It’s almost Valentine’s Day but that doesn’t mean that film lovers need to get gushy and overly sentimental when it comes to romantic cinema. One of the most moving and exciting subjects of love-driven movies orbit around the idea of amour fou –– mad love. When love gets dangerous or toxic, as romances turns to obsessive passion, a sense of inevitable doom hangs heavy on the hearts and minds of those involved.
And so, presented here are a perfect batch of films wherein love and the lovers involved, lose control. Hang on, and have fun, if you can. Hearts may break, but that’s sometimes the price of passion, isn’t it?
15. Natural Born Killers (1994)
Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers is one of the most polarizing films of the 1990s (for the record, I still find it to be a preachy, didactic sermon which sort of works as a satire, but is more the cinematic equivalent of nails scraping on chalkboard for 2 hours).
Following Mickey (Woody Harrelson) and Mallory (Juliette Lewis), two lovers on the run, committing a killing spree as they go, this isn’t Bonnie and Clyde, but it is pastiche, close to True Romance (both were stories by Quentin Tarantino), but not as flirtatious as it zooms in on serial killer culture and how mass media eulogizes such villains, making them into celebrities.
Extolling shock tactics, taboo subjects like incest, and constant twitchy editing and MTV-style maneuvering — including a chic for the time soundtrack featuring Nine Inch Nails, Patti Smith, and Cowboy Junkies — Stone bludgeons the viewer relentlessly in this ugly, kaleidoscopic quagmire of hallucinatory visuals and toxic love.
14. The Living End (1992)
One of the pioneers of New Queer Cinema in the 1990s, LA-based auteur Gregg Araki (Totally Fucked Up , Mysterious Skin ) made major waves with his third film, The Living End. Often described as a “gay Thelma and Louise,” there’s definitely some adventure and Warholian flourish in this racy road movie.
Araki regular Craig Gilmore is Jon, a talky and cynical film critic, gay and HIV-positive, he soon saddles up with a carefree drifter, also gay, also HIV-positive, named Luke (Mike Dytri).
The Living End has moments of insight, visual vibrancy, and artful eroticism, but, like many of Araki’s early films, it also has outrage, irritation, and deliberate provocation –– which makes sense considering the motto of Jon and Luke is “fuck everything!”
13. Twentynine Palms (2003)
The uncompromising French director Bruno Dumont (L’humanité , P’tit Quinquin ) takes a ferocious zigzag into horror, eroticism and mad love with the gripping road movie Twentynine Palms. David (David Wissak), a photographer, and his girlfriend Katia (Yekaterina Golubeva) head for the heat of Joshua Tree National Park for a photo spread for a magazine.
The couple spend a lot of time either fighting or fucking and before long danger and peril will befall them. What begins as a Zabriskie Point-like mise-en-scène soon morphs into something closer to The Hills Have Eyes, albeit with a minimalist arthouse approach.
Be warned that Dumont’s nihilistic and deeply upsetting ending will rattle sensitive viewers and shock even the most unflappable of fright fans.
“Perhaps the end of the film is too definitive and authoritarian, too violent even, by comparison with the first three quarters of the film,” says Dumont, “but I knew I wanted to end up with total carnage.” You’ve been warned.
12. Bad Timing (1980)
The scandalous, X-rated mini-epic Bad Timing (denounced unfairly as tasteless and misogynistic upon its original release) has been described by award-winning British author and cineaste Geoff Dyer “…as bonkers as it is beautiful”, and he’s not wrong.
Perhaps Nicolas Roeg’s most polarizing film, it’s one that explores some very upsetting places as we get familiar with expat American psychiatrist Alex Linden (Art Garfunkel). Living in Vienna, and not a particularly likeable lad, Alex has a potentially dangerous, and certainly unhealthy sexual obsession with Milena (Theresa Russell), a married American woman with more than a few vices.
Told in Roeg’s atypical nonlinear fashion, Bad Timing may read as experimental arthouse inanity for non-fans or those not so adventurous. But Roeg takes pains to detail the voyeuristic psychoanalysis of a wronged relationship, as well as the wistful and lascivious elements of an affair; how despairing people still hold powerful passions, and how some actions are too horrible to be easily or ever forgiven.
11. Happy Together (1997)
Visually intoxicating and overfull with romantic yearning, Wong Kar-Wai’s Happy Together is a moving, emotionally complex melodramatic masterpiece. Focussing on a gay couple from Taipei, Ho Po-Wing (Leslie Cheung) and Lau Yui-Fat (Tony Leung), and their emotionally exhaustive and doomed to deteriorate affair.
The title of Wong’s film comes from the 1967 classic pop gem from the Turtles, here co-opted as a painful pean to ruined relationships, timeless loss and love’s end. Few films capture the disillusionment and disaster that results from the end of an affair as Happy Together does. As far as gay love stories go, the forever from the hip Wong here casts quite the unbreakable spell. It’s a moody masterpiece and an elegant collage of sound, image, agony of mind, and heavily bleeding heart.
10. Alleluia (2014)
This haunting, heady, and suggestive thriller from Belgium provocateur Fabrice Du Welz (Calvaire ) was partially inspired by the true-crime catastrophe The Honeymoon Killers in this 2014 surreal and sexy chiller Alleluia. Lola Dueñas is incredible as lonesome single-mother Gloria who is affected by Michel (Laurent Lucas), a sketchy manipulator with a foot fetish and plentiful sexual prowess.
Gloria and Michel are soon pulling deadly bait-and-switch schemes on vulnerable women and Du Welz goes to artistic extremes –– sequences pop with color that recalls Dario Argento’s Suspiria (1977) –– and zigzags into other genres; a few scenes play out like horror and then there’s a musical showstopper that is absolutely breathtaking.
Alleluia isn’t like most films, it’s an orgiastic procession of sexuality, fantasy, fears, and fucked up love. Not to be missed.
9. Trouble Every Day (2001)
Few filmmakers can connect sexual craving and appetite with that for human flesh as brazenly and slyly as Claire Denis does with this sparkling gem of the New French Extremity with her transgressive 2001 masterpiece, Trouble Every Day. As controversial as it’s genuinely and artfully atmospheric Denis delights in devouring recognizable horror movie motifs with a formative hunger and a strangely affective love story, too..
Two disparate storylines slowly intertwine in Trouble Every Day, one involving Shane (Vincent Gallo) and June (Tricia Vessey), American newlyweds honeymooning in La Ville -Lumière, the other involving Léo, a doctor (Alex Descas) and his ravishing wife, Coré (Béatrice Dalle). Coré, it seems, has a vampiric bloodlust and a raging libido that makes her sexual hunger and that for human flesh completely indivisible.
Is a similar fate befalling Shane? How are these four lost souls’ paths enmeshed? The answers will astonish the viewer in what Film Comment’s Max Nelson describes as “the kind of public self-exorcism a director can only get away with once in a career.”