The accidental meeting of Anna (Sandrine Bonnaire) and William (Fabrice Luchini) in Patrice Leconte’s “Intimate Strangers” (Confidences trop intimes) results in a story that yearns to be romantic, yet it’s mostly anti-romantic. It’s about two people who met, as a result of a mistake, with an unequal degree of fondness. Yet, at the end, William makes his way to find Anna living in better circumstances that when she met him. But it’s almost a lifeless encounter and certainly doesn’t reveal a certain future.
The Berlin International Film Festival this year was actually full of films that study relationships between their characters. And there is a whole wide range of characters. If Leconte’s picture dwells around a dim and confused tale of love, Ken Loach’s “Ae Fond Kiss” has a love relationship that is also doomed by different sorts of obstacles. The social and cultural divide is typically depicted in this film grittily and intelligently (and a bit slowly). “Ae Fond Kiss” takes a fresh look at mixed-race relationships, regardless of the day-to-day type of narration the director is fond of.
The same can easily describe Fatih Akin’s “Head On” (Gegen die Wand) which came out of this year’s competition as a clear winner. This film which tells the story of two Germans of Turkish origin who met at odds but fell in love during debatable events, is edgy, loud and very much a 21st century kind of love story. Also across races (and a big ocean) is the love between the two protagonists of “Country of My Skull” by John Boorman. The difference here is that Boorman’s film uses a canvas of already tight and painful human relationships which stained the previous regime. One should notice that in all these films, love is not a result of admiration alone (in some it’s not the result of admiration at all). It’s rather a result of anti-love at the beginning (as in “Country of My Skull” and “Head On”) that turns into a need for the other.
Which leads to “First Love” (Primo Amore) by Matteo Garrone. It’s the loveless love story in this crop. A film that presents two people who accepted living together not loving each other. Sonia (Michela Cescon) for bizarre reasons of her own, accepted Vittorio’s (Vitaliano Trevisan) conditional love (which is not love at all). She fears him and in a way she loves him but she doesn’t love herself well enough to rebel against his cruelty and short sightedness. As for him, he rather causes her all sorts of health problems.
Harder kinds of love relationships are found in Patty Jenkins’s “Monster” and in Kim Ki-duk’s “Samaritan” (Samaria). The latter takes the chance of moving from love between two girls (which is expressed nicely) to the love of a father for his daughter. The latter has also to learn how much of moral responsibility her father took upon himself in order to straighten her life. Love between a mother and her daughter is told in the western “The Missing” by Ron Howard and a new spin on a love story is unfolded in “Beautiful Country” by Hans Petter Moland in which a young Vietnamese works his way out of Vietnam to the USA looking for his father. And there is of course “Something’s Gotta Give” by Nancy Meyers which deals with an age difference. It’s what Hollywood loves to describe as a romantic comedy which means so little if you really care about real characters regardless of the genre. I guess the only real old-fashioned love story is Anthony Minghella’s “Cold Mountain” in which a soldier escapes death in war to find death not only by his love, but because of her also.
© FIPRESCI 2004