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L’Amour Fou

Recommendation list by Joey Shapiro

A French phrase that translates literally as “crazy love,” l’amour fou is also an apt descriptor of these five eccentric films of romance, passion, and obsession.

Punch-Drunk Love (2002, Paul Thomas Anderson)

A film in which the whole is far greater than the sum of its parts, Punch-Drunk Love is a revitalizing jolt to the heart of the traditional romantic comedy. The most immediately striking aspect of the film is that it stars Adam Sandler, of all actors, in what is easily the most mature and complex role of his career. Sandler plays Barry Egan, a novelty item salesman plagued by anger issues and a multitude of emotionally abusive sisters, who falls unexpectedly in love with one of his sisters’ co-workers, Lena (Emily Watson). Punctuated by ethereal visual interludes by video artist Jeremy Blake  and featuring such unforgettable pillow-talk as “I want to chew your face, and I want to scoop out your eyes,” the film stands far apart from the prior works of both Sandler and director Paul Thomas Anderson as an affecting, offbeat rom-com like no other.

Pierrot Le Fou (1965, Jean-Luc Godard)

Pierrot Le Fou is about two very different types of love. The first type is simply romantic love, albeit with far higher stakes than usual. This is explored through Ferdinand and Marianne (Jean-Paul Belmondo and Anna Karina respectively), two lovers going on a wild cross-country crime spree while being hunted down by vengeful gangsters. The second kind of love is arguably far more important to the spirit of the movie, and that is French New Wave enfant terrible Jean-Luc Godard’s profound love for cinema in general. The plot takes a backseat to playfully self-reflexive dialogue, stunning pop art visuals, and a complete disregard for traditional storytelling methods. The film doesn’t always make sense, and it’s doubtful that it was ever meant to, but there’s an irresistible appeal to its unique brand of cinematic anarchy that makes it a wonderfully disjointed experience.

Wings of Desire (1987, Wim Wenders)

German director Wim Wenders’ most ambitious film, Wings of Desire is celluloid poetry, a melancholy visual fantasia, cinema in its purest and most staggeringly beautiful form. The film tells the story of a romance between a beautiful trapeze artist in West Berlin and a disillusioned angel watching over the city, a premise that sounds contrived in print but is sublimely affecting in practice. Alternating between monochromatic and color photography to distinguish between the two protagonists’ perspectives and narrated with graceful lyricism by its angel protagonist, Wings of Desire functions more as a mood piece than as a straightforward narrative, and it surely requires some patience to settle into, but it ultimately makes for an incredibly rewarding and engrossing viewing experience.

Mauvais Sang (1986, Leos Carax)

The brief but unforgettable “Modern Love” scene in Noah Baumbach’s indie dramedy Frances Ha was arguably one of the most effective uses of pop music in any film in recent memory. The scene isn’t Baumbach’s originally, however; it’s lifted shot-for-shot from a far stranger work, French director Leos Carax’s genre-defying 1986 film Mauvais Sang. Halfway between a melancholy love story and a sci-fi crime thriller while not fitting neatly into either category, Mauvais Sang is a visually inventive AIDS allegory that borrows its aesthetic from the stylish films of the French New Wave. Featuring a trio of incredible French actors in their prime – Carax-regular Denis Lavant, Juliette Binoche, and, in her acting debut, Julie Delpy – and imprinted with Carax’s trademark ultra-modern touch, the film exemplifies style over substance in the most spectacular, arresting way possible.

Love Exposure (2008, Sono Shion)

Sono Shion is not a director known for his subtlety, and Love Exposure is quite possibly the most outrageous and overblown film in his controversial filmography. Boasting a monumental length of nearly four hours and tracking a plethora of bizarre characters ranging from a professional upskirt photographer to an evil stepmother-turned-cult-leader, Love Exposure is an undeniably strange and formidable film, but its profane sense of humor and thematically rich narrative make it a pleasure to sit through. In the broadest terms possible, the film follows the love story between Yu – a Catholic teenager who becomes obsessed with sinning after his father turns into a religious zealot – and Yoko – an anti-social, man-hating girl who idolizes both Kurt Cobain and Jesus in equal measure. Their not-quite-romance is complicated by the arrival of a sinister cult that threatens to convert Yu’s family and Yoko, and the film only gets stranger from there. It’s all undeniably excessive and pulpy, but by some miracle Love Exposure manages to defy the odds and serve as an enrapturing, hilarious, and surprisingly moving romantic epic.

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