Thursday Movie Picks: Romance Tropes Television Edition – Love Triangles

ThursdayMoviePicksHappy almost Friday! It’s TMP time! The Thursday Movie Picks blogathon was spearheaded by Wandering Through the Shelves Blog.

The rules are simple simple: Each week there is a topic for you to create a list of three movies. Your picks can either be favourites/best, worst, hidden gems, or if you’re up to it one of each. This Thursday’s theme is… Romance Tropes Television Edition: Love Triangles

I have to say I’m not really a fan of love triangle in movies. I feel like it’s just so clichéd and often a result of lazy writing. I mean, there are SO many of them that it’s hard to find one that actually has a reason to exist. When I was writing my romantic drama Hearts Want, I made sure to avoid anything resembling this trope. Looking at some lists of TV love triangles… popular shows like Grey’s Anatomy, Vampire Diaries, Dawson’s Creek, One Tree Hill, Gossip Girl, etc. all feature love triangles. Good thing I avoided watching all those shows!!

In any case, here are my picks:

BEHIND HER EYES

Ok, I have to admit that one of the reasons I’m participating this week is just so I can post about this crazy, twisty psychological thriller that just dropped on Netflix earlier this month. The British miniseries is based on a 2017 novel of the same name by Sarah Pinborough and dayum, it’s really of the most bonkers thing I’ve seen in a long time! Apparently when the book first published, the hashtag #WTFthatending was trending on Twitter, and well, there’s a good reason for it!

The love triangle is between Louise (Simona Brown) and her psychiatrist boss David (Tom Bateman) AND his wife Adele (Eve Hewson). After meeting David at a bar, they immediately had a sexual relationship… and days later she bumps into Adele (literally) on the streets. I find some of the episodes dragging a bit, I think tightening it to a 4 instead of 6 episodes might make it more efficient.

But man, nothing could prepare me for the finale! There’s another important character in the series called Robert (Robert Aramayo) who’s Adele friends shown in the flashback scenes. I feel like this show is best experienced if you know as little as possible about the story. Borrowing Bette Davis in All About Eve... “fasten your seatbelts it’s going to be a bumpy ride.”


BEVERLY HILLS, 90210

I was in high school when this show hit its peak of popularity. I was still living in Jakarta at the time and there wasn’t many options to watch on TV. So naturally I watched whatever American shows that were available (MacGyver, A-Team, Melrose Place, etc). I often thought everyone in the US lived like these group of friends in Beverly Hills, ahahaha. It’s quite ironic that I ended up in Minnesota, given Brenda and Brandon Walsh moved from MN to CA 😀

In any case, so the love triangle between Brenda/Dylan/Kelly were all the rage back then. If Twitter were around back then, I bet there’d be polls whether you’d be Team Brenda or Team Kelly. Looking at pics of Luke Perry is kinda sad though, I still can’t believe he’s already gone 😦

In any case, I don’t give a flying f*** which girl I want Dylan to pick, as again I find the whole love-triangle thing SO corny!


FRIENDS

I didn’t realize how many love triangles there were in Friends, but apparently there are a bunch of them that this article actually went so far as ranking them! 😀

Well I’m just going to list two I remember on the top of my head…

Rachel/Joey/Ross


Poor Ross walked in on Rachel + Joey kissing… I mean we all know how long the geeky paleontologist has been in love w/ Rachel for ages!!

 

Monica/Chandler/Richard

I gotta admit I find the whole Monica/Richard thing a bit awkward. And not only because of the over-two-decade age difference between Courtney Cox and Tom Selleck, I just don’t feel the chemistry. But then again, I find the latter years of Friends not as engaging as the earlier ones.


So which are YOUR favorite love triangles on TV?

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Top 10 reasons why I love Netflix’s LUPIN series

LUPIN was one of my most-anticipated series on Netflix which I’ve talked about briefly in this post. It’s a 10-part miniseries inspired master thief Arsène Lupin, created by French novelist Maurice Leblanc.

Here’s the trailer again if you haven’t seen it yet:

Now, so far only 5 episodes of the miniseries have been released. Per Wiki, the second set were already filmed by the end of 2020 and are slated to be released in mid-2021. So you have plenty of time to catch up before the final 5 eps arrives.

Here’s just 10 reasons why you should absolutely watch LUPIN:

(There might be some SPOILERS in this post but I’ll be sure to warn and hide them if you haven’t seen this series yet) 

1. Great source material

I used to read a bunch of Dutch & Belgian graphic novels like Danny & Katia (which I can’t seem to find anywhere here in the US), Adventures of Tintin, etc. I also read some thriller novels like Agatha Christie and Sidney Sheldon, but for some reason I’ve never heard of Arsène Lupin. Created in 1905 Maurice Leblanc – part Sherlock Holmes, part Robin Hood but decidedly French.

Like Robin Hood, Lupin is a force for good even though he operates on the wrong side of the law. His victims are usually big establishments or the extremely wealthy who are basically worse than him. Apparently Leblanc’s novels also inspired Leslie Charteris’s The Saint, aka Simon Templar who’s also a master of disguise.

2. Omar Sy

I had only seen Omar Sy in Intouchables and I remember he has such a great screen presence. He plays another French-Immigrant from Senegal here as Assane Diop, a stylishly-dressed gent who uses his undeniable charm as well as masterful thievery + disguise skills. Though he’s not exactly an honest man, you just can’t help but be drawn to him and that charming smile.

The first time I saw the trailer I immediately thought he’s basically a French James Bond, and well, Sy himself confirmed the apt comparison.

Given how much I wish to see Idris Elba as Bond, watching the equally charismatic Omar playing Lupin is such a treat. I can even say Assane is even better than Bond as he is his own Q-department!

3. Intriguing plot that keep you guessing

The series creator George Kay is no stranger to British TV. He’s one of the creators of the various Criminal crime thriller series such as Criminal: UK, Criminal: France, etc. and he’s also been writing for The Tunnel and Killing Eve series.

I think it’s brilliant that Kay takes the source material as a base for the lead character, but then subvert and update it to make something suitable for the modern audience. Per his interview in Variety, “…Kay kept the sense of mischievous, adventurous crooks and criminals intersecting establishment, but  felt it was equally important to take everything we loved in the books, subvert it, update it and create a really modern story through the heart of it.” 

I think that made the story fresh while still in keeping with the mystery and suspense of the novels. There’s a parallel story between Assane and the team of detectives, particularly Youssef Guedira (Soufiane Guerrab), that culminates in the fifth episode (last ep of part 1). All of that adds to the dynamic storyline that makes the show so much fun to watch.

4. Emotional backstory

I have to credit the show runner and the writers for interweaving Assane’s past in such a clever way. Sometimes flashbacks don’t work well and can slow the pace down, but here, the flashback is done quite seamlessly. It also helps that they cast the right actors for the role of young Assane (Mamadou Haidara) and his father Babakar (Fargass Assandé). It shows how Babakar used to work for Hubert Pellegrini, a powerful figure of the French elite who owns the Marie-Antoinette diamond necklace. It’s a relatable immigrant story that’s relevant in today’s world.

The tragic past that befallen Babakar is what drives Assane to do what he does now, and of course it’s also his father who first introduced the Lupin novels to him. It shows how the teenage Assane is obsessed with the gentleman thief novel, and 25 years later he uses everything he learns from it to avenge his father and expose Pellegrini.

5. Great blend of comedy + action

French filmmaker Louis Leterrier (who directed The Transporter, The Incredible Hulk, etc.) is no stranger to action-packed movies. I love how LUPIN is packed with thrilling action with a large dose of humor right from the start. The elaborate heist scene during an action at the Louvre (shot at the actual famous museum) is reminiscent of something out of Mission Impossible movies, complete with impeccable timing and a crazy car chase AND a red Ferrari crashing through the museum’s iconic glass ceiling!

There’s a foot-chase through rooftops that are really fun to watch as well, but my favorite action scene has got to be this exhilarating chase involving a food delivery bike riders through a Parisian park! It’s just one of Assane’s genius scheme to fool the cops while he effortlessly escapes from their grasp.

6. Parisian scenery

Well, that brings me to the stunning scenery of the City of Light. I think we’re all dying to be able to travel again so all we can do is live vicariously through the characters we watch on screen. I’ve been on a French kick lately, following Call My Agent! (Dix Pour Cent) which is also set in Paris, and I just can’t get enough!

This Condé Nast Traveller article lists all the locations used for the series which I’ll definitely refer to next time I go to Paris again. I love the the café where Assane meets his wife Claire (Ludivine Sagnier) in episode 1, that’s L’Appartement Saint-Martin, with views of the 17th-century Porte Saint Martin. I also love the flea market where Assane’s bestie Benjamin (Antoine Gouy) owns an antique shop. It’s located in Marché Biron, north of Paris. Speaking of Benjamin, I really like the deep friendship between these two, which apparently has started since they were in school together.

The fifth episode also takes us out of Paris to Normandy coast, a town called Le Havre. I actually did a bunch of research of that port city for my script Hearts Want (as my lead character actually took a ferry from Portsmouth, UK). Apparently there’s an annual festival dedicated to Arsène Lupin where everyone is dressed like the character with the top hat.

7. Formidable villain with ties to the hero’s past

If Robin Hood has The Sheriff of Nottingham, Assane Diop’s primary antagonist is Hubert Pellegrini (Herve Pierre), a wealthy, powerful member of the Parisian establishment. Just as power and corruption often go together, SPOILER ALERT (highlight to read) Pellegrini even has police inspector Dumont (Vincent Garanger) to do the dirty work for him in framing Assane’s father.

There’s also a mysterious connection between Assane and Hubert’s beautiful daughter Juliette (Clotilde Hesme), also shown in flashback where the pretty teen seduced the young, naive Assane in her mansion’s swimming pool. SPOILER ALERT (highlight to read) One episode even hints that perhaps Juliette harbors unrequited feelings for Assane?

One thing for sure, the Pellegrini is a ruthless force to be reckoned with. Episode 4 is particularly suspenseful as Assane teams up with a journalist, Fabienne Bériot (Anne Benoît) whose reputation been tarnished by Pellegrini because she tried to expose him in her book.

8. Wonderfully-diverse characters

I think just by having a black French actor as the lead reflects the reality of a more ethnically diverse country. It also gives the show an international appeal, so I’m not surprised that the show’s been well-received all over the world.

It’s great that the show-runner also fills the supporting roles with non-white actors. The actor who play police lieutenant Youssef Guedira (Soufiane Guerrab) was also in a Call My Agent episode. He’s the only one who believes there’s a connection between the Louvre suspect (that is Assane) with Arsène Lupin, yet his peers always brush him off.

The team of police investigating the Louvre incident – Youssef is the one on the far right

Besides hiring a good number of actors of color, I also appreciate that the show also doesn’t always show the glamorous side of Parisians and all the chic luxury we often associate with the fashionable city. I mentioned about Fabienne Bériot above, well, the disgraced former journalist now lives in a rundown apartment with her dog. It wasn’t until Assane approached her that she finally feels alive once again. This is perhaps one of the most heart-wrenching episodes given what happens to Fabienne in the end.

9. A multi-dimentional hero

Assane is more than a gentleman burglar and master of disguise. Unlike Sherlock Holmes or Simon Templar, what sets Assane apart is that he is a family man. Right from the first episode, we see Assane meeting his ex-partner Claire (Ludivine Sagnier) and has a son together. Though they’re no longer together, they still have an amicable relationship and he still supports them.

I love the relationship between them, there’s a certain playfulness and also realism in the way Raoul (Etan Simon) behaves as a teenager. Of course, given that Assane lost his own father at a young age, he really tries to be there for his son. The Lupin novel ends up being passed down through generations as there’s a lovely scene where Assane gives the book to Raoul. Now, obviously given the difference in life circumstances, the book might not mean as much to Raoul as it did to Assane in his youth.

Assane is also not a violent man and though he’s been hurt in the past, he doesn’t become a sullen nor vicious. The way he deals with Inspector Dumont is a great example and it’s refreshing not to see any of the brutality you see on SO many shows these days. I love how he fools the entire police department while teaching Dumont a lesson in the process.

10. Fun escapism with style + plenty of heart

The series’ great production values is fantastic – the cinematography, action set pieces, locations, etc. all makes for a fun escapism series. It’s definitely the most fun crime caper series on TV right now. So many crime shows are way too serious for its own good, but LUPIN has the right balance of humor, mystery, suspense, as well as emotional familial story that makes you care for the hero’s journey.

Oh, I have to say Assane Diop’s got to be one of the best-dressed hero on TV, not surprising given the Parisian setting. My husband and I always comment on all the cool outfits and footwear he wears every episode. Whether formal or casual, Assane looks like he’s straight out of a GQ photoshoot!


Can’t wait for Part 2!!

Now the worst part of LUPIN is there’s only 5 episodes!! I don’t know why Netflix isn’t releasing all 10 episodes as I believe they’re done filming them. The cliffhanger on episode 5 has me reeling as it finally ties Assane with Youssef who’s also a big fan of the Lupin novels.

SPOILER ALERT (highlight to read)
Of course the big question is whether Youssef would turn Assane in, but my gut says no, as technically Youssef is off the case thanks to Dumont who clearly hasn’t learned his lesson and is still working with Pellegrini, ugh!



Well, have you seen LUPIN? I’d love to hear what YOU think!

FlixChatter Review: NOMADLAND (2021)

I actually saw this one a few months ago at Twin Cities Film Fest. It was my pick of film of the month in October and also earns a spot on my Top 10 Best list of 2020. Nomadland is  about a woman named Fern (Frances McDormand) who lost everything in the Great Recession sets off on a journey through the American West with her van. The last film of Chloé Zhao that I watched, The Rider, showed a slice of life from a world I’m not familiar with and this time she showed life of modern-day nomad.

The film is based on the non-fiction book of the same name by journalist Jessica Bruder. The book documents stories of dispossessed older Americans (mostly 50s-60s) who face the largest reversal in retirement security in American history and ends up becoming workampers — working while living out of an RV or a tent. Fern is one of those people, having lost her husband, her job at a US Gypsum plant, and ultimately her old-company town Empire, Nevada, which died with the factory closure in 2011.

Now, the film doesn’t delve too much into the background of the economic crisis or the capital/government greed that causes them, but it explores a human story told through the perspective someone who choose to live that life. It seems that even though it’s obviously a tough life uprooting oneself into living in a ratty van, sans the comfort most house-dwellers take for granted, Fern and her fellow nomads seems content, even happy living this way. There’s a memorable scene of Fern saying “I’m not homeless, I’m just houseless,” with a defiant glee when friends offer her a place to stay. The film shows her working various jobs, most notably Amazon warehouses, and at times struggling to even get seasonal work. It seems like a lonely life, but there is actually a close-knit community that sustain them and this film actually features real nomads, Linda May, Swankie and Bob Wells, who are featured in Bruder’s book. They become friends and mentors for Fern.

The film features a quiet yet intricate performance from McDormand, who apparently did some method acting for the role as she actually slept in a van used in the film for a while. Most of the time she only gets to act with her expressions as there are countless of shots of her gazing into the vast, beautiful landscape… and a brief shot of her serenely floating in a pool of water stark naked (I wonder if that’s what garnered this film an R rating?!). I find Fern as a fascinating character, but also frustrating and hard to warm up to, not sure if this is because the film never allowed us to really get to know her.

During her journey, Fern meets a fellow workcamper named Dave (David Strathrain, the only other prominent actor in the film) and the two strikes a tentative friendship. They end up working a part-time job together, but when Dave’s son visits him, Dave ends up staying with him in a large house on the country. Dave invites Fern to join him and later we see Fern come and visit him. It’s perhaps the only time we see Fern sleeping in a bed inside, but it’s interesting to see that she’s no longer comfortable living within the confines of a house. McDormand’s nuanced performance conveys the feeling that living day to day in the same place, same environment, despite all the comfort, would actually infringes on her sense of freedom.

Though not much happens in this film, there’s actually a lot to mull over and reflect upon. It made me think of certain aspects of my own life and others close to me, what I would do if I were in her situation. The scene of her walking in her old company town that’s now desolate is quite heart-wrenching. I was curious if Fern would actually consider Dave’s invitation and start a new life again as she once did… living with a new family (albeit an adopted one) and live in a real home again. The finale shows Fern’s decision without much words being spoken, but yet it packs a punch. Nomadland is truly a graceful, poetic, reflective film, boasted by stunning cinematography by DP Joshua James Richards and beautiful, serene music by composer Ludovico Einaudi.

After watching this, I’ve become even more of a fan of Chloé Zhao’s remarkable storytelling style. It’s so refreshing that Zhao features a woman over 50 in a leading role, which is a rarity given Hollywood’s issue with ageism. I can’t wait to see Eternals, especially after hearing Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige quote saying that her pitch was the best he’s ever heard, apparently it’ll be a very big, sweeping, multi-millennial-spaning story (per this article). So even if you’re not typically into slower-paced dramas, I still highly recommend Nomadland. It’s a study of restraint in its minimalism, almost stripped bare of frills in terms of special effects or unnecessary dialog, but done to great effect.

Have you seen NOMADLAND? Well, what did you think?

FlixChatter Review: I CARE A LOT (2020)

When I first heard of this dark comedy, I was immediately intrigued by its casting of Rosamund Pike. I’ve seen her playing real-life heroines in her last two films, A Private War and Radioactive, that it’s actually quite a treat to see her playing a shamelessly devious character. Marla Grayson is a piece of work – a vision of killer beauty with her razor bob haircut and sharp pantsuits, matched only by her piercing ambition to stay on top. The VO in the beginning tells us she didn’t come from money, in fact she grew up poor and she’s determined never to be again. Her get-rich-quick-scheme involves cunning her way to be a legal guardian of elderly wards whose assets she immediately seizes to build her ‘care’ empire.

The film begins with a man who went berserk trying to visit his mother at a care facility. You can easily guess who the guy’s mother’s court-appointed legal guardian is. Marla runs her empire like a tight ship with her business/romantic partner Fran (Eiza González). Everything from knowing the legal loopholes to deceive the judge (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), meticulously researching the victims, to making sure the care facility is ‘prepared’ to receive its new guest–nothing gets by these professional schemers.

British writer/director J Blakeson creates the epitome of an evil protagonist we love to hate in Marla, but then again there are really no good guys in this film… only the bad and the tragic. As much as I despise what Marla and Fran are doing, I was also curious just how their well-oiled con game works. Well, soon they come across their latest ‘cherry’ with a rather bland name, Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest), a wealthy retired lady with a sizable nest egg plus a nice, big house to the bargain. Based on Fran’s research, she has no relative or next of kin which makes her a perfect target. Or so they thought. Someone who’s that too good to be true usually is. Little did they know their cherry has an equally dubious secret and ties to a Russian gangster Roman Lunyov (Peter Dinklage).

One of the main strengths of this film is the performances. Pike is superb as Marla Grayson. I dare say it’s a more indelible performance than Gone Girl that made her famous, as here she wasn’t over-shadowed by a famous leading man or director, able to own the role unapologetically. Clearly she relishes on portraying an icy evil queen, all poise and self-assured even when threatened. Her scenes with Dean (Chris Messina), a slick lawyer on Roman’s payroll, is quite a hoot as she simply refuse to back down. Marla is so evil you’d be inclined to side with the gangster!

The script really put all the talents to good use, even the supporting cast all brought their A-game. I’m not familiar with González, but she’s quite good here as Marla’s tomboy lover who in many ways is the voice of reason that often fall on deaf ears. Two-time Oscar winner Wiest also gets to flex her acting muscles in all her scenes with Pike, refusing to simply be a damsel in distress. Having the great Dinklage as a mobster seems like a pretty obvious choice, and he milks the role like nobody’s business. He provides a sense of menace while also being the comic relief so effortlessly. Last but not least, Macon Blair has a small role here but an important and unforgettable one.

One beef I have with this movie is some of the scenarios of the 2nd and 3rd act gets a bit too over-the-top and ludicrous for its own good. At some point my husband and I yelled ‘oh come on!!’ at the screen. It pushes way past incredulity point at times… I think grounding the film more would’ve made it more effective. The jab against profit-minded American health system is obvious here, somehow the system that’s supposed to help the weak and ailing senior citizens often capitalize on them. It made it SO easy for people like Marla to rob these poor unsuspecting souls while still staying very much within the boundary of the legal system. It’s downright sickening.

Blakeson’s script is filled with twists and turns and you’re never quite sure just who’d win in this all out war between these two nefarious pair. Naturally, many people feel that Marla ought to get her comeuppance and Blakeson toys with that very idea, only to pull the rug right from under us when we think it’s the end of the road for her. The ending made me go ‘whoa!!‘ It’s quite rare these days where a movie finale completely throw you for a loop, so I always cherish that when that happens!

So while it’s not a perfect movie, it’s one heck of a wild, thrilling ride and a stylish one. Costume designer Deborah Newhall designed the clothes to make a pronounced statement about each character and an enviable wardrobe for Pike’s character. Everything Marla wears screams ‘I’m a f*cking lioness,’ which is what she aspires to be. The dynamic score by Marc Canham is perfect for the tone of the movie and for Marla’s Type A personality, used with efficiency in her scenes at the gym, in her vigorous spinning class, etc.

Ultimately, I Care A Lot is a dynamic but also unnerving crime thriller that’s also a biting satire that celebrate sheer feminism. The emotional moments between Marla and Fran’s relationship is few and far between however, and not particularly believable. I think it’s mostly because Marla’s so driven to ‘never lose’ that it’s hard to imagine her caring about anything or anyone else. The scene involving her tooth is a prime example of how much she cares about her image. The title is appropriate here as the only thing she cares a lot is herself and winning. In an age of superhero movies, I suppose it’s refreshing to see a film about villains. I have to say this movie is not for everyone, but if you can stomach morally bankrupt characters and vile stench of a plot, it’s certainly entertaining.


Have you seen I CARE A LOT? Well, what did you think?

Thursday Movie Picks: Romance Tropes Edition – Forbidden Love

ThursdayMoviePicksHappy almost Friday! It’s TMP time! The Thursday Movie Picks blogathon was spearheaded by Wandering Through the Shelves Blog.

The rules are simple simple: Each week there is a topic for you to create a list of three movies. Your picks can either be favourites/best, worst, hidden gems, or if you’re up to it one of each. This Thursday’s theme is… Romance Tropes Edition: Forbidden Love.

There are plenty to choose for this week’s topic, which actually makes it harder. Well, I’m going with films that people might not have seen yet, and not one most people would automatically think of when they hear the term forbidden love.

In any case, here are my picks:

NEVER LET ME GO (2010)

The lives of three friends, from their early school days into young adulthood, when the reality of the world they live in comes knocking.

I reviewed this movie nearly a decade ago and it’s the kind of film you should know as least as possible before watching. It’s a sci-fi drama starring Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley and Andrew Garfield who grew up together in school, and there’s a love triangle that happen between them when they grow up.

Based on a book by Kazuo Ishiguro, directed by Mark Romanek based on a script by Alex Garland‘s (28 Days Later, Ex Machina), the romantic drama sensibilities offers a stark contrast to the cerebral sci-fi nature of the story. Lets just say it’s one of the most haunting film I’ve ever seen as you learn the predestined fate that await these characters.

Fun Trivia:
Keira Knightley admitted that she only agreed to appear in the film because her friend and co-star Carey Mulligan had asked her to. She said she was unable to relate to Ruth’s involvement in a love triangle.


LOVING (2016)

The story of Richard and Mildred Loving, a couple whose arrest for interracial marriage in 1960s Virginia began a legal battle that would end with the Supreme Court’s historic 1967 decision.

I’ve reviewed this one as well and if you haven’t seen it yet, well, might be good to catch this during Black History Month. It’s really astonishing that this happened not that long ago… I’d like to think hope we’ve come a long way since then.

Jeff Nichols is such a talented and sensitive filmmaker and I like that this film highlights the then-forbidden love between the couple, instead of just using their story to make a political statement. Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton beautifully portrayed Mildred and Richard with such quiet grace and sincerity. It’s an understated performance that speaks volumes and conveys the tension as well as poignancy of what they went through.

Fun Trivia:
Director Jeff Nichols was able to tell the story of the Loving family as accurately as possible by relying on Nancy Buirski’s documentary The Loving Story (2011), which captured many details of their private lives.


Suite Française (2014)

During the early years of Nazi occupation of France in World War II, romance blooms between Lucile Angellier, a French villager, and Lieutenant Bruno von Falk, a German soldier.

I have to admit I saw this because of Sam Riley whom I had a huge crush on a few years back, but it also has a great cast including Kristin Scott Thomas, Margot Robbie. The forbidden romance is between Michelle Williams‘ character who falls for a Nazi soldier played by Matthias Schoenaerts. Being in love with the enemy certainly is one of the more popular forbidden romance set during wartime.

Schoenaerts is quite an underrated actor and he’s really good in period romance (love him as Gabriel Oak in Far From The Madding Crowd). The way he looks at a woman he loves… well, that’s the stuff memorable romance is made of. There’s a breathless chemistry between him and Michelle, all stolen glances and repressed passion. This movie ends up being a pleasant surprise about love & survival, right down to its poignant ending.

Fun Trivia:
Margot Robbie and Third Assistant Director Tom Ackerley met and began dating during the filming of this movie. They married in 2016.

Sam Riley (Benoit Labarie) and Alexandra Maria Lara (Leah) are married in real life.

The Lover (1992)

In 1929 French Indochina, a French teenage girl embarks on a reckless and forbidden romance with a wealthy, older Chinese man, each knowing that knowledge of their affair will bring drastic consequences to each other.

I saw this film ages ago, the details are a bit hazy to me now. Yet it’s definitely one of the most indelible forbidden love stories I remember, and the film is quite risqué as well. Directed by acclaimed French filmmaker Jean-Jacques Annaud (who also made The Name of the Rose with its own forbidden romance elements), it’s actually based on a semi-autobiographical novel by Marguerite Duras.

Jane March and Tony Ka Fai Leung played the lovers in the film, and there are plenty of explicit sex scenes that’s quite scandalous given March was only 17 or 18 at the time. In the book, the girl is 15 so it’s also a story of sexual awakening. Annaud also shot the sex scenes in a very intimate, believable way, which at times were tough to watch. I don’t watch too many erotic films so this is one of the few films I’ve seen with such unbridled sexuality. But The Lover is also emotionally nuanced so their sexual relationship is more than skin-deep. If you’re curious about this one, it’s also deliberately slow-paced, as some would call poetically-slow, but that’s par the course with Annaud’s films.

Fun Trivia:
Jane March’s first acting role. In an interview with the L.A. Times in Oct. 1992, she said “I had never done a movie in my life. I had never acted before. The first time I saw the film complete, I sat in the screening room and cried. It was the end of my adventure, the end of my first escapade in life.”


So who are YOUR favorite movies about Forbidden Romance?

FlixChatter Review: Sylvie’s Love (2020)

I saw this movie at Twin Cities Film Fest back in October and it’s one of the few films I had the privilege of seeing on the big screen. It’s also one of the rare romantic dramas I get to see this year. I’d say the world could use more love stories, and this one is set to lovely jazz music in 1950s Harlem.

The movie opens outside a Manhattan theater as Sylvie Parker (Tessa Thompson) sees her former lover Robert Halloway (Nnamdi Asomugha) outside a concert. It seems time has passed since they’ve seen each other, but clearly the flames haven’t clearly burned out. The movie then cut to a flashback when Sylvie was working on her father’s (Lance Reddick) record store where the two lovers have their meet cute.

At the time, Robert was a young musician with equal talent and ambition who happened to be looking for a part time gig. Sylvie on the other hand, loved watching TV, which seemed random at first, but as it turns out it’s a harbinger for her TV career that’s revealed later in the movie. Sylvie’s also been betrothed to a man with excellent prospects who’s currently away overseas. Despite such an obstacle, including the disapproval of her etiquette-teacher mother (Erica Gimpel), Sylvie and Robert fall breathlessly in love.

From the moment they meet, there’s such a playful, sweet chemistry between the two leads that we instantly want them to be together. Writer/director Eugene Ashe set up the romance in a dreamy fashion… a slow dance on a street corner beneath the moonlight, even the streets and its surrounding sparkle as if to enhance the mood. It certainly helps that both Thompson and Asomugha are both incredibly gorgeous and look fabulous in retro fashions designed by Phoenix Mellow.

But as the Bard said the course of true love never did run smooth, though labeling Sylvie and Robert as star-crossed lovers might be a bit strong. Each have certain ambitions that keep them apart… Robert goes away to Paris for a steady gig with his band, and Sylvie gets a producing job at a cooking show. One thing I notice is that social issues of the time, such Civil Rights and Women’s movements, are not really a factor in the story, but only mentioned briefly in passing. I suppose that is a deliberate choice on the filmmaker’s part, though perhaps it’s a missed opportunity.

While I was invested in the characters’ journey initially, by the film’s halfway point, it kind of lost its luster. I just don’t feel like there’s enough substance in either Sylvie nor Robert to really get caught up in their lives. The script also seems to sidestep characters/plot that no longer serves its narrative. Sylvie’s mother suddenly disappears when she seemed like an obstacle in the beginning. The breakdown of Sylvie’s marriage with Lacy (Alano Miller) feels rather convenient instead of being an important part that happens in Sylvie’s life. SPOILER ALERT! (highlight to read)we later learn that Sylvie’s daughter turns out to be Robert’s, but even the reveal and subsequent reunion between father + daughter doesn’t have the same emotional weight as one would expect.

In terms of performance though, I love Tessa Thompson here as a romantic lead… so refreshing after seeing her kick ass in the MCU movies. She’s obviously a strong woman, but nice to see her inner strength being the focus here. This is the first time I saw Nnamdi Asomugha but I’m really impressed with him. Nice to see a new proper romantic leading man, and this film offers us not one but two fresh, talented and extremely handsome black actors who I’d love to see more of. The other one is Regé-Jean Page who plays Robert’s best friend and fellow band member Chico. His supporting role is pretty small here but he’s now the star of Netflix’s juicy period drama series Bridgerton and I can’t wait to see more of him on TV AND films. I also quite like Aja Naomi King as Sylvie’s bestie Mona, who formed a fun, playful couple with Page.

In the end, I find this film resplendent and swoon-worthy, but there’s something wanting. As I mentioned above, it doesn’t quite have the depth I was expecting. I suppose not every drama has to have such high stakes to make us care, but I think better character development would make us more invested in their story. That said, there are still plenty to recommend in Sylvie’s Love. DP Declan Quinn shot this beautifully and the music by Fabrice Lecomte sounds lovely. Given that Ashe is a musician himself, naturally the jazzy music is one of the best parts of this movie. I’m glad this movie is on Amazon Prime, I should like to revisit this one again one day.


Have you seen SYLVIE’S LOVE? Well, what did you think?

10 non-English language romance films to watch on Valentine’s Weekend

Happy Valentine Weekend, everyone!

February is unofficially a romantic month given everywhere you look you’ll see pink/red flowers/hearts of some kind to remind people that Valentine’s Day is upon us. When it comes to movies, perhaps some of you might watch more romantic movies this month.

Love is universal, so why not watch some romantic movies in a language other than English?

Since I’ve been watching some French shows recently, I thought I’d highlight 10 romantic films from various parts of the world.

Now, not every single one of these are happy love stories… just like real life, love is complex and things don’t always work out the way we want to. But the best love stories are those that not only sweep you off your feet, but also make you think deeply about life and the people who mean most to you.

So here are my film recommendations in alphabetical order:

A Copy Of My Mind (2015)

A cheap salon worker and a pirated DVDs subtitle maker fall in love during the turbulent presidential election in Indonesia.

This was the first Indonesian film I saw in the theater here in the US, as part of a local film festival. It takes place in my hometown Jakarta and explores the gritty, unglamorous side of the overpopulated (and over-polluted) Indonesian capital. It’s a love story between Sari (Tara Braso) who works at a cheap salon and spends her nights watching pirated movies (which are everywhere in Indo). She meets her match in Alek (Chicco Jerikho), a guy who actually works providing subtitles for illegal dvds, including porn, ahah.

Joko Anwar is a pretty renowned Indo director and he’s definitely a talented filmmaker. He’s got a gift in creating a genuine sense of intimacy and realism in his romances as the characters relationship feels natural and their journey emotionally involving. The film turns into a political thriller as Sari accidentally gets a hold of a DVD that connects a politician and the mafia. No, it doesn’t suddenly turn into a Bourne movie, but there are some scenes that are tough to watch. The open-ended ending was quite frustrating, but doesn’t negate all the positive aspects of this thought-provoking film.

Amelie (2001)

Amélie is an innocent and naive girl in Paris with her own sense of justice. She decides to help those around her and, along the way, discovers love.

When one hears the term joie de vivre that is, the joy of living, I often think of Amélie, the quirky, vivacious protagonist in Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s French rom-com. Jeunet takes us along on a journey through Paris, a world full of misfits and outcasts, where she delights in the simplest things in life.

One day she meets Nino who likes to collect and reconstruct rejected photos under photo booths. Love sometimes hits you when you least expect it and this is a romantic journey you wouldn’t want to miss. Audrey Tautou is simply mesmerizing in the title role and the cinematography, ambience and music will make you fall in love with the City of Light.

Anna Karenina: Vronsky’s Story (2017)

During Russian-Japanese War, the head of the hospital Sergey Karenin learns that the wounded officer Count Vronsky is the person who ruined his mother Anna Karenina.

There have been SO many adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s tragic romance, but this one is actually a Russian adaptation and told from the perspective of Anna’s lover, Count Vronsky. I actually reviewed this one a few years ago and though I wasn’t overly fond of it, I’d still recommend this one for fans of period dramas for the gorgeous set pieces, costumes, music, etc. It’s meticulously crafted and perhaps because the characters speak Russian and it was shot in Russia, it feels authentic.

The beautiful actors, Elizaveta Boyarskaya as Anna and Maksim Matveev as Vronsky depict their tumultuous love story with intense passion, as their story is told in flashback 30 years later after Anna’s doomed end. It’s quite interesting to imagine Anna’s son, who’s now the head of the hospital where Vronsky is being treated. The film tends to be on the melodramatic side, but I’d still recommend this one for those who love Tolstoy’s work and are fans of historical dramas.

Bombay Rose (2019)

A romance set on the streets of Bombay we witness Kamala and Salim’s quest for love in this chaotic and beautiful city.

I wanted to include an animated film on this list and immediately thought of this one I watched last year. It’s quite rare to see an animated romantic dramas (now I wouldn’t count the more fantastical Disney Princess movies in the same category as this one) and this beautiful hand-painted animation was created by animation filmmaker Gitanjali Rao. It’s quite impressive given this is her debut feature–every frame is strikingly beautiful but also laden with passion and humanity.

It’s a tale of forbidden love between a Hindu and a Muslim, and a subplot involving an English language teacher who pines for a long lost love. While the story gets overly complicated at times, there’s still a magnetic quality that keeps you engaged. I also like that there’s a film-within-a-film in its storytelling, as well as an intriguing mix of realism, life on the streets of Bombay, with surrealistic elements such as a character turning into an eagle. While it’s not perfect narratively, it’s still well worth a watch for its exquisite visuals and unique storytelling style.

Cinema Paradiso (1988)

A filmmaker recalls his childhood when falling in love with the pictures at the cinema of his home village and forms a deep friendship with the cinema’s projectionist.

I’ve blogged about Cinema Paradiso quite a few times and it remains one of the foreign-language movies I recommend to people. Written and directed by Giuseppe Tornatore, it’s more than just a romance between two people (Toto and Elena), it’s also a beautiful love letter to cinema, as well as a heartfelt tribute to life-altering friendship (Alfredo and Toto).

There are plenty of romantic moments between the handsome Italian boy Toto and the subject of his affection is Elena, including an iconic kissing scene in the rain. But it’s the final scene of the older Toto who’s now a successful filmmaker… alone in an empty cinema watching something Alfredo made specially for him. I won’t spoil it for you… but let’s just say it’s one of cinema’s greatest scenes.

Cold War (2019)

In the 1950s, a music director falls in love with a singer and tries to persuade her to flee communist Poland for France.

This Polish black/white film by Pawel Pawlikowski is a beautiful and emotionally-haunting film. It’s not exactly a ‘joyful’ movie, nor is it a fantastical, dreamy look at love. Joanna Kulig  and Tomasz Kot have that Bogie/Bacall vibe, a strong chemistry and a passionate intensity that burns through the screen.

Billed as an impossible love story in impossible times, their romance is dark, thorny and even tragic. I remember watching this on the big screen in a nearly empty theater and I almost couldn’t move when it ended. The minimalist filmmaking style packs an emotional punch, definitely one of the best love stories that speaks about the complexity of human emotion living in difficult times.

For A Woman (2016)

After their mother’s death, a filmmaker and her sister discover a cache of old photos and letters that lead them to unravel their parents’ tangled relationship with a mysterious uncle.

I saw this as part of Minneapolis/St. Paul Film Festival. The post-WWII story is based on French director Diane Kurys’ own family history. The lovely Mélanie Thierry plays a young mother Lena whose husband Michel (Benoît Magimel) had rescued her when they both were in a concentration camp. The new life they’ve built together in Paris takes an unexpected turn when her husband’s long-lost brother Jean (Nicolas Duvauchelle) suddenly shows up in their apartment.

I enjoy love stories with a bit of mystery thrown in, and the political aspect of this film certainly makes this one even more beguiling. The film moves between two periods, late 1940s and in the 80s where Lena’s daughter Anne (Sylvie Testud) is now a filmmaker who’s inspired to write a screenplay based on her parents’ story.

House of Flying Daggers (2004)

During the reign of the Tang Dinasty, two captains of the government army, plot a scheme against the rebels using the blind dancer Mei to approach their leaders, but their love for Mei leads them to a tragedy.

I barely watch any Kung Fu movies, but I remember enjoying this Kung Fu romance drama by Zhang Yimou. Known for his beautifully-shot epic movies such as Hero, Curse of the Golden Flower, this one also features spectacular action sequences that take your breath away. The one in the bamboo forest is one that’ll make you go ‘how did they do that?’ But what I remember most is the chemistry between Takeshi Kaneshiro and Zhang Ziyi who are both phenomenally gorgeous actors. Ziyi plays a beautiful blind dancer who get entangled with two men (the other one played by Andy Lau) who happen to work together.

It’s one of those impossible love stories where the odds are always against them and there are larger forces at work that prevent them from ever being together. I remember thinking that despite all the stunning landscapes (shot in China and Ukraine) and unbelievable, physics-defying Kung Fu, there is still a tender love story at the center.

Photograph (2019)

A struggling street photographer in Mumbai, pressured to marry by his grandmother, convinces a shy stranger to pose as his fiancée. The pair develop a connection that transforms them in ways they could not expect.

I’ve been wanting to see this movie for a long time and I finally did earlier this week so I could include it on this list. I had heard of Ritesh Batra’s The Lunch Box starring the late Irrfan Khan, where Nawazuddin Siddiqui has a supporting role. This one is also set in Mumbai and this time Siddiqui plays a street photographer Rafi, who asks a woman named Miloni he took a picture of to pretend to be his fiancée. He does it to appease his grandmother (Dadi) who, unsurprisingly in that culture, has been pestering him to choose a wife. Farrukh Jaffar is quite a hoot in the role of Dadi, providing some of the lighter, comic moments.

There is such a quiet grace about this film, even amidst the chaotic Mumbai streets and in a cramped living quarter where Rafi shares with his work buddies. The story touches upon themes of social class given that Miloni comes from a more affluent background. Yet it doesn’t stop their chance encounter to blossom albeit ever so tentatively, which might seem unusual in the age of instant gratification. There’s a pretty bizarre scene involving a ghost that seems a bit out of character, yet somehow delivered in a nonchalant manner that you just go with it. I’m really impressed by Batra’s work here and will definitely be checking out his other work.

In The Mood for Love (2001)

Two neighbors, a woman and a man, form a strong bond after both suspect extramarital activities of their spouses. However, they agree to keep their bond platonic so as not to commit similar wrongs.

This movie is one of my cinematic blind spots but I finally rectified it this week when I saw it for the first time on HBO Max. I’m not too familiar with Wong Kar-wai’s work, the only other film of his I saw was The Grandmaster which is a visually-ravishing film. Now, the same could be said about this one, which also stars Tony Chiu-Wai Leung. He and Maggie Cheung have such an exquisite chemistry… even as they steal glances every time they pass through a narrow corridor to get to their cramped home, you can cut their repressed tension with a knife.

Set in Hong Kong in the 1960s, Mr. Chow is a newspaper editor and Mrs. Chan a secretary. Both of their respective spouses are barely shown or not at all, allowing them to spend time together as they suspect their spouses’ infidelity. It’s one of the most beautiful films about love and loss… stylishly-directed by Kar-wai and shot by his longtime collaborator Christopher Doyle. A poignant and heart-wrenching drama for the ages. In fact, reading IMDb trivia, this was the film that made Alejandro González Iñárritu want to be a filmmaker, wow!


Which of these films have you seen? If you have foreign romance films to recommend, please leave them in the comments!