Most of us grew up with the Disney versions of fairy tales like the Sleeping Beauty and the Snow White. Romance was introduced into our lives through the love stories of princes and princesses who were destined to live happily ever after. Romance in films is problematically idealised and embellished to the point that it looks staged and fake.
Even if the heroes are not of an aristocratic breed they have to be stylised, they know when to say the perfect lines and how to move their faces and bodies in the perfect way. Seductive femme fatales that fall for brawny enforcers of the law, poor tramps that lose their minds for the gracious ladies and brave warriors that save the virtuous girls have shaped our expectations about what our love story should be like.
Reality check- is this the way that it’s supposed to be? Are the aforementioned film characters what true people look or behave like? The films of this lists challenge stereotypical expectations and conventions. Their heroes are as original as their romances and they offer a depiction for love that is warm and not made of plastic.
Unique, imaginative and unforgettable love stories are born inside them and they invite us in a cinematic trip filled with emotions diverse and authentic. The question that they are called to answer is what is love actually and their answers are unexpected an uncompromising, befitting to the essence of genuine romance.
1. Lars and the Real Girl (Craig Gillespie, 2007)
Lars is a young, introvert man who doesn’t seem able to find a place to fit in. He is detached from his family, co-workers and acquaintances and his behaviour is, at the least, eccentric. This last characteristic of his personality is even more highlighted when he brings home a human sized and realistic plastic doll whom he presents to everyone as his girlfriend.
With the encouragement of a psychologist the people of his social circle will be advised to pretend to believe him, in order to uncover the source of his delusional actions.
Lars and the Real Girl is unconventional on various levels. Avoiding to present Lars as an emotionally handicapped man who is pitied by everyone around him, the hero is treated normally with genuine appreciation and care. His friends even go as far as liking his fake girlfriend, sympathising with Lars and sharing his living fantasy with him.
Furthermore, the exposition of the roots of his emotional problems and their confrontation is given gradually and in respect with his special personality. The film is sweet and filled with emotions without falling in the usual pitfall of forcing the viewer’s emotions.
2. Chungking Express (Wong Kar-wai, 1994)
Expired pineapple cans, shocking wet towels, toy airplanes and chef’s salads; everything is reminiscent of love in Wong Kar-wai’s most feel-good film. Two cops grieve the end of their relationships with the women that they deeply loved when they bump into other women who will radically change their lives.
The plot of the film is untangled in two different storylines that intersect only because of the existence of a restaurant that the two men patron. All of the characters of the film are perfectly constructed with unique personalities and habits that make the viewer sympathise with their misfortunes.
The film is filled with metaphors and parallelisms and the endings of both story lines are left open. Every single detail is given in a deeply imaginative way and its romantic atmosphere is melancholic and hopeful at the same time. Even if the dialogues and the events of the film seem absurd and highly unrealistic a closer look elevates them as deep philosophical questionings on the true nature of love.
3. Castaway on the Moon (Hae-jun Lee, 2009)
One of the most original and heart-felt films that South Korea has ever produced, Castaway on the Moon narrates the love story of two young people who literally live in the margins of society. Seung-geun is a young man who decides to commit suicide by jumping into the Han river from a bridge. His attempt fails and he is carried away by the tide to a small island where he decides to start his life anew.
On the other side of the river resides Jung-geon, a girl who suffers by agoraphobia and never leaves her room, spending her hours on the Internet. Her only connection with the outside world is offered by a camera that she uses in order to observe and photograph the moon.
When Jung-geon notices Seung-geun’s existence on the isolated island, the two of them start communicating in an unorthodox way. The man writes messages in the sand and the woman decides to respond by throwing bottled messages into the river. Shivering and panicking she makes her first steps outside her house.
After a group of workers kick out Seung-geun from his refuge area, Jung-geon is called to leave her fears behind once and for all in order to find her beloved castaway again. The final sequence of the film is heartbreakingly intense as the two heroes face the danger of getting lost with each other forever.
4. Laurence Anyways (Xavier Dolan, 2012)
Xavier Dolan has built his short but prolific career on stories that mainly address romance, in one way or another. Laurence Anyways is probably the director’s most heartbreaking film, following the rocky love affair between Laurence and Fred as it’s forged and evolves throughout the years.
Laurence is a writer and literature teacher who loves his girlfriend, Fred, more than anything in the world. On her birthday he confesses to her that he has been hiding a secret his whole life: the fact that he feels as if he was born inside the wrong body and that he has always wanted a female body. Laurence starts adopting a female lifestyle and Fred decides to stay by her side after the initial shock of her beloved one’s transformation.
Laurence and Fred’s romance is not unconventional only because of the uncompromising personalities that the two of them have. It is also presented by the director in a lyrical way that manages to convey their diverse emotions and feelings, without too many unneeded melodramatic conversations.
Instead of doing so, Dolan constructs various dream-like sequences inside the film that abstractly but eloquently describe the heroes’ inner world. Laurence Anyways is a revolutionary love story about loving the other without losing yourself.
5. Only Lovers Left Alive (Jim Jarmusch, 2013)
Most of the vampire films choose to present their blood thirsty heroes as noble, gracious creatures with a seductive dark side. In Jim Jarmusch’s homage to the vampire film sub-genre the main characters are more human than supernaturally powerful. Adam and Eve have been a couple for plenty of centuries but they don’t seem to enjoy their immortality so much.
The man is in a nearly catatonic state, suffering from depression, not being able to enjoy his existence any longer. When his wife comes to visit him she tries to awaken the life inside him and make him feel again. The two of them refuse to feed on people and choose to survive by feasting on blood bags that they get from the local blood bank.
Adam and Eve share a romance that is very human. They deeply care for each other and look down on vampires who think of themselves as superior to mortals.
Their love for music, literature and science keeps them together and helps them find meaning in their realities. Their lifestyle is not so fancy as they prefer to stay home and play chess rather than verging into blood shed adventures. Only Lovers Left Alive is a film about two immortal lovers who enjoy arts and their love more than anything else in the world.
6. (500) Days of Summer (Marc Webb, 2009)
Some of the strongest romances in real life are left unfulfilled with one of the sides being left heartbroken and wondering what went wrong. (500) Days of Summer is a film precisely about these unfortunate occasions, featuring Tom, a young man whose love for Summer was just not meant to be.
The two heroes meet all of the requirements that would allow them to become a great couple; they work at the same workplace, share the same interests in arts and are both clever and fiery. But while Tom gives his soul for them to be together, Summer refuses to show signs of true commitment making cynical proclamations about love being nothing more than a myth.
The film is unconventionally romantic in the sense that it creates expectations for the viewer over and over again only to crush them. Every time that the characters meet each other there is this hope that something will change and they will end up living together happily ever after against all odds.
But as the narrator of the film states in the very beginning of (500) Days of Summer: ”this is not a love story.” In any case the film managed to arise as an all times classic romantic movie and its lines are repeatedly quoted by its heart-broken viewers around the world.