10 Surreal Love Stories on Film

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Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster opened in theaters this weekend — a bizarre love story that takes place in a dystopian near future. According to the rules of an unnamed city, single people are forced to find a romantic partner in 45 days or otherwise be transformed into beasts. Lanthimos’ film is in good company as far as surreal love stories go. We’ve selected some of our favorites.

Mood Indigo

Michel Gondry brings his signature surrealism and whimsy to a love story that turns tragic when one of the lovers is diagnosed with a strange malady that finds a flower growing in her lungs. From writer Jon Stobezki:

Mood Indigo is a true return to form for the Michel Gondry, exploring the surreal landscape of emotion and imagination along the lines of his classics The Science of Sleep and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Showcasing Gondry’s signature whimsical aesthetics, gorgeous cinematography and colorfully eccentric characters, the film is a love story set in a charmingly surreal Paris about two newlyweds, Chloe (Audrey Tautou, Amélie, Coco Before Chanel) and Colin (Romain Duris, The Beat My Heart Skipped), whose whirlwind courtship is tested when an unusual illness plagues Chloe; a flower begins to grow in her lungs. Adapted from Boris Vian’s novel L’Ecume des jours/Foam of the Daze, the romantic saga was produced by Luc Bossi of Brio Films and also stars Omar Sy (The Intouchables), Aïssa Maïga (Caché) and Gad Elmaleh.

The Double Life of Veronique

Polish art-house icon Krzysztof Kieślowski reveals the mysterious bond between a woman and her double as they live out their parallel lives, and loves, in different cities. From Roger Ebert:

This is one of the most beautiful films I’ve seen. The cinematographer, Slawomir Idziak, finds a glow in Irene Jacob’s pre-Raphaelite beauty. He uses a rich palette, including insistent reds and greens that don’t “stand” for anything but have the effect of underlining the other colors. The other color, blending with both, is golden yellow, and then there are the skin tones. Jacob, who was 24 when the film was made, has a flawless complexion that the camera lingers near to. Her face is a template waiting for experience to be added. She is open to the murmurs of the aether.

Wings of Desire

Angels wander Berlin like whispering apparitions. Bruno Ganz’s winged Damiel falls in love with a lonely trapeze artist and longs to become human in order to realize the relationship and experience human love. From Criterion:

To watch is to love, as we see in the scene where Damiel, having fallen for Solveig Dommartin’s trapeze artist, Marion, loiters in her trailer, and is galvanized when she begins undressing. He tries to touch her but cannot. Like James Stewart in Rear Window, the angel can only watch, and he is as much defined by his helpless voyeurism as we are in the audience. On one level, the angels are pure-hearted documentarians, bearing witness to life (cinema began as documentary, after all), yet their work is not action but attention. Is there a culpability inherent in the distance of being an observer? (Michael Haneke, among others, has clearly thought so.) Damiel is an idealized surrogate for us and our role, hypnotized and passive and all too human; and if Hitchcock’s film was about the anxiety of viewing, then Wenders’s is about its melancholy, its beauty, its final limitations.

What Dreams May Come

A man dies in a car crash and searches heaven and hell for his wife. Grab the tissues for this Robin Williams tear-jerker, co-starring Max von Sydow. From Nathan Rabin:

It’s easy to be cynical about the film’s crashingly anti-climactic ending and its gag-inducingly cutesy final scene. But despite its numerous missteps and miscalculations, What Dreams May Come is often a powerful, affecting piece of filmmaking. Visually stunning, even if the source material from which it draws isn’t exactly obscure, Dreams is, like Titanic, the sort of swooningly romantic epic that somehow sidesteps the intellect in favor of the purely emotional.

Angel-A

Luc Besson directs this romantic fantasy tale, about a suicidal crook and the angelic woman who saves him. From Mick LaSalle:

The challenge of describing Angel-A is to make it not sound like a cliche. A lot of its individual elements are pretty time-honored, yet the overall experience of the movie is of something fresh. And while it inhabits a pretty rough world, of Parisian gangsters and loan sharks, the film has a warm spirit.

Upstream Color

Just a man, a woman, and a parasite. From DVD Talk:

With a film as unique and somewhat obtuse as this, it is easy to accuse Carruth of some level of pretentiousness, (and admittedly there were some moments that seem to only serve to create gorgeous frames of film) but for the most part, the film doesn’t stray too far from a very interesting, as well as very upsetting story, which unfolds in bits and pieces with beautiful imagery and one of the most present audio presentations in recent memory. Everything that’s in your eyes or in your ears is part of a work of art and the feeling they impart lends the story that much more of an impact. If I had to compare it to another film, the only thing that comes to mind is Paul Thomas Anderson’s underrated, though far more mainstream Punch-Drunk Love. But while they share tone and artistry, that film is far more concrete in its presentation. Either way, they are both something to behold.

Mulholland Drive

An aspiring actress and an amnesiac mystery woman meet again in an endless Lynchian loop of loose fragments, dreams, and darkness. From the Village Voice:

Curiouser and curiouser. From the moment Betty and Rita leave the club, the narrative begins to fissure. Mulholland Drive flows from one situation to the next, one scene seeping into another like the decomposing corpse I’ve neglected to mention that’s at the story’s center. Characters dissolve. Settings deteriorate. Situations break down and reconstitute themselves, sometimes as fantasy, sometimes as a movie—which is to say, much of what has previously happened, happens again, only differently. Love is now a performance. Rita reverts to femme fatality. The parental demons return.

Il Mare

Two people separated by time reconnect by trading letters in a mailbox. From Scott Lombardo:

Il Mare at its core is a simple tale of romance between two lonely souls. The sci-fi twist to the story is that Eun-joo and Song-hyun are separated in time (which thankfully is never explained in the film). When moving out of her seaside house, Eun-joo leaves a Christmas card in the mailbox for the next occupants. Instead of the next tenants receiving the card, Seong-hyun, the previous owner of the house receives it two years in the past. Being that the house was newly built for him by his aunt, Seong-hyun finds the card puzzling. Seong-hyun’s curiosity increases as the letters continue to mention things that have yet to happen. At first both Eun-joo and Seong-hyun are skeptical, but they continue to exchange letters and gifts until they come to realize what is happening. Eventually both Seong-hyun and Eun-joo fall in love and set a date to meet 2 years in the the future (for Seon-hyun at least). In the end just like with love, Seong-hyun and Eun-joo find out that time is often unpredictable.

Air Doll

A middle-age man lives with an inflatable sex doll, which develops a consciousness. From A Page of Madness:

This modern-day Pinocchio story of an inflatable plastic doll, maid costume and all, come to life has a particular resonance in this otaku-obsessed culture. Korean star, Du-na Bae as Naomi, the air doll in question, is perfectly cast and brings a certain depth – and lightness to her being. The roving camera, by Du-na Bae, Hsiao-hsien Hou’s favorite, brings a new aesthetic to Kore-eda’s eye. Kuki Ningyo may not be Kore-eda’s greatest film, but it reveals a director still searching for something magic.

Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus

What might have been if Diane Arbus fell in love with her hirsute neighbor. From BBC:

She catches the eye of a mysterious neighbour who eventually reveals himself as an ex-sideshow ‘freak’. Actually it’s Robert Downey Jr staring soulfully out through a curtain of hair that sheaths his entire face and body. Still, his humanity shines through and keeps the story grounded as love blossoms. It’s a provocative portrait, but more than that, an imaginative and sweet natured examination of Arbus’ fascination with society’s outsiders.