David Walker’s VD Film Festival of Lust & Heartbreak

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There are few holidays I dread more than Valentine’s Day, and not just because it is some manufactured reason to sell tons of cards, flowers and candy. No, the reason I hate Valentine’s Day is because it is a larger part of the twisted notion of what love and romance in this society is supposed to be, as opposed to what love and romance really is. Call me cynical, but purchasing a dozen roses, and sending them along with a box of chocolates and a card has nothing to do with love. That, quite simply, is buying a product called “love.” The difference between buying the sort of love that is being sold during Valentine’s Day in the form of boxes of candy and bouquets of flowers and the sort of love that makes you feel like you have a secret you want to share with the whole world is so vast that the difference can’t even be measured. VD love is a manufactured illusion that can be purchased at any store. But the other type of love, that shit is hard to come by. You can look your whole life, and never find it. Or worse, you can find it, but the other person is so messed up for whatever reason that they can’t comprehend the depth of your love unless it comes in the form of all the Valentine’s Day bullshit.

It wasn’t that long ago that I thought VD 2008 would be different from all the other Valentine’s Days of the past, because I thought I had found that real love—the kind that can’t be defined by some silly card on a shelf at the Hallmark store. Turns out I was wrong. This leaves me in the sad position of spending VD alone, jacking off to either the memory of some past lover, or fantasizing about Rosario Dawson.

But despite the horrific wreckage that was David Walker’s love life in 2007, I still haven’t given up on being in love (or at least “liking someone a whole lot”), and rather than spending Valentine’s Day and the rest of the Weekend of Love trying to run from my heartbreak and loneliness, I will instead spend it watching films that capture the many aspects of love. Think of this as David Walker’s VD Film Festival of Lust & Heartbreak. Sure there are other great romantic comedies and tales of love out there to chose from, but for VD 2008—which starts Thursday, Feb. 14th and extends all the way through Sunday—these are the films that I plan on watching. If you feel so inclined, join me, and we can make a party of it.

all-the-real-girls.jpgAll the Real Girls (2003)—David Gordon Green’s follow-up to his brilliant film George Washington remains one of the most painful love stories I have ever seen. And that is why I love it so much. Paul (Paul Schneider) is a small town womanizer who has left a string of broken hearts of legendary proportions. Paul’s problem—at least one of them—is that he has yet to find a woman that brings out the desire in him to settle down. But much to the surprise of everyone around him, he seems to have found that in Noel (Zooey Deschanel), the younger sister of one of his best friends. But that perfect love he is looking for, and thinks he may have found, is not as easy to hold on to as Paul might think, and his world soon begins to fall apart.

The Apartment (1960)—Billy Wilder is one of my favorite directors of all time, and this is one of my favorite films of all time. Some people think this is a great romantic comedy, but I think it is a dark, twisted examination of unhealthy relationships and fucked up people. Part of me feels I should hate this film more than any other, because it mirrors more of my personal relationships than any other film I have ever seen. Jack Lemmon stars as C.C. Baxter, an ambitious executive at an insurance company who earns points with his bosses by letting them use his apartment to bring their mistresses. But things become complicated when Fran (Shirley MacLaine), the elevator operator Baxter has eyes for, tries to kill herself in his apartment after being dumped by Jeff Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray), Baxter’s boss. Baxter manages to save Fran’s life, which makes his boss happy, setting into motion an upward move on the corporate ladder for Baxter. But things begin to get complicated when he begins to fall for Fran. Everything about this film is brilliant, while at the same time profoundly disturbing. Fran is an emotionally unbalanced woman with a history of being with abusive men who play on her low self-esteem, and Baxter falls in love with her. That’s the story of my fucking life. And while the film ends on a happy note for the two, I can tell you that in the sequel, things don’t work out for C.C. Baxter and Fran Kubelik, because it never does.

Brokeback Mountain (2005)—All jokes about buttfucking cowboys aside, and all homophobia left at the door, this is simply a sad tale of two people in love, who can’t make it work out. You could argue that the reason their relationship fails is because of the social and sexual morals of the time, and the pressures placed upon gay men to remain straight, but that’s not the truth. The real reason is that Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) is so emotionally closed off that he can’t have a real relationship with anyone—including his wife and children. His life is doomed to tragic loneliness no matter who he as sex with—man or woman—because that’s the type of person he is. And that’s what makes this film so poignant.

eternalsunshine.jpgEternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)—Hands down, this is the best film ever made about the ups and downs of love, and the seemingly unbearable pain of heartbreak. Jim Carrey, in his best work ever, stars as Joel, a heartbroken man who learns that his former lover Clementine (Kate Winselt) has had him erased from her memory, courtesy of an experimental company called Lacuna. Not to be undone, Joel decides to have Clementine erased from his memory, but while in the middle of the process, he has second thoughts, and his subconscious mind fights to hold on to memories of the love that got away. Everything about this film is brilliant, especially the desperate means people will go to just to get past the pain of an ended relationship, while at the same time holding on to the romantic memories of the good times. Who out there hasn’t wished they could erase someone from their mind? I know I have. But the problem in real life is that we actually do erase much of our past relationships from our minds, and as a result, many people never learn or grow, but instead make the same mistakes over and over again.

Hav Plenty (1997)—Christopher Scott Cherot’s tale of a likeable loser who pines for a woman he can’t have is standard Hollywood romantic comedy fare. But the fact that this low-budget film was made outside of Hollywood, with an all-black cast by a black filmmaker helps set it apart from similar films. Cherot stars as Lee Plenty, a struggling writer who is invited to spend New Year’s Eve with Havilland Savage (Chenoa Maxwell), an old friend who does not have any romantic interest in him, even though he carries a torch for her. But while Havilland can not see Lee for the catch he is, all of her girlfriends have their eyes on him, which makes her begin to see him in a different light—or at least treat him differently. But what makes this film work (for the most part anyway) is that it doesn’t quite go the way you might think it would.

jump-tomorrow.jpgJump Tomorrow (2001)—Tunde Adebimpe of TV on the Radio stars as George Abiola, an uptight Nigerian man living in America, who is nervously counting down the days until his arranged marriage. But before George can meet his bride-to-be, he inadvertently saves the life of Gerard (Hippolyte Girardot), a hopelessly romantic Frenchman driven to the brink of suicide after being dumped by the love of his life. Gerard vows to repay George for saving his life, which to the Frenchman means helping George find true love, and not something as devoid of passion as an arranged marriage. Seeing that George is taken by the mysterious and lovely Alicia (Natalie Verbeke), Gerard sets out to bring the two together. Writer-director Joel Hopkins’ romantic road picture plays out like a cross between the dry comedy of Jim Jarmusch and the screwball comedy of George Cukor.

Modern Romance (1981)—This is Albert Brooks at his best (which means at his worst, most neurotic). The only time I have ever seen another human being in a more pathetic display of relationship ineptitude was when I looked in the mirror.

My Son the Fanatic (1997)—If love and companionship are the two things we are all looking for, then alienation and isolation are the two things we are all running from. Udayan Prasad’s unlikely tale of romance has far less to do with love and companionship than it does alienation and isolation, which, I suspect, is what makes this such a powerfully moving film. Om Puri stars as Parvez, a Pakistani taxicab driver living in England with his wife and son, both of whom have grown distant from him. When Parvez’s son, Farid (Akbar Kurtha), becomes a fundamentalist Muslim, the two grow even further apart. Parvez finds friendship in an unlikely place with Bettina (Rachel Griffiths), a prostitute he frequently shuttles around town. Since Prasad’s film is as much about the disintegration of of Parvez’s family as it as about any sort of relationship between him and Bettina, some might argue that this is not really a love story. But it as about what happens when love is no longer enough to sustain a relationship, and how we find the love we need in places that we are often fearful to explore.

roadhome.jpgThe Road Home (1999)—Yimou Zhang’s adaptation of Shi Bao’s novel is one of the most quietly beautiful tales of love and devotion I have ever seen. Honglei Sun co-stars as Luo Yusheng, a businessman who returns to the rural village he grew up in to bury his father, the town’s beloved school teacher. His mother wants to give her husband a traditional funeral, which requires the body to be carried back to the village over the frozen road—a task that seems impossible to Yusheng. As he tries to understand why it is so important to his mother, he remembers the tale of how his parents met, as the film moves into the past, where the young Zhao Di (Yiyi Zhang) meets the new school teacher Luo Changyu (Hao Zheng) for the first time. Di is instantly enamored of the dashing young Changyu, but when the government takes him away, her life begins to fall apart. I love this movie for so many reasons, but part of what makes it magical is that it has nothing to do with sex and lust, which are the driving forces of love, especially as it is portrayed in film. But for real love, there needs to be more than lust—there needs to be a magical connection of spirit and emotion that is as difficult to articulate in the written word as it is shown in moving pictures. But this film comes closer than almost any I have ever seen.

two-family-house.jpgTwo Family House (2000)—Written and directed by Raymond De Filitta, this over-looked gem is a melancholy romantic comedy that is as much about finding yourself as it is finding love. Set in New York’s Staten Island in the late 1950s, Michael Rispoli stars as Buddy Visalo, a simple man with dreams of being a bit more than his lot in life currently allows. Buddy purchases a two family house, with the dream of turning the downstairs into a neighborhood bar, and living upstairs with his wife, Estelle (Kathleen Narducci). The problem is that no one in Buddy’s life believes in him or his dream—not even Estelle. The only friendship Buddy finds is from Mary O’Neary (Kelly Macdonald), the recently abandoned single mother who lives upstairs. The relationshp between Buddy and Mary becomes and poignant tale of two lonely people who have never been understood or respected by those around them, but have finally found someone who will care about them for who they are, warts and all.

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