Brattle Theatre, the quirky, independent movie theater that has been a staple of Harvard Square since 1953, shows daring movies that are too risky, too foreign or too old to be offered in mainstream theaters. Its tradition of original programming is evident in its fourth “Great Romances” film series, which features classic love stories, horror films and a noir thriller each making appearances.
Saturday, per its tradition, the theater will cap off seven days of romance films with one of the most famous love stories ever put to film. Every Valentine’s Day for the last four years, the Brattle Theatre has played “Casablanca” (1942) — arguably the greatest romantic drama ever to come out of Hollywood. In 67 years, nothing has managed to outdo the perfect, utterly quotable dialogue of “Casablanca” which, despite its age, still manages to catch the interest of young viewers.
Set during World War II in Casablanca, Morocco, “Casablanca” features Nazis and Jewish freedom fighters, sniveling con artists and smooth-talking bartenders, forgotten lovers and unforgettable pianists, desperate refugees and flamboyant policemen. The movie centers around Rick (played by Humphrey Bogart), a bitter American expatriate, and the painful memories that arise when he must make an impossible choice: reunite with his old love, Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman), or help her Jewish lover, an important leader of the Resistance, escape Casablanca.
With fantastic supporting characters, especially the corrupt Captain Renault (Claude Rains), there is honestly not much about this movie to criticize. Whether accompanied by a friend who simply wants to see one of the best movies ever made or a more intimate companion, “Casablanca” is a movie that must be watched.
But for those unconvinced by stylish, witty, romantic dramas from the 1940s, the Brattle Theatre offered a slightly different romance on Thursday. “Bound” (1996) is a noir thriller and the first movie directed by the Wachowski brothers, makers of “The Matrix” (1999).
“Bound” is about two women, an ex-con and the girlfriend of a mafia thug, who have an affair and plot to steal $2 million from the mob. At its core, it is standard crime thriller material. But what makes “Bound” worth watching is how well everything fits together.
The film is the Wachowskis at their best, before the double trouble of the terrible “The Matrix Reloaded” (2003) and “The Matrix Revolutions” (2003). Like “The Matrix,” “Bound” has a trademarked style. It offers subtly perfect music, beautiful close up shots of hands and amazing shots of liquid in many forms including water, oil, paint and blood.
Incredible dialogue oozes from every scene, just as in “Casablanca.” No wonder that one of the central villains of “Bound” took some of his inspiration from Bogart’s many film noir roles. Particularly noteworthy is the relationship between the two main characters. The actresses infuse their romance with honesty and humor. Their performance as both a couple and con artists, manipulating the rest of the characters as they go, is terrific.
This is an exceptionally violent movie, filled with as much sex and blood as a typical Quentin Tarantino movie. For those who have a strong stomach and are sick of sappy, simpering lovers, “Bound” is a great Valentine’s Day movie. Although it was only at the theater on Thursday, you can also find it at the Tisch Library (and save some precious money in the process).
On the Friday before Valentine’s Day this year, Brattle Theatre is mixing up its romance theme to include a few classic slasher movies. “Friday the 13th” (1980) and the appropriately titled “My Bloody Valentine” (1981) will be playing as a special double feature. For the horror fans out there, these are classics that should not be missed.
Brattle Theatre is located at 40 Brattle Street, Harvard Square. For more information about Brattle Theatre and the films it plays, visit www.brattlefilm.org or call (617) 876-6837.