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Love Lessons
by Mary Nyiri

Love is a many splendored thing (1) in As it is in Heaven (Sweden). Daniel Daréus (Michael Nyqvist) is an extremely successful conductor who is at the top of his profession but on the downside of middle age. He becomes ill from the effects of his demanding career and living the high life in public. After a complete breakdown, he returns to the little village of his childhood in a remote part of northern Sweden for some rest. His fame precedes him as locals eye him with curiosity, fascination, admiration and even suspicion. A small church choir asks for advice and with little arm-twisting Daniel becomes their director, to the disapproval of the jealous parish priest. His church work revives his lost love of music. As he is re-born, he enjoys the companionship of a sensitive woman, Lena (Frida Hallgren) with whom at the end of his life he finally learns the meaning of love. A beautiful, bittersweet film for lonely hearts everywhere. Lesson #1: Love is patient.

Love nest (2) in The Ballad of Jack & Rose (USA). Jack (Daniel Day-Lewis) still lives in isolation on the site of his abandoned island commune with his sixteen-year-old daughter Rose (Camilla Belle) where he has built an eco-friendly house and tries to keep to his environmental ideals. He suffers from a fatal heart condition; indeed, maybe two. Rose has been raised completely sheltered from outside influences and is a picture of beauty and pure innocence. She loves her father passionately, perhaps too passionately. Jack is horrified to realize he is falling in love with his own daughter. So he invites his girlfriend Kathleen (Catherine Keener) and her two teenage-something sons Rodney (Ryan McDonald) and Thaddius (Paul Dano) to live with them. They descend on the quiet getaway as a surprise for Rose who is immediately jealous of sweet Kathleen and contemptuous of egomaniac Thaddius. Only incisive Rodney tries to be a true friend to Rose. He declines Rose’s invitation to deflower her. Rose lets loose a poisonous snake for Kathleen to find. Thaddius accepts Rose’s invitation to her bed. Rose hangs her bloodied sheet on the clothesline for Jack to see. She invites the boys to view videos of her parents’ commune days. After a family fight results in serious injury to Thaddius, Rose’s attempts to shock her father and alienate Kathleen are successful. Kathleen accepts a check from Jack and leaves with her sons. Jack avoids Rose’s sexual advances as he weakens. Rose wants to die with him, her only love. Good intentions gone from bad to worse, probably best seen under the influence. Lesson #2: Love is kind.

Love crazy (3) in Asylum (USA/Ireland). Set in the late 1950s, Stella (Natasha Richardson) is married to psychiatrist Max Raphael (Hugh Bonneville) and they have a son, Charlie. The family moves from London to the grounds of an asylum where Max has a new job. Max wants to succeed professionally but also hopes his wife will settle down. Some patients earned privileges to work on the grounds so Max arranges for Edgar Stark (Marton Csokas), an intense sculptor, to repair the greenhouse for Stella. At a garden party, Max thinks Stella, who looks stunning in a low cut gown, is inappropriately provocative. She finds comfort with Dr. Cleave (Ian McKellen) who admires her cleavage. At the annual patient’s ball, Stella ignores Dr. Cleave’s advances and goes crazy for Edgar. Later in the greenhouse Edgar confesses he murdered his wife culminating in passionate, brutal sex among the broken glass.

When Dr. Cleave jealously questions his patient Edgar about his relationship with Stella, Edgar lies. Stella tells Edgar he doesn’t belong in the asylum and he manages to escape. Stella obsesses over Edgar, who finally contacts her and they tryst in London. Abandoning her husband and child, she moves in with Edgar in an abandoned London warehouse. At first, they live blissfully in their passionate love but then Edgar begins to lose himself and his mind in his work. He has Stella followed, and Stella is shocked when Edgar strikes her, accusing her of being unfaithful. Dr. Cleave finally finds Stella and returns her to her husband who has lost his job and moved to Wales. Edgar tracks Stella to Wales but is caught when they rendezvous, and he is put back in the asylum. Love-sick Stella watches Charlie drown without trying to save him, leading to Dr. Cleave taking her as a patient in the same asylum where Edgar is locked up. Dr. Cleave finally reveals his true love for Stella and proposes. When Stella realizes that Dr. Cleave will never let her see Edgar again, she kills herself. A tragic love story for Penguin Classics lovers. Lesson #3: Love endures.

Love is a racket (4) in Hitch (USA). Alex “Hitch” Hitchens (Will Smith), otherwise known as the date doctor, is New York’s most successful matchmaker. Hitch is so good at love matches between goofy guys and gorgeous gals that he doesn’t even advertise his game. Hitch takes on stereotypically boring accountant Albert Brennaman (Kevin James). With a bit of coaching, wealthy Allegra Cole, voted Sexiest Woman Alive, finds herself attracted to the big man’s buffoonery. In the meantime, bachelor number one (Hitch) meets bachelorette number two, gossip columnist Sara Melas (Eva Mendes). Smooth sailing to Ellis Island starts the romance rolling but Sara leaves Hitch high and dry after discovering her treasure is a fake doctor on dates. After Sara’s tabloid reveals Al’s guru, Allegra jumps ship. Of course it all works out in the Hollywood ending as Allegra and Al get hitched. The nonsense of mating is at its most superficial in this American film directed by Andy Tennant. Final Lesson: Love is blind!

1 Love is a Many Splendored Thing, 1955, Director Henry King
2 Love Nest, 1951, Director Joseph M. Newman
3 Love Crazy, 1941, Director Jack Conway
4 Love is a Racket, 1932, Director William Wellman