Not everyone loves sad films. They can make for an awkward first date; sitting in the cinema desperately attempting to be cool as ice while your stony exterior is melting away, your eyes are brimming, your nose is dribbling. They are a no-go if you have a penchant for particularly heavy eyeliner (guilty) and they have a habit of planting a seed of sadness in your mind that decides to bloom when you’re cold and alone at night.
At one point in my life I would have described myself as a catharsis junkie; nowhere near as exciting as an adrenaline junkie but I seemed to be on a constant mission to cry the sadness out. Sitting in the confines of my yellow hell, or, my childhood bedroom, I would wait until late at night and feed a depressing film into my clunky TV waiting for my eyes to give in. Nowadays, there always seem to be a pattern between the films I deem as “good” also falling into the category of “sad”. Of course, I enjoy shitty comedies and cheesy romance as much as the next person but truly good cinema for me has to hit where it hurts. I crave raw emotion on screen which, more often than not, is a by-product of a devastating event. Nothing bleeds like an open wound.
When I began to write the list of films I wanted to feature in this post it was huge, there was no way I could include all of them, so I decided to condense them into multiple posts. I found myself naturally sorting them into categories so, amongst all these films is a strong theme of heartbreak and lost love. Every single one of these makes me ache and cry like no other. This is my first time writing (mini) reviews of films so go easy on me, I’m no Peter Bradshaw.
WARNING: I have tried to generalise the synopsis for each film, but this post does contain spoilers.
Directed by: Derek Cianfrance
Written by: Derek Cianfrance, Joey Curtis and Cami Delavigne
Starring: Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams
When beginning a relationship, it’s hard to picture it ever falling apart. When you’re in a toxic relationship, it’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment it fell apart. Blue Valentine plays out in a parallel narrative, exploring both of these moments simultaneously in a way that is both impossible to turn away from yet at times, deeply uncomfortable. As we watch Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams) meet, come together, fall in love, it’s like any beautiful love story with the added element of raw reality and uncomfortable silences that make it much more lifelike and much less like The Notebook. Their early relationship has its own turbulent moments, but it is nothing compared to the tension and built up hostility towards each other as we watch them blindly going through the motions of their marriage, many years later. The thing I found most upsetting about Blue Valentine is how real it felt watching them fall apart. The looks, the unsaid words and the way they were no longer in sync anymore. I found myself drawing parallels with previous relationships and damn, did it hurt.
Directed by: Spike JonzeWritten by: Spike Jonze
Written by: Spike Jonze
Starring: Joaquin Pheonix, Scarlett Johansson, Amy Addams, Rooney Mara
If you think it’s impossible to get emotionally invested in a film that revolves around a man falling in love with the futuristic equivalent of Siri, you’re wrong. I have yet to meet a person that hasn’t watched this and had a breakdown by the end. We’re pulled into Theodore’s (Joaquin Pheonix) relationship with his operating system or “OS” (Scarlett Johansson), sharing with him the same naivety and subtle awkwardness that he shows as he gradually falls for her. Reading the synopsis on paper doesn’t give Her any justice, it sounds so contrived, so unbelievable, but the thing about this film is that the performances, the writing, the cinematography, everything comes together to make it feel so believable, so lifelike. There isn’t any hint of embarrassment for Theodore as he falls in love with someone who technically doesn’t exist. The futuristic setting doesn’t seem so far away. Everything hurts the way it’s meant to when the relationship inevitably comes to an end, because even though it doesn’t sound relatable on paper, it really, truly is.
Directed by: Neil Armfield
Written by: Luke Davies and Neil Armfield
Starring: Abbie Cornish, Heath Ledger and Geoffrey Rush
Candy is one of my favourite films, and a film I will be writing a more in-depth analysis of in the future. Split into three stages; heaven, earth and hell we watch as Dan (Heath Ledger) and Candy (Abbie Cornish) initial rose-tinted relationship slowly descends into madness and suffering with the help of a golden brown hand. A love that seemed so strong and unbreakable starts to wither away when it becomes blindingly obvious that while they love each other, they love heroin more, and will do anything to get it. This isn’t just another junkie movie, and it surprises me that Candy isn’t more of a cult classic. Heath Ledger’s performance cleverly makes you love and loathe him at the same time, while Abbie Cornish sheds a layer of skin with each scene, showing there is so much more to her than meets the eye. The chemistry is undeniable. The suffering is painfully prominent. If any film is going to break your heart, it’s this one. Top tip: if you want to twist that knife in your heart even further, watch the beginning scene after you’ve just watched the ending.
Directed by: Sebastian Schipper
Written by: Sebastian Schipper, Olivia Neergaard-Holm and Eike Frederik Schulz
Starring: Laia Costa, Frederik Lau, Franz Rogowski, Burak Yigit and Max Mauff
Victoria is a film I knew absolutely nothing about before watching it, I’d never heard of it, I hadn’t seen any trailer, I just put it on and let the story unfold. I think this is the best way to watch it so I’ll try to reveal as little amount of detail as I can. This film was shot in a single shot, taking three takes to film and the third and final shot was the one that was used. The mere knowledge that this is a single shot film was enough to make me feel anxious while I was watching it, but that was nothing compared to the story that unfolded. Victoria (Laia Costa), a Spanish girl in Berlin meets Sonne (Frederik Lau) and his friends as she exits a nightclub alone. A poignant moment where she decides to hang out with them instead of going home, leads to a series of events that neither Victoria or the audience could have foreseen. A lot of energy is required to watch Victoria, not because it’s difficult, but because it is stressful, unrelenting and heart-breaking.
Directed by: Joe Wright
Written by: Ian McEwan (novel) and Christopher Hampton (screenplay)
Starring: Keira Knightley, James McAvoy, Saoirse Ronan and Romola Garai
On the surface, Atonement may just look like another world war romance, but it is so much more than that. The story is unforgettable; thirteen-year-old Briony (Saoirse Ronan) witnesses a trail of encounters between her sister Cecilia (Keira Knightley) and their groundskeeper Robbie (James McAvoy), she begins to link events that have no relation to each other. In devastating circumstances, emotion dilutes the truth and Briony finds herself falsely recounting information to the police that will go on to change all three of their futures forever. Briony pays the price for her naivety and moment of poor judgment for the rest of her life – which the audience sees painfully clearly as the story follows her from being a child to a young woman and later in her life as an older woman. The cinematography is outstandingly beautiful, and every actor holds their own in a way that leaves an ache in your chest many moments after you finish watching.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Directed by: Michel Gondry
Written by: Charlie Kaufman, Michel Gondry and Pierre Bismuth
Starring: Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Kirsten Dunst and Mark Ruffalo
Watching Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind after a break-up is enough to make you wish that the procedure that the film revolves around was real. Joel (Jim Carrey) meets Clementine (Kate Winslet) in a classically kooky boy-meets-girl scenario. He’s shy, she’s endearingly extroverted and together they’re like chalk and cheese. In the beginning this works but fast and hard they fall apart, leading both Joel and Clementine to take extreme measures to forget each other. As Joel clings onto the memories of Clementine, we are guided through his brain in dream-like situations that while comical and erratic, leave that tugging feeling in your chest. Both Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet play their characters perfectly, like real people with real flaws, characteristics that you love and certain things about them that you hate. This film manages to make you feel like you’re in the relationship with Joel and Clementine, everything feels so intimate and while part of you is dying to keep them together, part of you wants to tear them apart.
Romeo + Juliet
Directed by: Baz Luhrmann
Written by: William Shakespeare (play), Craig Pearce and Baz Luhrmann (screenplay)
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Claire Danes, John Leguizamo, Harold Perrineau, Pete Postlethwaite (in all honesty, there’s too many to list)
I could write a million reasons why I love this movie. In fact, I could write a million reasons why I love Baz Luhrmann as a director. I get it- he’s not everyone’s favourite. He has a penchant for taking classics and pumping them full of glitter, but I love that. Why can’t we appreciate a classic for what it is while simultaneously enjoy his pantomime-like take on things? So Romeo + Juliet is pretty over the top, the costumes are big, the parties are bigger, but the love story and the undercurrent of fated destruction from the beginning are still as traumatic as ever. It’s hard not to cry when Romeo (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Juliet (Claire Danes) first lay their innocent eyes on each other through the iconic fish tank. Most people watching the film will know the outcome of the story, so this seemingly beautiful and harmless moment has a bittersweet sadness to it. To any die-hard Shakespeare fans out there who have avoided Baz Luhrmann’s film until now, watch it with an open mind, it’s still the tragic love story you know and love.
Lost in Translation
Directed by: Sofia Coppola
Written by: Sofia Coppola
Starring: Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray
Lost in Translation is an understated masterpiece. Bob (Bill Murray); a fading actor who has travelled to Japan to film a lucrative whisky commercial while avoiding his wife back home stays in the same hotel as Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) who is staying in Japan with her exasperating photographer-boyfriend. Not only has she begun to realise she doesn’t know much about him, but she doesn’t know much about herself either. Throughout the film, the two connect despite being years apart and on the surface, not having much common ground between them. Their relationship is innocent, endearing and refreshing. The feeling of isolation they go through in Japan replicates the loneliness they feel within their own lives while creating such a beautiful location for the story. The comedy and the script feel completely organic. The chemistry between Bob and Charlotte is undeniable, and I’ll always be left wondering what he whispered in her ear at the end.