Ah, Valentine’s Day, that glorious celebration of undying love that swells the heart of any Hallmark Card executive while simultaneously crushing said organ belonging to those of us who happen to be single, whether that be terminally so, recently dumped or recent dumper.
Lets face it, as hugely commercialised calendar celebrations go, this one really has the power to piss off plenty of folks who don’t fall into the target market, not to mention a whole heap of discerning types who do too.
Have no fear, if Valentine’s has you retching into the nearest toilet, SBS Movies have pulled together a collection of films focusing on heartbreak, betrayal and loss, so you can indulgently mope to your heart’s discontent. Love is for suckers…
(Steve McQueen, 2011)
Who could be dreamier than Michael Fassbender, right? Well, what if he’s playing an empty-hearted sex addict with a serious commitment phobia and a penchant for sex in dirty back alleys (in more ways than one)?
Shame, visual artist turned director Steve McQueen’s unflinching look at the long, dark night of one man’s soul, was co-written with Abi Morgan, who was rather less successful examining what made Margaret Thatcher tick in The Iron Lady. Impeccably miserable, artfully drab stuff, even the splendid New York City looks like her heart’s just not in it.
Carey Mulligan provides ample back up as wayward sister Sissy in a movie that will have you despairing at our increasingly disconnected times.
(David Mackenzie, 2003)
What about that lovely Scottish chap Ewan McGregor? He does romantic stuff like Moulin Rouge with our Nicole Kidman and Jim Carrey in I Love You Phillip Morris, right?
Don’t forget his breakthrough gig was as a heroin-chic, drug-addicted wastrel, crawling out of a toilet bowl in Danny Boyle’s big screen adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s potty-mouthed Trainspotting.
Expect more of the latter in David Mackenzie’s Glasgow-set adaptation of the already grim Alexander Trocchi novel Young Adam. McGregor plays travelling cad Joe who, not content with messing around with the marriage of a barge-owning couple played by Tilda Swinton and Peter Mullan, may also have something to do with the body of a woman found in the canal.
What Maisie Knew
Mutual love of the kids will paper over any cracks in a relationship, for sure. Right? RIGHT? Not so in directorial duo Scott McGehee and David Siegel’s contemporised take on the classic Henry James novel of the same name.
Penned by Nancy Doyne and Carroll Cartwright, Onata Aprile is superb as the Maisie in question, the poor, sweet kid torn from pillar to post as Julianne Moore’s ageing yet aimless rock star Susanna battles her equally obnoxious and self-serving ex-husband Beale (Steve Coogan).
As fresh as ever despite being transposed from James’ original 1897 setting, this fascinating drama can be difficult to watch at times as the oblivious ‘adults’ eat each other whole while treating their daughter as nothing but a pawn in their war.
The Last Days of Chez Nous
Outstanding Australian director Gillian Armstrong also explores fraught familial relationships in this Sydney-set chamber piece penned by journalist, author and screenwriter Helen Garner.
Novelist Beth (Lisa Harrow) knows her marriage to Frenchman J.P (Bruno Ganz) is on the rocks, but seems powerless to do anything about it. When Kerry Fox shows up as Beth’s pregnant younger sister Vicki, it’s pretty obvious to all and sundry exactly what’s going to happen when the elder sibling heads into the Outback to re-connect with her estranged father (Bill Hunter). Nothing much good. Also look out for a young Miranda Otto.
However bad the breakups in this collection of Anti-Valentines are, none are as devastating as the fate of Ida Dalser, consumed by her love for a fiery young political upstart, Benito Mussolini destined for much darker things.
Meaning ‘win,’ in his native Italian, writer/director Marco Bellocchio’s traumatic Vincere relays the brutality with which Filippo Timi’s dictator-in-waiting casts aside his ex-lover Dalser (a magnificent Giovanna Mezzogiorno), the mother of his first child, in favour of his new family, imprisoning her in a series of horrific mental asylums like a dirty little secret he’d rather erase, in stark contrast to the fate of Eva Braun.
Dalser’s determination for her son to be recognised as the true heir of the man she still adores is a terrible tragedy to behold.
It’s a dog-eat-dog world in the bleak council estate surrounds of writer/director Andrea Arnold’s mesmerising Fish Tank.
Newcomer Katie Jarvis puts in an incredibly assured performance as 15-year-old hip-hop devotee Mia, railing against the world as she falteringly enters and adulthood thrust on her far too young.
When her immature mother (Kierston Wareing) brings home a new boyfriend in the shape of Fassbender’s Connor, he delivers a vague glimmer of hope as a seemingly charming father figure. Sadly, his intentions are far from pure in this searing slice of social realism that spells heartache for all concerned.
The Vicious Kind
Bearing all the hallmarks of a Xavier Dolan-level melodrama, the implosion of the family unit is also at the heart of writer/director Lee Toland Krieger second feature, The Vicious Kind.
Set over the Thanksgiving weekend, a pre-Parks and Recreation Adam Scott impresses in the challenging role of the volatile, misogynistic Caleb. No longer speaking to his father (J.K. Simmons), he’s nonetheless driving his naïve young brother Peter (Alex Frost) home for the holiday.
Taking an immediate, aggressive dislike to his bro’s new girlfriend Emma (Brittany Snow), it all, inevitably, blows up, though there is a surprisingly redemptive curve to this particular car crash.
No, not the gridiron yarn starring Will Smith that failed to grab a nod in this year’s #oscarssowhite debacle, but rather a spearing of the ennui of middle-class comfort in one sexless lesbian relationship, as envisioned by writer/director Stacie Passon.
Robin Weigert plays a somewhat unsympathetic lead in Abby who, after her son delivers her a baseball to the head, starts to act out sexually behind the back of divorce lawyer wife Kate (Julie Fain Lawrence).
If that seems like a bit of a flimsy excuse really, just wait until Abby’s philandering ways swiftly transfer into a nifty sideline in sex work, using apartment renovations as a cover. A morally complex feature, Passon revels in its intriguing, extra-marital drama.
Sticking with the queer theme, fans of Lena Dunham’s hit series Girls will recognise the fabulous Desiree Akhavan who wrote, directed and stars in the Brooklyn-based lesbian hipster rom-com Appropriate Behaviour.
Drawing heavily from her own life experiences as the first generation daughter of Iranian expats, Akhavan plays the hapless Shirin, recently dumped, stuck in a ridiculous job teaching filmmaking to attention-deficit five-year-olds all the while trying to broach her bisexuality with the parentals.
Invoking Woody Allen as much as it does Dunham, Anti-Valentiners will appreciate the slow motion disaster that is Shirin’s interactions with her ex, a horrendously awkward first date and a pleasingly feminist subversion of an almost three-way that leaves the one boy involved well out on a cold shoulder.
A Complete History of my Sexual Failures
Moving from semi-autobiographical relationship woes to actual, excruciating documentary, British actor-turned-director Chris Waitt decides to examine the reasons for his abject failure as a lover by going to the source - he literally gets his ex-girlfriends on-camera. As you’d expect, the results aren’t pretty as the honest truths he receives in return cut to the bone, or the lack thereof.
To what extent this odyssey of hopelessness is genuine, rather than mockumentary, isn’t entirely clear, but it does throw up some rather outrageously funny moments as well as one surprisingly poignant one.