Over the past couple of weeks, I have seen three love stories, two much-hyped and one sliding just below the radar; one deserves its praise, one does not, and one should be receiving much more attention. Let’s get the bad news over with first.
The Shape of Water is Guillermo del Torro’s cross between Splash and The Creature from the Black Lagoon. The film looks and sounds incredible, with a heavy debt owed to the films of Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Delicatessen and Amelie). Its heart is firmly in the right place with its salute to all outsiders who look for love and truth in a hostile, straight-male dominated world, and yet it is a fairytale that misses its magical mark because, despite everything, it fails to surprise and its delights are well worn.
A fairytale of a different kind, Call Me by Your Name, seduces us into a world of impossibly beautiful people, set in an impossibly gorgeous setting, and living impossibly cultured lives. It is such a rarefied place that when unlikely love appears in the form of a summer romance between a teenage boy and a visiting graduate student, everyone gracefully acknowledges and deeply respects that love for the gift it is. Luca Guadagnino serves up a sumptuous feast of light and landscape, food and half-naked bodies, music and language. Timothée Chalamet delivers the performance of the year, conveying the overwhelming intensity, and life-changing force, of young, first love. I will be watching this film repeatedly over the years.
A counterpoint to Call Me by Your Name is Francis Lee’s God’s Own Country, no sunny northern Italian landscape here, but rather a sheep farm in the north of England; no medieval fairytales translated from the German by a beautiful mother for a polyglot family, but rather hard-drinking and swearing at the pub and stillborn livestock; no sensitive and articulate father to console his son, but rather a tough man struck down by a life of hard work and a series of strokes. And yet, here too an intense, physical and—unlike that in Call Me by Your Name—lasting love is born between the young farmer and a Romanian migrant worker. Its arrival saves and the young men and reignites hope for the future of the previously doomed farm. It is that rare beast, a gay film with a happy ending. It and the performances by the two leads, Josh O’Connor and Alec Secareanu, deserve much more attention than they are getting.
Apart from all being love stories, and despite their differences, all three movies are also cautionary tales for Trump’s America and Brexit Britain, warnings that only the mixing of disparate elements can bring about the alchemy of love, and only love can save us.
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