There are many things that define us as human beings, but the world we live in cannot really be understood without remembering the fact that we are deeply emotional beings.
Our entire history has been constructed over two essential pillars: emotion and reason, expressed as art and science. There is a sort of dialectical contradiction in our nature, a fight between our feelings and our thoughts, that gives life its complexity and makes it utterly pleasurable and frightening.
We want to understand things, yet we cannot really understand ourselves without understanding our feelings; they are ever-changing, water-like, and what was true about them five years or five days ago might have completely changed by now. And out of all the emotions in the spectrum, love is the most potent and mysterious.
It might be our passage into great joys and may even give us a glimpse of heaven or make us drown in an ocean of grief and despair. For this list, I’ve picked 15 movies that narrate stories where love doesn’t go well, where the characters are faced with unbearable emotions brought on by heartbreak, and where love expands so much that life itself seems small next to it.
1. The Lobster (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2015)
“The Lobster”, a splendid film by Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos, might seem at first glance a quirky comedy that satirizes the idea of love. In reality, it is much deeper, questioning the possibility of love itself in the postmodern, neatly-organized world we’ve lived in for the past few decades, where everything is standardized, spontaneity is disparaged, and true understanding is frequently a difficult task.
The film emphasizes the way love has turned into a mechanical procedure instead of a passionate flow of feelings. Individuals don’t seek the fulfillment and sense of companionship that comes with a loving relationship.
In a selfish society, love turns selfish as well, so we start looking for ourselves in the other, and the search for a reflection of our distinctive characteristics becomes our prime motivator, perhaps founded on the idea that the “love of our lives” is no more than a variation or extension of our own selves.
The film incites us to reflect on the way we approach attraction and our sense of belonging, to forget about social rituals in order to feel deeply.
2. Anomalisa (Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson, 2015)
“Anomalisa”, written by Charlie Kaufman and co-directed with Duke Johnson, makes use of impeccable frame-by-frame animation, beautifully photographed to tell a story about one of the oldest preoccupations in human history: love. It analyzes it under different lights, from the existential marasmus and the longing for the past, provoked by a routinary and worn out relationship, to the first glimpses and gleams that announce the appearance of a new love.
The film portrays falling in and out of love as an incomprehensible phenomenon. Michael Stone suddenly falls in love with Lisa, a shy woman he met at his hotel due to her voice. While everybody else speaks with the same dull and generic voice, hers is different; it sets her apart from the rest, and Michael discovers in her an enormous beauty.
Yet after they spend a splendid night together, in a scene that resembles the killing passage from Camus’ “The Stranger”, he discovers under the shining light of the sun that leaks through the window that Lisa’s voice has suddenly turned as dull and uninteresting as the voices of everybody else. Love comes and goes, we suffer and enjoy a great deal, and it would be foolish to try to understand it.
3. Days of Being Wild (Wong Kar-Wai, 1990)
“Days of Being Wild” is Wong Kar-Wai’s second film, and it is a choral story that presents us with the trials and tribulations of a few teenagers who are caught in a tangle of love and heartbreak. Its stories lead to a hopeless conclusion, love is difficult, heartbreak is inevitable, and yet it is one of the most beautiful feelings we can experience.
This film is like a sad love song; its atmosphere is charged with some sort of fatality, of melancholy. From an adopted heartbreaker who had two girls fall in love with him and whom he constantly rejects, to a lonely cop who is a hopeless romantic, the film takes on the teenage years as the “Days of Being Wild”, when the future is uncertain, your heart is restless, and you are still looking for your place in the world.
4. Jules et Jim (François Truffaut, 1962)
“Jules et Jim” is one of the most outstanding films of the nouvelle-vague genre and one of the greatest masterpieces directed by François Truffaut.
It tells the story of Jules and Jim, two friends living in pre-World War I Paris of akin tastes, enjoyments and sensibilities, who happen to fall in love with Catherine, a woman who resembles a sculpture that fascinates them. Creating a new cinematic language, the film goes on to portray the way the relationship between the three members of the love triangle changes over the years.
At first, while they are young and energetic, they enjoy life together, they have fun and live a careless existence. Finally, Jules marries Catherine and then the war separates the friends. After it finishes, they reunite and Jim finds out that they are unhappily married. Jules is madly in love with her, but she is also attracted to Jim.
When the love triangle becomes even more intricate, complicated conflictive feelings arise. The film examines in depth a relationship that transcends the standard binary convention in order to accept variations, as well as different and unexpected ways to feel and relate to others.
5. Les Amours Imaginaires (Xavier Dolan, 2010)
“Les Amours Imaginaires” is Xavier Dolan’s second film, and while it might seem a bit technically rough around the edges, it already shows his restless imagination and his out of the ordinary intuition.
It is a portrayal of a crossroad: Marie is a straight woman and Francis is a gay man, and they both are drawn into a love competition when they meet Nicolas, a young man whose features resemble those of Greek sculptures, the ideal of male beauty embodied in the figure of a blonde man.
The main story of the film is accompanied by testimonies of people who have suffered from heartache; their broken love stories serve to underline the difficulty of learning to cope with one’s feelings, and they foreshadow the result of most of our love enterprises. It is hard to make reality match our dreams and illusions.
6. Fallen Angels (Wong Kar-Wai, 1995)
Much like in “Days of Being Wild”, in “Fallen Angels” we take a glimpse into the lives of a few troubled lovers. Heartbreak is a common element in all of the stories; the dialectic between loving and being loved, leaving and being left, breaking a heart and having your heart broken.
Wong Kar-Wai always portrays his characters with a very lucid sensitivity; they are all emotionally profound and conflictive, they fall in love with all of their strength and pain, and despair drains them. They are humans, exercising their right to feel skin deep.
A professional killer breaks the heart of his partner (who he rarely sees) after he decides to leave the business, and a man that became mute after eating a lot of canned pineapple while heartbroken who now roams around closed shops at night to open them, are the main axes of the film. From humor to sordid eroticism, the film has a wide emotional range, exploring the emotional depths the heart can achieve under the right conditions.
7. La Vie d’Adèle (Abdellatif Kechiche, 2013)
The winner of the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 2013, “La Vie d’Adele” tells the story of Adele, played by Adèle Exarchopoulos, a young French woman who falls in love with an ethereal artist named Emma, played by Léa Seydoux.
We witness the appearance of desire in Adèle, and after a few heterosexual relationships she feels strongly drawn toward Emma, a mysterious and emancipated woman. They quickly establish a passionate romance, they get carried away, and an abrupt ending is due. Adèle goes through the grief of heartache once Emma decides she is no longer interesting to her, and it all ends in tears and a new beginning.