In honor of Valentine’s Day, I decided to compile a film festival of unusual love stories. Some of them are romantic, some of them are funny, and some of them are even deeply disturbing. Enjoy!
Belle et Bête (1946, dir. Jean Cocteau)
If you enjoyed the world of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast then you have this 1946 French film to thank for it. Disney’s animators referenced this film in deciding what the Beast and his castle would look like. Cocteau was a poet, writer, and filmmaker who decided to adapt the original French folktale for the screen. There are some haunting images in this picture, in particular the hallways of arm-shaped candelabras that follow Belle as she first enters the castle. This film is the closest I’ve ever seen a fairy tale being captured on the screen. Composer Philip Glass was so moved by seeing the film that he composed a ballet based on it, and the Criterion edition allows you to watch with both the original score or Glass’ music.
Harold and Maude (1971, dir. Hal Ashby)
Hal Ashby is one of two of my most favorite directors of the 1970s (the other being Robert Altman). This film cemented him as as an icon of the counter culture movement and served as the inspiration to many other filmmakers to come, in particular Wes Anderson. Ashby got folk singer Cat Stevens to write original songs for the film and they perfectly score the love story it tells. 18 year old Harold is a depressed aristocrat (sort of a prototype emo) who meets 80 year old Maude, a woman with more life than women 60 years her junior. Maude helps Harold to move beyond his forlorn nature and he falls in love with her. One of the best love stories ever told in film.
Brazil (1985, dir. Terry Gilliam)
Brazil is not just a film about two people in love, but also about being in love with dreams. Sam Lowry (played by the brilliant Jonathan Pryce) is a cog in the machine of a surreal variation on Orwell’s Big Brother society. In his dreams he is an armored, winged hero fighting to save a damsel in distress. In reality the woman of his dreams is a mistrusting dump truck driver trying to find some justice in a corrupt system. When the two meet things hardly go well. But Sam learns to trust in his dreams, a decision that leads to a very bizarre and bittersweet ending for the couple.
The Crying Game (1990, dir. Neil Jordan)
One of THE most controversial films of its day because of the love story it tells. Fergus is a member of the IRA who is forced to interrogate someone his compatriots believe is working for the British government. The prisoner begs Fergus to visit his girlfriend in London, Dil. After the prisoner is killed, Fergus journies to meet Dil and what he learns about the woman is very shocking. Despite all the hub-bub made about the love story, its a very beautifully made film that has some interesting things to say about the British and Irish conflict in the U.K.
Audition (1999, dir. Takashi Miike)
Never thought Miike would end up on a list of love stories. This interesting picture is about Shigeharu, a widower whose friend encourages him to set up a fake movie audition for actress to find a date. Shigeharu meets Asami at the audition, a young soft-spoken woman who claims to have been on her way to a career as a dancer until an injury halted that. Shigeharu goes on one date with her and gets an odd feeling about the whole situation. As more and more is revealed about Asami the weirder things get, ending in one of the most intensely gruesome finales in film history. I remember being terrified simply from the trailer for this film.
Secretary (2002, dir. Steven Shainberg)
If you like your love stories BDSM-style, then this is the flick for you. Maggie Gyllenhaal stars as Lee, a young girl just released from a mental hospital and placed back in the midst of a horrendously dysfunctional family. Lee takes a job as a secretary at the law office of Edward Grey (James Spader) who she begins to develop feelings for. The two begin a dominant-submissive relationship that, while unlike traditional Hollywood romance, is filmed in a very beautiful way here. The thing to remember is that in such a relationships, the subtext is that the submissive is actually the one in control. Edward becomes ashamed of their actions and pushes Lee away and she decides to do whatever she can to convince Edward what they have is right.