Forgotten Films

Love and Other Catastrophes (1996)

[Time for a trip down memory lane. This Australian film prompted or at least sparked the thought of doing film studies and here is the review I wrote in the year two thousand just as I decided that actually, that is precisely what I should do. It's almost as though, like the Liv Tyler lover of the other day, another version of me is contributing to this month's review.]

At the end of the film a major character point is concluded through the following question. I’m telling you this because I’m about to become hopelessly recursive and it’s probably a good thing to point this out before we I go any further. The question is:

What are your three favourite films and why?

Not easy. A film fan will probably jabber and faint. Out of all of the films ever made ever? Are you joking? We like films for lots of different reasons. Within this film, the question seems to actually mean:

Which three films mean the most to you and couldn’t you live without and why?

The exercise is simplified. The film fan sighs deeply and puts down their copy of the Time Out Film Guide, safe in the knowledge they won’t have to include anything because they feel like the have to ... so out with Fellini, Bergman, Kurosawa and the gang. Just for fun, go away and write your answer to the question. You may be surprised.

Back? Good. Surprised? When you have to justify your favourite films and extra texture is added. It’s as though you’ve got to look into yourself and find out who you actually are. The chances are you’ve actually just learned something about yourself. Why am I stringing this out? Because when I asked myself this question, here are the three films I came up with and the reasons:

When Harry Met Sally because I think I’m a New Yorker living in the wrong place and it makes me smile every time I watch it

Star Wars because it always means I have something to talk about with total strangers

Love and Other Catastrophes because it felt like the first film I’ve seen about me

See ... told you this review was going to be recursive. Believe me, I was a shocked as you possibly might be. I thought Ferris Bueller’s Day Off was a shoo-in. Anyone who’s seen this film already will wonder what that means (especially anyone who knows me). But it’s not for the reasons your expecting. This is the synopsis from the official website:*
‘Mia and Alice have just moved into a warehouse apartment but are still minus a house mate. Danni, Mia's girlfriend is keen to move in, but Mia fears commitment. Mia, who can be a solipsistic bitch (but in the nicest possible way), is obsessed with her favourite lecturer and becomes embroiled in a bureaucratic nightmare as she pursues him to his new department. Alice, a frustrated perfectionist, is four years late with her thesis on "Doris Day as a Feminist Warrior." She is looking for the perfect man, but can't find anyone who fits her rigorous criteria. Feeling the need for a change she falls for the most unsuitable man possible - Ari, a Classics student, part-time gigolo and the Warren Beatty of the campus. Little does she know that she has her own secret admirer - Michael, a shy medical student who is living in the share house from hell and wants out. Her search for love transcends the boundaries of the University and their respective disciplines. Omnia Vincit Amor...Love Conquers All.’
I’ve edited that a bit – the synopsis at the website does somewhat give the plot away.

So you’ve read that and wondered still why it’s about me. Are rather you’ve assumed it’s because I saw this film and realised for the first time I’m g-a-y. Sorry to disappoint. I’m not g-a-y. I’m not even b-i. I’m definitely s-t-r-a-i-g-h-t. So what then?

As a Late Reviewer might say: ‘There are a number of levels.’

I first saw the film three years ago when I bought it, ex-rental from a ‘Blockbuster’ video shop in Birkenhead. It had no cover. I just remembered the title because I knew that one of the few quite good actresses to be shipped through ‘Neighbours’ was in it. It sat on my shelf for a month. Then one afternoon I was at a loose end and put it on. Eighty minutes later I’d wondered what hit me.

On a basic level, it has everything I’d ever want from a film. There was my love of low budget films, the slightly grainy look, the ingenious camera angles, story told mainly in dialogue. All of the actors doing their best for the script, seemingly not caring if they don’t look absolutely great during every second. The absolutely fabulous editing, scenes timed perfectly. As though Robert Rodriguez had decided to spend his $7000 making romantic comedy instead of El Mariachi. The music from a largely unknown set of musicians actually complements to action, a soundtrack album actually being a benefit not a marketing exercise.

But a lot of films fulfill these loves. The aforementioned El Mariachi for example. So what else?

The characters just are (I apologise to Louise if she’s reading for the strain on the verb ‘to be’ in that phrase).** They exist within the story as though the writer just wanted people it would be cool to hang about with. They aren’t there to fulfill the machinations of some theme or other. A lesser writer might have strained to make this another treatise on people coming to terms with their sexuality – and anyone who’s followed the Jack-arc on Dawson’s Creek will know how painfully that can be if not done right. Like many films in what is become an indie film sub-genre (Chasing Amy, Sticky Fingers of Time, Go Fish), the characters are quite comfortable with their sexuality thank you very much for checking. It’s not how you love, but who you love. The fact that Danni and Mia are both girls isn’t the issue. Which makes watching the film a whole lot easier and more refreshing to watch. Chumbawamba are disproved: Homophobia might be the worst disease, but you can love who love in times like these.


It’s the script I’ve been writing in my head for years. The students away at college is a surprisingly untapped film genre (unless knives or frat parties are involved). Not quite teens, not quite adults, its difficult to completely get a handle on it. Perhaps it’s just that writers feel that not much excitement can be wrung out of find a housemate or waiting for a course transfer. Emma-Kate Croghan, the writer-director of this piece seems to have succeeded. Are heart misses a beat when we find that Mia might not get her course transfer or when Alice fails to find a house mate. I showed it to my Greek friend Fani, who is much the same predicament as the characters and she loved it. Even though the film is Australian, the experience is universal.

But the get to the nub of the matter, the film actually made me think about what I was doing with my life and my relationship to people. I realised that although it’s important to have your ol’ friends and family, that you shouldn’t stop looking to be friends with new people, who might in turn become close friends (hey Fani!). It made me pull my socks up and go look for something better. And so it goes and so it goes and so it goes . . .

A mark out of five is meaningless. You must simply see this film. Go rent it now.

[Good luck with that. As I think I explained earlier in the review I bought my copy ex-rental. It has been released on a vanilla dvd in Oz but elsewhere, not so much. Bizarrely, despite the presence of Radha Mitchell and Frances O'Connor who aren't exactly names but are at least recognizable the film hasn't seen a video or dvd store in the UK or the US since. Even director Colgan's even less well known follow-up Strange Planet has seen that. My copy is like Brigadoon -- it sort of appears and disappears -- I can never find it when I want to watch it but it then surfaces when I least expect it but probably need to see it. Oh and * Which has since disappeared ** And Louise it still reading. Hello!]

1 comment:

Kate Feld said...

Haven't seen hide nor hair of it since I rented it in a shop in Taiwan back in 1997ish, where I was living with two Kiwi guys who I think had heard of it. I remember loving it then - pity it's not easy to find.