At the end of this year Louis Malle‘s Damage will celebrate its 30th anniversary. I saw it when it opened, of course, but I’ve had a thing for this film since buying the Warner Archive DVD 11 years ago. I’ve probably seen it nine or ten times, and I really wish that an HD streaming version would be made available. as the DVD’s 480p resolution is unsatisfying.
Boilerplate synopsis: “Adapted by David Hare from the short, same-titled novel by Josephine Hart, this is a gripping tale of a desperate sexual obsession and scandalous love affair in upper-crust British social circles. Stephen Fleming (Jeremy Irons) has wealth, a beautiful, well-bred wife (Miranda Richardson), two younger children, an adult journalist son (Rupert Graves), and a prestigious political career in Parliament.
“But Fleming’s life lacks a certain spark of passion, and this emptiness drives him to an all-consuming, and ultimately catastrophic, relationship with his son’s fiancée, Anna (Juliette Binoche).”
No, I don’t personally relate to the idea of surrendering to obsessive sexual madness and self-destruction, and yes, the movie defies basic logic in terms of normal human behavior and priorities. But it’s one of the best cinematic explorations of that famous Woody Allen-ism, “The heart wants what it wants, or at least the loins do.” (Alternately: “You don’t choose who to fall into obsessive love with — obsessive love chooses you.”)
Another first-rate film that understands crazy doomed love affairs is Francois Truffaut‘s The Woman Next Door (’81).
Damage ends in death, devastation, downerism and ruin, but the first two-thirds are quite tantalizing in a crazy, well-behaved sort of way.
There’s a brief moment near the very beginning when Malle conveys the “lack of passion” aspect; he does this by having Irons gaze at his well-tended living room with a look of utter boredom. Please accept my apology for failing to properly frame the footage, but here it is:
A scene or two later Fleming meets Anna at a party, and the way they look at each other tells you it’s a done deal. It’s obvious they’ll be slamming ham within hours if not sooner.