On Blu-ray: Laurence Olivier and Diane Lane in A Little Romance (1979)


In a time where virtually the whole human race is feeling the absence of loved ones, the charming A Little Romance (1979) has become a more bittersweet film. When I recently watched the movie on a new Blu-ray from Warner Archive, I appreciated it as a timeless tribute to many aspects of love and a timely reminder of the connections that we are fighting for now.

In her film debut, Diane Lane is remarkably assured as Lauren, an American teenager living in Paris who meets and falls in love with Daniel (Thelonious Bernard) a movie-mad local boy. Despite the instability of her life due to her mother’s (Sally Kellerman) multiple marriages and affairs, Lauren is intelligent and emotionally mature. When she and Daniel meet the charming, but mischievous elderly widower Julius (Laurence Olivier), they soon pull him into their plans to go to Italy so the two can have a grand romantic moment like the one he once had with his dearly departed wife.

A Little Romance dances between innocence and corruption with such a gentle touch that everything feels suffused with light. In juxtaposing Lauren’s innocent romance with her mother’s emerging affair with a sleazy film director, it reflects on the good and bad of l’amour, but always recognizes the overall intoxication of making a love connection. The sweetness of George Delerue’s score (his sweeping romanticism is unmistakable) helps to sustain the feeling of giddiness.

One of the most compelling relationships in the film is between Lauren and her stepfather Richard (played with elegant restraint by Arthur Hill). Both actors have that rare, remarkable ability as a performer to communicate deeply with an audience as they listen and react. They are more in-sync than the other characters, because they understand each other’s emotional needs and realize that fighting for love is worth risk and struggle. Hill helps his stepdaughter to keep her big love alive, while also ensuring that his own relationship doesn’t fall victim to her mother’s restlessness.

Olivier is dramatically less subtle than these two. His is a performance full of ham, with flustered outbursts, and outsized physicality. It could be a disaster, but Sir Olivier seems to be in on the joke. When the moment requires it, he can plunge you through the heart with the most poignant expressions of grief, joy, and compassion.

In a role that could have similarly made a buffoon of Kellerman, she communicates her emotional needs with a desperation that shows through her selfishness. In most films she would be a bad person. Here she is simply a lost romantic in need of direction.

I was moved to tears by A Little Romance. The sight of tourists enjoying the bridges and canals of Venice was immeasurably moving and heartbreaking given the situation there today. But I would have gotten misty watching this in any time, because the idea that romance is worth the fight of your life is profoundly beautiful.

Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copy of the film for review. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.

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