When Baz Luhrman took Romeo and Juliet and created his 1996 adaptation, there was a reason why he set the story in a modern day city of Verona Beach whilst keeping the language true to Shakespeare. He updated everything but the language.
He did this because the story of Romeo & Juliet; rivalry, tragedy, and that desperate need to do anything for love- these themes are timeless.
We have a great interest in love; it’s everywhere. Used in advertising, as the core of movies and novels, the source behind great poetry and music and art- love is something people try to capture in every format.
As a writer, I find the use of love in films and writing endlessly fascinating, so here’s a run down of what I think are interesting takes on what love is or can be, in fiction.
Girl with a pearl earring.
A fictional take on the creation of Dutch artist Vermeer’s famous painting, this film looks at the relationship with artist and subject when the temperamental Vermeer decides to paint his maid.
It doesn’t fall into the usual clichéd traps of maid and master/ social boundaries/ adultery, but instead touches upon the yearnings people feel. A touch. A look. An understanding. This is a slow paced film, and it’s full of the nuances and intricacies of what love can be- potential never acted upon fully, and never truly realised.
Everything happens and yet nothing does, all in the pursuit of this masterpiece.
Just after breaking the scene with Brokeback Mountain, this 2007 Ang Lee feature is described as an erotic espionage thriller and, despite winning numerous accolades and awards, was heavily censored in China with many of the scenes containing violence, nudity, and sex cut.
Set both in Hong Kong and Shanghai, this film of two parts, 1938 and 1942 respectively, follows a young university student as she grows from a shy and fairly shielded girl into a hardhearted agent groomed to assassinate a high ranking member of the puppet government (controlled by the Imperial Japanese Army at the time.)
She is introduced to the elusive Mr Yee by being placed under his nose with the orders to seduce him, which she successfully does. What follows however is less clear. We learn more about Mr Yee through his actions, although never his words; with our seductress, the same- we are never truly sure how either them feel until the very end of the film. The cathartic moment comes when Mr Yee produces a beautiful (and damn expensive) ring just when our student has lured him into a trap. This is the moment where feelings of love, lust, more or less (they’re anybody’s guess) are forced to mean something.
Based on a 1970’s novella, the film eludes to so much more than the source material which is a real punch in the gut and I wouldn’t recommend reading beforehand…
The Painted Veil.
God. The book will stab you in the heart. The movie will stab you in the heart.
Set in the 1920’s, the story follows Kitty; London socialite, spoilt, scandalous. She’s also beautiful and so bedazzles our counterpart protagonist Walter Fane- who is a serious, intelligent doctor who specialises in bacteria.
When he proposes she accepts, even though she finds him dull, to get away from her mother more than anything. He’s happy. She’s not.
She embarks on an affair with a married man, and Walter finds out. Actually, Walter literally catches them in the act, if we’re being totally accurate, and is forced to understand that his perfect wife is far from it.
He then offers Kitty a choice; he’s going to a remote part of China to try and do good as there’s been a malaria outbreak and she can either join him, or accept a divorce based on her adultery.
Reluctantly she goes. As you can imagine, for someone who likes dressing pretty and attending parties; being in the middle of nowhere, with no company, and no luxuries is a pretty grim wake up call. She grows up quickly.
She forces herself to make the most of her time there; volunteering in an orphanage and talking to those she would have once seen as below her. She begins to learn more about her husband too; he’s actually kind, gentle, caring. All things which he was before but she didn’t see. Didn’t want to see.
In this new light, an affection between the two begins to grow.
It’s a delicate, realistic love story in that all that is good between them has to be found like gold panned through gravel.
And like so much in life; nothing is assured. You will probably cry.
A very long engagement. (Un long dimanche de fiançailles.)
Both the book and the film are incredible.
Set in WWI this is the story of Mathilde and her missing, presumed dead, fiancé Manech.
Now even though she’s been told that he is not coming back, Mathilde refuses to believe that Manech is truly dead- he’s been her best friend since childhood, her first and her only anything, and her other half. She would know if he was dead.
So, she decides to find him.
In the choppy, manic narrative which follows, we find out when Manech was last seen alive by fellow comrades who Mathilde manages to hunt down. And we learn that he was, along with fout other prisoners, thrown into no-mans land for cowardice. The film follows all of their stories; and discovers lovers, corruption, kindness and closure along the way.
It’s a wonderful story and the aspect of love is what drives this film. Mathilde doesn’t feel that Manech is dead. She doesn’t feel it. And her belief is so strong that you, as an audience, don’t doubt it for a second either- even when all of the evidence says otherwise.
As a French book and a French film, the ending- although not happy- is full of a wistfulness and a hope that you just don’t find elsewhere.