Henry and June
- Maria de Medeiros as Anaïs Nin
- Fred Ward as Henry Miller
- Uma Thurman as June Miller
- Richard E. Grant as Hugo
- Kevin Spacey as Osborn
Inspired by the diaries of Anaïs Nin, who documented in them her strange and intriguing relationships with author Henry Miller and his wife June, Henry and June’s casts a haunting spell and details the intense sexual encounters and impact all three had on each other.
Paris, in 1931. Anaïs Nin is an aspiring writer looking for something else. She is married to the good but somewhat dull and unenthusiastic Hugo, Anaïs craves excitement and adventure. These come knocking at her door in the form of writer Henry Miller, who is in Paris working on what would later become his first novel. Anaïs is intrigued by Henry and relates to his discussions of literacy and art. She begins to develop feelings for the boorish Henry and soon enough passion is ablaze. Also introduced into this is Henry’s bisexual wife June; a most alluring woman who begins to entrance Anaïs as well, despite her mercurial tendencies. Anaïs witnesses the temperamental relationship between the two and while she still loves her husband, the promise of a bohemian lifestyle with Henry and June is too tempting to resist. Her eyes are opened to sexual experience and her longings become very erotic as a result, culminating in an unusual love triangle with Henry and June. When the capricious June returns to America, she gives permission for the sexually blooming Anaïs to continue an affair with Henry. Anaïs continues to evolve and becomes immersed in a world of bohemian and sexual abandon with Henry, as she becomes one of the inspirations for his book(the other being June) and Anaïs does something similar with her writings. But Anaïs and Henry often disagree as the mix of sexual adventure and they critique each other’s work; much in a similar way to how June used to criticise Henry’s work and how one of the characters is an unflattering portrait of her. Yet when June returns to Paris in typically difficult style, passions boil over as Anaïs and Henry must both contend with the fact that she forms the last point of the sexual triangle that could easily break due to the desires and passions everyone has that become complex.
As he is very much an iconoclastic director, Philip Kaufman is right at home directing something provocative and controversial like Henry and June. Kaufman clearly enjoys showcasing these complex characters and wastes no time in getting this across through expressionistic close-ups and silent era fade outs to signify the longings each of the three characters bears. While his direction is intelligent and well done, a minor flaw emerges when it comes to pace that can get grindingly slow. But with this being the only thing I can nitpick at, it’s more than safe to say that Henry and June is a success in its presentation of a dark and intense love triangle between three intriguing people. From doing research about the movie, it appears to have a big impact on the ratings system upon release as it became the first film to be certified NC-17. The rating signified that the film would have sexual content for adults only but was not given an X certificate that could have damaged people flocking to see it in theatres. And I can’t review Henry and June without talking about the sexual scenes as they are what makes up the core of the film. The scenes of a sexual nature are explicit to be sure, but they are not the stuff of skin flicks. Rather, these scenes are artfully shot and because they take basis from Anaïs’ diaries and expressions, have an intellectual, serious and observant quality to them that helps them stand out from mainstream sex scenes. I can see why they invented a new rating for this kind of film as it does deal heavily with sex, but is an artistic exploration of the three-way relationship, rather than a titillating one.By far one of the biggest draws that can be taken from Henry and June is the splendidly evocative cinematography. Bathing scenes in a sensual glow and tinged with a moody and melancholy feeling, it’s a truly marvellous visual style that really brings the passionate and most unusual story to stylish life. Coupled with the cinematography is the marvellous editing and jazz soundtrack, that helps the film gain something of a dreamlike and hypnotic impact that presses itself into the memory.
With her round eyes and elfin features that suggest a girlish innocence, Maria de Medeiros is extremely good at playing Anaïs Nin, who emerges as a passionate adventurer in all things erotic thanks to Henry and June. Maria de Medeiros is one of those people that the camera loves, but can also emote with a depth and subtlety, crafting Anaïs into a complex woman who has a core of observational passion and curiosity that consumes her little by little. I can’t picture anyone else playing Anaïs quite like de Medeiros, as she is simply marvellous in the role. Essaying the part of the controversial Henry Miller, Fred Ward plays him like a bear, full of vigour and unmissable shows of anger. Walking and talking like an old-fashioned gangster minus the Tommy gun, Ward invests Henry with a lust for life and an inability to sever himself from inevitable trouble, as it is too good to walk away from. Yet it is Uma Thurman who makes possibly the biggest and most memorable contribution to the film as one half of the titular couple. Playing so many different sides to June, from sensual and engaging, angry and bitter, tragic and unforgiving, Thurman doesn’t miss a beat and it says a lot when you miss her when she isn’t on screen. That’s a lot of clout to have and Uma Thurman makes her presence felt throughout, with her haunting presence and accent employed. Although he has probably the most thankless role of the film, Richard E. Grant does his best as the husband of Anaïs, who is safe and pleasing yet can’t quite provide the excitement that Anaïs craves. Also viewers should watch out for Kevin Spacey in a supporting role as the louche man who introduces Anaïs to Miller.
Visually splendid, well acted and benefiting from the intelligent direction of Philip Kaufman, as well as more than overcoming the sometimes overly languid pace, Henry and June is daringly adult cinema that knows how to be provocative and artistic in equal measures.