With Valentine’s Day approaching, you may be in the mood to rent good love story and curl up on the couch with your Valentine sweetie. Here are a few of my favorites:
1. Out of Africa [1985, director Sydney Pollack] is the story of real-life author Baroness Karen Blixen, who wrote under the name of Isak Dinesen. Meryl Streep plays Blixen, who, after marrying for convenience, moves to Kenya and runs a coffee plantation. There she meets and falls in love with the hunter-adventurer Denys Finch Hatton, played by Robert Redford. The beautiful cinematography contributes a great deal to this movie — Blixen was as much in love with Africa as she was with Denys — but the story is ultimately about the challenging love affair of these two people, and Blixen’s ultimate heartbreak.
2. The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex [1939, director Michael Curtiz]. Bette Davis is an aging and neurotic Queen Elizabeth I in this film and Errol Flynn plays the dashing young Robert Devereaux, Earl of Essex. Their love-hate relationship is complicated by political intrigues, court jealousies, and their personal limitations, and leads to its final tragic conclusion. I have to admit, this movie always makes me cry.
3. Not all love stories are sad ones, though, and Persuasion [1995, director Roger Mitchell] is just delightful. If you like Jane Austin stories (such as Pride and Prejudice,Emma, and Sense and Sensibility), you’ll love Persuasion. Anne Elliot had, eight years previously, rejected the proposal of a young naval office, on the bad advice of her family, who believed he had no financial prospects. There have been no better prospects in the meantime, and now Captain Wentworth is back, now with rank and money. What will happen now, I wonder?
If you know Jane Austin, you know there’s really no suspense at all to this movie. Of course the lovers will be reunited. Of course they will be happy. What I find particularly charming about this movie is that the main characters, played by Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds, are not fabulously attractive people whom anyone would be crazy not to love. They are quiet, somewhat shy individuals. Both have been disappointed, and both have acted somewhat improperly, but they are perfect for each other, and you can’t help but be happy that they’ve found each other.
4. The Return of Martin Guerre [1982, director Daniel Vigne] is set in a small village in 16th century France. Martin Guerre is a rather unpleasant young man who one day leaves his wife and his village to become a mercenary soldier. Some eight years later, he comes back a changed man — perhaps literally. He’s now a hard worker, a loving husband, a valuable member of his community. But is he really Martin Guerre?
This story was based on a true story of a 16th century legal case, and provides a fascinating view of life in a medieval village. The love between Martin Guerre and his wife Bertrande is obvious, and you really really want him to be the real thing. The movie stars Gerard Depardieu and Nathalie Baye. (An 1993 American remake, Sommersby, starred Richard Gere and Jodie Foster, and is in my opinion not as good a movie.)
5. The Last of the Mohicans [1992, director Michael Mann] is the story of a young frontiersman, Hawkeye, raised by Indians, and his love for Cora Munro, the daughter of a British officer. It’s also the story of the creation of a new nation, and of the blood and sweat that went into it.
I particularly like this movie for its portrayal of the hard, practical realities of the life these people were facing. These lovers aren’t starry-eyed children, but adults fully aware of the gritty realities of the life they lead. Daniel Day-Lewis and Madeleine Stowe play Hawkeye and Cora. The cinematography is particularly breath-taking in this film, and the incredible soundtrack is one of the best things about the movie.
6. Lili [1953, director Charles Walters] is a relatively short film, charming but also rather strange. Leslie Caron plays the 16-year-old waif, Lili, who joins a carnival and falls in love with an embittered puppeteer, played by Mel Ferrer. Along the way Lili sings with the puppets, dances in a fantasy ballet, and learns about life. The puppeteer is able to express through his puppets what he cannot say directly, and ultimately the story has a happy ending.
7. Gorillas in the Mist [1988, director Michael Apted] is a different kind of love story. It stars Sigourney Weaver as Dian Fossey, the real-life amateur scientist who researched and publicized the plight of the vanishing mountain gorillas in Rwanda. Fossey’s love for and devotion to the gorillas was real and strong, and ultimately she gave her life for them. (Fossey was murdered in 1985, presumably as a result of her activities against poachers.)
I hope you and your Valentine enjoy your holiday viewing!