Author Nicholas Sparks is the undeniable king of the romantic weepie novels, pumping out heartstring-tugging bestsellers at an incredible rate. His debut The Notebook was enormously successful, easily translating book (and hanky) sales into big bucks at the box office in 2004 with director Nick Cassavetes’ button-pushing adaptation starring Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling as a star-struck couple whose young love would lead to tragedy.
His third book to get the movie treatment, after Message in a Bottle and A Walk To Remember, plenty have followed, including the less than stellar Miley Cyrus-led The Last Song and Zac Effron’s turn as a wistful marine in The Lucky One. His latest, The Choice, features, you guessed it, young love tested by tragedy, landing just in time for Valentine’s.
In honour of love’s labours lost and found, we’ve skipped gaily through the SBS Movies On Demand vault for the best tearjerkers so you can see it and weep.
Matthew Goode and Bojana Novakovic both turn in incredible performances that pack an emotional wallop in Australian director Jonathan Teplitzky's Burning Man, a Memento-like non-linear musing on what remains when tragedy tears a loving couple apart. While the structural ticks are certainly discombobulating, the subsequent disorientation fits perfectly with the emotional anguish of fragmentary memory so unavoidable in grief. Also featuring strong back up in the trifecta of Essie Davis, Kerry Fox and Rachel Griffiths, this heart breaker demands that you pack the extra-strong ply tissues.
Howling near the peak of the world’s most literary weepies, the brutal, undying romance of doomed lovers Heathcliff and Cathy hangs at the heart of Emily Brontë’s only novel, the barren heath-set gothic horror of Wuthering Heights. Adapted here with startling originality by writer/director Andrea Arnold, alongside co-writer Olivia Hetreed, the devastating tale of twisted obsession screams anew, like a primal roar of animalistic expression that has us clutching at our bodices amidst gasped ejaculations of erotic tension. Kaya Scodelario is brilliant as the Cathy to James Howson’s raging Heathcliff – both outsiders, his casting across ethical divides is simply genius.
Scooping a BAFTA for her efforts, Carey Mulligan is magnificent as 16-year-old Jenny, a promising student and Francophile smothered in London’s suburbs and aching for a life less ordinary in Lone Scherfig’s sublime An Education. Adapted from journalist Lynn Barber’s memoir by novelist turned screenplay writer Nick Hornby, it’s a doomed romance of the very highest calibre as Peter Sarsgaard’s much older playboy sweeps her off her feet while only loosely concealing his nefarious ways. A gorgeous ‘60s period piece, the production design is impeccable and there’s an empowering conclusion to boot.
The Deep Blue Sea
An air of bittersweet melancholy hangs over the ruins of a post-WWII, Blitz-broken London in Terence Davies’ adaptation of the Terence Rattigan play. It sees Rachel Weisz’ smothered Hester cheating on her sweet but spiritless High Court judge husband Sir William Collyer (Simon Russell Beale) with Tom Hiddleston’s former RAF pilot Freddie, a big drinker and a liability. Hester cannot find what she needs from either man, marking this out as an unusual choice for a romantic weepie, but one that nevertheless examines the very structure of enduring love, its limitations and the consequences of transgression. There’s a strange kind of beauty to its longing.
Similarly set amidst ruins, this time the shattered remains of Takua Pa, a small Thai town left all but deserted after the unimaginable devastation of the 2014 Boxing Day tsunami, writer/director Aditya Assarat’s debut dramatic feature relays a delicately halting romance shared between architect Ton (Supphasit Kansen) and struggling hotelier Na (Anchalee Saisoontorn). When Na’s brother is drawn into the violent crime of an opportunistic gangland underworld, making the most of what’s left behind, their fledgling romance is exposed to heart-stopping risk and a final act showdown that will rend all but the most stoic of hearts.
Taking place on the postcard perfect beach of a tiny Peruvian village, writer/director Javier Fuentes-León’s achingly beautiful Undertow is a haunting queer love story of secret desire and repression. A breathtaking Cristian Mercado plays Miguel, a young fisherman expecting his first child with his wife Mariela (Tatiana Astengo) while secretly mourning the drowning death of his lover, painter Santiago (Manolo Cardona). As Miguel struggles to keep it together, he is repeatedly visited by Santiago’s spirit (far less cheesy than it sounds) as he hunts for the missing body. The final scene requires emotional fortitude of unimaginable levels if you intend on maintaining dry eyes.
The Last Flight
Taking a leaf out of Anthony Minghella’s The English Patient though not quite so accomplished, with crashed planes in the desert, an impossible rescue and pining love, writer/director Karim Dridi’s vaguely historical The Last Flight stars real-life couple Marion Cotillard and Guillaume Canet. Adapted alongside co-writer Pascal Arnold from the novel by Sylvain Estibal, Cotillard stars as Marie, the fictional mistress of real-life English aviator Bill Lancaster who goes missing during an attempted record-breaking flight. When she finds herself similarly downed in the Sahara, slow-burn passion simmers between Marie and Canet’s camel corps Lieutenant Antoine Chauvet.
Roses are red, violets are blue… ok, the level of poetry delivered in Orlando writer/director Sally Potter’s rhyming iambic pentameter-strewn Yes is of a much higher calibre than your standard hokey Valentine’s card and it makes for a wildly original take on the tribulations of love’s young dream. Joan Allen is an unnamed Irish American microbiologist who, after discovering her husband’s infidelity, falls into a turbulent romance with Simon Abkarian’s Lebanese Muslim doctor in self-imposed exile, now working as a chef. Spanning cultural and class divides, she flees to regroup in Havana, where a ‘will he, won’t he’ drama unfolds as we wait with baited breath and a fair few Kleenex on whether or not they’ll be reunited.
Someone I Loved
It may seem a little odd that a father-in-law’s admission of infidelity past delivers cold comfort to the woman abandoned by his son, but that’s the set up in French actress-turned-director Zabou Breitman’s engaging melodrama Someone I Loved, adapted from the Anna Gavalda novel with Agnés de Sacy. Daniel Auteuil is the old man Pierre in his cabin, recounting his brief but explosive affair with Marie-Josée Croze’s Mathilde to devastated daughter-in-law Chloe (Florence Loiret-Caille). The sort of breathless melodrama so effortlessly captured by the French, there’s more than a hint of Brief Encounter’s love and regret to it.
Declaration of War
Director Valérie Donzelli draws on her personal experience of trying to hold a relationship together while coping with the discovery her kid had a brain tumour in this declaration of war against your tear ducts, which she co-wrote and also stars in with ex-partner Jérémie Elkaïm. Though it’s primed for making you weep, there’s a surprising amount of heartfelt comedy in here too as the parents Roméo and Juliette (no kidding) face the darkness by holding onto the light. Magical.