Cinema Art Yourself returns – every Wednesday, at 7pm. We will focus on genres and the ways in which these have evolved. April is the month of melodrama – the films we selected underscore narrative, tonal and aesthetic characteristics of the genre, yet also illustrate some of the ways in which contemporary films have chosen to play with these. The screenings remain free of charge.

In spite of what many film scholars have found in recent years – and indeed, in spite of everything we’re about to tell you – the fame of melodrama as that of a tear-jerking, second-class, women’s genre is hard to undo. And that’s unfair, for melodrama is a mode of expression whose roots sink into many popular Western expressive forms, such as opera, novels and pantomime.

A feature common to most melodramas, and one that in turn allows us to label even the most unsuspecting films as such, is the concept of sacrifice, with the protagonist having to choose between their own desire and the greater good. Because of this – and because of the tendency, in older films, to punish individual desire, especially in women – melodrama is also often regarded as a conservative genre. With this in mind, we have selected a series of films that aim to challenge these perceptions and open up the genre to a wider audience.

We start off with ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS, a classic Douglas Sirk drama from the Fifties. Recounting the much frowned-upon love story between a wealthy widow and her younger gardener, the film is only conservative on the surface, covertly pointing to the absurdity of the social norms imposed on its protagonists.

We follow it with FAR FROM HEAVEN, a pastiche by Todd Haynes that references Douglas Sirk in its every shot. Using Sirk’s aestethics and tones, Haynes’ film however tells us a story that could never have been told back then, introducing themes of interracial love and homosexuality within the framework of a Fifties melodrama.

We move on to a much more contemporary take on melodrama with Iram Haq’s first feature I AM YOURS. The understated tone of the film brings forward the central topic of sacrifice as we see Mina struggle to bring together her ambitions to become an actress, the ups and downs of her love life, her role as a single mother and her strained relationship with her conservative family.

Closing the series is Noah Baumbach’s THE SQUID AND THE WHALE, an indie film that also adopts a more subdued approach and moves away from the trope of the female protagonist, focusing instead on two brothers in their teens, who not only have to cope with the usual challenges of adolescence, but are also trying to make sense of their parents’ divorce and the changes it has brought to their lives.

Text and concept Chiara Puntil & Raluca Petre