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[The 28 minute clip below is from “Salt on Our Skin” (also known as “Desire”), a 1992 movie based on a French novel by Benoîte Groult about a pair of ill-matched lovers who meet in the late 1950s and go on meeting occasionally through the changes of their lives. George (played by Greta Scacchi) lives in Paris, but because her father is Scottish the family spends some of the summer vacation every year in Scotland. There she meets the masculine but gentle Gavin (played by Vincent D’Onofrio), and the two become sexually and (somewhat) romantically infatuated with each other. The intellectually sophisticated Parisian is well aware that their backgrounds and interests are incompatible, and that despite their marvellous sexual compatibility it would be folly to commit themselves to one another. But Gavin, the Scottish farmer’s son and fisherman-to-be, is ready to follow his heart. Naturally, when she refuses his offer of marriage his heart gets broken.

They go their separate ways, and although neither of them is extravagantly happy in their personal life, George is by far the happier of the two. Although her marriage ends in divorce, she enjoys her life as an academic and, while teaching at a private American college, falls into a casual sexual relationship with a pedantic German who is kind to her son. Gavin, though married with three sons, finds his domestic life emotionally dull, while stoically enduring the lot of a fisherman. After having not seen each other for years, they meet by accident in London. She wants to pick up where they left off, but initially he resists out of decency and common sense. She tries to bully him by calling him a Calvinist and spouting familiar nonsense: “If I’ve learned sometime it’s that nothing is ordained; you can make of life whatever you want; like the poet said ‘I am the captain of my soul, I am the master of my fate.’ ” Her arguments bounce off, but her appeal proves too strong and eventually he calls her long distance from a telephone kiosk on the dock.

They meet in the Virgin Islands and after a sex-saturated holiday (at her expense) find that they have an extra day in Florida because of a missed plane connection. The circumstance of playing typical tourists at a medieval monastery “plucked and shipped in cartons from Spain”—a Disneyesque vulgarity in George’s eyes—leads to an angry argument. The resulting emotional pain, though common enough, may warrant some analysis of the underlying causes, for they pit good taste against snobbishness, and emotional truth against moral truth and practical life. Nevertheless, before they part George and Gavin declare their love for one another, but it is a “love” that can never lead to commitment. (Would you hesitate to call it “love,” even though that’s what the world calls it?) As before, the relationship takes a much heavier emotional toll on Gavin than on George, a feminist who considers herself liberated from traditional morality. However, she finally faces emotional truths to which she had blinded herself and privately confesses her “heartlessness.” Which of the two, do you think, is more sinned against than sinning? Which character attracts more of your sympathy? (An internet reviewer writes, ‘It’s hard to empathize with George, a woman who doesn’t want to be the wife of a fisherman, but wants to bang him annually, for old time’s sake.’ Too harsh?)]

When people say “I love you,” they often mean “I need you”
(from Salt on Our Skin)

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