Henry and June (1990)
“Let’s toast to our defects. Toast, to our friendship. Drink cold, piss warm.” – Henry Miller
During the 1920’s and 30’s, Paris became a playground for a variety of artists, such as Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, Anais Nin and Henry Miller. This film focuses on the relationship between writer Anais Nin (Maria de Medeiros), Henry Miller (Fred Ward) and his wife June (Uma Thurman). This encounter unlocks Nin’s unexpected voracious sexual appetite, an emotional and intellectual awakening. Liberated from her timid marriage, she learns what it is to love and be loved unconditionally, driven by passion and desire. The film is based on Anais’s diaries during her affair with Henry Miller, released only when they had both passed away.
Anais’s creative writing ambitions are supported by her husband, banker Hugo Parker Guiler (Richard E. Grant) while they live in Paris. She’s introduced to Henry Miller through her husband, who has recently moved to Paris to complete his first novel Tropic of Cancer. She’s intrigued by his blatant masculinity and his appetite for life, equally drawn to his talent as a writer. Henry mentions his wife June, a seductive, manipulative, beautiful actress, serving as the inspiration for his novel.
June then arrives from New York and Anais is quickly smitten. She finds June’s bohemian lifestyle magnetic: alluring, glamorous, erotic. They quickly build a deep connection and have an intimate moment together, sharing a kiss during a night out. Anais embraces June’s sexual confidence, her curiosities growing and spilling into her marriage. Inspired by June’s sexual experiences and personal charisma, Anais decides to write a novel based on her as well, from a woman’s perspective. Soon after, June leaves Paris for New York for a film audition.
At a Spanish nightclub, Hugo steps away to play with the band while Henry corners Anais in the back room, suddenly aware and drawn to her sensual awakening. He forces himself onto her and she succumbs, making love wildly in the corner as the shadows from another room dance over them. This begins their torrid affair, igniting Anais’s wild passion for love, embracing the mysteries of sex that had once escaped her. She keeps her affair a secret from Hugo, but he does notice and enjoy his wife’s new found sexual appetite, as they explore whore houses and new sexual adventures.
Eventually, June returns to Paris and Anais rekindles her passion for her. None of this is known to Henry, though, Hugo is suspicious, especially when Anais asks him to make love to her, as though, he was making love to June. Henry plugs away at his novel, sparked by his infatuation with Anais, though, dodging the razor sharp criticisms regularly hurled at him from June. She makes it clear he should be thankful for her and her many sacrifices, her life giving his writing content and material, though, his love never quite enough.
In bed with June and on the brink of her seduction, Anais falters and reveals her affair with Henry, which results in June’s outrage. She storms off, leaving Henry’s apartment and back to New York. Shattered by this sudden development, Anais chooses to end her affair with Henry but will help get his novel published, believing it to be a groundbreaking literary work. Anais concludes that her affair with Henry will change her forever, no longer the timid girl who yearned for sexual liberation but now a woman completely free, as an artist and lover, a bond forged from her pain and love with Henry.
Uma Thurman gives a terrific performance. She gives June a thick, New York accent sounding almost masculine, contradicted with her sinewy, sexy limbs, seductive mannerisms and perfect face, the symbol of female erotica unhinged. Fred Ward plays Henry with brute force, his portrayal reminding us of a young Marlon Brando, the emotions and actions spontaneous, filled with careless passion. The remarkable similarities in appearance between Anais Nin and Maria de Medeiros extend beyond their looks. De Medeiros captures Anais’s sexual curiosity, never bordering on mindless lust, but showing us her evolving growth intellectually and sexually.
Paris isn’t given bright colors or decorated lavishly but given somber grey tones, an industrial feel with many shadows and secrets, uncovered by Anais on her journey of self discovery. New scenes are introduced with gradual fades, the colors warm, lit by candles with wine on every table, drunk freely. The intimacy between the lovers is inescapable, while crammed among friends in a bistro or during another session in bed. Director Philip Kaufman (The Unbearable Lightness of Being) is intimately tied to the film, having met Anais Nin as a young student and she telling him to pursue his film interests. His wife helped him write the screenplay while his son produced the film. The film therefore is thorough, no detail left to assumption, as we are given the ultimate portrait of a woman on the verge of a sexual rebirth, a passion unlocked with an affair however brief, but never forgotten.
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Tags: 1930's, affair, Anais Nin, Fred Ward, Henry and June, Henry Miller, June Miller, love, Maria de Medeiros, New York, Paris, Phillip Kaufman, Richard E. Grant, sex, Tropic of Cancer, Uma Thurman