Maybe because of Valentine’s day, maybe inspired by a post on romantic films I just read, I started thinking about love and relationships.
Love is complicated -and bizarre sometimes. It has always been. We tend to say that romance is more difficult, and relationships more challenging nowadays than in the past, but that’s not really true! Just think about Greek mythology, ancient history and literature: Psyche and Cupid, Cleopatra and Mark Antony, Romeo and Juliet…These stories are anything but ordinary, or simple!
True love, devotion, acceptance, cruelty, selfishness, jealousy, betrayal. When it comes to relationships, it’s not just pure and simple love. Ultimately, it’s all part of our complex human nature…
Motion pictures, from their very beginning, have captured all these feelings in countless love stories, ranging from light-hearted romantic comedies to profoundly dramatic true stories.
For this post I chose 12 films with unusual love stories. They all have something in common: they are original, provocative and thought-inspiring, the kind of films that you keep thinking about for a long time after seeing them…
1) HER, 2013
The plot: Theodore, a recently divorced lonely man decides to purchase OS1, the world’s first artificially intelligent operating system. He quickly finds himself attracted to Samantha, the voice behind his OS1, and as they spend time together, he eventually falls in love with her.
The film’s essence: Is technology leading us to more isolation, rather than connection?
Go see it, because…: I loved everything about Her: the flawless cinematography, the great acting (Joaquin Phoenix is amazing, as usual), the futuristic -polluted- Los Angeles as a background (actually filmed in Shanghai), but most of all the thought-provoking story, which makes as wonder whether smart phones, computers and social media are really “social”.
2) 500 DAYS OF SUMMER, 2009
The plot: This is a witty romantic story about Summer, a woman who doesn’t believe in true love, and Tom, the guy who falls for her. The story is presented in a non-linear format, each scene being introduced by which of the 500 days it is.
The film’s essence: What if you believe you found your soul mate, but the other person is not into you?
Go see it, because…: As one of the first lines of the movie states: “(…) you should know upfront, this is not a love story”. True, (500) Days of Summer is not the usual romantic comedy, but that’s precisely its strong point: it manages to be very romantic, while being caustic, original and stylish, with added values the great music, the wonderful cinematography and the superb acting…
3) RUBY SPARKS, 2012
The plot: Calvin, a novelist with writer’s block sees in his dreams “the perfect girl”. When he begins writing about Ruby, his dream girl, she becomes a real person and they start a beautiful relationship together. But when the relationship doesn’t go as he wants, Calvin is able to change her by typing and changing the story.
The film’s essence: Do we accept others as they are, or we try to change them to our convenience?
Go see it, because…: This is a very clever, Pinocchio-like tale about finding our perfect match, our acceptance of the other person in our relationship -or how we try to control and manipulate them. Zoe Kazan and Paul Dano are great as Ruby and Calvin; Kazan also wrote the script.
4) ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND, 2004
The plot: Joel and his girlfriend Clementine undergo an experiment to have the memories of their tumultuous relationship erased. But through the process of loss, they actually discover what they had to begin with.
The film’s essence: We can get someone out of our mind, can we get them out of our heart?
Go see it, because…: A quirky but remarkable story which, in a very original manner, deals with love at first sight, soul mates, and destiny. The fascinating way the memory-erasing procedure is showed serves as background for more existential issues: Do memories make us what we are? Would you erase bad memories from the past? Most importantly, the film reminds us that many times we don’t value what we have, until we lose it.
5) BREAKING THE WAVES, 1996
The plot: In a deeply religious Scottish town, Bess, a naive woman, falls in love and marries to oil rig worker Jan. When Jan leaves home to work at the rig, Bess prays to God that he returns for good; Jan does return, but paralyzed due to a work accident. Unable to perform sexually, Jan convinces Bess to have sex with other men, which she comes to believe is God’s work to help Jan get better.
The film’s essence: How far would you go for love?
Go see it, because…: This compelling, disturbing story may break your heart, but it is undeniably the upmost love story, of pure and unconditional love, told by -always unconventional- Lars Von Triers. The acting of Emily Watson and Stellan Skarsgard is just incredible.
6) THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO, 1985
The plot: Cecilia is a waitress in New Jersey’s Depression years who, searching for an escape from her dreary life, goes often to the movies. One day after losing her job, she goes to see the film “The Purple Rose of Cairo”. To her surprise, Tom Baxter, a young archaeologist in the film walks off the screen, stating that he has fallen in love with her.
The film’s essence: When reality is too harsh, can we live in a world of dreams?
Go see it, because…: This is one of Woody Allen’s most original and inventive movies, hilarious and touching at the same time, blurring the limits between imagination and reality. While it can just be seen as a romantic, fantastic story, I believe this film is much more than that: a reflexion on the nature of existence, when pure love contends cruel reality, and escapism takes the place of reality acceptance.
7) AMELIE (LE FABULEUX DESTIN D’ AMELIE POULAIN), 2001
The film’s essence: Can a stranger change your life forever?
Go see it, because… This enchanting French film is original, romantic, heart-warming, showing that there is love and magic everywhere, even in simple things of life… The outstanding cinematography, Audrey Tautou’s superb performance and the magnificent music by Yann Tiersen add up to make this movie a timeless gem… I already wrote about this movie here.
8) SIDEWALLS (MEDIANERAS), 2011
The plot: Martin, an agoraphobic website designer and Mariana, an underemployed architect, live on the same street in Buenos Aires. They both feel depressed and lonely. They seem to be the perfect couple, but what are the odds of meeting each other?
The film’s essence: What if your soul mate is just nextdoor, but you didn’t have the chance to meet each other?
Go see it because…This Argentinean film is very original, as it tells the story of a couple before they meet each other. It describes perfectly the feelings of loneliness and alienation people experience in big cities; it’s touching and cinematically beautiful. I already wrote about this movie here.
9) WINGS OF DESIRE (DER HIMMEL ÜBER BERLIN), 1987
The plot: Two angels have been wandering around West Berlin, giving help and comfort to all the lonely and depressed souls they meet. After many centuries, Damiel, one of the angels, falls in love with Marion, a beautiful, lonely circus acrobat and wishes to become human in order to experience human love and the joys of everyday life.
The film’s essence: Have you ever been touched by an angel?
Go see it because…Wim Wender’s Wings of Desire is regarded as one of the best non-american movies of all times. It’s deeply phylosophical, visually mesmerizing and truly inspirational. Many interesting ideas and perspectives are implied, but the film basically make us think about the beauty of simple things in everyday life, even the most mundane, and the richness of our feelings and sensations; it also reminds us that we should give up our ethereal existence as observers, to actually live and enjoy our life.
10) EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, 1990
The plot: Edward is an extremely gentle and good-hearted man, but with a scary appearance: he has scissors instead of hands. One day Avon lady Peg finds him hidden in his Gothic mansion, and she decides to take him to the town to live with her family. But fitting in the conservative town is not that simple. Only Kim, Peg’s daughter eventually realises what a remarkable person Edward is, and as they become enamoured, she is the one who helps him when the entire town turns against him.
The film’s essence: How easily do we accept people who are different?
Go see it because… This is Tim Burton’s most personal and insightful film, a modern fairy tale, a poignant reminder on how we, as a society, tend to disdain people that are different, whether this means disabilities, sexual preferences, people who think out of the box, or whoever doesn’t fit into the rigid patterns our society imposes.
11) MELODY (a.k.a S.W.A.L.K.), 1971
The plot: Two 12 years-old youngsters, Daniel and Melody, declare to their parents that they want to get married, not in the future but right now. The film follows the complications caused by their firm determination: mockery from their classmates, rebellion against teachers, parents’ concern. The story is told from the children’s perspective.
The film’s essence: What can be purest than childhood love?
Go see it because…I first saw this movie when I was about 13, and since then it has stayed etched in my memory -and my heart… Seeing it now from a more critical, adult’s point of view, Melody still remains a beautiful and touching film; but I also see it now as an interesting study on the meaning of love as experienced by a child. It raises some interesting thoughts: Is it really possible to feel true love during childhood? Or real love comes when our body gets ready through adolescence and adulthood? Melody also transpires a nostalgia, on how our feelings change when growing-up, from genuine and idealistic into more “mature”, less emotional or pure. The film soundtrack is also wonderful: Bee Gees’s Melody fair and First of May, and Crosby, Still, Nash & Young Teach your Children, among others.
12) ENOUGH SAID, 2013
The plot: Divorced Eva is a masseuse leaving in Los Angeles. One nigh at a party, she meets and befriends Marianne, a sophisticated poet who always criticises her ex-husband; and Albert, a divorced man with whom -although initially not physically attracted- she becomes involved. With their relationship on firm ground, Eva learns that Albert is Marianne’s ex-husband, and starts doubting whether she should stay with Albert or believe his judgemental ex-wife.
The film’s essence: When it comes to love, do you listen to your heart or you get influenced by other person’s opinion?
Go see it because… what makes this movie so unique is, paradoxally, that is such a common and realistic story. It’s honest and touching, bittersweet and smart. It may be best appreciated by people in their 40s-50s, struggling with divorce, teenager children, and getting again involved in a serious relationship. With great acting by Julia Louis-Dreyfus and James Gandolfini (this was his last film), it depicts perfectly how many times we get swayed by others instead of trusting our feelings.