Ah, Valentine’s Day. In elementary school, we were forced to address valentines to everyone in class (even that boy who had a penchant for under-the-desk nudity and the girl who picked her nose). At my high school, students were encouraged to buy red roses and have them delivered to sweethearts in class. I generally wore black and scowled when someone handed me a rose. I’m really not that cynical, but for gosh sakes, what a ridiculous and consumer-driven holiday. Buy roses. Buy diamonds. Buy dinner and drinks. My favorite Valentine’s Day included a delicious vegan meal with the guy I was dating, and March of the Penguins on DVD. Cheap, easy, sweet. For your VD blues, I’ve got a few remedies: some of the most unconventional romance movies I’ve ever seen.
Who says love has to be soft and gentle?
From its opening scene to its final shot, Steven Shainberg’s Secretary is easily one of the sexiest and most romantic movies of the last thirty years. Despite the movie’s lascivious cover, it isn’t about sexual deviance, nor, really, about submission and dominance. It’s about what it’s like to fall in love. Maggie Gyllenhaal’s Lee Holloway transforms–she blooms–under the gaze of James Spader’s E. Edward Grey. The movie’s luscious, brilliant colors inundate every shot with sensuality. In this film, every touch, whether it leaves behind the tingling sensation of a gentle caress or the vicious bruise of a slap, is above all, sensual. These people inhabit a world in which love needn’t be about diamonds and marriage proposals; love is finding someone with whom you fit, completely, scars and all. In the last shot of the movie, Gyllenhaal stares directly at the camera–breaking the fourth wall, so to speak–as if to say, you haven’t the slightest idea what goes on behind closed doors…and should it matter anyway?
Every love story has two sides.
Who knows love better than the French? The Eiffel Tower and cobblestone streets of Paris virtually shriek romance. He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not (À la folie… pas du tout) stars lovely Amélie ingenue Audrey Tautou in yet another quirky, romantic role. HLM, HLMN starts out with a sweet montage of Tautou’s Angélique in an ecstasy of love, all her attentions and thoughts on Dr. Loïc Le Garrec. Unfortunately, obsession’s never a good thing. Using clever editing tricks to tell both sides of one tale of the ultimate love, the film is slightly horrifying evidence that loving someone is not always rainbows and puppy dogs. Sometimes it’s total insanity.
All the best people have bad chests and bone diseases. It’s all frightfully romantic.
In 1950s New Zealand, Juliet Hulme and Pauline Parker met in high school and embarked on a fantastic, obsessive friendship. The two shared a love of Mario Lanza, snarking on the royal family, and molding clay figures to act out their fantasies. Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures is extraordinarily romantic–the movie juxtaposes the dreams and realities of two imaginative young girls in a way that’s unparalleled, beautiful, and strange. The movie, which is based on a horrific true story, tells the story of a love that resulted in bloodshed. The movie brought Kate Winslet to the silver screen, and little-known but wonderful Melanie Lynskey is perfect in her role. New Zealand boasts some of the prettiest topography in the world, and before Lord of the Rings, Heavenly Creatures used the jutting mountains and sloping fields to illustrate the forbidding and beautiful landscape of the mind. Jackson and “Flight of the Conchords” are by far the best exports from New Zealand, and Heavenly Creatures is wonderful and too bizarre to miss.
Finally, a lovely Mad Men valentine, from me to you.
All photos copyright their original owners (unless otherwise specified).
Julia Rhodes graduated from Indiana University with a degree in Communication and Culture. She’s always been passionate about movies and media, and is particularly fond of horror and feminist film theory, but has a soft spot for teen romances and black comedies. She also loves animals and vegetarian cooking; who says horror geeks aren’t compassionate and gentle? Google+