themes

Melodrama

Melodrama

One aim of art has always been to evoke intense feelings; for melodramatic cinema, that is its unabashed and overt raison d’etre. With themes of love, suffering, betrayal, sacrifice, and redemption, melodrama puts its audiences through the emotional wringer. Various national cinemas have made contributions to the genre—from Japan, we have Mikio Naruse’s dramas of steadfast women trapped in quiet domestic anguish; from France, Max Ophuls’s luxurious tragic romances; from Italy, Luchino Visconti’s opulent tales of amour fou and Raffaello Matarazzo’s contorted, epic expressions of thwarted desire. Historically, the Hollywood work of the German émigré Douglas Sirk has been considered the expressionistic epitome of the movie melodrama; his All That Heaven Allows, Magnificent Obsession, and Written on the Wind used the form to comment on 1950s America with a sophisticated mix of irony and forthright emotion. In the ’70s, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, a fan of Hollywood melodrama, provocatively remade All That Heaven Allows as the heartbreaking interracial romance Ali: Fear Eats the Soul.