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Romantic/erotic films that tell the truth


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I've been enjoying being a part of this conversation. I've been working though the top 100 Spiritually Significant, though I must admit I have gotten bogged down at the Decalogue. blink.gif

What I'm trying to get some insight into is dramatic representations of real human love between a man and woman. Most romances require the viewer to disregard reality, substituting wishful thinking and ignoring consequences. Sleepless in Seattle comes to mind without thinking hard. Deliberately erotic movies skip consequences in favor of titillation. The good ones have a reputation, but I can't tell on what the reputation is based. Romeo and Juliet, by Wm Shakespeare, has the reputation, but excellence of writing may obscure the strangeness of the plot--though the plot is nearly universal. West Side Story might make it. I would probably want to exclude Titanic, because I don't know if it tells the truth about love and human hearts. Great movie in many respects, otherwise.

Steve Martin's Shop Girl, which I haven't yet seen, looks promising. "Hurt now or hurt later," when everyone involved is not forthcoming. Late Marriage is very erotically edgy, but seems to tell the truth about lovers in which one doesn't have the backbone to do what he must do. Moonstruck with Cher ought to make the list.

So I've got Shopgirl, Late Marriage, Moonstruck, maybe Romeo and Juliet and maybe West Side Story. Maybe Forrest Gump. Any contributions, anyone?

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I've been enjoying being a part of this conversation.

Welcome!

I've been working though the top 100 Spiritually Significant, though I must admit I have gotten bogged down at the Decalogue.  blink.gif

Ten hours is a bit daunting, no doubt. When I first started in on the series, I watched 2 or 3 and they just weren't working for me. Came at it again some time later, I think it was #4 that hooked me, watched a couple more. Then this past summer I started again at the beginning and carried through to #8, and they really grabbed me: in fact, it surprised me that the first one hadn't done much for me first time around. Timing, or familiarity, or?....

What I'm trying to get some insight into is dramatic representations of real human love between a man and woman.  Most romances require the viewer to disregard reality, substituting wishful thinking and ignoring consequences....

Surprisingly tough challenge.

The most satisfying answer I've come up with would have to be SAY ANYTHING. The love story is central, and the film is completely concerned with the issue of truthfulness in the context of relationships. An immense favourite.

ITALIAN FOR BEGINNERS tells several inter-related love stories with a Dogme-style naturalism that lends a great deal of frankness to the stories: it feels like real life. Also has a spiritual thread, which is nice.

Which puts me in mind of THE MAN WITHOUT A PAST. Also European, also less than glossy. Not just about a love affair, but the relationship between the central character and a woman who's a Salvation Army officer is a very important element, and struck me as being very un-sentimentalized. Again a bit of a faith angle there, as well.

And then there's a high school favourite of mine, which I'm a bit embarassed to bring forward, but which - because of who I was when I saw it - will always seem to me the quintessential romance story. JEREMY (1973), which I don't think anyone but me has ever seen. The story of a young cellist who falls in love with the new girl in school, a dancer. I won't pretend to speak objectively about a movie I had a childhood crush on, but Leonard Maltin does call it "poignant and real" on the DVD cover, so maybe it fits your criteria? It's utterly romantic, goes straight for the emotions, yet it's surprisingly low key and at times sombre. Sure felt true to how life and romance felt for me when I was sixteen. (Won a prize at Cannes, and a Golden Globe nomination, for what that's worth.).

I've posted a couple hundred of my Soul Food Movies write-ups at letterboxd

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I would suggest Mi Familia My Family. Jimmy and his wife have an authentic relationship with a powerful love scene in it of marital sexuality.

Denny

Since 1995 we have authored a commentary on film, cinema in focus. Though we enjoy cinema as an art form, our interests lie not so much in reviewing a film as in beginning a conversation about the social and spiritual values presented. We, therefore, often rate a film higher or lower due to its message rather than its quality of acting or film-making.

Cinema In Focus Website

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What a good note. I don't think I've seen any of them.

Mainstream movies sometimes do tell the emotional truth. Among film buffs, appreciating mainstream movies seems transgressive. Well, here's to hot dogs and soda. Here are some where the people Fall In Love, inside a context of movie fluff.

One of your movies reminded me of Guys and Dolls. Does anyone think Guys and Dolls tells the truth about matters of the heart--albeit in a musical comedy? Women of God DO fall in love with gangsters, and "gangstas" too. And guys keep girls waiting at the altar forever and a day. Frank Sinatra's character finds an unexpected tenderness and humility when love hits. I'd give it 2 stars (out of four) on the "truth with love" scale, because everything works out happily in the end, and we know that these couples would face a hard road.

Shrek might get a good 3 stars, as a "truth with love" story.

My wife loved the movie "Interlude" in 1968, which isn't out on video. The theme song was covered and became an Alternative hit in the early nineties, I think. I think it's a remake of Intermezzo, featuring a mature conductor, a beautiful young thing who catches his eye, and his beautiful wife his own age, and the infidelities that come about. I would give it 1/2 star on the truth with love scale, based on the plot.

Funny Girl. Barbra and Omar. Fame, fortune, breaking hearts, vice leading to the natural results of vice, but real love in fallible people. 2.5 stars.

Great moviemaking and truth with love, in a messy situation: Dr. Zhivago. My first 4 stars.

3 stars: The Incredibles. Giving up herodom for the ones we love. Facing temptations to adultery without flinching, and faithfulness under misunderstanding. Wonderful.

Edited by Bruce C Meyer
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Just a couple off the top of my head...

Fassbinder's Ali: Fear Eats the Soul is one of the more honest and uncompromising romance-themed films I have seen. It deals with themes of racism, interracial relationships, and age difference (the featured couple is composed of an older German woman and a much younger immigrant man). Although this may not sound like an ideal setup for a typical romance, Fassbinder handles the erotocism beautifully and doesn't flinch away from sadness and pain, which only makes the love seem that much more palpable.

Another uncompromising romance is David Gordon Green's All the Real Girls. I can't do justice to it with a little blurb, but suffice it to say that it is an entirely heartfelt and honest look at the awkwardness of love. And yes, I cried.

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Shadowlands?

Definitely Shadowlands. The true story is especially good because Lewis entered into the relationship with minimal romantic interest, and moved to being cut to the heart by the matters of life and death with the one he loves. Tells the truth about commitment vs attraction, growth of love, love's transforming power, the reality of death and grief that love only heightens but a love that is also the only thing that makes grief meaningful.

I haven't seen On Golden Pond. Any comments on the truth of real love there?

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While it still requires you to disregard reality, it is doing so for the sake of exploring the truth about love, I think:

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Not erotic, but fun and romantic. I guess its romantic. It is hard to say something is romantic when it is brutally honest about love, as the pain can overshadow the romance. But ain't that the truth?

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While it still requires you to disregard reality, it is doing so for the sake of exploring the truth about love, I think:

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Not erotic, but fun and romantic.  I guess its romantic.  It is hard to say something is romantic when it is brutally honest about love, as the pain can overshadow the romance.  But ain't that the truth?

Ahhh...oh yes. I was thinking of Eternal Sunshine/SM earlier.

What I'm thinking of here--emotional truth. Documentaries don't always tell the emotional truth, because reality doesn't always yield to a realist filmmaking style. I wouldn't particularly look to Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, or Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf for the truth about love. Or anything by Henry Miller or Hemingway or Steinbeck. Maybe we could include Death of a Salesman, for telling the truth of love shattered by weak character in a hostile environment. D/S doesn't make you want to get married, but is a cautionary tale that rings true, at some level.

Sometimes reality is low key and one happy resolution after another, good character in a flourishing environment. Think of It's A Wonderful Life--which I think is a good 3.5 stars here -- raising kids who love you and a faithful wife who stays in love. Ok forget about the mean old banker, and the midlife crisis that drives the plot. But even the midlife crisis sans Clarence shows the reality of a life lived in a community rich in love. To George, the richest man in town! Many, most, small towns have at least one man like that.

I got the phrase 'emotional truth' from the Sundance Festival's Special Jury Prizes for Emotional Truth, which they awarded to David Gordon Green's "All The Real Girls" and A. Dean Bell's "What Alice Found." We had one recommendation for All the Real Girls here. (Anyone seen What Alice Found?) Emotional truth can coexist with suspension of disbelief, as in (maybe) Guys and Dolls and The Incredibles.

Are there any celebrated erotic movies that really tell the truth? Except for Late Marriage, and maybe--maybe!--The Piano, I don't know any. (But see other postings.) Is there anything you could play for mixed up married couples to portray the truth about love, sex, marriage and life, that doesn't reduce to inane trivialities or mere technique or wishful thinking? For EITHER inspiration OR a cautionary tale.

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Just off the top of my head:

High Fidelity, Closer, Girl With a Pearl Earring, Chloe in the Afternoon, Claire's Knee.

Each one has a touch of the romantic and subtle touch of eroticism (High Fidelity is not erotic).

...the kind of film criticism we do. We are talking about life, and more than that the possibility of abundant life." -M.Leary

"Dad, how does she move in mysterious ways?"" -- Jude (my 5-year-old, after listening to Mysterious Ways)

[once upon a time known here as asher]

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Another uncompromising romance is David Gordon Green's All the Real Girls.

Great call. In America has that one scene towards the end in which the kids are sent upstairs for awhile so that the parents can have some "alone time." Whenever this question is asked, I instantly think of this rather erotic scene.

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

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Well, since you used the word "erotic" . . .

The sex scene between Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie in Don't Look Back is almost without precedent. They play a husband and wife who are struggling to recover from the tragic death of a child. The sex scene is long and relatively explicit, but what makes it so wonderful is that Roeg cuts between the sex and later shots of them getting dressed. The juxtaposition creates a domestic intimacy that rings incredibly true to my experience of marriage. I really can't think of another scene like it.

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The "Heaven Over The Marshes" scene in Barbarian Invasions is particularly memorable, I recall that Stef made some great comments on it in the thread on that film.

Other than that, this would be a great place to bring up Eyes Wide Shut, that film seems to basically encompass the point of this thread.

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

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It certainly isn't a "love story" or anything like that. So I suppose it may not belong in this thread. And it is fairly anti-romantic, so I guess that strikes it from the list as well. However, it is a film that has erotic elements that specifically point the audience to a series of revelations about voyeurism, film, sex, and marriage. And that final scene (even the final words of the film) speaks volumes about the nature of marriage and fidelity.

So feel free to disregard it, and I will suggest The Secret Lives of Dentists in its place.

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

Filmwell | Twitter

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It certainly isn't a "love story" or anything like that. So I suppose it may not belong in this thread. And it is fairly anti-romantic, so I guess that strikes it from the list as well. However, it is a film that has erotic elements that specifically point the audience to a series of revelations about voyeurism, film, sex, and marriage. And that final scene (even the final words of the film) speaks volumes about the nature of marriage and fidelity.

So feel free to disregard it, and I will suggest The Secret Lives of Dentists in its place.

A rule of thumb I'm using is, "Would an asexual space alien learn something about how human love works in reality," encompassing adolescent attraction, good people doing wrong things because of passion, marriages breaking up because of realistic reasons with the accompanying fallout, accounts of the upside of failed love, allowing for erotic representations.

I'm excluding harsh realism that just hates love and hates people; dehumanizing sex; eroticism for a marketing tool; fluent storytelling that (nonetheless) just doesn't understand how love and sex work.

By these rules of thumb, how does Eyes Wide Shut measure up?

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Link to J. Robert Parks's review of Solomon and Gaenor, a little Romeo & Juliet story of a Jewish boy and a Welsh girl in 1911. It might fall under "good people doing wrong things because of passion," though Roger Ebert says:

: it is hard to overlook the folly of the characters. Does it count as a tragedy when the characters get more or less what they were asking for?

There is this difference between the growth of some human beings and that of others: in the one case it is a continuous dying, in the other a continuous resurrection. (George MacDonald, The Princess and Curdie)

Isn't narrative structure enough of an ideology for art? (Greg Wright)

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Bruce:

By your rules of thumb, I would say Eyes Wide Shut qualifies; I think it is safe to say that it's a film that some might/have labelled as hating love and people and/or using sex as a marketing tool. I disagree with that assessment, but it's out there, I think.

Peace.

Ken

I watched Eyes Wide Shut today. There's no whitewashing of the fact that following one's dreams or lusts or wandering desires is consequence-full. There's also a close linking of eroticism with romantic love, i.e., sex taken apart from romance will destroy the romance in the vine. Fool around and kill your marriage. And there's a possibility of redemption, and there's no hint of flippant demands of forgiveness. And in the end, Kidman's character knows that maybe, just maybe, their love can be alive, maybe for a long, long time, and that they need to quickly return to giving themselves to each other, to recement the relationship.

EWS is pretty much to the heart of this thread. Solid 3 stars on the telling the truth about love and romance.

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Bruce C Meyer wrote:

: And in the end, Kidman's character knows that maybe, just maybe, their love can be

: alive, maybe for a long, long time, and that they need to quickly return to giving

: themselves to each other, to recement the relationship.

Whoa! You make the ending sound way, way more positive than it is. "We need to f---" -- and the way she says it -- point to something more subversive and ambivalent in Kubrick's mind. This ISN'T about "giving themselves to each other", this is about GETTING something from each other -- or, more to the point, Kidman getting something from Cruise.

It's kind of like how 2001: A Space Odyssey makes the point that all our wondrous technology, and the adventures it makes possible, stem from our ancestors' need to bash each other's brains in. Look a little closer, look below the surface, and you'll see it isn't as positive as it might first appear.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Bruce C Meyer wrote:

: And in the end, Kidman's character knows that maybe, just maybe, their love can be

: alive, maybe for a long, long time, and that they need to quickly return to giving

: themselves to each other, to recement the relationship.

Whoa!  You make the ending sound way, way more positive than it is.  "We need to f---" -- and the way she says it -- point to something more subversive and ambivalent in Kubrick's mind.  This ISN'T about "giving themselves to each other", this is about GETTING something from each other -- or, more to the point, Kidman getting something from Cruise.

It's kind of like how 2001: A Space Odyssey makes the point that all our wondrous technology, and the adventures it makes possible, stem from our ancestors' need to bash each other's brains in.  Look a little closer, look below the surface, and you'll see it isn't as positive as it might first appear.

I can grant this much, that I expanded, by way of paraphrase, Kidman's lines. Her line was, "We need to f---." The end. So what's this mean?

Making love is never--as far as I can tell--asymmetric (only getting or only giving). Sex slavery is, prostitution is, pathological dominance is. But the Cruise/Kidman characters are on the edge of totally losing hope, with Cruise blithely saying "...forever"--oblivious to the harsh realities, hope against hope perhaps; and Kidman saying that "forever" scares her. She wants--hope triumphing over her hurt and tears--that maybe, possibly, they can look at the past day as a bump on the road of life, that one day does not a life make; and that maybe they can define their life together not by their unfaithfulness of a day, real or imagined, but by a hard-fought return to each other. AND THEN, "There is one more thing we must do"--

--We are getting back on the horse after we've been thrown--

"We need to f---." When a couple is first married, after they sign the papers, and have a party, it's appropriate to remember, There's one more thing we need to do to get this thing underway: we need to consummate the relationship. IN CONTEXT, seeing her tears, her desire for an "us" and not separate "you" and "me," that's an eminently reasonable (i.e., the right) interpretation.

Of course, subtle matters of the heart can yeild up contradictory interpretations. That's my reasoning, not my mere wishful thinking. Honestly, I wasn't expecting to find anything positive there at all, so that makes me even more persuaded that this is the right interpretation. I was expecting a neo-Clockwork Orange.

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I can't read your posts anymore without chuckling, Ken.

AND THEN, "There is one more thing we must do"--

I agree with your general take on the ending Bruce, and like to think of it in the context of this great fragment from Ken's review: "It seems to me what the movie is trying to say is that what is really being suppressed in Alice is her conscience. Like all things we try to suppress, it manifests itself in the subconscious (her dream). The title Eyes Wide Shut and Alice's final speech draw our attention to the question of whether the imaginative fantasy world is consequential to our emotional and spiritual well being, or only the daily carnal world."

That sums it up well, though there is another layer or two we could toss in there. I appreciate her final words in the film as a serious albeit ribald indication of her renewed sense of commitment to their marriage. She signals her re-orientation in terms of fantasy and reality in saying this to him, heading straight for the jugular of the benefits of marital fidelity. It smacks of the sort of jocular intimacy that happens between two people that trust each other, which certainly wasn't the case earlier on in the storyline.

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

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Hi Bruce (and listeners):

Enjoyed your thoughts on EWS.

Here's a link to my review of the film.

It strikes me as a little tentative in retrospect, but I was working at a very conservative institution at the time, and I was already growing weary of the "better to have a millstone around your neck and get thrown in the ocean than be responsible for getting someone who doesn't know any better accidentally addicted to porn because he read your review and decided to watch the film" responses.

Peace.

Ken

Ken, I read your review, and I think you got it right. I also think your meditations on Christians and nudity and art are worthwhile. I'm an older generation guy, former boy scout and early adopter of artistic postmodernism, which means my heart is with hymns and sexual modesty, and my artistic sensibilities are with Kubrick and company. Which is to say, I think you've got a good mix yourself.

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Hi Bruce (and listeners):

Enjoyed your thoughts on EWS.

Here's a link to my review of the film.

It strikes me as a little tentative in retrospect, but I was working at a very conservative institution at the time, and I was already growing weary of the "better to have a millstone around your neck and get thrown in the ocean than be responsible for getting someone who doesn't know any better accidentally addicted to porn because he read your review and decided to watch the film" responses.

Peace.

Ken

Thanks Ken. I've been in the camp of the speakers--if not exactly imposing this burden on others, I would on myself. Now I'm of the mind that "being careful" is overrated. Judaism and Christianity have given to the world the gift of modesty in dress and demeanor. That's really good and important. And, God clearly HAS restricted our freedom in matters of lust of the flesh, lust of the eye, and the pride of life. No, I'm not going to specify what to "don't look, don't touch." That being said, we have the freedom to drive our boat any way we want inside the navigational beacons, as Alan Jackson might say. We can give up our freedom for the mistaken idea that if we don't do anything, we won't cause anyone to stumble. I'm of the opinion that there is nothing more beautiful in the material world than the feminine form. Does that free me to watch Debbie Does Dallas? I don't think so! Art films? Well, yes. Transgressing my conscience under the excuse of watching art films? Not at all.

One of my friends and I use to say, "I guess I just have to go by faith here. Next thing you know, we're going to have to do EVERYTHING by faith."

Bruce

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