Despite being a lover of all things film, one genre that’s never particularly struck well with me is romance. Whether it’s romantic classics or rom-coms, I’ve never quite…got it. Perhaps my scepticism of that perfect, ‘OMG I can’t breathe without you’ fluffy, rose-tinted view of the world somewhat dampens my ability to buy into those types of stories. But, it’s not to say that there isn’t a beating heart within this blogger, I do have a few films, perhaps not obvious choices when it comes to romance, that make me feel the butterflies inside. I’ve pulled together a list of some of my favourite alternative romantic films, for all you non-believers, sceptics and just plain old lovers…of practicality and realism out there.
Irreversible – Dir Gaspar Noe
Ok, so a bit of background on this one. I wrote my dissertation on men in French cinema, particularly homosexuality, violence towards women and ethnicity. And my main focus point was analysis of Vincent Cassel films, and one film that cropped up during my initial research was Irreversible. Now, before you go rushing out to buy it, (for starters it’s difficult to get hold of, my copy is a used one from eBay, which I paid well over face value for) Irreversible is universally agreed to be one of the most stomach churningly violent and sadistic films of modern cinema. Told in reverse chronological order, the final few scenes of the film are some of the most intimate and beautiful I’ve seen. Vincent Cassel and real life partner, Monica Belucci play a couple, so wonderfully in love with each other, their playful relationship laid bare on-screen, it almost makes you forget the previous hour of abhorrence and torture. It kind of stands to show that even in the darkest events, the evils within society, the destructive force of humanity, love and simplicity can be found and somehow, love can exist.
Drive – Dir Nicolas Winding Refn
This stylised brand of neon-noir filmmaking took off back in 2011 with Drive. Our main protagonist, the driver, a man of few words, stuntman by day, heist driver by night, gets somewhat romantically involved with Irene, his next door neighbour, and gets close to her son, whilst her husband is in prison. Again, Drive separates its extraordinary violence with glimpses of normality and innocence so pure; it becomes the driver’s motivation. To protect and to care for Irene and Benicio in the absence of the father/husband. There is nothing sexual about the relationship, it’s purely one of affection and it’s somewhat unsatisfying the way in which it ends. Nothing ever materialises of their obvious desire for one another, but sometimes some bonds are stronger than sexual desire. Wonderfully simplistic, their relationship is one of unconditional love, to a certain degree, and it’s rare that such a non-romantic story actually manages to outdo its rom-com counterparts.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – Dir Michel Gondry
Perhaps the ultimate romanticism of relationship meltdown, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind simultaneously made audiences crave the ability to wipe away the pain of a breakup with a simple brain procedure, whilst reminding everyone of those tiny fragments of memories of exes, previous lovers, the simple beautiful memories which stand the test of time, outlasting relationships. What Eternal Sunshine did so well was to put apt visuals to quirks of relationships, nagging, sex, fights, romance, break ups. Our memories are fickle, we tend to overly embellish the truth of past situations, whether it be the ferocity of fights or those romantic moments, which seemed to be utterly flawless and perfect. Eternal Sunshine made the onscreen relationship so entirely personal and intimate to our two main characters, it’s impossible to recreate in real-life (yes, I do mean you people who have tried to recreate Dirty Dancing and ended up in A&E) it’s entirely quirky, and eccentric, and kind of depressing in some parts, particularly as we can guess the outcome of any relationship between Clementine and Joel. But it’s perhaps one of the most realistic portrayals of what relationships are like. There aren’t perfect women with perfect men, it’s all a little bit more complex and intricate than that.
The Cook, The Thief His Wife and Her Lover – Dir Peter Greenaway
This British film caused quite a stir back in the 80s, violence and graphic sex scenes from Brit-Sex-Queen Helen Mirren secured its place in British cinema as a high tension look at love, and the consequences of forbidden love. Spica, an English gangster, played masterfully by Michael Gambon (sorry Potter fans, this one’s going to ruin your brain) and his wife, Georgina, played by screen Goddess Helen Mirren dine every night at a high-class French restaurant, where Georgina starts an affair with the considerably quieter and better mannered bookshop owner Michael. The restaurant staff help the couple escape the chaos of Spica, so they can make love.
HERE BE SPOILERS!! If you don’t want to know the ending, then please stop reading here!
Spica discovers the affair and tortures and kills Michael by choking him to death with pages of books from his bookstore. So Georgina takes the ultimate revenge. She cooks her lover and forces her husband to eat him. In perhaps the most grotesque romance-revenge ever seen in film, The Cook appeals to the crazy in us all. Romance and revenge tend to be so intrinsically linked, the feelings of love, heartbreak, euphoria and hate, all come hand in hand with one another. The Cook is a celebration of female sexuality and desire, and ultimately, the power of women over men where romance is concerned. Not only this, The Cook with its roots in theatre, is visually stunning, every moment in our love/hate triangle is emphasised, forced onto the audience.
Natural Born Killers – Dir Oliver Stone
Natural Born Killers gained infamy as a modern-day video nasty, an utterly unashamed look at society’s glorification of gore and violence, particularly when it has a romantic backstory. Mickey and Mallory, contemporary Bonnie and Clyde, both from troubled backgrounds, Mallory who lives with her sexually abusive father and Mickey, forever in trouble with the law meet and fall in love instantly. They decide to elope, but not before killing Mallory’s parents for all the abuse she has suffered. What then happens is a spree of violence, murder and rape. There is an assertion in Natural Born Killers that Mickey and Mallory’s relationship is the key to their violence; it’s love, but totally out of control, boundless and terrifying. It caused controversy on its release for glamourising and sensationalising violence, but ultimately, because Mickey and Mallory remain together, even raising children by the end of it. It’s love at its most intense.
Amelie – Dir Jean Pierre Jeunet
Ok, so this isn’t perhaps as alternative as the previous films, but to me, this is the ultimate romance film. Amelie finds pleasure in simple things, and throughout the film, is more attentive to the needs of others, playing cupid for many of the other characters in the film. It explores so many different elements of romance, from stalking to extra-marital affairs, being unable to enjoy sex, sexual frustration, shyness, first dates, long-term marriages. Everything in Amelie revolves around some notion of happiness and love and the complications of both. In contrast to most romance films, we don’t really see a relationship until the final moments of the film. The focus is also on Amelie, her feelings, her insecurities and her exploration of romance, something which Hollywood tends to miss with their big-budget productions. All we tend to get is women talking about men and that’s pretty much it, but we learn everything we possibly need to know about Amelie making for a much more engaging and believable view of romance. Everything about Amelie is perfection and so beautifully written, it’s so easy to forget that romance tends to be a formulaic arc which Hollywood produces time and time again and never gets anywhere near Amelie. It proves that the French are romance Gods, oh. And I’m nobody’s little weasel.
True Romance – Dir Tony Scott
So given that I said I don’t really like romance films, the irony of it all is, True Romance is my favourite film. Of all time. Often refered to as the best film you’ve never heard of. Aside from the misleading title, it features Samuel L Jackson for about 45 seconds and Gary Oldman plays a white pimp who thinks he’s black. Quentin Tarrantino originally wrote True Romance and sold the script to fund Reservoir Dogs (there was actually supposed to be a crossover between the two, but this never happened). true Romance perhaps has all the genre signifiers of romance films, the moment you can see our couple fall in love, sex, a marriage, matching tattoos, a ‘King’ saving a princess from evil (well, Clarence our main protagonist channels Elvis as his imaginary mentor before going to kill Alabama’s pimp). All taking place against drug dealing, the mafia, police corruption and one of the best slo-mo shoot outs ever (not to mention an electrifying performance from Christopher Walken, a pre-outing of Tony Soprano from James Gandolfini and Brad Pitt living the dream with a bong and a sofa).
I’d like to know that I’m not entirely alone when I say that I’m not a massive fan of romantic stories, what are you favourite alternative romance films?