Saturday, 14 February 2009

For the Love of Ninotchka, Happy Valentine's Day!

IN HONOR OF THE DAY celebrated in many countries around the world as a day for love and lovers, I watched Ninotchka once again.

A witty romantic comedy from 1939, starring Greta Garbo as a stern Soviet official and Melvyn Douglas as a flirtatious count, Ninotchka remains humorous and charming to me even after multiple viewings; yet today I was struck by the underlying depth of the clever-but-light-hearted story.

At first, we see the character of Ninotchka as intelligent and dutiful, but too austere, too caught up in measurements and technicalities to appreciate the life and people she hopes to improve by means of her Communist ideology. Leon, the Count, a seemingly carefree man-about-town, not realizing at first that Ninotchka is the official sent by the Russian government to supervise the sale of the very jewels happening to have once belonged to his current companion, a Russian aristocrat, is immediately drawn to her. Throughout the first half of the film, we assume that he knows what love and laughter are, that she does not and oppresses all feeling, and that he teaches her how to love, and, in fact, most summaries do not seem to go any farther than this in their interpretations. Then, near the end, he makes a curious confession to the Dutchess, simple enough to be over-looked. He confesses that he loves Ninotchka, adding that he never thought anybody should speak of love because he thought the notion of true love silly and juvenile. . .

Ninotchka may have thought of "love" as a euphemism for "chemistry", but Leon had never before thought of "love" as more than a too-serious classification for a charming "game". Both the young Comrade and the young Count had something to learn about human relationships, namely, that they were not to be treated as mere biological necessities nor as social pastimes-- that they have something to do with mutual respect and admiration, that real love and real friendship would help a human being better himself more than cold science or cold cash alone.

Perhaps it seems an obvious moral when thus stated, but on a day such as today (and indeed, every day), I believe it to be one worth contemplating. I leave you, dear reader, with this bit of Latin as a blessing:

Cras amet qui nunquam amavit; quique amavit, cras amet.

That is, "May he love tomorrow who has never loved;
And may he who has loved, love tomorrow as well."

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