New German Cinema icon Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s affection for the outsider or lost soul is reflected throughout his filmography — perhaps most strikingly in his “romantic” oeuvre, where lovers obsess over and adore each other. The Film Society of Lincoln Center explores Fassbinder’s rejection of traditional roles in their Romantic Anarchist series, which runs until November 26. Inspired by the sweet suffering, alienation, and relationship identity crises of his characters (and the Film Society’s evocative series title), we’ve collected similar unconventional movies that highlight the strange and sometimes dark needs and passions of people in love.
A scummy, aging rocker with a booze problem (Birol Ünel), Cahit, meets a suicidal 20-something woman, Sibel (Game of Thrones‘ Sibel Kekilli), in a psychiatric clinic. As they’re both Turkish-German, he empathizes with her struggle against her conservative parents. They’ve been trying to marry her off, but she imagines a much more independent life. Desperate to break away, Sibel convinces Cahit to agree to a marital arrangement. They will pose as husband and wife, but live as roommates — until they fall madly in love. But director Fatih Akin isn’t interested in a traditional romantic narrative, and the couple’s impulsive, self-destructive tendencies eventually consume the relationship. The jarring shift between Germany’s grungy landscape and Turkey’s exoticism echoes the toxic binds between Cahit and Sibel — and the alienation that follows.
Director Derek Cianfrance sheds light on a working-class romance on the rocks, shifting back in time to trace the dissolution of the marriage. Blue Valentine’s crushing reveal of the toll of defeat, resentment, and pain is presented without maudlin gimmicks. In this interior world gone wrong, all we need is to look at the faces of Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams’ characters to know their heartbreak.
Love and death intertwine in Michele Soavi’s existential, absurdist horror film Dellamorte Dellamore, based on the Italian comic Dylan Dog. At the Buffalora Cemetery, the dead don’t stay dead. Romance blooms between the graveyard’s irreverent caretaker (Rupert Everett) and a mysterious widow. His simpleton assistant (François Hadji-Lazaro) woos the severed head of a reanimated motorcycle accident victim. “Death and love, two kindred drums, beat the time till judgement day, an actor in a passion play, without beginning, without end, evermore, amen,” concludes Soavi.
Harold and Maude
Director Hal Ashby matches nihilistic youth with the cool wisdom of age and experience in his 1971 May-December cult tale, Harold and Maude. “Ashby’s camera, also prone to opening up experience to us, watches the death-obsessed lovers affectionately, as if it were not merely following but also being informed by the furtive, spontaneous movements of creatures nosing for crumbs under a threat of death — here, the crumbs are perhaps five instants of dignity, peace, and understanding,” writes the Village Voice.
“When I first became enamoured of Roeg’s work as an overenthusiastic teen cinephile in the ’70s, I called him a ‘romantic nihilist.’ I think the label still applies and I think this combination of overreaching expressionism and elegant despair is what makes him such a fascinating director,” muses Senses of Cinema writer Lee Hill. In 1980’s Bad Timing, Roeg explores a familiar theme: obsession.
The ultimate boy meets girl story, Bad Timing deals with two expatriate Americans, a thirtysomething psychoanalyst (Art Garfunkel) and twentysomething Army brat (Theresa Russell), who embark on a destructive affair in Vienna. The details of their l’amour fou are related in a series of dazzling flashbacks within flashbacks as Harvey Keitel’s police investigator questions Garfunkel about Russell’s suicide attempt. Bad Timing represented the culmination of Roeg’s exploration of characters struggling heroically with their past and themselves. It was also the beginning of a series of fascinating, but problematic collaborations with Russell, who became his second wife.
Abre los ojos
Intersecting realities collide in Alejandro Amenábar’s Abre los ojos (Open Your Eyes) — an exploration of romantic insecurities and past regrets. A handsome young man survives a disfiguring accident and tries to regain his lost life, but is confronted with disturbing memories. Cameron Crowe’s American remake, Vanilla Sky, is no match for Amenábar’s dream anxiety thriller.
Lisa Cholodenko’s debut film High Art, set in a dim apartment, finds Ally Sheedy’s elusive photographer Lucy drawn to the promise of a fresh start with bright-eyed neighbor Syd (Radha Mitchell). The composed Syd is fascinated with Lucy’s bohemian surroundings. Janet Maslin writes:
Syd’s professional seduction of Lucy is complicated by Lucy’s sexual gamesmanship with Syd. Ms. Sheedy’s haunting, wily character is visibly at war with herself even as she flirts with Ms. Mitchell’s pretty young thing. Guarded, bony, startlingly intense, Lucy finds herself intrigued by Syd and the opportunity she offers: to shake off the heroin haze and dare to start life anew. Complicating Lucy’s interest in Syd is her longtime relationship with Greta (Patricia Clarkson), the washed-up German actress who drips world-weary glamour and drops Fassbinder’s name as often as she can.
Boy buys sex doll. Boy becomes paranoid doll is silently judging him. Boy develops relationship with human woman. Boy, doll, and woman develop a weird and obsessive love triangle.
Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus
Portrayed as a childlike artist, filled with awe for the strange and unusual around her, Nicole Kidman’s Diane Arbus sheds her role as a 1950s wife and mother for a passionate and eccentric fairy tale romance with her alluring neighbor, Robert Downey Jr.’s Lionel. The bestial man’s soulful eyes and seductive games reveal to Arbus the hidden emotional landscape she long repressed. Their affair helps Arbus realize her own potential as an artist.
Young drifter Tae-suk (Hee Jae) finds a home in the empty abodes of vacationing residents in Kim Ki-duk’s 3-Iron. This is how he develops an unusual relationship with the abused Sun-hwa (Seung-yeon Lee). Cynthia Fuchs writes:
The romance that develops between Sun-hwa and Tae-suk is mostly silent, which makes it seem at once precious and fully accessible. She adopts his routine, breaking and entering, drinking liquor, even posing with him in photos. Together they live as pseudo ghosts, unmoored to any address or community, losing and also finding themselves in the shadows of others. Among their several shared rituals is Tae-suk hitting a golf ball — he drills a hole in it, fastens a cable through it, ties it to a tree, and whacks it, so that each hit only spins it furiously around the tree. After watching this a few times, Sun-hwa makes up a part for herself: she stands in front of the ball, either daring him to hit it and chance hitting her, or warning him not to hit it, and by chance doing damage in some other way. Though he is confident in his makeshift device, Sun-hwa’s very presence in these moments — so still and sure that she’s nearly spectral — suggests an affinity between trust and certainty, hope and self-assertion.
David Thewlis’ acid-tongued Johnny is hardly a romantic fellow. When we meet him, he’s in the process of committing a back-alley rape, shortly after which he steals a car to flee to the London flat of an old girlfriend, Louise. There, he seduces her roommate (the encounter teaches us more about his previous relationship with Louise) before embarking on a nighttime journey through the city streets. “[Director Mike] Leigh has said in an interview that while his earlier films (including High Hopes and Life Is Sweet) might have embodied a socialist view of the world, this one edges over into anarchy,” Roger Ebert wrote of the stark film. “It suggests a world in which the operating systems have become distant from such inhabitants as Johnny and the women in the flat. The world is indifferent to them, and they to it. To some degree, they don’t even know what’s hit them. Johnny has a glimmer. His response is not hope or a plan. It is harsh, sardonic laughter. Destruction is his only response.” Leigh paints Johnny as a charismatic, egotistical, intelligent, and maddening character — but someone we imagine might exist in the shadows of urban decay. The filmmaker discussed his approach to crafting Johnny in an interview with Bomb Magazine:
This kind of film that I make, very much comes from the real world out there. There isn’t the usual business that goes on in the making of a film, where people sit around and debate what sort of a film it should be, and what kind of a market it should be pitched at . . . All of that is completely absent in this way of filmmaking which is absolutely about creating characters, dealing with situations which come from out there. There is no pressure on it to be attractive or saleable or commercial. It is whatever it is because of my own natural response to life, which is emotional and optimistic and pessimistic. That leaves the way open to create a character who is the way people are. They are always a little bit larger than life in a sense, because that is what it’s about for me, to distill the essence of things. It’s because I am working with an actor who is no more inclined to romanticize, to embellish than I am, that we are able to create a character who is as multidimensional, as multifaceted as we are.
An aimless teen girl and her unhinged greaser boyfriend go on a killing spree across the dusty South Dakota badlands. Director Terrence Malick on the framing of his violent love story:
I don’t think he’s a character peculiar to his time. I tried to keep the 1950s to a bare minimum. Nostalgia is a powerful feeling; it can drown out anything. I wanted the picture to set up like a fairy tale, outside time, like Treasure Island. I hoped this would, among other things, take a little of the sharpness out of the violence but still keep its dreamy quality. Children’s books are full of violence. Long John Silver slits the throats of the faithful crew. Kit and Holly even think of themselves as living in a fairy tale. Holly says, “Sometimes I wished I could fall asleep and be taken off to some magical land, but this never happened.” But she enough believes there is such a place that she must confess to you she never got there.
Hot off his appearance in Terrence Malick’s Badlands and just a few years following her role as the pea soup-spewing demon in The Exorcist, Martin Sheen and Linda Blair made a trashy TV movie (directed by small-screen vet Lee Philips) about an escaped mental patient who kidnaps a farm girl and steals her away to his remote mountain cabin (he calls it Xanadu). A love blossoms and taglines like, “He captured a girl… but unleashed a woman,” are born.
The Broken Circle Breakdown
Faith, love, and tragedy abound in Belgian drama The Broken Circle Breakdown — a much different interpretation of the musical love story. Elise and Didier fall hard for each other, they sing in a bluegrass band, they have a daughter, and the little girl develops cancer at only six years old. “In the best romantic relationships, there is a power struggle that is often balanced through mutual respect and complementary strengths. This film sees the ebbs and flows of this dynamic, which has profound effects on the happiness of everyone involved,” writes Justine Smith. “Both Elise and Didier are able to see beauty in the universe, just on different terms. They are both able to have the guiding hand of power, helping the other struggle through the pain of watching their daughter die. Then they are both at complete mercy to a chaotic universe, which never allows humanity to have the upper hand. This realization is what sends both of them spiraling into anger, grief and guilt as they search for the pattern and consequences of their own actions which may have lead to their daughter’s illness, when in reality, it was always out of their control.”
The Piano Teacher
A young man pursues his masochistic piano professor, unraveling the obsessive and repressed desires within her. Director Michael Haneke on “the nature of love and power” in The Piano Teacher:
It’s very simple. That’s the tragedy of all couples. They each want something different. They don’t want the same thing which is why “love” doesn’t work. In general, everyone has an expectation of love — I have an expectation of love, you have an expectation of love. But most of the time, I don’t care about your expectation, I just care about my own expectation. This is the tragedy of love. It’s very difficult because it’s a philosophical question, what is the definition of love? It would be too dangerous for me to try to give a definition. Compassion is an essential part of love, but I am not a philosopher who can define love. The stories that I’m telling are helping us to locate and refine love in ourselves, to raise questions about its nature, but I can’t give any explanations. It’s not the work of either a writer or a filmmaker.
“In the last three or four years there’ve been some films about gay relationships made in Hong Kong and Asia, and somehow the characters were either treated too delicately, or as a joke,” said director Wong Kar-wai of the turbulent relationship between two Chinese men that’s at the center of his 1997 film Happy Together. “Sometimes it was too aggressive, like a character saying: ‘I’m gay and you’re straight so you don’t like me and I don’t like you.’ I don’t like this kind of attitude. So I thought if we’re going to make a film about two men, I wanted it to be as straightforward as possible. Just treat it as two people, that’s it.”
[Nymphomaniac director Lars] von Trier has said, “The subject of everything I have been doing has actually been the clash between nature and the mind, if you will.” Nymphomaniac makes that admission redundant. Seligman’s endless digressions evoke a line from Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness Of Being: “A single metaphor can give birth to love.” Nymphomaniac replies that a thousand metaphors can likewise make love impossible.
David Ehrlich’s essay on Von Trier’s divisive Nymphomaniac is a great read.
Martha Coolidge’s 1983 cult film about romance on the wrong side of the tracks stars baby-faced Nicolas Cage as a punk rock guy who chases after the popular girl Julie (Deborah Foreman). “Even in the original script, the characters’ names were Julie and Randy — yes, it was intentional [the similarities to Romeo and Juliet] and it was a love story. So I worked to bring it even more out front,” Coolidge said in an interview earlier this year. “I created a Valley look and sound (and values) and a Hollywood look and sound (and values). This heightened the stakes for Randy and Julie just as the differences between the families did in Romeo and Juliet. The parallels were always meant to be fun and not super serious, but were based on truthful observations about the local conflicts and real teen pressures. It’s not about marriage, but about love and growing up and differentiating enough to love.”
Scott Tobias on the doomed coupling at the center of Roman Polanski’s Bitter Moon, starring frequent collaborator and wife Emmanuelle Seigner:
Though Bitter Moon takes Oscar and Mimi’s example to absurd comic ends, Polanski touches a common arc in many relationships that start hot and flame out just as quickly, once that initial passion goes stale and there’s nothing left to sustain it for the long haul. When Oscar crawls around in a pig mask, as barnyard noises are piped in through the stereo, the two have reached, in his words, “sexual bankruptcy,” and they lack the tools to reconstitute their love from there. What remains is a toxic imbalance: Oscar is bored and Mimi still the infatuated naïf, which gives him the unholy leverage to abuse her at will. “Everyone has a sadistic streak,” he tells Nigel, “and nothing brings it out better than the knowledge you’ve got someone at your mercy. If she fancied living in a living hell, I’d make it so hot even she would want out.”
Director Steven Shainberg on why he chose to deviate from the Mary Gaitskill short story when making his 2002 film Secretary — starring Maggie Gyllenhaal as a troubled young woman who develops a sadomasochistic relationship with the lawyer (James Spader) she works for:
If you go back and read the original Mary Gates Gill [sic] story, which almost all of 12-pages long, it has a basic relationship between a lawyer and a secretary which instinctually I felt could flower into a love story. It doesn’t do that in the story that Mary Gates Gill wrote. Essentially, in the story they young girls experiences with the lawyer is very damaging to her. One of the things I felt when I first read it is that this relationship doesn’t have to go in that direction, and that direction is in someway the expected thing of sadomasochism. That sadomasochism, the expected cliché of it is that it’s dark, and scary and weird with leather and whips and chains. Things that are scary and go bump in the night. My feeling was that it did not have to be that way. That it could actually be a liberating experience for a young girl.
The first Chinese Mainland film to show male and female full-frontal nudity, Lou Ye’s Summer Palace found the director banned from filmmaking for five years. In a story set during the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, we watch a volatile relationship between two young college students play out over a decade. “Hao Lei stars as Yu Hong, a young college student whose philosophical thoughts on romance give as much shape to the film as Lou’s bewitching use of handheld: Lou’s style feeds off the girl’s poetic musings, his jazzy sense of montage cannily approximating the cadences of love, from stirring ardor to heartbreak, and his camera operates like a gust of wind, cradling characters as if playing Cupid, shyly pulling away to tend to the sun or moon whenever intimacy begins to grip and confound the story’s heroine,” writes Slant’s Ed Gonzalez.
Perhaps the most mainstream Canadian director Bruce LaBruce will ever get, 2013’s Gerontophilia has been described as a gay Harold and Maude, centered on the romantic relationship between a nursing home resident and a young man with an old soul. “The relationship between Lake and Mr. Peabody is never condescended to or treated as an oddity, nor does it feel particularly subversive, an incredibly refreshing take on a subject that could easily be played as a joke,” writes John Oursler.
A one-night stand evolves into a passionate relationship in Andrew Haigh’s Weekend. “[The film] manages to have universal appeal without muting its gayness,” said the Village Voice. “It’s a film in which love and sex aren’t fetish objects but negotiable aspects in a developing relationship. Each man has his limits and is only more appealing for having the wherewithal to know and accept what they are.”
Based on the real-life “Lonely Hearts Killers” — Raymond Fernandez and Martha Beck, who found their unsuspecting victims through newspaper personals — murder spree, director Arturo Ripstein sets the drama in Mexico in his 1996 film. “Deep Crimson sinks easily into the swamp of human depravity. [Regina Orozco’s] Coral and [Daniel Giménez Cacho’s] Nicolas are demented even when apart; together, they create an amoral composite personality, a world in which soap opera cliches about love are used to excuse unspeakable sins,” Roger Ebert wrote in his 1998 review. “Ripstein leads us into this world with the seduction of deadpan black humor, and then pulls out the rug in the final scenes, which are truly horrific. As a study in abnormal psychology, Deep Crimson would make his master, Bunuel, proud.”
So many films portraying the murderous couple cast slim actresses in the role of Coral, but the real-life Martha Beck was overweight. This caused some minor controversy during the film’s release, but as Ebert writes, each character’s imperfect appearance reinforces the fantasy of their twisted relationship. “The film isn’t about appearances at all, but on the way Coral and Nicolas see what they need to see.”
I’m a Cyborg, But That’s OK
“I wanted to make a film for my daughter that discusses what teenagers are concerned about. She was twelve when I made this so I thought I could make a film that she could watch with her friends,” said filmmaker Park Chan-wook of his genre-bending I’m a Cyborg, But That’s OK. An institutionalized woman who believes she’s a cyborg and licks batteries for fuel falls for a man who wears rabbit masks and thinks he can steal people’s souls. Lest you think this is a kiddie tale about innocent lovers, Park brings some of his signature violence to the table.
Wild at Heart
David Lynch’s road romance for lovers who are wild at heart and weird on top.
Leave Her to Heaven
Listen to Martin Scorsese introduce John M. Stahl’s Technicolor noir, in which Gene Tierney’s pathologically jealous femme fatale destroys her relationship with a novelist she meets on a train:
Lie With Me
“When I read the book, it wasn’t about the story, it was about this feeling that the book conjured up in me, this kind of visceral, raw energy, that was like what I felt when I first fell in love, that sexual aspect of falling in love,” said director Clement Virgo of his 2005 film Lie With Me, adapted from Tamara Berger’s novel of the same name. “That was the challenge of it for me, to take a plot-driven narrative and capture an emotion.” This intention could have easily been lost in Virgo’s sexually explicit film, but the filmmaker captures the couple’s intimacy with sincerity.
In the Realm of the Senses
Sada and Kichi together forever. Read Midnight Eye’s review of Nagisa Oshima’s graphic tale about lust and love.
“I just wanted to make a different kind of love story. I wanted to see how you can bring two wounded people together in a way that you wouldn’t expect. I just thought, ‘There is so much crap out there, why can’t people see something different?'” said director Marianna Palka of her 2008 film Good Dick, in which she also stars as the lead. Palka plays a reclusive woman who frequents a video store to rent porn. This sparks the curiosity of Jason Ritter’s amiable clerk, who pursues a relationship that leads to a rocky journey of self-discovery for both.
Vincent Canby writes about Jean-Jacques Annaud’s steamy story of forbidden love between a French teen girl and a wealthy Chinese aristocrat in 1929 French Indochina:
Even the love affair, a series of alternately diffident and passionate couplings in a room in Saigon’s Chinese quarter, is not quite what it seems. It is more an expression of the girl’s loathing for her doomed mother, her bullying older brother and her bleak life than it is an expression of love for the man she has sex with.
She Hate Me
One of Spike Lee’s most divisive films, She Hate Me explores the unsustainable nature of a modern male-dominated society, through the lens of the insider trading scandal. The narrative about a fired corrupt biotech exec who turns to a career impregnating wealthy lesbians — and the three-way relationship he enters at the end of the film — reflects a need to progress from the traditional way of courtship and accept responsibility for our loved ones.
It must be love when he stomps a man’s head to smithereens for you.
Dee Rees’ 2011 GLAAD Media Award winner Pariah is about romance as, gasp, a choice and not a societal tenet. “I’m not running; I’m choosing,” says 17-year-old teenager Alike (Adepero Oduye) when she waves farewell to family in order to pursue a life of acceptance. Her budding lesbian romance at the start of the film sparks a sexual identity crisis, but Rees closes the movie with our young heroine unashamed of who she is.
Only Lovers Left Alive
Love never dies in Jim Jarmusch’s story of cultured and cool vampire lovers. From our own Judy Berman:
Only Lovers Left Alive is Jim Jarmusch’s vampire movie, sure. But it’s also a 61-year-old cult filmmaker and renowned aesthete’s lament over how little time we have on Earth, and how much of it we spend fretting about things that would seem inconsequential to a couple of decadent dreamers who’ve lived long enough to anticipate history’s curves and twists. What is actually worth devoting millennia to? Not politics or money (although they have no shortage of that) or even, seemingly, sex. Art, of course, says Jarmusch. And love, too.
Let the Right One In
Lonely adolescents Oskar and Eli find solace in the chilly suburbs of Stockholm by tapping secret coded messages to each other through an adjoining wall and sharing a childlike blood oath that will seal their bond forever. It’s a tender story about young love like many before it — except that Eli is a vampire. Philosophy Now writes:
Their love seems to encourage an unconditional loyalty. It extends to Oskar’s confidentiality with regard to Eli’s nature and needs, as well as Eli’s extraordinary rescue of Oskar from his bullies. The local swimming pool is the scene of the most egregious of the bullies’ torments: premeditated attempts at drowning Oskar linked to threats of torture. When Oskar is on the point of drowning, Eli intervenes brutally. From under water we are aware of a commotion above the surface: then the ripped-off head of the principal bully appears, then his forearm and the hand which previously had held Oskar under the water. Eli reaches beneath the surface to lift Oskar gently to safety, and their mutual trust and loyalty is unambiguously reinforced.
David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr. is a twisted path to Hollywood’s dead-end dreams, where humiliation, obsession, and heartbreak reign. A depraved love affair between Naomi Watts and Laura Harring’s characters, who shift between identities and surreal dream worlds, takes a tragic turn. Lynch imbues their romance with a sweet innocence and prickling betrayal, reflected in a parallel construct about the movie industry.
“The young people are dynamic. They’re people in constant revolution and change. They fascinate me,” Bernardo Bertolucci said in a 2011 interview. The Dreamers’ ménage à trois is set against the 1968 student riots, where a trio of cinema-obsessed youth wastes the day in a tiny apartment. Regarding the social environment that informs the lovers, Bertolucci stated:
I don’t think that freedom, to want to be free, I think in that very moment, politics was a big part of that. What is remaining from ’68? I think people, the relationships between people are very different after ’68. Life before ’68 was a number of authoritarian figures. Then they disappeared. And the relationship between men and women, ’68 triggered something, women’s liberation movement. People who say ’68 was a failure are very unfair, a historical mistake. ’68 was a revolution, not in political terms, but change that was terribly important.
Betty Blue stars Béatrice Dalle and Jean-Hugues Anglade spend most of the film in the flesh, but Jean-Jacques Beineix’s isn’t merely about a handyman and wild-eyed woman rutting across Southeastern France. “Betty Blue isn’t about sex, of course, but about passion and love — about how they change everything while saving nobody,” writes Ty Burr. “The film begins a week after Zorg and Betty have met and follows them through a footloose year or so, from beachside bungalows to apartments in Paris and Marseilles to a small town in southeastern France. The story allows for other people — Gérard Darmon and Consuelo De Haviland are charming as the couple’s closest friends — but essentially it watches Zorg watching Betty.”
Watch director and star of Buffalo ’66 Vincent Gallo defend his 1998 film (he appears around the 12:40 mark) against critics Jonathan Romney, Alexander Walker, and Anne Billson in the clip below. It’s a rare appearance from the eccentric artist that takes a few uncomfortable turns (the comment to Billson about her “personal hang-ups as a woman” is especially gross). But it offers a view into the mind behind the movie about an ex-jailbird who kidnaps a young dancer (Christina Ricci) to pose as his wife, inventing a love he never had.
Before I Forget
A middle-aged former hustler reminisces about past loves and how his desires and relationships have changed with time. Director Jacques Nolot presents the sometimes-cold reality of sex and love between men after 40 — and how intimidating those experiences can be in our youth-obsessed culture. Slant Magazine elaborates:
Youth and death are the twin obsessions; the film opens by a graveside, and Pierre freely admits to suicidal thoughts (not to mention an admiration for Pasolini’s ‘beautiful death’). What saves Before I Forget from unenlightening depression is not just Nolot’s refusal to beg for audience pity, but also his dry sense of humor. When a young cutie tells him, “I hope I never end up like you,” Pierre (and Nolot) shoots back with a fabulous smile of gained wisdom: “Watch out, you’re 29!” It’s this sardonic prickliness that intriguingly complicates the final snapshot of the protagonist, in full drag outside a Pigalle club, puffing on a cigarette with his back to the wall. The last nail in his coffin, or a defiant new beginning? Pierre’s penultimate line, like the film, hints at rueful insights that can understand both possibilities: “C’est la vie.”
Sion Sono’s wonderfully perverse Love Exposure posits that the carnal affection between two teens — symbolized largely through upskirt photos, the saga of one character’s enduring erection, and the spiritual conflict that follows — can lead to true love, giving hope to deviants everywhere.
Women in Love
A highly unusual Victorian four-way reveals director Ken Russell’s pagan, nonconformist ideas about sex, love, relationships, and concepts of masculinity.
An American college graduate flees to Paris after a breakup and becomes our unreliable narrator, alternating between fractured personae: lost young man in the city and violent sociopath. Power dynamics flare as his relationship with a prostitute and a more socially acceptable French woman takes an ugly turn.
Romance is dead in Derek Jarman’s 1978 cult film Jubilee, where the ennui runs deep, sex is violent, and love isn’t even an ideal that the film’s despondent punk protagonists aspire to. “It’s a curious film: verbose, plotless and schizoid. It combines poetic dialogue and intellectualism with a hooligan blood-lust and a sociopathic need to shock,” writes SFX. “One moment it comes on all obtuse and sociological like some late ’60s Jean-Luc Godard film, the next minute it’s She Devils On Wheels in bondage trousers. It cuts between state-of-the-world speeches and random flashes of sex and violence, so there are some disconcerting jolts as the film suddenly shifts gears. One minute you’re listening to a lecture about England’s decline and fall, the next minute you’re watching a polysexual orgy or a copper being castrated with a switchblade.”
Michael Winterbottom’s minimalist depiction of a yearlong romance set in London uses sex (several unsimulated scenes included) in a most matter-of-fact way to show how a couple communicates and charts their growing relationship through their bodies.
The Last Mistress
“For [Last Mistress director Catherine] Breillat, love and exploitation go hand in glove, because the more people give themselves over to each other, the more vulnerable they become. And once two people share that lasting a connection, a power struggle intensifies and the real suffering begins,” writes Scott Tobias. A young Parisian man, Ryno de Marigny, will soon wed a virtuous, aristocratic woman, Hermangarde, but he pays one final visit to his former mistress, Vellini. But Vellini is not willing to let go so easily, leading Hermangarde to discover the truth. Hermangarde’s fascination with the relationship echoes a familiar need for people to discover the ties that bind to lovers and the past.
Some Like It Hot
Billy Wilder’s gender-swap screwball comedy starts with two horndog protagonists in hot pursuit of a sexy singer in an all-female band. They disguise themselves as women to get a little closer. Hilarity ensues — but love blooms. “When sincere emotion strikes these characters, it blindsides them: Curtis thinks he wants only sex, Monroe thinks she wants only money, and they are as astonished as delighted to find they want only each other,” Roger Ebert wrote in his 2000 review.
“Where is this love? I can’t see it, I can’t touch it. I can’t feel it. I can hear it. I can hear some words, but I can’t do anything with your easy words.” Stripper Natalie Portman has no time for your ish.
A Dangerous Method
“Fuck the pain away.” —Jung
“Analyze This!” —Sabina Spielrein