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This 1990 film, directed by Philip Kaufman, is set in Paris in 1931. This was a time and place between the two world wars that attracted writers and artists to a bohemian lifestyle, a time of discarding old conventions and embracing experimentation. Here, Henry Miller, an American expatriate wrote his wildly erotic books, which were banned in the United States. And Anais Nin, known for her extensive diaries about her sensory experiences, began her literary career here. It's no wonder that the two of them would meet and couple. They were both married at the time and this film is about the complex relationships between Henry, Anais, and their respective mates, all searching of a kind of liberation which was endemic at the time.
Fred Ward plays Henry as a crass American with a Brooklyn accent that makes native New Yorkers, such as myself, cringe. He's all man though and it's easy to see why Anais Nin, played by the large-eyed petite Portuguese actress Maria de Medereiros, is attracted to him. Her own husband, Richard E. Grant, is attractive as well, and it's clear that they have a good romantic life together, but he's willing to look the other way at his wife's desire for others. When Miller's wife, June, played by Uma Thurman, a fiery androgynous mother-earth figure, comes on the scene, Anais Nin finds herself attracted to her as well. This sets the scene for some interesting complexities.
The video is two hours and 16 minutes long and I expected to watch only half of it one evening and the rest of it the next night. However, from the moment it started I was completely captured by the story and just had to watch it all the way through. The cinematography is so good that it was even nominated for an academy award, not for just the excellent views of Paris, but for the way the intimate scenes are done which manage to convey the relationships and the sensualities of the moment while avoiding being explicit. The focus is on the romance and the concepts rather than the physical acts. This kept the scenes erotic and it also moved the story forward. I was totally intrigued and kept wondering what would happen next.
The acting was uniformly good, but special note goes to Maria de Medeiros who played Anais Nin. As she works primarily in French films, I had never seen her before. She uses her huge dark eyes and facial expresses so well, that just a glance conveys layers of meaning. She's the focal point of every scene, in spite of the larger and more voluptuous Uma Thurman. And that's exactly what the director intended.
Some might find this film slow as the drama and tension is just about the people, not about world events or outside influence. However, it manages to create a time and a place and people that influenced the literary world as well as the mores of future generations.
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on April 27, 2000
At least two movies of Philip Kaufman will stay in movie history, THE RIGHT STUFF and HENRY & JUNE. Produced by Philip Kaufman's son, co-written with his wife Rose Kaufman, HENRY & JUNE is a family affair. One could say that it is a european movie filmed in an american manner. Don't get me wrong, it's a compliment !
Fred Ward as Henry Miller, portuguese actress Maria de Medeiros as Anais Nin and Uma Thurman as the woman inspiring the two writers, Richard E. Grant and Kevin Spacey in smaller parts, the whole cast gives a superb performance. Don't expect pornographic scenes in HENRY & JUNE, sex is more suggested than showed. Philip Kaufman is interested in the relation between Henry and Anais and doesn't follow Henry Miller in his multiple adventures in Paris' brothels.
Henry Miller lives in a Paris that Federico Fellini could have created : enjoy this carnaval full of fellinian faces or Henry Miller's neighbors (you can recognize among them french clown Pierre Etaix in one of his last performances). Philip Kaufman has recreated the Paris which was the center of such movies as Marcel Carné's LES ENFANTS DU PARADIS or LE JOUR SE LEVE. Poetic realism was the name of this french movement of the 1935-1945 period.
Average extra-features but over the top audio and video transfers.
A DVD for your library.
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on April 12, 2001
One of the most underrated movies of the 90s. (It also marks a disappointing moment when the studio _could_ have backed up an NC-17 film not porn but meant for _real_ adults....but caved to puritanism instead). The top two reasons to see it are the performances of Maria de Medeiros as Anais Nin (it's almost a reincarnation) and Uma Thurman as June, two of the sexiest, most intelligent, passionate portrayals of women in recent cinema. Forget Thelma and Louise -- these two are a combustible pair. Fred Ward's performance as Henry Miller, too low-key, is pretty much lost in the shuffle, without any of the dynamic magnetism Miller had in spades. The movie explores the nature of desire, infatuation, obsession, and real love, and is pretty faithful to the actual events -- but some elements (such as the significance of June's puppet Count Bruga, made for her by her lesbian lover, Jean) are lost in the translation to the screen. For people bored to tears by the dichotomy of soulless porn on the one hand and Hollywood mush on the other, this is an intelligent and _sexy_ movie. Two lovely companion books are Anais Nin's diary "Henry and June," on which the movie was based, and Nin's and Miller's unexpurgated letters, "A Literate Passion." That title sums up both their lives and the movie based on them.
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on May 6, 2000
Most veiwers who seek out Philip Kuafman's Henry & June will be curious about the sexual content of the film which made the MPAA invent the NC-17 rating, they will be disappointed. The sex in Henry & June is not groundbreakingly explicit, but there sure is a lot of it. For those viewers I would reccomend Jean-Jacques Beineix's spectacularly bad (and Oscar nominated) 1986 film Betty Blue.
Henry & June tells the story of American writer Henry Miller(Fred Ward) and his wife June(Uma Thurman) as seen through the eyes of Anais Nin(Maria de Medeiros), and here is the film's biggest problem, it is told from the wrong prespective. Anais is a spoilt emotianlly immature woman who seeks sexual exprementation for no reason other then lust in the guise of artful reasoning like "I need to know people who are alive." The film would have much more involving had it been told from Henry's point of view. As played by Fred Ward he is brutish, easy going, funny and exhilerated by the sexual liberty in 1930s Paris. He is a man who cries when watching his actress wife in an erotic film. Unlike Anais he actually has feelings that the audience can identify with. Perhaps this was unavoidable as the film is adapted from Anais Nin's diaries.
The most interesting character in the film is Henry's bisexual wife June. Played by Uma Thurman with a deep throaty voice, we see her at first as an opportunistic woman who uses sex to advance her interests, but as the film progrsses we learn that a real pain and self loathing is hidden under her sleak exterior. She is alaways emotionally blackmailing Henry and Anais, to make her a more noble figure in their books. This is one of Uma Thurman's best performances, she delivers her lines with a throaty sexuality, "I've made mistakes, but I've made them superbly" she says.
Due to the overtly erotic nature of the film, it becomes emotionally aloof. Romance and erotica are polar opposittes. In a love scene, the less you know about the people involved the more erotic it is, but less romantic. Most of the naked women in Henry & June are extras, and the lead character Anais is a mystery anyway. The result is visually gripping but emtionally uninvolving. Philip Kaufman's 1988 masterpiece The Unbearable Lightness of Being was also erotic, but that film was much more effective because he made you care about the characters before they got naked.
The best thing about Henry & June is the details. You could watch this film with absolutely no dialogue and not lose anything. The recreation of 1930s Paris is a feast for the eyes, and Philippe Rouselot's cinamatagrphy is beautiful. I loved how the film re-created parts of that era, the underground lesbian clubs, the semi-nude parades in the streets, the old cinemas where the characters watch Luis Bunuel's then scandlous UN CHEIN ANDALOU and a particularly amusing group of magicians who pick pockets as a side job.
Early on in the film Henry Miller criticises D.H. Lawrence "He makes too much out of sex, he makes a damn gospel out of it, my way sex is natural like birth or death". I don't know if this criticism is apt for Lawrence but it certainly would be for the director of this film Philip Kaufman.
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on June 11, 2005
This is a film, based on lots of written materials from both Anais Nin and Henry Miller, about an extraordinary period in Paris of the 1930s. I love that city, and the film evokes it in all its unique beauty and ferment, with the fascist revolution of Germany in the background. For over 30 years, I have studied the Paris of that time, and this film is one of the best on it.

The theme of the film is Nin's erotic awakening, when as a meek though ambitious woman - kept by an unusually tolerant banker husband who is the only charicature in the film - she seeks lovers, both men and women. She is portrayed exceptionally well by de Medeiros, as a kind of proto-feminist and budding writer. The people she is drawn to are an unconventional couple, Miller and his bi-sexual wife, who are concerned with art and seeking the spark they once felt in eachother with others. While this is a common dilemma, the fact that they are artists in an amazing time makes their journey unique and stunningly vivid.

Things are more or less from the point of view of Nin, whose diaries are the principal source, with a dash of Miller thrown in. We watch her emerge from private pain and frustration with her dull, though loyal husband, seeking to forge a way for herself to ecstacy and totality. It is a grand experiment that, I must say, us mortals in conventional relationships will never understand, except perhaps in fantasy. She has the audacity to really do it, to live it. (Or so she syas.)

Nin is one of the first "moderns" whose lives are their work of art, whose actions and choices surpass their artistic output as a way of entering our imaginations. You can view them in many different ways: pioneers, simple egoists, or superior beings. What is great about them is how much they reflect of the history of our times, when so many certainties were breaking down as new (non-christian) ideologies were emerging. That makes this an exceptional film.

Uma Thurman is also brilliant as Miller's troubled wife. She has this indefinable air about her, a femme fatale who is also pathetic and vulnerable. While she hangs in the background, in many ways she is the character that controls the actions of the others, laughing at them while also suffering. This may be her greatest performance. She rules the climactic moment of the film.

While I fall into the camp that views these people as marginal narcissists and mediocre artists, this film is a wonderful snapshot in time. No matter who you are, you will react to it differently, in your own way and with your own vocabulary. That makes this a true work of art. It stimulates and provokes, but cannot be buttonholed.

Warmly recommended.
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on March 23, 2007
I really liked this film. I am a major admirer of Henry Miller and Anais Nin, and this film is very accurate in the depictions of them. It's also one of the rare examples of an American director (in this case Philip Kaufman) making an erotic picture that's mature, intelligent, and serious about sex. Most sex in American pictures is played for laughs. It's almost as if Americans (and American filmmakers) are deathly afraid of it. Sure, there's a lot of smutty talk in films and TV, but it's not erotic, not intelligent, and it's more on the level of a 6th grader. Kaufman is the only one who has made some great erotic films (this one and The Unbearable Lightness of Being) that can stand up to the best Europe has given us. This film is a great film, showing Miller's struggle in finding his voice in Paris, and Anais Nin's support of his writing and her affair with him. The period flavour is wonderful, and the performances are first rate. Fred Ward (whatever happened to him?) gives a great performance as Henry Miller, and Maria de Mederos gives a lovely performance as Anais Nin. Uma Thurman is quite engaging as June Miller, Henry's estranged and very temptuous wife. Kevin Spacey has a small but effective role as one of Henry's writing friends. This was the first film to officially receive the "evil" NC-17 rating, and I wish that rating didn't have such a stigma over it. Adults have a right to see films aimed at adults. We should stop allowing Hollywood to make us feel ashamed over wanting something mature, erotic, and intelligent.
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on January 31, 2007
This "period" movie has got intrigue, eroticism, a sensual pace, a great (true) story, and hypnotic visuals--it is an aphrodisiac on film. The actors are superbly engaging, whether the feminine and subtle is your cup of tea, or the masculine and gritty is your double-shot of scotch. It's really an exquisite film, and if it's of any interest, it gets women so heated-up and turned-on that discussion of the film's point will invariably have to take place AFTER the wild lovemaking session that WILL follow! It's also may be of interest to lovers of "Pulp Fiction" that this is almost CERTAINLY where Quentin Tarantino discovered that he wanted to use both Uma Thurman and Maria de Madeiros in Pulp Fiction, because they were both in "Henry and June"--Uma's performance was a true transformation--I respect her as an actress more because of her performance here.
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on March 12, 2000
A very good looking film, with good acting. Unfortunately the movie loses momentum in the middle and never regains it. If you're familiar with Anais Nin and this period of her life, you'll enjoy the film a lot more. Kaufman really doesn't succeed in letting us get to know the characters very well. Frankly I thought the sexual scenes, which got the movie it's NC17 rating, could have been left out without any damage to the film. If you're expecting a film mainly about sex, you'll be disappointed.
It may be more style than substance, but it's done well enough that it's enjoyable. Kaufman creates a lovely vision of Paris in the '30s, and as mention, the acting is top notch.
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HALL OF FAMEon June 12, 2000
When I was in my mid-thirties, I read every book Anais Nin and Collette wrote and enjoyed them immensely. They were sophisticated women who led lives decidedly different and more daring than my careful existence, and writers who told the world about their affairs. Today, their writing may seem tame, (Colette wrote "Gigi") but it was shocking a few years ago. Nin's diaries are still pretty steamy.
The film, based on Nin's diaries, recalls the period when Anais (Anna eess') and her husband lived in Paris and became acquainted with Henry Miller and his wife June. Henry Miller may seem retro today, but there was a time when his steamy "Tropic of Cancer" was 'Banned in Boston' (according to my mother who had a copy hidden where my father wouldn't look). Miler was writing "The Tropic of Cancer" when he knew Nin.
I saw "Henry and June" in the theater several years ago and bought the DVD. This is a very well done film--and very beautiful--Paris in 1931. (I keep it stashed with "Sex, Lies, and Videotapes" which is tame by comparison.) I also wanted the film because Kevin Spacey is in it.
Maria de Mederios plays Nin to perfection. Richard Grant plays her husband who seems willing to go along with anything that will improve her writing. Fred Ward and Uma Thurman play Henry and June. Thurman's acting is better in this movie than in "Pulp Fiction." Spacey plays a writer who is part of the writer's network, and has some funny scenes.
The movie has a lot of sex on screen. There is so much sex I found myself laughing after awhile. The characters seem to live for the erotic. I say "seem to" because it is never clear to me how much of their behavior is driven by erotic desire and how much is driven by a desire to run back and write it down in their diaries and books. The story definitely contains a 'tongue-in-cheek' element.
Nin revealed the story to the world after all the characters were dead, so we'll never know how much was fact and how much fiction.
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on August 30, 2006
The beauty in "Henry and June" is full-throttle. There's the bike race through a sunlit forest; there's a colorful bohemian festival with tribal dress and sexual opportunity; there's a series of postcards, accidentally discovered, that picture erotic delights. In the most sublime scene, Nin, in a red dress, dances to sensual, rhythmic music, and her face is given a fantastic close-up. All of the film's beauty, all of its detail and technical mastery, create a luscious idyll.

The film balances between dreams and waking life. Its rhythms vary, and are a vital part of its narrative. There are many moments in it when time slows, focusing our attention on a mood or an object, inviting our reverie. The narrative depends as much on music, color, and editing as it does on dialogue. Each scene is thoughtfully made; each part of each scene has been considered.

Watching it, we experience an intelligent world full of strong, interesting personae. Nin and Miller, fearless and imaginative, have high goals, and appetites possibly insatiable. Miller is emotional, articulate, and experimental. He appreciates the sensuousness of life. He begs and at least once steals; he struggles to write and to think for himself. Nin is his equal, tenacious and curious, sometimes cruel, trying to understand her desires and trying to bring them to fruition. Watching two dancers with her cousin, she says, "Oh, look at them, Eduardo. They're so exquisite. If I were a man, I'd be swept away." At one point, she writes in her diary, "I feel restless... spirited... adventurous. To be absolutely truthful, I hope secretly to meet someone else. I have erotic imaginings. I want pleasure."

Beauty and strong characters give the film an essential lyricism and lightness. For instance, when June returns, the extended scenes are nightmarish, appropriately raw and claustrophobic. But these scenes conclude in the fog. The fog shifts the mood of the film from the sense of heat and the fire in the claustrophobic rooms to one of regenerative possibilities, a drowsy, dreamy, shadow-heavy world returned. Daylight follows, and the sense of renewal suggested by the fog is made explicit, and further elaborated, by ensuing character development.

The beauty is constant and illuminating; the characters seek their satisfactions from life. Stunningly accomplished, director Philip Kaufman's fluid filmmaking is ultimately about delight.
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