Harold and Maude: No 21 best romantic film of all time

Hal Ashby, 1971

From the opening scene, in which we see a young man dispassionately and efficiently hang himself from a ceiling rafter while his mother bustles past his swinging body and gives him a swift telling off, it's clear that we aren't in regular romcom territory.

It's to director Hal Ashby's credit that he succeeds in maintaining an unsettling tone of pre-Lynchian absurdism throughout, while also pulling the viewer into a touching love story between perhaps the most unlikely couple in cinema history: lonely teenager Harold, who drives a hearse, tours funerals and rarely opens his mouth; and Maude, a zesty 79-year-old Holocaust survivor who lives in a benign universe in which everything from furniture to music reminds her to value each breath.

This is a deeply eccentric film: it's not just Harold and Maude's relationship that sets it apart, but the jarring technical style, with its unbalanced sound, artificial colourisation and too symmetrical mise-en-scene. Fans still argue about its meaning today; but whether it's an attack on the emptiness of Vietnam-era nihilism or a fable celebrating the gift of life, it hasn't lost its power to challenge and charm in 40 years.

Contributor

Jane Graham

The GuardianTramp

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