Jules et Jim

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Paris is full of surprises. Not least when you arrive at the florist shortly after 8am and pick up four bunches of flowers. After explaining that I didn’t want them mixed into a single bouquet, the woman removed the lower leaves and thorns from the roses with extraordinary skill, cut the stems at an angle and an even length and wrapped them in beautiful paper for me, even adapting the plastic bag I had brought along into the ideal flower transporter. Now that’s service for you. I didn’t have the heart to tell her I was just taking them to the cemetery!

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Visiting Montmartre cemetery has been an ambition of mine for many years. You may remember that on my only previous attempt eight years ago, I arrived to find it closed because half a centimetre of snow had fallen. Luckily this time it was like summer and I walked through the gate of the Avenue Rachel (the only entrance), almost finding it hard to believe I was really there.

Pick up a laminated plan and then walk up the steps to your right. There you will come to one of the most beautiful graves I have ever seen, that of the beautiful singer and actress Dalida, who lived in a fairytale style house close to here until her suicide. She was buried in the dress from the video below and the elegant sculpture of her receives the first rays of sun which seems just right. Hers is undoubtedly the most popular grave but I took out a single red rose as a tribute. What a shame someone who brought so much happiness to others had so little in her own life.

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After that, the rest is for you to explore in your own way. Montmartre is definitely my favourite of the Parisian cemeteries – I love the intimate feel of it compared to Père Lachaise (which I still love!), the fact that many of the people buried here were artists and composers with a special connection to this wonderful area. I also love the cats who appear from time to time. You’ll find the graves of Nijinsky, Heinrich Heine, Henri-Georges Clouzot and many more.  left white tulips for Hector Berlioz and Stendhal whose works I deeply cherish.  But really, I went there for François Truffaut and Jeanne Moreau. They’re buried close to one another, the director and star of Jules et Jim and The Bride Wore Black. Taking roses to them and paying a silent tribute was definitely one of the most moving experiences of my life and not one I can really express in words. I stopped by once more on my way out to say farewell.

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The grave of Victor Brauner and his wife Jacqueline with his sculptures

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I would like to apologise in advance for chopping the top off Heinrich Heine’s grave. I love his work and he deserves better!

After leaving Montmartre cemetery, I walked up the hill a short distance in the direction of Sacré Coeur to call in the tiny St. Vincent cemetery. Marcel Aymé, Eugè Boudin, Marcel Carné, Steinlen and Maurice Utrillo are buried there and it’s a charming place to escape the bustle of tourists and you can even see the walls of the Lapin Agile alongside. Such history. I will share the rest of my day in Montmartre next time.

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The beautiful sculpture by Émile Bailly at the grave of René and Jean Dumesnil.

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Favourite books of 2017

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Nigel Slater’s Christmas Chronicles is just one of my favourite books I read this year. Some are new, some were published a few years ago but all are wonderful. I hope you find something to interest and inspire you on my list.

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One of the greatest living photographers, Fred Lyon, pays homage to his beautiful city of San Francisco and its noir heritage. Stunning and atmospheric photos.

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Two books about the darker side of Hollywood. Piu Eatwell makes a convincing case for finally solving one of the most notorious crimes of all time, that of Elizabeth Short, nicknamed The Black Dahlia. Gripping and well told with great compassion for the victim. While in High Noon, Glenn Frankel turns his attention to the blacklist and the making and influence of one the great westerns, High Noon. A revealing portrait of America which still resonates today.

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In Les Parisiennes, historian Anne Sebba looks at the testimonies of both ordinary and well known French women who lived through the German Occupation. So compassionate, fascinating and well researched that I couldn’t stop reading. I’m not a huge fan of contemporary fiction but I loved All The Light We Cannot See which is also set in Occupied France. A heartbreaking and beautiful book which I still can’t stop thinking about.

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Nicholas Ray’s adaptations of In A Lonely Place is one of my favourite noirs but I had never read the book which is actually quite different. One of the greatest books about Los Angeles too along with Slow Days, Fast Company. Eve Babitz was one of my discoveries this year. Her writing is deceptively simple but so good and I laughed out loud many times. Eve’s Hollywood by her is also highly recommended.

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I’ve posted quite a few photos by William Claxton on Instagram and then someone recommended me this book which features his journey across the States and experience of jazz. Brilliant photography as you would expect and such a magnificent and huge volume.

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The Essential Marilyn Monroe by Milton Greene features all the photos from their 50 sessions together, many beautifully restored and quite a few published for the first time. All are remarkable and revealing photos of a woman at her most beautiful by a friend and photographer who knew how to get the best from her.

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Gleb Derujinsky was one of the greatest fashion photographers of all time and this book is both a revelation and a joy. My friend Jan wrote a superb review of it here which I recommend reading.

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Robert Doisneau is one of my very favourite photographers but I had no idea about his work for Vogue in the post-war years. This stunning book is available in English and French and you can see more beautiful photos from it and read Jan’s excellent review on his blog here.

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And finally thanks to Jan’s blog, I discovered two wonderful books on Coco Chanel, including this one which you can read about in more detail here.

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A superb book about remarkable interiors inside the homes of the twentieth century’s most remarkable women with amazing photos and illustrations too.

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A deliciously gossipy book about film, fashion and Rome. Unputdownable and fun.

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The story of the Palazzo Venier and the three women who lived and transformed what is now the Peggy Guggenheim Museum. Beautifully written and endlessly fascinating.

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One of my favourite Instagrammers recommended this book. I can see the influence of John Piper in these remarkable illustrations and drawings which bring Britain’s lost buildings to life. Accompanied by a superb text.

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Extracts from Raymond Chandler’s works accompanied by atmospheric photos of Los Angeles taken in the 1980s which create the perfect mood. A must!

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I never thought I’d get the chance to buy a book of newly published Fitzgerald stories! Not all are masterpieces but some are exceptional and it’s an essential for any fan of his work.

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The story of the Riviera and those who graced it when elegance and sophistication still ruled makes for a fabulous read. At the Existentialist Cafe brings back memories of my own pilgrimage to these famous places and studying philosophy. The author explains the ideas clearly and makes you want to learn more.

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2017 was the year I officially became addicted to Joan Didion and her razor sharp prose. I bought this on a rainy day in Berlin and it was such a tonic to read someone use the English language so well and have a real understanding of the people and issues she encountered.

Summer things

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Big Sur, 1946, by Ansel Adams

I never long for my school days and would hate to be 17 again, but I look back with more than a touch of nostalgia at the school holidays. Six whole weeks, free from from any worries or obligations.  There were family holidays abroad in Spain, France and Switzerland, lazy days in the garden and hours of television – trashy MTV, and plenty of American shows like Saved by the Bell, My So-Called Life and Beverly Hills 90210. While summer generally doesn’t live up to expectations – British ones are generally a wash-out, Roger Federer doesn’t win Wimbledon, people ask my constantly why I’m so white and mosquitoes drain the blood from my arms and legs whenever I go abroad – I still feel excited around this time of year thinking about it. Long evenings, dinner in the garden while listening to birdsong, the chance to wear summer dresses and go out without a jacket, picnics and cool drinks. So I thought I’d put together some of my favoute summer things for inspiration. I’d love to hear what your essentials are.

Aperol Spritz

My favourite summer drink along with Bellini which reminds me of being in Venice last year, sitting on the terrace watching the sunset. Although I must admit to also enjoying a large glass of Pimm’s whenever Wimbledon is on.

The perfect summer dresses

This one, with a pattern inspired by the Royal Porcelain collection, is for me the essence of the perfect English summer and ideal for tea in the garden.

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Royal Worcester Jacquard dress, £78, Oasis

And I can’t resist polka dots

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Navy spotted ruffle sundress, £22, Dorothy Perkins

 

Red shoes to brighten up any outfit

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Lily suede flats, £198, J.Crew

 

The best facial sunscreen to wear under makeup

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Murad Luminous Shield, SPF 50, £55

A perfect orange red lipstick

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Nars Audacious Lipstick in Lana, £25

A straw shopper for that Jane Birkin feelinghmprodStraw shopper, £17.99, H&M

A cute hat for protection from the sun

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Marl Scarf Summer Hat, £17.50, Marks and Spencer

The perfect tea

This delicious blend can be served hot or cold as according to the Fortnum and Mason website, it’s also excellent for iced tea.

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Afternoon blend tea, from £5.25, Fortnum and Mason

The most delicious summer scent, as worn by Cary Grant, David Niven, Ava Gardner and Audrey Hepburn

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Acqua di Parma, from £66

And of course, books for summer

It goes without saying that I’ll be reading the blog written by my friend Jan over the summer.

As for books, this year, I’ve got my eye on The Riviera Set about all the glamourous people who spent time at the Château de l’Horizon near Cannes, from Coco Chanel to Rita Hayworth. There’s also Dolce Vita Confidential about 1950s Rome and I’m dying to read The Unfinished Palazzo which tells the story of the three women who lived in the Palazzo Venier in Venice – Luisa Casati, Doris Castlerosse and Peggy Guggenheim.

Or if you prefer fiction, can I recommend something by Patricia Highsmith or Ross Macdonald (I love gripping books in summer), some John Cheever short stories, My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell about his eccentric childhood in Greece or The Great Gatsby which is the perfect choice at any time of year.

Shoes in films

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I have a love hate relationship with shoes. I dream of having a huge collection of ballerina flats, boots of varying heights, heels and sneakers and am conscious that beautiful shoes make all the difference to any outfit. But buying them has always been a nightmare as my own feet are extremely narrow and generally between sizes meaning blisters and wounds are frequent occurrences and the reason why a packet of plasters is my handbag essential most of the year.

Believing that investing in better quality would solve the problem, I once blew a large part of my salary on two pairs of designer shoes from boutiques on Savignyplatz in Berlin. The first were sandal wedges for summer whose straps broke in a very short time and the other pair inflicted such terrible injuries that I was relieved to sell them to someone with slightly smaller feet for a fraction of the price. I don’t recall limping for more than a week after wearing them. Still, I continue to admire beautiful footwear and dream of the perfect shoe. In the meantime, here are some iconic ones from the big screen to discover and revisit. Let me know what your favourites are or if I’ve missed anything important.

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Along with The Wizard of Oz, the most famous shoes in cinematic history are surely those worn by Moira Shearer in the Powell and Pressburger masterpiece, ‘The Red Shoes’. They have a life of their own in the stunning ballet within the film and take on an unbearable poignancy at the end. Jack Cardiff’s magnificent colour photography is probably the greatest of all time.

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Dorothy with her legendary magical red shoes in The Wizard of Oz, one of my childhood favourites.

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Monsieur Hulot with his trademark raincoat and umbrella who leaves footprints everywhere, here leading to an unfortunate misunderstanding in the brilliant ‘Mon Oncle’.

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Marty McFly with his iconic Nikes in ‘Back to the Future II’. Things haven’t developed as the film predicted but these sneakers are still the stuff of dreams.

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Jennifer Grey was my teen idol after I saw her in ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’ and, of course, ‘Dirty Dancing’. I love her white sneakers and envy her dance moves.

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I can’t say too much about the significance of shoes in ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ without spoilers, only that you need to watch it if you haven’t done so already and that it teaches us the importance of looking at a man’s shoes.

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Not only does Audrey Hepburn’s Holly Golightly have Givenchy alligator shoes lying around her bedroom, she also has milk and another pair in the fridge.

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Carrie Bradshaw with her Manolo Blahniks. I don’t much care for the Sex and the City films but have a soft spot for the series as it reminds me of good times in the ’90s and watching it secretly in my bedroom late at night.

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In ‘Bringing Up Baby’, one of the greatest comedies of all time, Katharine Hepburn loses her heel and is forced to walk lopsided during yet another calamity which she inflicts on poor hapless Cary Grant. 

The last nights of Berlin

Bild 134.jpgBerlin really comes alive with the night much more than cities like Paris or London. The trains run late and all night at the weekend, transporting party goers, tourists, groups of friends, cinephiles and many others. Where else could you go and see a midnight screening of Casablanca every Saturday at the tiny Lichtblick Kino, enjoy an all-night Hitchcock marathon and be woken up with Bloody Mary or finish the Long Night of the Museums in the aquarium, watching the sharks swim while a jazz band plays in the early hours? It was at night when I officially moved there in 2007, arriving at Hauptbahnhof from God knows where after travelling all day. It had not been love at first sight when I had visited a year earlier – I found the city so huge and fragmented. How could I ever hope to get an overview of such a place? Yet even after a couple of days wandering through its stunning parks and empty streets, I realised that this city was something special, that it was many things and not just one, allowing you to do what you wanted to follow your own path. Glimpsing the famous dome of the Reichstag, the buildings of the Regierungsviertel and the roof of the Sony Center, I knew that I was home, that this was the best place in the world to live and that I belonged there.

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I moved with my then boyfriend into a top floor flat in Pankow with a view over the roofs of Berlin and quickly fell in with a young Expat crowd who were also training to be teachers. We spent our days and evenings studying hard together, releasing the tensions of the week on Friday nights in a mediocre bar across the Spree. Even after the course had finished, rents were so cheap that we all stayed on, doing the round of language schools with our CVs in the day and hanging out together in the evening. Best were the nights out – watching English language films at the Sony Center or at Hackesche Hoefe, drunken evenings at karaoke bars and nightclubs in Friedrichshain, including the now legendary Berghain. The partying began at midnight, we danced until 5 or 6, fuelled by Red Bull and Coke, returning home bleary eyed under the harsh lights of the S-Bahn to crash on someone’s floor or sofa until late afternoon when we would get up for coffee and brunch. We rarely saw much light of day. Once I even returned home just as my bemused boyfriend was leaving for work.

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Of course, with jobs, we had to curb our partying to weekends only. Some members of our group eventually moved away, others returned home until I was the only one left. There were many other great nights out with friends who were just passing through but also others who stayed. But never did I live the night so intensely as in those first few months. Berlin is no longer my home and part of me wonders whether I was right to leave, hoping deep down I can live there again one day. Maybe I will get the chance.  In the meantime, I settle for visiting friends every year and still feel that tremendous sense of freedom and exhilaration each time night falls there.

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The scent of life

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As you know from previous posts, I have always been something of a makeup junkie, yet looking at my relatively small collection of perfume (one of my favourites from it is in the photo above), I was struck by the importance fragrances have had throughout my life. My mother, first of all. Always made up and smelling of Guerlain’s Mitsouko for as long as I can remember. When I was a child, my father would go on business trips and golfing holidays, calling us every day before finally returning, usually late at night, with a toy or a CD for me, a bottle of Mitsouko for my mother and so many stories to tell. I can never smell it without recalling the anticipation of our reunions. Some are still in her wardrobe from that time, unopened in pristine boxes. Perhaps they never will be.

On family holidays, we generally took the ferry to France or Spain and to kill time, my mother and I would wander on deck until we were thoroughly windswept and chilled to bone by the cold sea air and then make our way to the duty free shop to test out all the fragrances. My mother never really deviated from her signature scent but I recall one year she bought Guerlain’s Champs Élysées and Nina Ricci’s L’Air du Temps, perhaps for the rather glamourous bottles as much as the lovely scents. My father was never one for fragrance, except for a bottle of Old Spice he picked up somewhere. As a teenager I found it impossibly strong, blending as it did with the extra strong peppermints he constantly consumed but I have a special fondness for it now, particularly compared to the rather dull range of aftershaves on offer.

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Then there was my paternal grandmother. Despite having a fondness for Gordon’s gin and smoking all her life which helped her reach the age of 101, she never smelled of cigarettes, only of Max Factor Cream Puff which was kept in her brown leather handbag along with a frosted lipstick, and Yardley’s lavender. As absurd as it sounds, neither of these products really suit me, yet I couldn’t imagine being without them in my home simply because their scent can make me feel close to her again just by opening them.

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Strangely, I cannot be sure of my own first perfume. Perhaps it was Revlon Charlie Red or Blue, spritzed with my teenage friends as we wandered through department stores on a Saturday afternoon. Or maybe Clinique Aromatics Elixir which I seemed to get all the time in a bonus time free gift but which I felt too intimidated to wear to high school. In any case, my first proper fragrance purchase was Cerruti 1881, bought after identifying it as the one worn by Louisa, my neighbour in the German class. She wore skin tight trousers, low-cut tops, rather orange foundation and had long, flowing hair and a boyfriend named Ben who drove a sports car. By copying her scent, I felt sure I could transform myself from an extremely shy and gawky teenager with awful dress sense and spots into something elegant and cool. It didn’t work and smelling it today, I find it too floral and soapy but somehow the sight of the round pink bottle on display still makes me smile, even if it is often marked down to half price.

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The most comic experience related to scent occurred in Berlin several years ago when a former work colleague, let’s just call him J., asked if he could stay with me. At the time I was sharing a flat with a very loud Brazilian woman and her son in Charlottenburg and only had the one room. But I couldn’t refuse and offered him either a small sofa (he was about 6ft.) or the floor. Unfortunately, what I had not taken account of was the fact that he smelled quite strongly of sweat and to disguise this, sprayed copious amounts of YSL Jazz constantly so that in just a few hours, my room, hair, clothes and in fact, the whole apartment reeked of it too. I would probably not mention it, were it not for the fact that he then preceded to flood the bathroom without noticing afterwards and complained loudly about how uncomfortable everything was. The final straw came when he deleted files on my computer without my permission in order to speed it up, then tried to seduce me in the middle of the night and I decided to throw him out. So he departed angrily, leaving just the lasting traces of his personal scent, but not before stealing a couple of my Thomas Bernhard novels in exchange for a Henry James, his favourite writer. “What happened to your Prince Charming?” my flatmate’s boyfriend asked. “He turned into a frog”, I replied. If you are reading this and have a fondness for YSL Jazz, I won’t hold it against you, although I hope the man of my dreams wears something else.

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Films for Valentine’s Day

I’m aware that the very title of this post will make some people scream or reach for the sick bag. Valentine’s Day sucks, in my opinion – overpriced, dyed red roses, chocolates in naff heart shaped boxes, enormous fluffy bunnies for sale in the supermarket. But I’m prepared to accept a romantic film and realise that some of you may even be looking for suggestions. Here are some of my favourites and all can be enjoyed throughout the year, not just today.

An Affair to Remember

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Warning: this is definitely a four Kleenex film. I’ve only seen it once but the uncontrollable sobbing at the final scene remains fresh in my mind. Yet for absolute and classic romance, this one’s hard to beat. Playboy Nickie Ferrante (Cary Grant) is sailing back to New York to marry an heiress when he meets Terry McKay (Deborah Kerr), a nightclub singer who is also involved with someone else. They instantly fall in love but realise things are complicated so agree to meet on top of the Empire State Building in six months if they still feel the same. I won’t spoil the rest of the story but needless to say, they don’t meet then. Will fate keep them apart? It’s a beautiful and touching film which hasn’t dated at all and as a sign of its status as the ultimate romantic film, Nora Ephron referred to it constantly in ‘Sleepless in Seattle’ many years later. Just don’t forget the tissues!

The Philadelphia Story

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Perhaps the most romantic and sophisticated of them all. This was the film that revived Katharine Hepburn’s flagging career after she’d been branded “box office poison” after a series of flops. She plays Tracy Lord, a wealthy divorcee about to marry again. But things become complicated when not only her ex-husband C.K. Dextor Haven (Cary Grant) but also a couple of newspaper reporters (James Stewart and Ruth Hussey) show up at her family home on the eve of her wedding. A few home truths are revealed and needless to say, nothing will ever quite be the same. It’s a gorgeous, sparkling film, full of witty dialogue and I just love the chemistry between the three leads. James Stewart walked away with an Oscar with his performance which he undoubtedly deserved but it always makes me rather sad that Cary Grant was snubbed by the Academy for what is one of his finest roles.

Brief Encounter

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It’s easy to sneer at Brief Encounter today. If married people are in love, they can just get a divorce, nobody is trapped in dull suburban life anymore. And those clipped accents! Yet I defy you to watch it and not be moved by Celia Johnson’s flawless performance which has lost nothing of its power. What makes this film still compelling after all these years is that she and Trevor Howard are simply perfect together and the agony of knowing they can never be together is deeply moving.

Midnight

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A beautiful woman, Eve Peabody, (Claudette Colbert) arrives in Paris on a rainy night without a sou to her name and only the clothes she is wearing (luckily they are designer). A kind-hearted cab driver, Tibor Czerny (Don Ameche) agrees to drive her around in search of a nightclub job for which she doesn’t seem to have much talent. When that doesn’t work out, he invites her up to his room but she flees while his back is turned and crashes a high society soirée. Forced to impersonate an aristocrat, she names herself Baroness Czerny and soon finds herself involved in a complicated web of relations between Georges Flammarion (John Barrymore), his wife Hélène (Mary Astor) and her lover Jacques Picot (Francis Lederer) who becomes smitten himself with the Baroness. Can she pull off a society marriage? Meanwhile, Tibor has a search party out looking all over Paris for Eve. This is Old Hollywood comedy at its very best with flawless performances from the whole cast, especially Colbert who excelled at screwball comedy. Not all of Charles Brackett’s and Billy Wilder’s scripts were great (‘Ball of Fire’, ‘Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife’) but in the hands of Mitchell Leisen, it’s terrific and great fun from beginning to end.

Lost in Translation

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For those who prefer something a bit more modern and fresher, this is a great choice. I remember how amazing I found it when I first watched it at the cinema all those years ago. Most of you probably know it anyway, but there isn’t exactly much of a plot. Instead, it’s about two lonely people played by Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson staying at the Park Hyatt hotel in Tokyo who find a connection. They may seem an unlikely couple but their performances are so wonderful that nothing ever feels forced or fake, you just drift through their long conversations and different encounters in the city. I think many of us can relate to being in a strange place or not knowing what direction to take in life. This film really shows what it’s like to be in those situations and I keep thinking about it long after I’ve watched it again. The fantastic soundtrack and photography help to create something haunting and unique which is why I find myself coming back to this film time and again.

In the mood for love

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Wong Kar-Wai’s gorgeous film has the same premise as Brief Encounter – two married people (Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung) who fall in love but are kept apart but gossip and social conventions in 1960s Hong Kong. I think it’s a shame that some people see the film as superficial and glossy because of the emphasis on style, beautiful costumes and photography. It’s so sensitively played that Christopher Doyle’s stunning cinematography, haunting score and exquisite clothing manage to express desire in a way few films can. A lingering glance, the heat of the evening, the corridors we follow the two characters down. The most touching scene for me is when they try to prepare for the inevitable separation by practising their farewells. It’s almost unbearably sad.

Jules et Jim

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An unconventional but still romantic film. I am loathe to pick favourites but this is probably my favourite Truffaut (but then if you ask me to choose between La Peau Douce, Les 400 Coups and Vivement Dimanche, I’d be hard pushed). Adapted from Henri Pierre Roché’s  novel, it tells the story of two friends, Jules et Jim (Oskar Werner and Henri Serre), and their changing relationship over 20 years with the unpredictable but beautiful Catherine (Jeanne Moreau at her most iconic). There’s the warmth and fun of the Belle Époque years, followed by the darker period of the First World War and the rise of National Socialism. You really feel what it was like to be alive during those times, how the characters are bound up in these events and how their relationships to one another changes, like the whirlwind in the enchanting song Catherine sings. I must also mention the extraordinary and groundbreaking cinematography by Raoul Coutard and Georges Delerue’s beautiful score. It’s the most complete portrayal of friendship, love and loss that I have ever seen and undoubtedly a masterpiece.