Brokeback Mountain (2005), Ang Lee

Neither a cowboy picture nor an engaged gay movie, Ang Lee’s 2005 Brokeback Mountain, with its honest depiction of a poignant love story between two lonely men, is primarily a tragedy of denied happiness, but ultimately a subtle study of repression and quiet desperation.

brokeback-mountain-2At the end of Brokeback Mountain, when Ennis Del Mar, standing in front of Jack Twist’s shirt and a picture of the mountains of Wyoming, cries for his paradise lost, we feel for him. For if you are not affected by their story and the poignancy of their denied happiness and forbidden love, then you have no heart. The image of Del Mar’s face, wet by tears of regret and existential desperation, should reflect a sadness so universal that the details of the tale (the homosexual aspect of their relationship, American intolerance in the 1960s, and even Twist’s death at the end of the film) become irrelevant. This is melodrama of the highest order. Continue reading

Raise the Red Lantern (1991), Zhang Yimou

A political allegory disguised as a family melodrama, Zhang Yimou’s 1991 Raise the Red Lantern, a tale of privilege, deception and hatred, where mistresses fight for their master’s sexual attention, stands as a metaphor for human nature’s propensity towards willing submission.

raise-the-red-lantern8Is the ultimate allegorical meaning of Raise the Red Lantern [Dà Hóng Dēnglóng Gāogāo Guà] to do with archaic elements still present in modern China? Does the film hides behind its simple story of deception and betrayal a criticism of how women are still treated in this immense communist country? The near obvious is given a poignant meaning – through spectacular frames and aural delight within a maze of malice and artifice – in the story of Songlian, the fourth wife-cum-concubine of a wealthy master in 1920s China. Continue reading

A Place in the Sun (1951), George Stevens

Released during the postwar economic boom years, George Stevens’ 1951 A Place in the Sun, an unapologetic moralist tale, deals with the usually problematic issue of love between people of different social classes, and has an anti-hero that is as Shakespearean as he is modern.

a-place-in-the-sun-2If, as Heraclitus has said, a man’s character is his fate, then at the end of A Place in the Sun, George deservedly gets his comeuppance. Though he did not commit the crime which condemns him to die, his selfishness and callous mindset make him morally responsible for Alice’s death. We know that he is innocent of her death but also suspect that somehow he feels guilty of far graver crimes in his conscience. Continue reading