Lovers, Winners, Losers

Many people remain faithful to the wounded, ungainly adoles­cent in them­selves and, in their heart of hearts, admit the justice of his comical, impossible demands.”

Czeslaw Milosz, Visions From San Fran­cisco Bay, 1982

And it’s only love and it’s only love
That can wreck a human being and turn him inside out

Kate & Anna McGar­rigle, Heart Like A Wheel

The title is stolen from Brian Friel who wrote a double bill of theatre plays about lovers in the early 70’s. The ‘winners’ were a teenage couple facing a future shaped by an unin­tended preg­nancy who become victims of a fateful drowning; the ‘losers’ were a guilt-ridden middle-aged couple snatching at moments of passion while nursing a sick and tyran­nical parent.

WinnersFriel’s poignant plays under­line the fact that the best love stories are often about love’s fragile and fleeting nature. Love, when it comes to us, can be either the most rewarding or damaging event in our lives; some­times both. Nothing stays the same for very long and often all we have are those moments that we cling to in memory.

Remorse, one of the most powerful human emotions, plays a part in many of the great love stories on film. Fellini’s La Strada is a case in point; being about a love that is never recog­nised until it is too late. But we can also enjoy the follies of love, espe­cially when the lovers are unlikely soul-mates. A small selec­tion of extracts from both types of love stories is included below.



La Madelaine

A word­less short fantasy that uses mono­chrome and colour to great effect in a ‘graphic novel’ style of film-making. (Taken from the Paris, Je t’Aime 2006 shorts compilation)

Venus 2006

Hanif Kureishi’s medit­a­tion on lust and love in old age is given great grace and an unex­pected dignity by Peter O’Toole’s in possibly his last perform­ance of note as an elderly actor who forms an unlikely liaison with an abrasive young girl played by Jodie Whit­taker.

The casting of a former star in such a role lends the story an added poignancy, reminding us of the fleeting nature of phys­ical beauty and fame. There are also echoes of O’Toole’s career, his affairs with leading ladies and his failed marriages, alluded to in the film but it is not until after his death that the girl grasps some­thing of his stature.

Cisco Pike

Kris Kris­tof­fersen was very much the 70’s version of recon­sti­t­uted male; laid back, diffident and more in touch with his feminine side; as he demon­strated in unlikely vehicles like the remake of A Star is Born. As this scene shows though; a hipster and his ‘old lady’ could still spar with each other like Hepburn and Tracey.

Je t’aime, John Wayne

Kris Marshall plays an unlikely hero obsessed with Jean-Paul Belmondo in Godard’s film ‘À Bout de Souffle‘ in this slyly funny and affec­tionate piss-take of the ‘nouvelle vague’ style trans­lated to London. The (even more unlikely) happy ending sees him find a girl equally obsessed with Jean Seberg.

14th Arrond­ise­ment 2006

This short film is a funny and touching study of how a middle-aged post­mis­tress from middle America finds love in Paris. (Taken from the Paris, Je t’Aime 2006 shorts compilation)

Always 1989

This was Spiel­berg‘s remake of the 1943 Spencer Tracey movie A Guy Named Joe updated for the eighties. The basic story – the ‘ghost’ of a pilot is sent back to help the man who takes over the affec­tions of his girl – remains the same, although it loses some urgency without the wartime context of the original.

Never­the­less, it is genu­inely poignant in places, helped by a numinous last perform­ance from Audrey Hepburn as an angel.

Cutting it Short (Postriziny) 1981

Jiri Menzel’s gentle and sensual Czech comedy about a brewery stays true to his partic­ular view of sexual rela­tions which is very forgiving. Here an uxorious husband is abso­lutely delighted when his pretty wife injures herself because he gets the chance to nurse her. Set in the early part of the twen­tieth century, the film is about changes in the air: the coming of modernity and a kind of liber­a­tion that was still only a wistful dream in Eastern Europe at the time this film was made..

The Reck­oning 1969

A lonely working-class woman picks up a man for a night of sex. But the under­valued Rachel Roberts brings such a simple charm and warmth to her portrayal of the char­acter that she makes some­thing that could be sordid seem beau­tiful. Perhaps it was her own life (a depressive, she committed suicide relat­ively early in her career) that enabled her to find this special quality.

Reuben Reuben 1983

A char­ac­ter­istic of the love story – on the screen as in real life – is the precip­itous change of fortune. Tom Conti is a dissolute ageing poet, an unlikely lover for a young girl, but he is blessed with charm, humour and self-awareness, and so he wins out in a comedy that is also a medit­a­tion on old age and loss.

Romantic comedies are supposed to be about love but very few of them combine both charm and heart with a melan­choly streak. This is a rare example and it’s inex­plic­able that it still doesn’t have a DVD release.


Places Des Fetes

Directed by Olive Schmitz, a  South African film-maker who directed the memor­able Mapant­sula, this decept­ively simple little story also speaks eloquently about the lot of African migrant workers in Europe.

Nobody’s Fool

Paul Newman brings his consid­er­able charisma to the role of a builder in a small town who suffers from unre­quited love for Bruce Willis’ ex-wife. When he finally gets her, however, the result is unexpected

The Last Picture Show 1971

An older woman and a younger man have an affair in a small Texan town but this is not a story of cougars and frat boys. Outstanding perform­ances from Chloris Leachman and Sam Bottoms make this, the climactic scene of the film, deeply moving and believ­able.
Spoiler alert: this clip comes close to the end of the movie. This is a really great film so watch the whole of it first if you can.

This Sporting Life 1963

This is another film about love that is real­ised too late. Richard Harris and Rachel Roberts give the perform­ances of their lives as a brutish rugby player and middle-aged woman past her prime.

The Ragman’s Daughter 1973

Another unjustly neglected British film set in 1970’s Nottingham. It tells the story of a doomed love affair between a working-class lad and the pretty daughter of rich busi­nessman drawn together by the excite­ment of commit­ting petty crimes.

Its real subject matter though is the loss of the illu­sions of youth, some­thing it handles with surprising sens­it­ivity and depth.

Sawdust and Tinsel 1953

Ingmar Bergman’s study of sexual humi­li­ation amongst the members of a tawdry circus company explores many of the themes that he would pursue throughout his films.

This sequence, however, is unlike the rest of the film; a tran­scendent piece of cinema that has the feel of some­thing made by Sergei Eisen­stein. Starting with an almost carnival atmo­sphere, it takes on Calvary-like over­tones as it progresses and becomes an affecting ritu­al­ised evoc­a­tion of the burden of love.

La Strada 1959

Fellini’s film is about as far from a romantic tale as you can get and yet it is one of the most affecting stories of lost love on film. Like Bergman, he chooses the world of seedy circus enter­tainers as the setting for his story of the rela­tion­ship between a strongman and a simple girl who is inden­tured to him as an assistant. Like the char­ac­ters in Lindsay Anderson’s This Sporting Life, they are poles apart and the bond between them remains unac­know­ledged until too late.

Three into Two Won’t Go 1969

Despite Rod Steiger’s bizar­rely wandering British accent, this study of a middle-class marriage in melt­down features some fine acting; partic­u­larly from Claire Bloom as a frus­trated wife and Judy Geeson as a teenage femme fatale. There is genuine sadness as this ageing couple face up to the end of their rela­tion­ship. Peggy Ashcroft is equally well judged as the self-centred mother in law.


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