Sex and passion make for good box office. But when true romance unfolds on the big screen, it becomes a lasting affair.

Jean-Luc Godard famously said, "All you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun." I'm still not sure about the gun. It may rule the box office (sometimes without the girl), but my passion for movies begins and ends with their depiction of love, sex and relationships.

Every May for the past two decades, I've been drawn to the Cannes Film Festival. Hosted by a country that treats film as a religion and love as a national sport, Cannes is world cinema's rite of spring. Like pilgrims on a grail quest, we keep coming back, hoping to see the movie that will change the future of cinema. But what we're really pursuing is a romance with the past—and with romance itself.

Cinema and romance are inseparable on so many levels. We look for romance in the movies and we have a romance with the movies. What a curious and complicated affair it has been, taking us From Here to Eternity and Back to the Future, from Casablanca to Philadelphia, over a cliff with Thelma & Louise and into a tent on Brokeback Mountain. It's had us Singin' in the Rain and Dirty Dancing through the Last Tango in Paris. It left us Moonstruck in Manhattan, Sleepless in Seattle, Breathless, Swept Away, Knocked Up…and always In the Mood for Love. It's The Way We Were.

Films, like most love affairs, are fleeting (though both can seem interminable). And we're forever looking for the perfect match as we chase that unreliable genre called the date movie—a place in the dark where we might fall in love, see how it's done or remember what it felt like. The date movie is now typically a formula romcom.

But there was a time when grown-up films about love and sex led the cultural conversation. And when I was a teenager trying to sneak into restricted movies, cinema and sin seemed synonymous. Long before the Internet or videotape, movies were the only place you could see people get intimate and hopefully, naked. And where else could you get close to a girl in the dark, aside from a parked car? The drive-in movie, of course, offered the best of both worlds, until it was driven to extinction by the suburban multiplex.

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