A Little Romance

Memory Lane

An essay by: Witney Seibold

alittleromance-three.jpg

I have to address the film “A Little Romance.” I saw the film when I was about 11 or 12 years old, and I have not seen it since. I do not want to see it again. I do not want to own it. If the gods of technology and entertainment should decide to release a special 4-disc DVD special edition with commentaries from the director or any of the stars, make sure to include a collector’s booklet with an interview by the late Laurence Olivier, and give it a reasonable price, I will not add it to my collection.

            And yet, I still consider this one of the best films I have ever seen.

   

The reason I don’t want to see this film is again simple: I do not want my experience with it, now a 13- or 14-year-old experience, to be tarnished in any way. The way I remember it is the way I want it to stay in my mind.

When I was a boy, I experienced this film in a way that seemed a lot more pure than what I was used to. All the films I had seen up to this point had been mostly fantasy stuff, or simple films for kids with morals watered down to a few catchphrases, and egotistical heroes that would occupy the entire screen with their “cool.” This was the first film that made me realize that a film could be about kids, without being strictly for them. I don’t even remember a lot of it, I saw a Laurence Olivier performance before I had learned who he was, and I wasn’t cogent of any filmmaking techniques. But I fell in love with the film.

The plot details are all recalled, and, if you see the film and discover they are inaccurate, then it is only the fault of my 14-year-old memory.

The film was made in 1979 by the late George Roy Hill, the man who directed “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” and “The Sting.” It was based on the French novel by Claude Klotz. The story is this: Lauren (

Diane Lane

, still working today) is a young girl schooling in
Paris. There, she meets Daniel (Thelonius Bernard, who only acted in two films). The two of them immediately seem to have a connection. It’s not a cute connection, though, as one sees in most Romantic Comedies of today. No. It’s more intellectual. It seems closer to friendship. It is, as I remember, exactly how attraction worked when you were twelve: it was after the gooey playground games of young childhood, but right before the rhinoceros of adolescence came charging into your life to make you feel like an awkward horny monster, it was then when you truly could have a friend you could be close with.

Their affection grows, and soon the two of them are going out on dates. I remember vividly a scene where, in a fit of youthful naughtiness, the young pair sneaks into the projection booth of a local x-rated movie house. Sex, of course, is not part of their lives yet, so they watch with a mixture of horror, embarrassment, and fascination. Daniel says “What is he doing to her?” Lauren turns away, and leaves the building. This seemed to honest to me. Later on, when one of Daniel’s friends presents the young pair with a poster of the very same film, Lauren still hides her eyes. They are not interested in having sex with one another. Sex, as we adults know, can be both fun and very intimate. But as a teenager, you’re either discovering what it is about through what few tentative sexual experiences you can muster, or you’re busy pouring every last iota of your humanness into losing your virginity (although I think this is more a male experience). Must! Have! Sex! Your body screams at you. Either way, having or not having, you’re obsessing over it.

When sex does not factor into the relationship yet, you can connect with someone in a wholly innocent way. There are less complications. Daniel and Lauren love each other because their minds and interests connect. I’m not saying that sex stands in the way of love, but that pubescent fervor can cloud your eyes a little.

There is a floating dread over their relationship, since Lauren must, naturally, leave
Paris at some point to go back home. She is only studying there for the time being. The kids are lucky enough to realize this…

(Allow a small digression here. Loss. Of all I have experienced in my brief 25 years on this planet, one of the most moving, exhilarating, painful, vivid things that I have felt is loss. I remember a summer I spent in
Massachusetts with some distant cousins of mine. I had just met them, and we got along great. All of us knew that the summer would soon end and we’d have to say goodbye, so we had all the fun we could, played the games we could, talked about the things we could, while there was still time. At the end of the summer, there were no tears, but there was a mixture of sadness and exhilaration. We had to say goodbye, but we were glad for the experiences. When a friend has to move away. When a pet dies. When one has to move. When one has to attend a funeral. They seem like clichés when collected in a list like that, but they are experiences all well hewn out for us. And loss is harder as a kid, a time when you’re still figuring out what is solid and constant.)

…So instead of allowing their impending loss to seem like another potential forgotten-youth-experience, the two of them feel the need to somehow make their love immortal. They must express some gesture that will live beyond what they have.

Soon, I forget how, Daniel and Lauren run into an elderly man named Julius (Laurence Olivier). Julius is secretly a pickpocket on the run. He’s also a gifted storyteller/liar, who has squeezed out of many tight jams in the past. He must flee to
Italy, but needs some kind of cover. Actually, I don’t remember exactly why he needs the kids along as he flees to
Italy. But they go along because of a story he told them: according to an ancient custom, if, on a certain day, while the sun is setting, and the bells are chiming out over the sea… if you sit in a gondola, and kiss under the Bridge of Sighs in Venice, your love will never end.

So they head out on the road. The kids, on the lam from authority, secretly on a romantic quest. The old man, because he’s secretly wanted by every brand of police there is. Another scene that comes back to me clearly is when the trio finally in
Italy, have been running about avoiding police for longer than is comfortable for our young heroes. Daniel, in this scene, finally figures out that Julius is a pickpocket. It’s then when Lauren breaks down. She finally spills the true intentions of she and Daniel, and Julius finally sees what the two of them truly have. I don’t know why this scene comes back to me so strongly. Perhaps it’s the desperation in Lauren’s voice. Her absolute need to make sure that she and Daniel have their love immortalized. Julius, of course, revels that it was just another story he made up, and not an ancient custom as we previously let on. But at that point, to the young lovers, it doesn’t matter. They believe it; they need it. Julius allows them to go on.

I denied this for years, but when the kids, running desperately against the setting sun, finally steal a gondola, and finally kiss… I cried. Watching this film was probably the single most romantic experience of my elementary school career. I knew that someday I would be able to feel love that strong for someone.

The scene that comes to me strongest through my decade long “fast” is the very last scene in the film. It is the scene when Lauren and Daniel must part. Lauren must leave, Daniel must stay. As Lauren’s car is pulling away, Daniel runs down the street after it, grinning, jumping in the air, waving goodbye. Lauren waves desperately through the back window of the car. The sense of loss is overpowering, but there is not a speck of sadness anywhere to be seen. These two have shared what they wanted to share. They know where they stand, and they’re not necessarily happy to part, but they’re fully aware of the specialness of what they had. It’s a moment that grabs you by the heart and shakes you until you feel the gentleness of life.

It’s a reassuring film. It reminds us of how sacred certain things are in life: love, memory, experience, innocence, happiness. Too often in films people get together or break up as functions of the plot; to simply provide a satisfying ending to the preceding. “A Little Romance” seems to reach past any hackneyed writing devices, and break through into life.

What the film does, ultimately, is tap into not our experiences of love as we have them now, but into our memory of it. When we can look at love through the prism of experience, of wisdom, and realize that there was a time in our lives when certain things seemed pure, good, and wonderful. It’s appropriate that the film’s center is memory, considering that’s what the film is for me; a pleasant memory. A few things invoke such powerful romantic nostalgia for me: Von Morisson’s “Brown Eyed Girl.” “Roam” by The B-52’s. The smell of my church camp’s kitchen. And whenever I think about “A Little Romance” I grin slightly and get a little misty.

So I haven’t watched it again, or reviewed it in order to write this essay. When I look back on it, I get a similar feeling to when I think of an old crush, or a lost love. There’s a halcyon dream-like nostalgia that permeates through me. I realize most of the readers of this essay are probably older than 12, but I invite you to casually sit back on a cool summer evening with the window open, put a copy of “A Little Romance” into the VCR, and try to feel what love was when you were 12.

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Published in: on May 14, 2007 at 8:31 pm  Leave a Comment  

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