I have, much to my shame, gone for quite a bit of time without seeing a film directed by the prolific Clint Eastwood, who, politics aside, is a nearly indomitable figure in Hollywood history. Furthermore, as a friend of mine suggests he is one of the only classicist directors still working, something that is quickly evident in what I have seen of his trailer, as well as his directing of The Bridges of Madison County. For whatever reason, perhaps the fact that my memories of it emerge from being eight or so when it came out, I assumed this film to be an absolutely sappy and unbearable chick romance flick, one that I would never in a million years have attached to the hypermasculine Eastwood. Of course, when I found this film again I had not realized that it was indeed directed by Eastwood and remembering that it was well received, or at the very least popular upon its release, I decided to give it a whirl. The earnestly, beauty and intimacy with which Eastwood brings Robert James Waller's film to life, makes every lackluster adaptation of equally uninspired Nicholas Spark's books seem frivolous and ill-intended, A Walk to Remember excluded, a film for which I am quite fond. The chemistry between Eastwood and Streep on film is palpable and instantaneous, a performance that would garner Streep one of her seemingly countless amount of nominations. The films is not perfect by any means though and does suffer from a considerable length issue, mostly the fault of the somewhat unnecessary inclusion of the children's reading of their mothers account of infidelity. However this minor criticism aside, The Bridges of Madison County is a magnificent work that forces viewers to reconsider their notions of first love, ageist assumptions about romantic intimacy and the degree of "infidelity" that occurs when an individual is stuck within an unfulfilling marriage or relationship. If we consider Eastwood to be a classicist filmmaker, which I do, it is in the way of melodramatic subtlety, a phrase I use intentionally for its oxymoronic quality.
The Bridges of Madison County begins with two adults meeting in the home of their late mother Francesca (Meryl Streep) to go through her personal belongings and undertake the enactment of her will. The two children Carolyn (Annie Corley) and Michael (Victor Slezak) become particularly confused and reluctant when it is revealed that their mother request to be cremated and have her ashes strewn off the side of an old bridge near her house. They make particular note of the fact that their father Richard (Jim Haynie) purchased to parallel graves to lay together in for eternity. However, as a set of journals reveal, when the children and their father spent a week away at the state fair, Francesca engaged in an affair with a National Geographic photographer named Robert Kincaid (Clint Eastwood). Michael is furious with the news, while Carolyn shows a considerable degree of intrigue beginning to thumb through the journal and see how such an act evolved. It becomes clear, as viewers are situated into the initial encounter, via flashbacks and the diagetic narration of Francesca that the events unfolded in the most innocent of manners, first with Kincaid inquiring about the location of bridges then to Francesca offering to tag along as a guide. Even when they spend their first evening together it is not sexual but simply the act of enjoying one another's company, over food and some brandy laced coffee. It is the second day, after some suspicion by towns folk that Kincaid and Francesca are more weary, yet after purchasing a new dress for the occasion the two spend the evening together, eventually engaging in intercourse. All the while we are shown Carolyn and Michael's reactions which evolve from outright discuss to deep understanding. The night between the two is notably fleeting and despite Kincaid's demands that Francesca join him, she chooses to stay and welcome the return of her family, a painful moment that she accepts like a martyr. By possible chance, Francesca sees Kincaid in town one last time and even has to suffer through sitting behind his truck at a red light, clutching the handle to her husband's truck as she considers fleeing into his world. However, she does stay and instead asks in the notes of her diary that her children acknowledge her request, as it is the least they can do in return for her sacrificed happiness.
The fact of the matter with The Bridges of Madison County is that it is a first rate romance. The love story depicted between the two aging idealists is something for the ages and is never forced. I would suggest that it represents the simplest and most realized moments of burgeoning love. It is hard not to see the pangs of initial attraction occur, when Kincaid first steps out of his truck, and it is certainly realized when Francesca discusses the erotic attachment she feels to Kincaid simply at the thought of ouccpying a space in which his naked body had resided only moments earlier, however, intercourse aside the evolution of their romance is youthful in the fullest of terms. It begins by playful interactions in a car, leading to Kincaid picking wildflowers for Francesca, reminiscent of many a summer loves follies. Furthermore, Kincaid's recollections on his brief experiences in a small town in Italy which Francesca originally hails, causes her to return to a youthful state, one that allows her to open veritable romantic floodgates. If we then consider the location of their moment of sexual encounter, it plays beautifully into the youthful nature, in that it does not occur in a bed, but on a rug because of outside forces "condemnation" and interference. However, romance of youthful hearts is obliterated with the reminders of Francesca's very adult responsibilities, ones that she must commit to and mean that their love must wait till the otherworldly to be fully celebrated. In the end it causes the two adult children to reflect on their own love lives, which result in their acting with purposefully youthful zeal.
Key Scene: The moment at the red light in which Francesca clutches the handle of the door seems to drag on forever, but it should as in her memories it went on for an eternity.
This was a stellar film, but not one I find absolutely necessary to own, yet should you enjoy romances this is top tier stuff.