I promise not to delve into astrology here, but with all the outer planets bringing me transformation through transits to my natal planets, I have discovered a few tools for survival, including listening to high frequency music and watching romantic cinema. When I say romantic cinema, I’m not talking of the banal kind where to codependent people meet and don’t get a life until they move into together. I’m talking about movies in which each character deals with their own demons first and undergoes a transformation that leads them to truly loving another person from a soul level. Most couples will never experience this type of love for it is deeply spiritual, giving from the heart and not about assuaging the ego. It’s not about making babies or living in the right house, in the right neighborhood and adapting to the latest trends.
Some love stories don’t involve couples at all, such as in the case of the Tunisian movie, “Satin Rouge” which involves a middle age housewife widow discovering the art and sensuality of belly dancing. In this case, the woman romances herself and transforms through self-love and liberation of spirit. Another love story that does not involve coupling is “Brother Sun, Sister Moon” which many people will view as a religious movie since it centers around the early life of Saint Francis of Assisi and Saint Chiara (Claire). But this story profoundly explores the love between two soul mates who direct their love towards the Divine and helping others born of less fortunate circumstances. Francis, who in real life desired to become a knight or a troubadour, was known as a fool for love, but eventually, his love turned from carnal desire to connecting with the Divine.
However, the ten movies I present to you here all represent a more familiar romantic love, but all these movies give us the recipe for lasting love, not only with a partner, but with ourselves. In “Under a Tuscan Sun” (based on a memoir by Frances Mayes, an American who bought a villa in Tuscany), we start out with a divorcee who through trial and error in Italy undergoes a transformation that takes her from self-loathing to self-love and then she meets her future husband.
French filmmaker Eric Rohmer’s seasons and comedy of error series also bring us love stories of the transformational kind. No doubt, the late Joseph Campbell would have found echoes of the heroes journey in some of these films, or at least, a lot of soul searching. But then, I believe that the troubadour tradition from medieval France still plays a subtle role in French romantic movies. We see a lot of characters pining for someone through whatever circumstances keep people apart.
While I wasn’t interested in the Sandra Bullock or Meg Ryan movies in my 20s and 30s like other women my age were, I find myself watching these movies often at this time. True, Sandra Bullock usually plays (in the romantic comedies and romances) a lost, but guarded single woman who doesn’t believe she will meet her match. In contrast, Meg Ryan played a lot of pushy or aggressive women and yet, impressed men in the end, even when she ignored them or pushed them aside in favor of someone or something else.
The romantic movies included on my list all come from recent decades. I do not have the space here to include Audrey and Katherine Hepburn movies here, and I don’t see the transformation theme as heavily in those movies. And in fact, with the Audrey Hepburn movies I sometimes saw a lack of transformation or a retrograde effect. For instance, at the beginning of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” Holly Golightly played by Hepburn has more confidence in herself than she does at the end of the movie when she gives in to the wimpy guy who thinks its his job to stop her from running away. But then that movie was made in the shadow of the 1950s when a woman’s job was to find a man, get married and do the housewife thing. So much for women’s emancipation of earlier decades under the pressures of the Eisenhower era.
“Lake House” with Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves features a romantic story that bends time, shuttles back and forth through time, and revolves around a lake house while also teaching viewers a little about architecture since Reeve’s character Alex is an architect. Similar to Jane Austen’s “Persuasion” which has a cameo appearance in the movie, this story is about faith and waiting. There aren’t any gratuitous sex scenes, but the characters express deep tenderness towards one another, without dumping their emotional baggage on the other. The soul mate and destiny themes come through loud and clear, but we’re not talking about two halves coming together to make a whole, which is a usual formula with romantic stories. This is quickly becoming a favorite theme for me and you can’t beat the ending.
While I could describe the themes in each of the ten movies I’m listing here, you can also read former posts I wrote on romantic movies since this is a revolving theme in my life. After all, I write romantic comedies and magic realism. In order for a movie of any genre to satisfy me (I worked as a film journalist for several years and hosted my own cinema website), I need a decent plot, fully fleshed out characters, an unpredictable story and a satisfying conclusion. I need to see a transformation of the characters through a dark night of the soul, a quest, and courage during the climactic scenes. That’s a lot to ask from contemporary cinema, yet, my list only scratches the surface of movies that fit this description. You will need to stretch your boundaries from Hollywood to world cinema and learn to read subtitles to get the shiniest gems.
1. Lake House (with Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves)
2. When Harry Met Sally (Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal)
3. French Kiss (Meg Ryan and Kevin Kline)
4. Under a Tuscan Sun (Diane Lane)
5. Eat, Pray Love (Julia Roberts, Javier Bardem)
6. The Green Ray (Eric Rohmer film with Marie Riviere)
7. My Fat Greek Wedding (Nia Vardalos and John Corbett)
8. While You Were Sleeping (Sandra Bullock and Bill Pullman)
9. Pride and the Prejudice (based on Jane Austen’s book, several movie versions)
10. Amelie (Audrey Tautou and Mathieu Kassovitz)