For the boys and girls who’d rather die alone than sit through The Notebook or You’ve Got Mail this Valentine’s Day, I’ve got your back. Here are a few suggestions for alternative and anti-Valentine’s viewing fare, that you’re still likely to find at your video store/on the web.
And depending on what kind of weird or messed-up relationship you’re stuck in, a lot of these will probably still get you laid.
So, in no particular order:
1. The Mother and The Whore (France, 1973) – Jean Eustache’s rather autobiographical depiction of a thoroughly dysfunctional love triangle, set in post-’68 Paris. A memorably depressing New Wave opus that runs over 3.5 hrs. The film’s co-star, Françoise Lebrun, just so happens to also be the very woman upon which the film was based.
2. Tony Takitani (Japan, 2004) – Based on the Haruki Murakami story of the same name. The film elegantly evokes the original story’s pervading lonliness. Tersely somber and beautifully shot.
3. All That Heaven Allows (USA, 1955) – Douglas Sirk’s melodrama-cum-social-critique stars Jane Wyman as a widow whose unexpected romance with the younger, non-conformist Rock Hudson is met with sweeping disdain by her children and country club peers.
4. The Man Without a Past (Finland, 2002) – An extremely deadpan comedy about an amnesiac forced to start anew within a meager and altogether strange community. After moving into a storage container, he befriends the homeless and romantically pursues a Salvation Army worker.
5. Repulsion (UK, 1965) – Roman Polanski’s first English-language film. It stars Catherine Deneuve as a repressed, mentally unstable young lady left to her own paranoia and psychosis, after her live-in sister leaves on holiday. This one is all the more appropriate if you’re planning to have rabbit as Valentine’s dinner.
6. Amores perros (Mexico, 2000) – Sometimes translated as “Love’s a Bitch,” the film’s three intertwining stories (all linked by a single car crash) are each marked by the presence of dogs and an overarching theme of familial betrayal and dysfunctional romance. Features a breakthrough performance by a 21-year-old Gael García Bernal.
7. Diary of a Lost Girl (Germany, 1929) – Louise Brooks’ second and final collaboration with the renowned G.W. Pabst involves a stark reversal of Brooks’ confident heartbreaker Lulu (from Pandora’s Box, filmed only months earlier). Here, Brooks’ Thymian is innocent but utterly powerless amidst societal conditions of the German bourgeoisie.
8. Audition (Japan, 1999) – Among my favorite of Miike’s expansive filmography, due in part to his uncharacteristic restraint throughout most of the film. This one slowly and eerily builds to an unforgettably disturbing climax; an instant J-Horror classic. Watch this one and you may end up never again lying to get a date!
9. Control (UK/US, 2007) – A biopic centering on Ian Curtis’ short and troubled life, specifically as front-man for the legendary post-punk quartet Joy Division. Based on the book by Curtis’ oft-neglected widow, the film features Sam Riley as a dead-ringer for Curtis. His conjuring of Curtis’ stage persona is particularly uncanny. Martin Ruhe’s black & white cinematography is also incredibly transfixing.
10. L’Enfant [The Child] (Belgium, 2005) – Shot in a Naturalist style and rather Neorealist in spirit, the Dardenne brothers’ Palme d’Or winner is definitely one of the biggest downers on the list, due in large part to the sad universality of its simple story. Two young lovers survive on welfare when Sonia becomes pregnant. Despondent and hopeless, Bruno sells the baby on the black market, unbeknownst to Sonia. The first time I watched this film, I found myself feeling deeply guilty about all manner of distress I put my parents through as a teenager. Which is exactly why you shouldn’t watch this one under the influence of alcohol.
11. Happy Together (Hong Kong, 1997) – Chinese superstars Tony Leung and the late Leslie Cheung play homosexual lovers bound in a volatile on-again/off-again relationship. The two travel from Hong Kong to Argentina where their sad, abusive cycle continues. Also includes some of Christopher Doyle’s most beautiful photography, for a Wong Kar Wai film or otherwise.
12. Mutual Appreciation (US, 2005) – Now for something a bit light, charming and self-consciously dorky. Andrew Bujalski’s film unmistakably belongs to the no-budget movement known as Mumblecore, and as such uses moments of situational awkwardness for repeated comic effect. Justin Rice of the band Bishop Allen stars, and when he’s not performing their songs in the film, he’s basically channeling a marginally cooler, indie version of Dustin Hoffman from The Graduate.
13. Blue Velvet (US, 1986) – Though you can always trace auteurial elements to his earliest of work, Blue Velvet arguably remains the archetypal Lynch film. The Reagan-era noir is peppered with all the director’s nightmarish and phantasmagoric ingredients, slowly revealed to his abecedarian protagonist (played so memorably by Kyle MacLachlan). And if a foppish Dean Stockwell’s lip-sync serenade to Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams” doesn’t say Valentine’s Day to you, I don’t know what possibly could.
14. Braindead [Dead Alive] (New Zealand, 1992) – A classic tale of your well-to-do young man, torn between a first love and his overbearing mother. Throw a Sumatran Rat-Monkey, zombie sex scene (and resulting baby), a kung fu priest and lawnmower qua weapon into the mix, and you’ll undoubtedly be left wondering where this movie’s been all your life. So much fake blood. So, so much.
Other recommendations: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), Raging Bull (1980), Dead Ringers (1988), Punch-Drunk Love (2002), Mister Lonely (2007) , Perfect Blue (1998), Dancer in the Dark (2000), Live Flesh (1997), Myster Train (1989), My Own Private Idaho (1991), Fatal Attraction (1987), And God Created Woman (1956)…and, perhaps even Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS (1975)