Category Archives: Classics

On the 30th Anniversary of WHEN HARRY MET SALLY…

WHEN HARRY MET SALLY… Country: USA. Director: Rob Reiner. Screenwriter: Nora Ephron. Language: English. Cast: Billy Crystal, Meg Ryan,, Carrie Fisher, Bruno Kirby, Harley Jean Kozak, Steven Ford, Lisa Jane Persky. Runtime: 95 minutes. Rating: CLASSIC.

Jane Austen once wrote how difficult it is for a man and a woman to establish a relationship not based in sex with her timeless classic Pride and Prejudice. Unless you’ve lived under a rock, or plain skipped every literary assignment you were given in high school, you’ll definitely know at least the bare-bones premise of the story and the development of its characters who for the most part remain blind around the fact that they love each other.

Flash-forward almost two centuries later and Nora Ephron, an author known for her acerbic, razor-sharp wit, developed, in conjunction with director Rob Reiner, a movie based on themselves to a degree (even when neither of them had been in a relationship with each other, which makes me wonder how that would have ended). The result… well… it’s made cinema history, thirty years later, as it gets re-released to either new audiences who might walk into theaters and watch it out of hearsay or moviegoers suffering from a case of nostalgia who, like me, saw it when it came out on cable in 1990, and want a shot at experiencing it — love in New York! oh, so romantic — on the big screen.

Who would have thought that this little movie which was a surprise hit back when and would have garnered more had it been considered for Oscar nominated performances by its two leads (who anchor the movie with their chemistry and those lines written by Ephron), would by now have entered our lexicon with that the line, “I’ll have what she’s having?” If only anyone knew back then, what comedic material they had in their hands. This is why you owe it to yourself to experience this movie. Rent it, buy it, or go check it out again in any retrospective near you. It’s that good of a film, you can watch it over and over and the entire film feels fresh and up to date. Much of what was true then rings true now, as men and women continue to circle each other and attempt relationships with each other.

[Heck, entire series have been created based on this “let’s be friends only” rule. Most of “Friends” was angled at this type of dynamics, and “Seinfeld” offered yet another example of a woman and a man being friends with no interest in each other whatsoever. “Sex and the City” brought this setup to the late 90s and the start of the new millennium, and “Will & Grace” took it a whole other direction by flipping sexuality and establishing a solid friendship with hints of sexual tension not just in its two main leads (Will and Grace) but in its two other leads (Jack and Karen).]

In short, When Harry Met Sally is timeless and the best movie Woody Allen never made (although it does bear some slight relation to Allen’s Annie Hall). With not only Carrie Fisher and the criminally underrated Bruno Kirby on board to produce a solid foursome, but also, as I mentioned earlier, the brilliance of New York City a its own character, to provide ample scenery for the clueless couple at the center to fall in love. And with a killer view of the Empire State Building (as seen in Harry’s character’s loft apartment), or with those walks both Harry and Sally take throughout the Upper West and Central Park, who wouldn’t want to meet someone and fall in love?

ON DVD: A BRIEF VACATION (1973)

Hooked on Film rating:

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

 

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People in Italian Neo-realism films don’t usually take vacations; they barely have any money to even get on by, and Vittorio De Sica’s next to last movie deviates only very slightly from his usual topic. While not as brutally draining of hope as his 1948 classic Bicycle Thieves (I Ladri di Bicicleta), and not quite as emotionally powerful as his 1970  The Garden of the Finzi-Continis (Il Giardino dei Finzi-Contini), A Brief Vacation is both a return to his his core topic, and a welcome departure as well.

The movie focuses on Clara Mataro (Florinda Bolkan), a woman working in a factory, providing for her disabled husband Renato. At the opening of this film, Clara is at her last rope. Nothing works properly in her house and on top of that she is expected to go to work under long commutes and still put food on her family’s plate. Things take a turn for the worse when she starts fainting at work; a visit to the doctor discloses that she has become tubercular and must cease work at once and get some much needed recovery.

This doesn’t bode well for her family, who view Clara as a money-making machine, and an exchange with a young man who is also at the doctors leads to accusations of infidelity bordering on spousal abuse from her husband. Still, against her husband’s wishes, she takes the decision and boards a train that takes her to the mountains of Italy far north to start a new chapter of mental and physical recovery.

Once there she befriends an interesting group of women: one, a famous singer (played by Adriana Asti) with an advanced stage of cancer who maintains a strong front while collapsing on the inside, a trophy wife (Teresa Gimpera), and a young woman who won’t eat. Clara, herself a victim of a hard life, slowly finds her footing in ways she could not have while living with her family. Somehow, these wounded women see a subtle strength that Clara herself probably didn’t know she possessed and come to depend on her for support when they themselves have to confront their inner pain.

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The one thing that lingers a tad plastic in the movie is that the young man she met at the doctor’s office also comes to visit for an indefinite stay. This seems a tad fabricated for the purpose of romantic drama, (and for some reason it made me think of how romance also happened to Cecilia, another lonely woman who escapes reality by via of a movie heartthrob in Woody Allen’s 1985 The Purple Rose of Cairo) However, this new man also works to Clara’s favor: she discovers passion, and with that, her own beauty. De Sica, however, doesn’t go the route of giving her a makeover, and Bolkan is marvelous in depicting the subtle nuances that she herself is perhaps more confident than she initially let on. Perhaps an actress with less presence may have required this treatment — typical of Hollywood — but Bolkan, it’s always there, flickering, like an inner light.

It’s because of this that Clara’s slow evolution from battered, sick housewife to a woman who is becoming more herself even when she may have to return home when her family comes to fetch for her, that one realizes just how strong and independent she really is. A Brief Vacation may not have all the answers into resolving her quandary as of what comes after recovery, but as a character study of a woman coming back from the edge of darkness, A Brief Vacation is a movie that while has its feet firmly entrenched in its Neo-realist roots also offers a core element: a glimmer of hope. You couldn’t ask for more evolution than that in a director.