A Survey in Film: Remakes of Unrequited Love and Obsession

Valentine’s Day is tomorrow so you know what that means - a whole lot of film lists on the greatest love stories of all time, best movie kiss, favorite romantic couple, etc. Well, I’m not going to do that (not today at least; check back tomorrow ::smile::). Yeah, love can be great, but it also can be heartbreaking, messy, and down right maddening. I think I have experienced unrequited love more than true love itself so I started thinking about some of the movies that convey this. There are alot of sweet ones that come to mind that I love - (500) Days of Summer, Love Actually - but what about love that goes unchecked by reason and spirals into obsession? It happens and makes for great moments on screen. Two contemporary independent films came to mind instantly - Vanilla Sky and Wicker Park - both American remakes of foreign films (Spanish and French, respectively) that showcased unrequited love and obsession. Thus, a survey in film is born. 

Abre los ojos (Open Your Eyes) [1997] —-> Vanilla Sky [2001] 
"Do you love me? I mean really love me. Because if you don’t… I’ll just have to kill you."

I am probably in a minority of people who enjoyed Vanilla Sky (starring Tom Cruise, Penelope Cruz, and Cameron Diaz) and thought it was a pretty good film. I remember seeing it in the theater with a friend of mine who thought it was one of the worst movies ever made; I, on the other hand, found it to be thrilling story of a womanizing playboy that is in search of redemption in reality and in his dreams. This movie presents two interesting romantic relationships that explored longing and obssession. One of these was born out of the promiscious actions of Cruise’s character David and perpetuated by Diaz’s Julie, a forceful and impassioned woman that David often sleeps with when the mood strikes and discards just as fast. That is one mistake he comes to regret as her need for him to love her turns into destructive jealousy when his attentions turn to Cruz’s Sofia. Her attempt at suicide via car accident leaves him disfigured and serves as the catalyst for his search for possible redemption. The second relationship with with Sofia herself, a sweet and thoughtful girl that he falls for instantly that comes to represent the direct opposite of Julie and focuses him to determine what kind of man he really wants to be. This becomes a situation for a bit of unrequited love and obsession on his part for this girl he ultimately can or can not have (I won’t spoil it for you). The beauty of this narrative, I think, is how each relationship converges and intersects in the movie’s reality, conveying David’s guilt, longing, hopes, and fears. It’s definitely something intriguing to watch. 

I saw Vanilla Sky before I found out it was a remake of a Spanish film that interestingly Penelope Cruz both stars in (she plays the same character with the same name in the remake). That was enough to spark my curiosity in both how the original was interpreted for an American audience. I really liked Vanilla Sky, but I loved Abre los ojos, which is more thrilling, puzzling, and nightmarish without as much melodrama. I think where the celebrity of Tom Cruise hindered the believability of the lead character’s fall from grace for me, seeing an unknown actor (Eduardo Noriega) in the role humanized it more and allowed me to go deeper into the world that the filmmaker tries to create. 

L’Appartement (The Apartment) [1996] —-> Wicker Park [2004]
"Love makes you do crazy things, insane things. Things in a million years you’d never see yourself do. But there you are doing them… can’t help it." 

I had a similar experiences years later when I saw Wicker Park (starring Josh Hartnett, Rose Byrne, Diane Kruger) and then, discovering it was a remake, immediately rented the original French film L’Appartment (starring Vincent Cassel, Monica Bellucci). Set in Chicago, Wicker Park tells the story of Matt (Josh Hartnett), a once photographer and now businessman who is engaged to be married but still in love with a previous girlfriend Lisa (Kruger) who vanished without a trace under the guise of her leaving him. During a business meeting at a restaurant, he think he spots her, which brings up all his unresolved emotions and questions. He lies to his finance about going out of town and embarks are solving the mystery of what happened to her. We, as viewers, come to understand early that Mat has a secret admirer (Rose Byrne) who unbeknownst to everyone involved, played a big role in keeping Matt and Lisa apart. It due to her obsession with him that she comes to spin a web of lies and deceit about who she actually is. 

What really struck me in comparing the films was that they are pretty much identical in the narrative and in the design of the scenes (pay attention to the walk down the red restaurant corridor) and disverges halfway through the movie, probably playing on cultural differences and audience expections. This causes them to play out as entirely different movies - the original being more of a psychological thriller with romantic undertones and the remake being more of a love story with some (unsuccessful) hints of psychological thriller. Consequently, the original carries through subplots important for the thriller aspect (i.e. the married man that Lisa has an affair who stalks her) that are introduced but later dropped in Wicker Park and make this remake disjointed at times. Seemingly small but I think important elements seem out of place and don’t translate - an ash tray with a torn up newspaper clipping important to Lisa’s whereabouts makes sense in a French movie (a culture where so many, including the movie characters, smoke) but not in the American film where no one does. Even the ending of Wicker Park plays to the American ideals of a happy ending, while L’Appartement has no problem in creating a more thrilling, memorable “twist” ending (again, I won’t spoil it for you). I did enjoyed Wicker Park for what it is but again, this is another situation where the original trumps the remake. 

I would be interested in reading anyone’s thoughts on these films…