netflix gems: romance
the illusionist - rebecca wynne-walsh
Neil Burger’s romantic mystery drama is one that remains criminally under-watched but never fear, as Netflix is, as usual, here to save the day and fulfill your movie watching needs. The Illusionist is set against the turbulent political backdrop of late-nineteenth century Vienna. The film follows a maverick magician, Eisenheim who attracts the unwanted attentions of the chief of police as well as the corrupt Crown Prince who aim to prevent Eisenheim’s reunion with his childhood sweetheart.The sweetheart in question is known to Eisenheim lovingly as Sophie but to the rest of European aristocratic society she is the Duchess von Teschen, unhappily engaged to the cruel prince. The Illusionist benefits from a supreme list of performers, Edward Norton is the titular showman with Jessica Biel as his forbidden true love. Paul Giamatti and Rufus Sewell act as the chief of police and Crown Prince respectively, with Sewell proving himself yet again as the perfect casting for any upper-class villain. The production value of this film is a love-letter in its own right, addressed to the art of breathtaking cinematography. The sepia tinged interiors and delicate presentation of the Austrian landscape combine to create an image that is, for want of a better word, truly romantic, a perfect combination of the cinematic and the painterly. The Illusionist is a masterclass in storytelling, filmmaking, acting and romancing, a hidden gem worth unearthing.
Dangerous Beauty - Lauren Boland
A woman, a man, a dowry; Dangerous Beauty begins as one anticipates a romance in the 1500s might: a young, working-class woman unable to marry the upper class man she loves. The 1998 biopic transcends genre and establishes itself as a powerful feminist narrative. Veronica Franco is an outspoken poet, living amongst the gondolas and courtesans that of 16th century Venice. Separated from the man she loves by social conventions, Veronica rejects domesticity and embraces a different path as a financially independent courtesan. In her new role, Veronica captivates Venice with her wit and intellect and acquires considerable political power. She explores a new dynamic with her lost lover Marco where she is not subordinated as a wife or mistress, they stand as equals. This gorgeous story is a reclamation of sexuality and a scathing criticism of the virgin/whore dichotomy films often resort to. Dangerous Beauty is rooted in the visually stunning 16th century, but the its themes resonate in a modern context. It attacks the notion of virtuous abstinence and condemns double standards for how men and women approach sex. The film lambastes a society which confines women’s choices, condemning them for trying to carve the best life available to them. Dangerous Beauty subverts expectations. If you’re looking for a romance with depth, unexpected twists, and an inspiring female protagonist, this is the film for you.
Like Crazy – Samantha Mooney
Love is not black and white in Drake Doremus’s Like Crazy. This film is more an exploration of love's greyness. A blurry, grey, in-between of loving or letting go is omnipresent and delivered with a natural reserve. Anna (Felicity Jones), a British student studying in California for a semester falls in love with Jacob (Anton Yelchin). Unwilling to be separated from him for two months Anna outstays her student visa and is returned to the UK by immigration officials. Like Crazy is interesting in its attempt to capture a couple’s segue from the initial passion and excitement to the confusing and frustrating stage where life begins to get in the way and finally to eventual emotional stagnation. Like Crazy explores how love and relationships can sprawl into the undefined and gradually fade away. The voyeuristic style creates intimacy. The actors were given a plot outline then asked to improvise dialogue. This makes the romance incredibly relatable. Moving back and forth between infatuation and unrequited affection, Anna and Jacob are trapped in romantic limbo. Months turn into years and strained attempts at communication serve no real purpose. Then come the inevitable forays into seeing other people. Like Crazy is a refreshingly realistic, modern take on love and manoeuvring through its less cinematically celebrated grey areas.
Appropriate Behavior - Keelin Shaughnessy
Appropriate Behavior is a romance in the sense that it focuses on a romantic relationship, between Brooklyn residents Shirin (Desiree Akhavan) and Maxine (Rebecca Henderson). But the film, both written and directed by Akhavan, pays less heed to the budding romance than its gradual disintegration. At every turn, Appropriate Behavior subverts the tropes of the New York rom-com to create a wholly original and raw look at love in the present day. It eschews the idea that another person will make you complete, insisting instead on the betterment, understanding, and acceptance of self before the search for a partner. For Shirin, a bisexual Iranian-American still not out to her conservative parents, this self-acceptance is slowly found through a series of awkward hookups, strained social interactions, and ultimately her failed relationship with her girlfriend Maxine. Though Shirin is genuinely heartbroken by the breakup, with Akhavan delivering lines like “I'm just going to lie here and try to forget what it felt like to be loved” in expert deadpan, it’s clear that she and Maxine were incompatible. As the film jumps back to the highs and lows of the relationship, it becomes obvious that this is not a relationship worth salvaging. Again, this is where the film triumphs. Through hilarious dialogue, a few cringe-inducing sex scenes, and a truly captivating performance by Akhavan, Appropriate Behavior masters the story of a woman fumbling on the road to self-discovery.
Closer - Oisín Walsh
Mike Nichols’ Closer is a dark look at modern romance. Yes the film opens with a typical meet-cute, but that is the first and final moment where it could be mistaken for a typical romance. What follows, across an unspecified amount of time are scenes of sadness, mixed with rage all fuelled with a desperation for love. At one point in this film all of the characters, Anna (Julia Roberts), Dan (Jude Law), Larry (Clive Owen) and Alice (Natalie Portman), will say ‘I Love You’. When it is said it never feels as it should, romantic. The audience will not be filled with euphoria at the confession of love. Do they mean it when they admit their feelings to their significant other? Perhaps they think they do, but in this film (as in life), actions speak louder than words. They cheat and constantly argue and yet, always return to one another; their love lives are chaotic and not in the least romantic. This is a melodrama where the performances are fuelled with passion and fiery dialogue. Nichols does not flinch from the reality that these relationships present. Scenes are stitched together in rapid fashion so the drama unfolds quickly, rarely allowing the audience relief from the action. The leads are brave in appearing as vulnerable as they do. All of the leads reveal themselves to be weak, indecisive, deceitful and downright nasty. No character is pretty; we can’t root for any of the relationships to succeed because these people deserve better than each other. These people should not be together, only they are unable to see, or at least they are unwilling to face, that reality. It may be tough, it may be racked with despair but it makes for one incredible film.