"There is a Venetian legend that says when two lovers kiss in a gondola under the bridge of sighs at sunset as the bells of Campanile toll, they will love each other forever."
I originally stumbled upon A Little Romance on one of the HBO channels late one night roughly seven years ago and fell in love with it immediately. I stayed up late to watch the entire thing, despite the fact I had to get up for work the following morning. Somehow, this film's existence had eluded me prior to that point. In fact, it was when I saw Laurence Olivier and Diane Lane were in it that I decided to tune in, by some miracle tuning in at the beginning. What I encountered then, and continue to each time I watch it, is an incredibly charming little film that has probably become more obscure with time than it should be.
The film tells the story of two adolescent misfits, a French boy named Daniel Marchon (played by Thelonious Bernard) and an American girl named Lauren King (played by Diane Lane). The two meet by chance during a field trip Daniel is on with his school class. He stumbles upon a film set and finds Lauren there, who was accompanying her mother, Kay (played by Sally Kellerman), to watch the shoot. Kay is being wooed by the film's director, George (played by David Dukes), despite already being married to Richard (played by Arthur Hill). Daniel finds Lauren and starts chatting with her until he's dragged back to the tour group. Intrigued by this French boy, she follows him and eventually joins his tour group. From there, a sweet and innocent romance blooms between the two as they learn they are both super intelligent and bond while discussing Heidegger (because nothing says romance like metaphysics and existentialism, I guess).
Of course, this new found romance does not sit well with Lauren's mother, who forbids her from seeing Daniel. Not wanting to be apart, the two decide to run off to Italy together to fulfill a legend they heard from an older gentleman named Julius (played by Laurence Olivier), who they bring along as chaperone to help them get across the Italian border. Hot on their trail are the authorities along with Lauren's parents and Daniel's father.
The film is wonderfully directed by the great George Roy Hill and accompanied by the Academy Award winning score by Georges Delerue, which is one of my favorite film scores of all time, with a main theme that is a variation of the second movement of Vivaldi's Concerto for Guitar and Strings in D Major. The film also highlights plenty of gorgeous European scenery from Paris, where the bulk of the story is set, to Verona and finally Venice, Italy.
The performances in the film are fantastic, especially from Laurence Olivier, clearly having fun with a colorful character such as Julius. Diane Lance comes off exceptionally well in her motion picture debut, so well in fact that Olivier called her the next Grace Kelly. Thelonious Bernard does well as Daniel and shows some real promise here, but unlike Lane, left acting after making only one other movie after this.
I have to take a moment out in this review to say how much I connected with the character of Daniel. While I may not be as great with mathematics as he is, there were other traits I really recognized in myself. Especially his love of movies. When we are first introduced to the character, he is seated in a movie theater. When he first meets Lauren, he makes a reference to Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart which Lauren doesn't get at all. This annoys Daniel briefly, a feeling I know all too well. And then, of course towards the end the two kids are hiding out in a movie theater waiting for sunset to fulfill their legend and when it's time Lauren tells Daniel they have to leave but he says to wait because it's his favorite part of the movie they're watching. That part always gets a hearty laugh out of me because I'd do the exact same thing.
Overall, A Little Romance is a charming, funny film about two adolescent kids falling in love. It's sweet, cute, has a fun sense of adventure to it. It's also a movie I fear people have forgotten about as time goes on. It's been one of my favorites and I frequently listen to the score on my iPod. It's well worth seeking out, if you're in the mood for something fun, with some romance, some fun performances, a little adventure and some gorgeous European scenery.