HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY!
Not one for boxed chocolates, stuffed teddy bears, and passionate, candle-lit lovemaking? Do you find Valentine’s Day unbearable, if not downright contemptible? Do you gag at the very thought of sitting through a Nora Ephron film?
While Hollywood prefers treacly, paint-by-numbers romance flicks, and has been cranking them out since its inception, there are plenty of filmmakers who have dared to explore the cruel, rancid, dark side of love and sexual desire.
Below are 10 choice selections from this grotty little bastard of a subgenre, what I lovingly call ANTI-LOVE STORIES. Films that WILL NOT warm your heart. Films that bite. Films that fist-fuck your soul and leave you crying in a bathtub, holding a razor blade. Trust me, these films will destroy what little faith you have left in the human race. At the very least, you’ll want to stay single and celibate the remainder of your days. Hell, that’s why God invented porn, right?
But, if you’re sure you really want to go there, then here are some suggestions. You will hate me for recommending these, and I accept that. (Feel free to leave some of your suggestions in the comment section below.)
MY FAVORITE ANTI-LOVE STORIES…
(in alphabetical order)
Written and Directed by Nacho Cerdà
A man working alone in a morgue first mutilates, then rapes the corpse of a dead woman. Nothing is left to the imagination. The film is an angry, existential scream into a cold, callous universe; a metaphorical treatise on the cruel humiliation of death. Is it “art”? I think so. You might not. But I guarantee you will never wipe this movie from your mind.
Written and Directed by Lars von Trier
I’m a von Trier fan. I think Dancer in the Dark and Melancholia are two of the most important films of the last 20 years. So when I say I don’t particularly care for Antichrist, it isn’t because I don’t dig on von Trier’s style and aesthetics. I just happen to think Antichrist is a confusing, pretentious mess, and it just didn’t do anything for me as an overall piece. No harm, no foul. But I can’t deny the visceral power of this film. The sexual dynamics between men and women are portrayed in stunningly explicit detail. However, don’t let me give you the impression that this movie is any way erotic. This is a film about loss, and about how loss can tear a family apart, and reduce us to primitive savages. Psychology and religion can’t save us, and sex can just as easily be used as a weapon as it can an expression of our desires. If you manage to get past the opening scene, where a young child is killed while his parents make love in the shower, you will be subjected to an unflinching nightmare of emotional trauma, physical torture, and genital mutilation. A perfect movie to watch with your significant other… if you want them to break up with you.
Directed by Derek Cianfrance
Have you ever been friends with a couple who were so unbelievably in love, yet so toxic for each other that every day is like an evisceration? Two people with pistols in one hand, and roses in the other. Two people who know it can’t work, yet can’t imagine a world without the other in it. A relationship where love ultimately means emotional and physical destruction. Hell, maybe you’ve even been in a relationship like that. Blue Valentine is that relationship.
Written and Directed by David Cronenberg
Made while Cronenberg was in the midst of his own divorce and child-custody battle, The Brood explores the dissolution of marriage, and the consequences of suppressed anger. This is Cronenberg’s Kramer vs. Kramer, and it makes that film look no more threatening than an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond.
Written and Directed by Kurt Kuenne
Relationships end. Sometimes they end badly. And sometimes, that’s when the real nightmare begins. Kurt Kuenne’s documentary Dear Zachary is probably the most difficult film to watch on this list, because it’s real, and we do not have the protective patina of “fiction” to distance us, or shield us, from the horror. This film will anger you. And horrify you. And you will feel helpless as the story unfolds, as helpless as Zachary’s grandparents as they struggle to gain custody of their grandson from an unstable mother (who may or may not have murdered Zachary’s father). In this world, good does not always conquer evil. We know this, of course we do; but seeing it is a whole other experience. Trust me, this film will gut you.
Written and Directed by David Lynch
David Lynch’s surreal, nightmarish classic is cinematic birth control.
Directed by George Cukor
Ever have that feeling that everyone’s trying to drive you mad? Even your loved ones? Especially your loved ones? Well, Gaslight will do nothing to alleviate those fears. The single life has never looked so appealing.
Written and Directed by Gaspar Noé
Gaspar Noé is not interested in making you comfortable or happy. His entire ouevre is dedicated to pushing audiences to the very limits of their senses and emotions. His films are endurance tests, and he offers no guidance: you either make it or you don’t. A young woman is raped by a man in an underground tunnel, and her boyfriend tracks the man down, intending to avenge her rape. We see his vengeance first (in a dizzying tour de force of swirling cameras and skull-rattling noise, culminating with a man’s head being bashed literally into pulp right before our eyes), and then we are whisked back in time, to view the actual rape; and then, back in time again, to show us how the couple spent their day, leading up to these unspeakable moments of violence. By showing us the ending of his story first, Noé dares us to breathe a sigh of relief, thinking that the worst is over: now we can relax, and watch the couple in happier times. Except, even though they don’t know about the nightmares in store for them, we do. So how relaxed can we really be? I would dare say, the final scenes of this movie (the technical beginning of the story) are the most gut-wrenching, because we see how our lives can turn in an instant, and how we never can know when a beautiful morning might lead to a night of screams.
Directed by Todd Louiso
Written by Gordy Hoffman
Philip Seymour Hoffman was one of our most fearless actors; he never shirked in his duty to show characters at their most real, their most vulnerable. And he was never more real and vulnerable than he is in Love Liza. Why the Academy ignored this performance, I’ll never know. Reeling from his wife’s suicide, Hoffman’s Wilson Joel turns to huffing gas fumes to cope with his misery. What follows is a character piece about a man stripped raw and bleeding, unable to cope with his loss. We’ve all lost someone we love, but most of us learn to carry on. The weakest of us are eaten by the pain. Here we watch a man slowly consumed by his pain, so honestly portrayed by Hoffman that you’d swear you were watching a documentary.
Written and Directed by Andrzej Zulawski
Toxic relationships taken to horrific heights. We all fear losing our significant other to someone else. And when we do, we may demonize that other person, because it makes it so much easier to hate them. But what if you lost your significant other to an actual demon? And what if she loved it? If you’ve ever loved someone so much you just couldn’t let them go, and no matter how painful it was, you continued to fight for them well past the point of hopelessness, then you’ll no doubt see yourself in this movie. You won’t like seeing yourself in this movie, but you’re there. And it’s not pretty. Zulawski’s surreal horror film has frustrated and confounded viewers for decades, and it remains a truly singular, and gut-wrenching piece of filmmaking.
Not enough degradation and misery for ya? Well, here’s a few more you might enjoy:
PLAY MISTY FOR ME (1971 – CLINT EASTWOOD)
BITTER MOON (1992 – ROMAN POLANSKI)
MAY (2002 – LUCKY MCKEE)
HUSBANDS AND WIVES (1992 – WOODY ALLEN)
CLOSER (2004 – MIKE NICHOLS)
THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM (1961 – ROGER CORMAN)
MATCH POINT (2005 – WOODY ALLEN)
FATAL ATTRACTION (1987 – ADRIAN LYNE)
UNFAITHFUL (2002 – ADRIAN LYNE)
LAST TANGO IN PARIS (1972 – BERNARDO BERTOLUCCI)
GLOOMY SUNDAY (1999 – ROLF SCHUBEL)
NEKROMANTIK (1988 – JORG BUTTGEREIT)