A romantic drama for both the animation fan and the total pessimist, Charlie Kaufman’s stop-motion mindbender is an example of mental illness interfering with the human pursuit of love and emotional connection. Following Michael Stone ( voiced by David Thewlis), an author of customer service books who sees everyone as the same bland monotone-voiced person (all voiced by Tom Noonan), stays at the fictional Fregoli Hotel in Cincinnati, Ohio for one night only.
During this stop-over, he encounters the shy and awkward Lisa, who makes an impression by seeing the only person whose true appearance he can actually see. Aside from the film’s incredible animation, surreal moments, fantastic voice work and affecting story, its take on romance is steeped in defeat.
Unlike more cynical films that toys with the audience and pulling the potential of a happy ending from under their feet to merely get a reaction, and aims to show a failed romance that doesn’t fall apart by cruel fate, but by the deep-seated flaws of one of its main characters. While certainly pessimistic, those few moments of intimacy between Michael and Lisa are beautiful, made all the more incredible (and incredibly heartbreaking) by the startlingly realistic animation and passionate voice-work.
A few entries earlier, we discussed the eclectic topics Barbet Schroerder has examined thought out his career. While it isn’t like he can take any subject imaginable and turn it into a worthwhile film (although that could be possible), Schroeder more or less selects subjects that he seems to know he can take and put on the screen and make it worth one’s while, resulting in a very interesting filmography.
Here, he decides to tackle a subject that has been misrepresented in recent years and widely- misunderstood by the mainstream moviegoer: BDSM. In only his fourth film, Schroeder casts Gérard Depardieu, as down-on-his-luck criminal Olivier, opposite Bulle Ogier as professional dominatrix Ariane.
By pure coincidence, the two cross-paths and Olivier discovers Ariane’s underground dungeon. He immediately becomes drawn into this dark world as he and Ariane become lovers, but trying to reconcile these two opposite worlds becomes a difficult task.
Although the film has a happy ending, one has to endure some extreme scenes of sadomasochistic activities, making it a difficult watch, but Schroeder overall has made a fine film that’s worth watching, even if it is hindered by its more graphic elements.
4. Wristcutters: A Love Story
The absurd will always have its place in cinema, and sometimes, it can make its way into any kind of film if the scenario calls for it. And in this 2006 adaptation of an Etgar Keret short story, the absurd certainly shines through.
Taking place in an afterlife for those who decided to off themselves, it follows recently deceased Zia (Patrick Fugit) and dead Russian rocker Eugene who go on an off-beat road trip to find the ex-girlfriend of one of Zia’s friends. Along the way, Zia meets Mikal, a hitchhiker, with whom he falls in love with during the duration of the trip.
A weird romantic comedy that’s black and deadpan but quirky and heartfelt, this off –beat trip through a hipster purgatory shows love blooming against a very strange backdrop, one of death and strange characters and general misery. With music by Gogol Bordello and a script and aesthetic that matches the surreal nature of the story, Wristcutters: A Love Story remains an unorthodox cult classic for weirdos and millennial romantics alike.
3. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Any aspiring screenwriter would do themselves some good by getting familiar with the work of Charlie Kaufman. There’s no doubt in any film buff’s mind that Kaufman has surely churned out some of the most original work that cinema has seen in recent years, everything from the aforementioned Anomalisa and Synecdoche, New York, to Being John Malkovich and Adaptation. But his most well- known film is probably this Michel Gondry-helmed 2004 exercise in emotional surrealism.
As Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet both undertake procedures to erase their brains of each other, the mindscape swirls and changes into a kaleidoscopic miasma of old memories and broken feelings.
It’s a film that circles around the old adage of ‘better to have loved and loss than to not have loved at all,’ a philosophy that affects all characters involve in this story. Kaufman’s script is overflowing with emotion and humour, with Gondry’s own indiosyncratic style and incredible cast of Carrey, Winslet, Tom Wilkinson, Mark Ruffalo, Kristian Stewart, Elijah wood bringing it to eccentric life. An excellent break-up film.
2. The Night Porter
Liliana Cavani’s 1974 transgressive psycho-erotic cult film is the kind of film that no one would ever consider to be a romance film. A strange, dark dissection of Stockholm syndrome within the context of the Holocaust (that itself being a controversial aspect of an already highly controversial film), The Night Porter is filled with ugly violence, sexualized pain, and the long-lasting effects of the Nazi regime, as shown through the revived sadomasochistic relationship between former Nazi SS officer Max and Holocaust survivor Lucia, a woman he himself tortured and humiliated while pretending to be a doctor. No, this is technically not a romance, but there is no doubt a real connection between the two leads.
This is a film that shows an ambiguous love birthed from tragedy and suffering, one that will end as violently as it began. Critics will never be able to reconcile their differentiating opinions over Cavani’s film; it’s tragic context remains a point of contention amongst those who’ve seen the film, but Cavani’s brazen is enough to earn the film some measure of praise. Not recommended for those with weak stomachs, but fans of European cinema’s darker corners are encouraged to take a look.
1. The Lobster
Yorgos Lanthimos’ 2015 absurdist black comedy is the ultimate anti-romance film. It drags the social pressure of being in a relationship through the mud and uses it as the terrifying basis of Lanthimos’ bizarre world: a man (Colin Farrell) is sent to a lavish hotel and is given 45 days to find a partner. Failure to do so will result in him being subjected to a procedure designed to transform him into an animal.
During his stay and eventual escape, he will hunt single people in the woods, join them, fall in love with a short-sighted woman, and attempt to escape back to the city with her. This world, based entirely on this difficult elevator pitch, is one where emotions are obsolete and logic and deadpan rule with iron grasps.
Relationships are based on only one common attribute, with no regard for any actual affection, resulting in some of the hotel’s inhabitants taking desperate measures to avoid their unusual fates. With an entire cast of great actors, a surreal beauty, fantastic direction, and only the blackest humour make for a film that those who aren’t in a hurry for a relationship can revel in.
Author Bio: Mason Chennells is an aspiring writer and life-long cinephile living in Alberta, Canada. He usually can be found hiding out in a local theater or library when he’s not writing. He’s also an amateur musician, artist, and novice Esperantist.