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This is the story of the life, loves, wounds, grit, artistic genius, and death of the well-known Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, played by Salma Hayek. At the age of eighteen Kahlo was in a near-fatal bus accident that left her with lifelong injuries to her pelvis, spine, and uterus. (The film does not include the fact that Kahlo had suffered some physical disability since a case of polio at the age of six.)
The life Kahlo survived to live was artistically enormously productive and successful, but it also had more than the usual share of physical suffering, medical procedures, attempts to self-medicate, and accompanying emotional distress. The film covers these things, as well as what Kahlo called the second disaster in her life, her marriage to the famous Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, played by Alfred Molina.
Max Vigne, the most junior member of a survey group mapping the Himalayas in the 1860s, writes letters to his young wife Clara in England. She has prepared in advance of his journey a series of postdated letters which he keeps in his trunk. When these have been read, Clara sends numbered letter packets which arrive sporadically, out of sequence, if at all, over the months of the expedition. Max struggles to describe and to edit his daily experiences on the mountains which are extraordinary, often terrifying, and disorienting for him.
Separated by time, distance, and experiences, they are slowly and irrevocably estranged. Max discovers that his real scientific passion is alpine botany, and he must decide how to tell Clara that he will not be returning to England after the Survey ends. The exchange of letters ingeniously maps out the complexities between Max's love for his wife and his passion for scientific knowledge, and the wide expanse between them.
Giovanni (Nanni Moretti) is a psychoanalyst. He has a beautiful wife, Paola (Laura Morante), and an adolescent son and daughter, Andrea and Irene. One Sunday morning, Giovanni gets a call from one of his patients, newly diagnosed with cancer and frantic. Instead of spending the day with his family, Giovanni attends to his patient. Andrea goes diving with friends, there is an accident, and he is killed.
The rest of the film examines the family’s bereavement. Giovanni finds his work increasingly difficult, and by the end of the film he has decided that he can no longer be a psychotherapist.
A love letter addressed to Andrea arrives from a girl called Arianna: it turns out Andrea had a secret girlfriend. Both parents become obsessed, in different ways, with contacting Arianna. Eventually she visits them, while hitchhiking with her new boyfriend, and the family drive all night along the Mediterranean coast, taking Arianna and the boy to France. Next morning, on the beach at Nice, in saying goodbye to Arianna, they seem to have made progress in continuing their life as a family without their lost son.
In this novel the narrator travels by train from the present into the past and back again. The narrator boards a train in Soviet Moscow; travels to Leningrad in a compartment with some not too friendly people; stays overnight in a relative's run-down, crowded apartment; and rambles through the streets of Leningrad, stopping to visit Dostoyevsky's last place of residence, which is now a museum.
However, this framing story occupies very little of the book. During the train ride, the narrator re-imagines a much earlier trip in April 1867, as Fyodor Dostoyevsky and his young wife, Anna Grigoryevna, travel by train to Baden-Baden in Germany. They will remain abroad for four years, as Dostoyevsky indulges in his passion (and later obsession) for gambling.
In Baden-Baden he loses all their money; he pawns their belongings and loses; he begs and borrows money from friends and publishers, and loses. Each time he loses, he comes home to their rented apartment and throws himself at Anna's feet. He protests his love, berates himself, and promises to do better in the future; and Anna forgives him.
In this dream-like story, repentance and forgiveness, memory and desire, hope and despair revolve like electrons around Dostoevsky's addiction to gambling. Fyodor and Anna recall earlier events in their lives; for example, Anna remembers herself as a hesitant young secretary arriving for the first time to take dictation from the famous man; and Fyodor, the former convict, Slavophile author of Crime and Punishment, remembers being scornfully dismissed by the smooth and sophisticated Turgenev.
Within the 1867 framework, the story seems to be stuck, unable to move forward, although we know from our late 20th century perspective--as Tsypkin recalls (and invents) the events while on his train trip to Leningrad--they are part of a larger story which moves inexorably forward through time and ends at the Dostoevsky house in Leningrad (St. Petersburg), with the moving scene of Fyodor's last days. And the two stories converge as Tsypkin visits the Dostoevsky museum where those last days took place.
When Gerald is three, his mother, a drug addict, leaves him alone one time too often and he accidentally sets the apartment on fire. His mother is imprisoned for negligence, he goes to the hospital, and thereafter lives with "Aunt Queen," a great-aunt who exercises considerable authority from her wheelchair, and gives him all the love his mother hasn't.
When he is 9, however, his mother returns with a new sister and a man who claims to be the sister's father. They want to take him "home"; Gerald wants to stay with Aunt Queen. The matter is settled unhappily when Aunt Queen dies of a heart attack.
Gerald soon learns to despise his stepfather for his violence and, eventually, for the abuse of his half sister, which she hides out of fear until she's driven to confess it to Gerald in hope of his protection. Their mother remains in denial about that problem as well as her own and her husband's addictions to alcohol and drugs.
Caring for his sister, however, keeps love in Gerald's life. In defending her one last time, the apartment catches fire and his stepfather is killed. As he, his sister, and his mother ride away in the ambulance, a flicker of hope survives in the darkness for another new chapter in family life, this time without violence.
Frank Carveth (Art Hindle) has a wife, Nola (Samantha Eggar) who is mentally ill (the exact nature of her "breakdown" is never made clear, but it is implied that she was abused as a child). Nola is an in-patient at the Somafree Institute of Psychoplasmics run by Dr Hal Raglan (Oliver Reed). Raglan treats patients by engaging in intense role play encounters in which he takes the part either of parent or child to the patient.
The result of his approach is the somatization of emotional problems, his logic apparently being that allowing psychopathology to manifest in the (medically treatable) body liberates the less accessible psyche from illness or harmful emotions. So, for instance, a man with unresolved anger against his father develops sores all over his body during therapy. Their healing enacts his catharsis.
There are problems, however: another patient attributes his terminal cancer to Raglan's therapy, saying "psychoplasmics . . . encouraged my body to revolt against me and it did." Most terrifying of all is Nola's rage. It expresses itself in the form of strange buds that appear on her abdomen. These develop into external wombs, or amniotic sacs, from which she keeps giving birth to deformed and malevolent children.
These children, "the brood," literally enact her rage, escaping from Somafree to attack and kill anyone who is the object of Nola's anger, including both her parents and, eventually, Dr. Raglan himself. When the brood turns on Candy, Frank and Nola's actual daughter, Frank strangles his wife, and her evil offspring die with her.
Joe Rose, a popular science writer, and his partner Clarissa, a Keats scholar, are picnicking in the English countryside when an accident happens: a hot air balloon carrying a man and his grandson goes out of control. Five men, including Joe, run to help, holding onto the balloon's ropes; when a gust of wind lifts the balloon, four men, including Joe, let go but the fifth holds on, is lifted high in the air, and falls to his death.
One of the would-be rescuers, Jed Parry, becomes obsessed with Joe, and begins to stalk him, interpreting all rejections as veiled invitations. Jed wants both to convert Joe to charismatic Christianity and, it seems, to become his lover. Communication is impossible, the police are no help, and under the strain Clarissa and Joe's relationship comes apart. In a restaurant, someone at the next table is shot, making Joe realize that Jed is trying to kill him. After breaking into their apartment, threatening Clarissa at knifepoint, and then attempting suicide, Jed is arrested and committed to a psychiatric hospital.
In a subplot, the dead man's widow suffers a loss exacerbated by the belief that her husband had been having an affair. Joe learns the truth about the suspected affair and is able to reveal to the widow that her husband had been faithful after all.
The book ends with two appendices: an invented article from a British psychiatry journal presenting Jed's case, and a letter written to Joe by Jed three years later, still hospitalized, and still, deludedly, in love.
It is 1965. Graduate student, Adam Appleby (the name is significant), twenty-five years old and father of three, is terrified that his wife, Barbara, is pregnant again. He loves her and is faithful, but their commitment to Catholicism turns their sex life into a furtive obsession, encumbered with calendars, thermometers, and guilt.
This day in his life, like all others, is spent in the British Museum, researching an interminable thesis on 'the long sentence' in minor English writers. But Adam cannot concentrate for frustration, anxiety (over Barbara's delayed period), and financial despair. When a young descendant of a minor writer tries to seduce him in exchange for a steamy manuscript that could easily make his career, Adam discovers a shocking willingness to compromise on his principles.
Daughter of a wealthy businessman, tall, beautiful Emily Stockwell Turner falls out of love with her stolid professor husband, Holman, halfway through their first semester at a small college for men in northern New England. She is lonely and miserable in this remote place. Encouraged by her confidante and fellow faculty wife, Miranda, she embarks on a secret affair with the college musician, Will Thomas.
Divorced and sexually experienced, Will initiates Emmy into the powerful romance of physical love. But their on-again, off-again relationship is fraught by its own secrecy, Holman's jealous suspicions, Will's infidelities, Emmy's lies, Miranda's disingenuous disinterest, and the not-so-irrational hatred that Freddy, Emmy's four-year old son, bears Will.
Emmy and Will take ever greater risks with their clandestine encounters; eventually they admit to being truly in love and she decides to join him in his move to New York City. But Holman falls ill and nearly loses his contract position at the University when he tries to kill a student demonstrator whom he wrongly suspects of being Emmy's lover. Emmy postpones her departure indefinitely, because Holman "needs" her more.
At the height of campus unrest over Vietnam, Brian Tate, the conventional, politically moderate, foreign policy professor at Corinth (clearly Ithaca), has an office affair with his blonde graduate student, Wendy, but only after the vapid flower-child has pursued him relentlessly for months. Brian’s wife, Erica, learns of his infidelity when she reads Wendy’s ungrammatical but explicit letter.
Miserable at home with their two shockingly difficult adolescent children, Erica is unemployed because Brian disapproves of her working. She confronts him; Wendy apologizes to her; Brian lies; Wendy is forced to have an abortion; Brian moves out; Wendy moves in; Erica grows thin and ages prematurely. She takes up with an old friend who has become a wan new-age ’guru,’ but he is often impotent.
Wendy becomes pregnant again, terrifying Brian into believing he must marry her. But she spares him this punishment by moving to a California commune with Ralph, who, unlike Brian, does not care about biological origin of her child. Hoping to return, Brian visits Erica; she is expecting him with wary resignation.