Every Monday morning, I find myself whispering the old Beckett adage “I can’t go on, I’ll go on,” to myself as I settle down into work. No matter how thrilling the day’s prospects may be, it’s that midweek slump that always seems to rear its ugly head in the worst way. But never fear, the hours are sure to breeze on by and soon it will be the weekend—one that happens to be rife with fantastic films both premiering and screening around the city, thanks to new premieres and various wonderful retrospectives.
But in the meantime, what better way to spend an evening than curled up under the sheets enjoying the best of cinema—new modern masterpieces to enduring classics—from the comfort of your bed? And with myriad options to choose from on Netflix, Hulu, and iTunes, the nightly decision of what to show in your private bedroom screening can prove a challenge. So to make your time easier, I’ve rounded up some of the best films about amour fou available to stream, so peruse our list, get cozy, and enjoy.
Love? Be it man. Be it woman. It must be a wave you want to glide in on, give your body to it, give your laugh to it, give, when the gravelly sand takes you, your tears to the land. To love another is something like prayer and can’t be planned, you just fall into its arms because your belief undoes your disbelief. – Anne Sexton, Admonitions to a Special Person
Speaking to his work as a filmmaker and his own emotional sensibility, John Cassavetes once said, "That’s all I’m interested in—love. And the lack of it. When it stops. And the pain that’s caused by loss of things that are taken away from us that we really need." His films exposed the painful struggles of love and turmoil loving another causes on the human heart. And in its most overwhelming and passionate form, love is rarely healthy, perhaps no more than an illness from which you’ll never fully recover. And according to the Criterion Collection’s Amour Fou section of films, love is apparently all I am interested in as well. Featuring some of my favorite features from Terrence Malick’s dangerous love story Badlands to Nicolas Roeg’s obsessive psychodrama Bad Timing, to Cassavetes’ soul-crushing A Woman Under the Influence and Liliana Cavani’s darkly erotic The Night Porter, these are films best enjoyed with a glass of whiskey on standby.
But this week, Criterion and Hulu are showcasing rare films of bad romance that delve into the misguided, corrosive, and often violent nature of love. Ranging from Gus van Sant’s first feature Mala Noche to Keisuke Kinoshita’s rarely seen Snow Flurry, these intense dramas penetrate the soul and illuminate the hardships of love. Get acquianted with these rare and stunning films and decide whom you’d like to break your heart tonight. Enjoy.
"Swedish filmmaker Alf Sjöberg’s visually innovative, Cannes Grand Prix-winning adaptation of August Strindberg’s renowned 1888 play brings to scalding life the excoriating words of the stage’s preeminent surveyor of all things rotten in the state of male-female relations. Miss Julie vividly depicts the battle of the sexes and classes that ensues when a wealthy businessman’s daughter (Anita Björk, in a fiercely emotional performance) falls for her father’s bitter servant. Celebrated for its unique cinematic style (and censored upon its first release in the United States for its adult content), Sjöberg’s film was an important turning point in Scandinavian cinema."
"With its low budget and lush black-and-white imagery, Gus Van Sant’s debut feature Mala Noche heralded an idiosyncratic, provocative new voice in American independent film. Set in Van Sant’s hometown of Portland, Oregon, the film evokes a world of transient workers, dead-end day-shifters, and bars and seedy apartments bathed in a profound nighttime, as it follows a romantic deadbeat with a wayward crush on a handsome Mexican immigrant. Mala Noche was an important prelude to the New Queer Cinema of the nineties and is a fascinating capsule from a time and place that continues to haunt its director’s work."
"Many films have drawn from classic Japanese theatrical forms, but none with such shocking cinematic effect as director Masahiro Shinoda’s Double Suicide. In this striking adaptation of a Bunraku puppet play (featuring the music of famed composer Toru Takemitsu), a paper merchant sacrifices family, fortune, and ultimately life for his erotic obsession with a prostitute. Criterion is proud to present Double Suicide in a stunning digital transfer, with a new and improved English subtitle translation."
"In this cool, seductive jewel of the Japanese New Wave, a yakuza, fresh out of prison, becomes entangled with a beautiful and enigmatic gambling addict; what at first seems a redemptive relationship ends up leading him further down the criminal path. Bewitchingly shot and edited, and laced with a fever-dream-like score by Toru Takemitsu, this gangster romance was a breakthrough for the idiosyncratic Masahiro Shinoda. The pitch-black Pale Flower(Kawaita hana) is an unforgettable excursion into the underworld."
"This lush, Technicolor tragic romance from Luchino Visconti stars Alida Valli as a nineteenth-century Italian countess who, during the Austrian occupation of her country, puts her marriage and political principles on the line by engaging in a torrid affair with a dashing Austrian lieutenant, played by Farley Granger. Gilded with ornate costumes and sets and a rich classical soundtrack, and featuring fearless performances, this operatic melodrama is an extraordinary evocation of reckless emotions and deranged lust, from one of the cinema’s great sensualists."
"Julien Duvivier’s film, starring Merle Oberon as a woman looking back on a life of doomed affairs."
As the English master of violent sexual obsession and radical nonlinear storytelling, director Nicolas Roeg has been the man behind some of my absolute favorite films. His early features are a mix of feverish aesthetics and editing with psychologically potent narratives that spin on their own axis of pleasure and pain. Although best known for his sci-fi mind-bender The Man Who Fell to Earth, it was Performance—which he shot as well as co-directed—that has become one of those films that feels like a part of heart, I could be totally content having it play on loop forever across my bedroom wall. And then there’s his erotic psychodrama Bad Timing, which plays into just about every one of my cinematic fetishes and really made me fall head over heels for Roeg’s unqiue style.
But in the last few decades his films have been far and few between, disappearing and reemrging with lackluster work. However, Screen Daily reports that Roeg has apparently gotten himself back into the directorial seat, developing a romantic WWI drama, At Sunset. The film looks to be a, "tale of a torrid affair between a woman in her late 40s, early 50s and a young lad from Yorkshire. She is a wealthy landowner, he is a former labourer on a big estate… the madness of the First World War brings them together." Psychosexual anguish? Violence and emotional upheaval? Count me in!
At Sunset is apparently still in the casting process with "France’s top female actress" in the running. Okay then, might I suggest Isabelle Huppert and Michael Fassbinder for the roles? Both too old? Okay, Juliette Binoche and Benedict Cumberbatch? Whatever, I’m on board.
Welcome to Cinematic Panic, a new column in which I anxiously watch all of the Criterion Collection films that have either slipped under my radar or have fueled my film obsession and then share my personal rambling insights as to what makes them so damn good. Enjoy.
Certain films should come with seasonal specifications. That’s not to say they cannot be consumed year-round and don’t warrant multiple viewings per year, it’s just that, you know, they’re best experienced to coincide with the psychological state brought on by the specific season they adhere to. For instance, the summer is a perfect time to melt into Robert Altman’s lucid nightmare 3 Women, Sidney Lumet’s guttural and sweaty Dog Day Afternoon, or Wim Wenders’ existential Americana character study, Paris, Texas. It always seemed bizarre to me that most of Stanley Kubrick’s films premiered in the summer months, when A Clockwork Orange, Eyes Wide Shut, and The Shining have always been my go-to films come snowfall. But another director whose films feel distinctly meant for a chill in the air is English master of violent sexual obsession and radical non-linear storytelling, Nicolas Roeg.
Best known for his sci-fi mind-bender The Man Who Fell to Earth, Roeg has carved out his own slice of cinema, replicated by many since but possessing an essence entirely its own—whether critics have been receptive or not. Throughout his oeuvre, especially his early work, his films entice you with an almost drug-induced feeling, where the edges are always a little blurry and the world is a fever dream that you never really want to wake up from. No one does out-of-focus, sparkling-chandelier-light haze reminiscent of fantastical winter nights of intoxication better than Roeg. But for all his work, the one film that has always appealed to all my cinematic fetishes has been his 1980 erotic psychodrama, Bad Timing—or the film that made me sexually attracted to Art Garfunkel. An unpopular opinion in terms of his work, I’m sure, but a brilliant mosaic of a character analysis undoubtably.
In short, the film tells the story of a young woman, Milena (played by Theresa Russell) and her lover, Alex (played by Art Garkfunkel). Beginning with Milena being rushed to the hospital by ambulance with Alex at her side, their relationship is then shown through flashbacks, fragmented scenes, and jump cuts between past and present that illustrate the arch of their romantic entanglement, from the flirting innocence of their meeting to the sensual and deadly obsession that comsume them. As the film progresses, a police investigator (played by Harvey Keitel) worms his way into the story—working as a foil to Alex—to uncover what looks to be Milena’s attempted suicide.
But that’s all basic plot outline. Bad Timing, in essence, is a film about the sexual obsession and savage attraction of two opposites. It’s also a film about chance and fateful encounters. “They were down for each other,” Roeg once vaguely expressed about Alex and Milena. As two Americans living in Vienna, their meeting is almost tragic from the start, intrinsically drawn to one another like two opposing forces, setting in motion a dangerous collision of psyches. Recently separated from her Czech husband, Milena meanders through life, finding pleasure in the impulsiveness of a moment. Alex, on the other hand, lives with structure as a psychoanalyst and professor. Milena has loose control over her emotions, prone to fits of passionate rage and sexual indulgence. Her aggression, fervor, and sexuality live on the surface, but underneath lies a woman who is driven by fear and vulnerability. Alex, conversely, is a cerebral man who sees love as a hurdle to be crossed or something to keep at an arm’s length. He is composed and cold but represses a great deal of violent and sexual urges. Together, the two unearth various traits in one another—a lethal combination of flesh on flesh.
Like the Klimt painting “The Kiss” shown in the first sequence of the film, the story is told with a fragmented narrative—a collage of moments that make up their disjointed relationship. But what’s interesting about Milena and Alex is that even in the deepest moments of affection or love you can taste that hate is only a touch away. Their desire for one another is primal, a type of obsession that stems from the games lovers play and the incessant torture they inflict on one another—whether it’s a purposeful pain or simply a subconscious desire to hurt that which you love before it can hurt you.
In an article for the Criterion Collection, Richard Combs once desired their relationship as resembling “one of those impossible ball-in-a-maze puzzles—there are, in fact, two matching sets of these in the film—where he is drawn to her wildness and chaos and impelled to tame it, perhaps because he fears a matching chaos in himself. When he despairs that she’ll never change, she retorts, ‘If you weren’t who you are, I wouldn’t have to.’” Their love is a rare breed that is an absolute fury and a fire. It’s as if the two have transcended past affection and become a sort of conjoined wound that just won’t heal, constantly tearing and bleeding with lust and hatred. They wish death upon themselves and one other. “Leave and you kill me. Leave and I’m dead,” screams Milena in a manic fit of rage towards Alex.
Using cinematographer Anthony B. Richmond (who also shot The Man Who Fell to Earth and Don’t Look Now), the aesthetic quality of the film is inherently Roeg. The colors vacillate between shades of purple, red, and washed-out blacks and beiges, and have a look that’s at once velvety smooth yet slightly cracked and off-kilter. Cromb compared the emotional texture of the film to the contrast between “the romantic shimmer of Gustav Klimt and the psychological darkness of Egon Schiele.” And what really makes all of Roeg’s films stand apart from his contemporaries is the mastery of editing and the skill of knowing how to manipulate a moment through cuts to allow the audience to penetrate the psyche of a character so they become invested in a moment and feel almost a part of their world.
Since its release, the film has caused myriad mixed feelings in its audience. Some find it tasteless and jarring, whereas others honor its brilliance and mastery of craft. There’s no doubting the audacity of Roeg as a filmmaker and the unapologetic performances by its cast and the characters they inhabit. When the film was released, one of the executives at the company that distributed it called Bad Timing "a sick film made by sick people for sick people." Well, if that is true, then please excuse me. I’m going to go lie down now.