During the Christmas season I enjoy watching the somewhat corny and oh-so-predictable Christmas movies that show up on TV, and they are inevitably about a girl who’s had her heart broken and a boy with good intentions who will heal her heart, after some obstacles are won, of course. I do enjoy watching them over a cup of tea on those dark grey Sunday afternoons, and for some moments believe in romance and fairy tales. After, all, these movies are already part of the Christmas routine, but you forget them as soon as you watch the next one, for the stories are mostly the same.
Then there are a few Christmas movies that are different. Maybe because you saw them at a certain special moment of your life, because they have a strong message together with a great soundtrack, or simply because they tell a good, funny story, and are full of that undefinable but still inevitable expression “Christmas spirit”. Something common to them all, the corny and the good ones, are the always beautiful and inspiring Christmas decorations, a splash of light and colour, as well as the snow and Santas that make you feel Christmas in your heart.
The first of these movies is “Love actually” (2003). It is supposed to be a comedy and really makes you laugh, but it has its dramatic moments too. It tells several intertwined stories, from a PM (an endearing character played by Hugh Grant) in love with his secretary to a wronged wife who understands her husband is betraying her with another woman when she inadvertently discovers that a jewel he has bought for Christmas is not her gift, receiving a couple of music CDs instead. Emma Thompson brilliantly plays this woman who receives this blow on Christmas Eve, as the family is opening the presents under the tree, and bravely smiles and pretends everything is all right while at the same time she realizes her husband is cheating on her. It is heart-breaking to see how her face changes, in deep disappointment at first and then regret, and I cannot imagine any woman being indifferent to her predicament; unfortunately, most of us have felt, at one moment or another, that same stab of betrayal through our hearts. It is a movie with a lot of love, laughs, crazy situations, fantastic songs, but also a strong message about love and deceit. At the time I was still married and deeply sympathized with the wronged wife, imagining myself in her shoes, and dreading that possibility. I watch is almost every year as they pass it on again on TV and its always a joy to see it and ponder on its lessons. We even have Portuguese actress Lúcia Moniz starring in this movie and having an improbable romance with Colin Firth!
Then I absolutely love “The holiday” (2006). It is about swapping houses. A movie trailer producer from LA who has just broken up with her boyfriend (again, a treacherous one) swaps her mansion with a British girl, the owner of a country cottage, who has nurtured for some years a damaging love for a man who uses her. The subject of Her Majesty The Queen goes to LA and the American girl spends a few days in the cottage lost in the English snowy countryside, and naturally they have all sorts of adventures and, most important, both find love. This is a lighter movie than “Love actually”, as it mostly makes you laugh and enjoy the two romantic stories that unfold. I watched this movie on what was probably one of the happiest Christmases of my life, as I was in love; after watching the movie, we went up the Castle Hill and had the most romantic dinner that I can remember. It was a cold night, but the love in our hearts made us warm and every time I watch it – and they pass it on TV so often, not only during the Christmas season – I wish I could travel back in time to that first time when I watched it and love was new and the Christmas lights seemed bigger, brighter, and the future held a huge promise.
Then there is another movie that, not being a Christmas movie itself, for me is somehow related to Christmas because of when I first saw it –it came to Lisbon in the Christmas of 1984, during my last year of university. It is “Ghostbusters” and it’s probably among the most famous movies ever. it tells the story of three “crazy scientists” that decide to create a company to hunt ghosts, and suddenly all over New York there are strange phenomena happening and everyone needs their help. The special effects are quite good – for the eighties – and leading actors include Bill Murray and Sigourney Weaver, a few years after her “Alien” success. Last Saturday I watched this movie with my two sons – Pedro and I were appalled at the fact that Afonso had never seen it – and afterwards we watched on Netflix a program about its “making of” where it was fun to learn some curiosities about how difficult it was to put together. I remember going to see it in one of the grand Lisbon cinemas – now long gone – with a group of friends only a few days before Christmas, and then all of us going for a cup of hot chocolate at “Versailles”, one of the most traditional cafés in Lisbon where I still often go – and love, as it keeps so many memories of happy moments of my life such as that one of the day we went to see “Ghostbusters”.
Last, but not least, “Last Christmas”(2019), the latest Christmas movie that I went to see on Saturday with some friends. At first it called my attention for three reasons: because we hadn’t had a “so called” Christmas movie on the cinemas in a few years; because it shares its title with my favourite Christmas song of all, that of The Wham; and, finally, because it starred Emilia Clarke, who played Daenerys Targaryen on “The Game of Thrones” for so long that I was curious to see her in another role, divested of the warrior queen’s robes and finery.
I’m not going to tell you the story, but I strongly advise you to go and see it. It may not be the typical Christmas movie with a fairy-tale ending, but it is definitely a movie about love, and Christmas, and features the most beautiful Christmas decorations you can imagine, in a beautiful London at times covered with snow. But it is also a movie about illness, pain, lack of communication in families; about being lost as a person, and about some serious issues societies are facing such as homeless people and the hatred against immigrants; in the end it is a movie about love in the broader sense of the word, not only romantic love but for your family, your friends and fellow workers, and for other, less favoured, members of society. All with a touch of humour that makes you laugh quite a few times, and also some heartrending moments that make you feel one or two tears rolling down your cheek. A Christmas movie, after all, to make you laugh and cry, and come out full of Christmas spirit – whatever that means. It also has a wonderful soundtrack, with the unavoidable “Last Christmas” by Wham sang in various versions – always, at least for me, the most wonderful Christmas song ever. My favourite of all.