My favorite scene of romantic anguish:
Claude Sautet's Un Couer En Hiver is about the unconsummated love affair between two people.
One is Stephane, who works with a partner, Maxime, in the business of making and repairing violins. Stephane is emotionally distant from everything; he looks at the world logically, squarely, morally. The other is Camille, who is also Maxime's violinist girlfriend. She is everything Stephane is not; an emotional creature, an artist who lives only to reveal.
Stephane falls in love with her, but can't act; he can't backstab Maxime. More than that, he can't step out of the small little world he has made for himself. As well as he can, he restrains his feelings. But Camille sees through Stephane's bullshit, and -- in the following scene -- boldly confronts him. The scene that follows is nothing more than two people facing each other at a restaurant, but it is shattering. The script alone doesn't do it justice; you'll need the tape or DVD to see Emmanuelle Beart's Camille as she tries to melt the icy resolve of Daniel Auteil's Stephane. If you haven't seen the film, try to read the following imaginatively. Think pauses, think serious, think desire, think heartbreak.
Camille: We can't leave it at this. I can't accept that. Say something.
Stephane: I told you the truth.'
Camille: You know you haven't. That rainy day when you came to the recording studio ... I didn't dream it. You listened.
Stephane: It was my job.
Camille: Don't pretend I'm like any musician with a broken string!
Stephane: Of course not.
Camille: All those things we said.
Stephane: We didn't say anything, Camille.
Camille: We did! Or else it's me. No, that's impossible. Impossible. But why?
Stephane: I told you why.
Camille: If it was a game you should have played it to the end! You should have fucked me. You'd have been a rat but that's life.
Stephane: Camille stop it.
Camille: (angrily) This is nothing! You're nothing!
[Stephane shifts uncomfortably, noticing the stares of other patrons.]
Camille: Don't you like them staring? Let them enjoy it. Watch him squirm in his seat, wishing he could go. He says he likes music. Because "music is dreams." It's unconnected with life. Poor jerk, you know nothing about dreams. You've got no imagination, no heart, no balls! [Grabs his crotch.] There's nothing in there. Nothing!
You'd have been a rat but that's life.> One of those lines, simple and direct, that stick with me as few others. Yes, this love affair might end in my own destruction -- but to not engage in it, to play it safe, is not living. The temptation is strong to inoculate myself against it by saying "It's so French, isn't it?" but that's not really it. It's the truth of the scene that has such dynamic appeal.
Cinema is always at its most effective when it is at its simplest, its clearest, its most basic -- to me, that's the lesson of Bunuel's great films. And you see it in others, too, like that remarkable mother-daughter scene near the end of Mike Leigh's Life is Sweet>.