Brief encounters and lasting memories | Sunday Observer

Brief encounters and lasting memories

19 August, 2018
 ‘Brief Encounter’
‘Brief Encounter’

‘Romance’ is a theme that has been explored and expressed in a multitude of perspectives with varying degrees in the world of cinema. Love and romance can be a captivating subject matter to form the basis for a story that keeps audiences in raptures, anticipation and wonder.

Love, after all, they say ‘makes the world go round’, and for the art of cinema, love and romance provide the means for story material that moves across eras and geographies, yet, retain the universal essence of emotions of how human longing reacts when facing constraints and obstacles that prevent lovers from being together.

One of the thematically definable categories of romance films is the ‘brief encounter’ types. A man and a woman meet quite by chance, and instantly share a ‘connection’ which makes them want the other’s company, but a lasting long term relationship is circumstantially not allowed.

The most famous of this particular type of romance film is possibly the David Lean classic ‘Brief Encounter’. A film from the golden age of black and white cinema, this movie has Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard in the lead roles as Laura and Alec who meet at a railway station and discover they enjoy each other’s company.

They make arrangements to meet again and find a developing attraction. Both are married and are thus potential adulterers if they allow a physical relationship to develop. Conscious of the moral implications of their platonic encounters, Laura and Alec do not cross the line and thus make a statement of the strong middle class moral foundations that defined the times in which the story takes place, which is the late 1930s.

It is a story about restraint and the need for morality and not being irresponsibly indulgent in passions of the heart. It is a story about an internal crisis of whether to pursue the passions of the heart or to adhere to reason as required by familial and social order.

Although not strictly in the mould of the relationship dynamics and structures of morality and reason, ‘Roman Holiday’, directed by William Wyler, is also a rollercoaster romance that springs from a chanced unexpected encounter between two potential lovers who find they are drawn to each other. With Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck in the lead roles, this classic of the golden age of Hollywood is from the early 1950s, and is quite the charming romantic comedy, which despite its comedy and light heartedness has a bittersweet ending.

From among well known Hollywood movies of this century that fit into this category of ‘Brief Encounter’ movies is ‘Lost in Translation’ directed by Sofia Coppolla. The scenario in this movie however shows an attraction between two strangers that seem somewhat mismatched at first glance, the male role Bob, being played by Bill Murray, and Scarlett Johansson playing the character of Charlotte, they do not strike the viewer at first glance as a pair between whom there can be a strong instant ‘connection’.

However, what is notable in this movie’s scenario is that the two of them are ‘strangers in a strange land’. The movie is set in Tokyo and they both discover the comfort of companionship for conversation, meeting by chance in a hotel.

Set in the mid 1990s, Richard Linklater’s ‘Before Sunrise’ is without doubt a beguiling romantic drama movie that fits brilliantly into the ‘brief encounter’ category.

When Jesse, played by Ethan Hawke, meets Celine, played by Julie Delpy, on the train, the proposition he makes, as an American tourist who is yearning to get acquainted with the beauty of Vienna in the company of a beautiful European girl, paves the way for an enchanting cinematic narrative driven by dialogue to flow as a ‘plotless’ story of a young man and a young woman enjoying an evening in each other’s company that runs the course of the night towards dawn without any sexual intimacy.

Undeniably drawn to each other but prevented from continuing further together on their journey as their respective obligations take them in different directions, Jesse and Celine part ways with the promise to meet again in the same place in six months. ‘Before Sunrise’ was followed by ‘Before Sunset’ and ‘Before Midnight’ which follow Jesse and Celine as lovers who eventually do end up together despite the initial meeting ending with uncertainty for reuniting.

A notable feature of the ‘Brief Encounter’ category of romance movie is that they would unlikely have an aspect of overt sexual intimacy between the lovers who are meant to be shown as not meant to be together.

It is partly the pain of not being able to be ‘fully defined lovers’ that makes this type of romance movie impressionable and ripe with the emotion of bittersweet love.

One of the strongest impressions this ‘Brief Encounter’ movie types make upon the viewer is that it creates the thought of yearning for ‘what could have been’. They are stories of serendipity and propinquity in ordinary situations leading to unexpected emotional bonds. And thus they become stories that deliver to the romantic at heart, strong lasting impressions.