not in our stars, but in ourselves
It’s funny (hysterical!) how infrequently the movies get love right. It’s even funnier because we all get our ideas of what love should be from filmdom; as Joan Didion wrote, in an essay about adulterers who got the idea to murder their spouses from a little film noir you may have heard of, “The dream was teaching the dreamers how to live.” This is all a very roundabout way of saying that Goodbye Again (1961), known in Europe as Aimez-Vous Brahms?, is dead-on in its portrayal of love. And the results are as heartrending, difficult, and full of grey area as real love.
Paula Tessier (Ingrid Bergman) is a successful antiques dealer and interior designer in Paris. On the fifth anniversary of her meeting Roger Demarest (Yves Montand), her lover, she battles traffic and indifferent taxis to race home so she can change into an evening gown for their anniversary dinner. However, he seems to have forgotten: he has important business to attend to, and he promises they’ll go out the next night. Paula sadly, but with boundless understanding, applies cold cream to her face and resigns herself to a night alone. It seems clear that she does this a lot. Roger’s contacts are such that she manages to get a job decorating for a wealthy American woman, Mrs. Van der Besh (Jessie Royce Landis). Mrs. Van der Besh lives with her son, Philip (Anthony “Perfectkins” Perkins), who first jokes with Paula, then flirts, then ardently pursues. He has never met anyone like her: kind and funny, but sad and lonely; caring and neglected; lovely and ignored. The fact that she is 40 seems either not to matter, or to make her more attractive to him. She knows who she is, and he loves who she is. While Paula is flattered and intrigued by Philip’s ardor, she still feels loyalty to Roger: the kind of bitter, twisting, knotty loyalty that only trees and those long in love can know. Philip repeatedly asks her if she’s happy, and while she says she is, of course she isn’t. But happiness isn’t the point. Love is never about happiness, really. Only in the movies.
If you’ll pardon another quote from another great female writer, here’s Dorothy Parker to studio boss Samuel Goldwyn: “I know this will come as a shock to you, Mr. Goldwyn, but in all history, which has held billions and billions of human beings, not a single one ever had a happy ending.”
God, this movie. My heart. Bergman, who was in fact 45 at the time of shooting, is exactly as gleaming and gorgeous as she was twenty years earlier, when she bid a brave adieu to Rick at the airport in Morocco. And after twenty years of misery and compromise and hoping for the best when it’s always the worst that appears – here she is. Still the brave girl, still the devoted lover, still more or less alone. Bergman was indeed a great actress, but it’s difficult not to think that she was able to draw on a fair few heartaches of her own here. As for Perfectkins (I refuse to call him anything else), he is fantastic. The casting is just right, Norman Bates be damned. He’s handsome, but still gawky and gangly. He’s funny, charming, active, ardent – just about everything you could ever want in a lover, or everything I could want, anyway – and irresistible to someone who’s been overlooked and taken for granted as much as poor Paula has.
Now, if I were the one writing and filming this movie – and considering the virtuoso way it played on my heart strings, I may as well have – the one change I would make would be in the character of Roger. While it adds a certain amount of obvious pathos to the story if he’s a womanizer, it’s a sort of Hollywood pathos. Sometimes, men are just neglectful and selfish. Sometimes, they take it for granted that they’ll be able to do whatever they want and still be able to come home to a woman who loves them and who will stand by them. Whether that “whatever they want” is womanizing, slaving away at work for power and glory, palling around with stupid friends, getting drunk – they assume that their loyal little women will always be there, because they assume she has no will or thought of her own. I think the sting would have been extra realistic if Roger had been just a thoughtless jerk, rather than a cad, but I guess it’s still a Hollywood movie, after all.
As for the sometimes titular Brahms: yes, I do like him. He’s an especially romantic Romantic, and now I’m going to go all moony as I stare into space while listening to him – just like Paula.