dinesen, becomes involved in a romantic triangle which includes her insensitive husband and a dashing aviator played by Robert Redford. The script is engaging, and the near-infinite vistas of East Africa are breathtakingly filmed. Winner of seven Oscars, including best picture, director and cinematography.
RUSSIA: Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears (1980; RCA/Columbia; unrated; 152 mins.) This Oscar winner (Best Foreign Language Film) follows the gently humorous adventures of three young women sharing a room in Moscow in 1958, their romantic dreams, and the results of those dreams, two decades later. Slow-paced but original, with exceptional depth of characterization.
For the most romantic movie in Russia, look no further than Dr. Zhivago (1965; MGM/UA; unrated; 197 mins.), the epic of romance ripped apart by revolution, and a film full of the panoramic spectacle of Russian winter -- as well as the epic pain of the winter of the heart.
JAPAN: Irezumi (1983; Pacific Arts; unrated; 88 mins.) It's true; most of what comes out on video from Japan can be summed up in two words: Kurosawa and samurai. But this kinky little fable snuck through somehow. Irezumi is the strange tale of a woman who submits to the obsession of her mate, allowing herself to be tattooed over much of her body. Although a film of great beauty, it is not for the squeamish, nor for feminists, as much of the submissive erotic mysticism will be lost on Western viewers. What we do for love!
CHINA: Temptress Moon (1997; Miramax; R) Chen Kaige, director of Farewell, My Concubine, created this luscious export, an epic of love and betrayal, jealousy and seduction.
AUSTRALIA: Lonely Hearts (1981; Embassy; R; 95 mins.) A low-key, offbeat story about a middle-aged piano tuner and a 30-something virgin who meet through a dating service. Tragedies in their personal lives bring out their humanity and bring them closer together. A funny, gentle little film from Down Under.
BRAZIL: Gabriela (1983; MGM/UA; R; 102 mins.) Brazil's film industry consists mostly of the luscious Sonia Braga starring in one racy sex farce after another. But this one does have some bright points to recommend it. Marcello Mastroianni co-stars, for instance, as the owner of a bar for whom Braga is both cook and mistress. He's terrific as a traditional old worry-wart, and the chemistry between them is undeniable.
CANADA: Atlantic City (1981; Paramount; R; 104 mins.) Burt Lancaster plays an old gangster dreaming of past glories, and sexy Susan Sarandon, a casino worker dreaming of romantic futures. When they're thrown together as the result of a punk's soured drug deal, a wary, grateful, May-December romance is kindled. Great performances, a classic script and well-defined characters make this little film one of video's "buried treasures."
U.S.A.: Oh-oh ... Here comes that "French laughter" again. How do we pick a single film from among the hundreds of romances churned out by Hollywood over the last three generations? The Way We Were? Gone With The Wind? Boogie Nights? The only answer is to choose the one wonderful romance with which no one can argue:
Casablanca (1942; Warner; unrated; 102 mins.) "You must remember this: A kiss is just a kiss; a sigh is just a sigh. . ." "Play it, Sam. If she can take it, I can take it." "You wore blue. The Germans wore gray." "Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she has to walk into mine." "Go ahead, pull the trigger. You'd be doin' me a favor." "If you don't go with him, you'll regret it. Maybe not today, but soon, and for the rest of your life ..." "We'll always have Paris."
And as long as there are movies, we'll always have romantic movies. Happy Valentine's Day!
D. Scott Apel is the former video columnist for the San Jose (CA) Mercury News, and is author of the video guide Killer B's: The 237 Best Movies On Video You've (Probably) Never Seen.
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January 12, 1998