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A fresh, poetic romance

WHAT'S THE best contemporary romantic drama you've never seen? Answer: "Truly, Madly, Deeply". And yes, the movie is as good as the title. Anthony Minghella's debut film must be the least-seen-great-romantic movie out there. It's poetic, funny, whimsical, original and of course, passionate — with a strong, lovely, moving performance from Juliet Stevenson (the role was written for her), perhaps the most underrated British actress now.

There's only one clue that Minghella, making his debut with

"TMD", would go on to make "The English Patient" and

"The Talented Mr. Ripley" and that is his overarching romanticism.

The three movies, as different as they are, have in common this overpowering yet delicate sense of fatal, obsessive romanticism. When the two old lovers reunite in "TMD", they hum Joni Mitchell's "A Case of You": "You are like holy wine in my blood. So bitter and so sweet.

I'll drink a case of you, my darling. And I'll still be on my feet.''

Minghella is always looking for fresh, poetic, un-Hollywood ways to do a romance. When the film opens we see Juliet talking to a shrink about her grief. She's lost her lover (Alan Rickman) whom she loved deeply. She tries to cope with routine but fails. The only place she wants to be is at home — grieving, remembering — at the piano. He was a cellist, she a pianist, and a favourite thing for them to do was to play a composition of his.

One evening, weighed down by memory and grief, she plays the piano, humming their tune, when she begins to hear the familiar cello. Smiling, she plays with more intensity until she realises the cello is not her imagination, it must be real. She turns around and there he is, cello in hand, sitting on his customary stool, smiling his smile. It turns out to be really him after all — his ghost. It is her longing for him that has summoned him, he says, wryly.

The moment feels real, thrillingly real. Real enough to make you feel her disbelief and joy.

The movie is full of genuinely whimsical and truthful moments. One afternoon they play their old game: each one has to describe how much one loves the other without missing a beat:

She: I love you really...

He :I love you really, truly.

She: I love you really, truly, madly.

He: I love you really, truly, madly, deeply.

She: I love you really, truly, madly, deeply, passionately. He: I love you really, truly, madly, deeply, passionately, remarkably.

She: I love you really, truly, madly, deeply, passionately, remarkably... hmmm..uh..ummm... He: ha!

She: hmm - deliciously!

He: I love you really, truly, madly, remarkably, passionately, deliciously... hmm...

She: You passed on deeply! That was your word! That means you can't have meant it!

In the movie's most hilarious moment, she comes home one evening to find a bunch of weird looking strangers before her television watching videos of classics. He explains: they are his friends from the Other Side — he's invited them for a spot of video watching — they are all, you see, movie buffs. They make her go out to the video store and rent movies for them and sit up all night watching movies. When one movie gets over, they slide in another into the VCR, stopping only to take a quick vote — "Five Easy Pieces" or "Fitzcaraldo"? — not seeing or hearing her roll her eyes and groan at this bizarre invasion of privacy by movie buff ghosts — specially when she doesn't even know which period they are from!

"TMD" wonders how long the living can love the dead and the dead, the living — it has Juliet meet this wonderful character called Mark (Mark Maloney) a charming, funny, sensitive, talented man and to her astonishment (and ours) she finds herself drawn to him.

An utterly beautiful moment in the film is when Juliet and Alan sit on the carpet-less floor, each at one end of the room, and think back on the first time they met: how they talked into the night and only somewhere in the early hours of morning did they touch each other for the first time and found themselves shaking, trembling from contact. And he remembers this Spanish poem she taught him once and begins to whisper it in Spanish, asking her to translate. She does, line after line, even as she gasps, laughs and interrupts to remark that his accent is terrible: Forgive me,

If you are not living, If you beloved, my love, if you have died, All the leaves will fall on my breast, It will rain on my soul all night, all day, My feet will want to march to where you are sleeping,

But I shall go on living.

And they embrace, crying. This time they know it's goodbye. So "TMD" is not about learning to love again but about Juliet falling in love with Mark WITHOUT her love for Alan diminishing.

In "The English Patient", the heroine tells her lover that among the many things she loves in her life, her husband is one. And in "The Talented Mr. Ripley", the hero falls in love with the husband and the wife, unable to choose between them.

``The heart'', Minghella has informed us in "The English Patient", ``is an organ of fire.'' And time and again in his films he shows us why the heart, when forced to choose, will not choose but burn brightly for two souls.

Visual by Netra Shyam


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