Alternative film picks for Valentine’s day

Make love weird with ‘Amelie’

By Rachel Sanders

‘On September 3rd 1973, at 6:28pm and 32 seconds, a bluebottle fly capable of 14,670 wing beats a minute landed on Rue St Vincent, Montmartre. At the same moment, on a restaurant terrace nearby, the wind magically made two glasses dance unseen on a tablecloth. Meanwhile, in a 5th-floor flat, 28 Avenue Trudaine, Paris 9, returning from his best friend’s funeral, Eugène Colère erased his name from his address book. At the same moment, a sperm with one X chromosome, belonging to Raphaël Poulain, made a dash for an egg in his wife Amandine. Nine months later, Amélie Poulain was born.’

Thus begins one of the quirkiest love stories of all time. If you are after something a bit more entertaining (and intelligent) than the usual rom-com rubbish, then seek out this little French gem from 2001. Winner of numerous awards, the film is the simple tale of a complicated girl, or the complicated tale of a simple girl – I have not figured out which. Either way, it is a delight to experience. And experience this film you do, not watch, not see. You feel Amelie to your very core as she chimes with the innocent, beautiful, mischievous child in us all.

Amelie (Audrey Tautou) discovers a propensity for helping people one day when she uncovers a hidden box in the wall of her apartment. With this newfound power, she decides to perform good turns on those around her – all the while staying incognito. Inevitably, this leads us to the question – who helps Amelie? But, rather than the dashing, handsome, rich bachelor swooping in to save the day, Amelie is encouraged, nay even forced, to help herself at the behest of the mysterious ‘man of glass’ (Serge Merlin). The unsuspecting, object of her love (Nino, played by Mathieu Kassovitz) is not your usual dashing hero, but he is perfect in every way for Amelie and the film. This is one of the reasons I love Amelie so much; everything is unexpected yet everything is exactly where it should be – it makes you feel at home.

Lots could be said about the awesome cinematography, the incredible music score, the unsurpassable script and the incomparable acting but that would be giving the game away. The joy of this film is discovering its secrets for the first time, and the second, and the third – for every time you watch it, you see something new. Discover a new, natural, weird, and beautiful love this Valentine’s. Watch Amelie.


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Subvert expectations with ‘Punch Drunk Love’

By Joshua Price

When did romantic films become so boring? I’m tired of seeing perfect people inhabiting a world in which everything follows the same basic formula with the same basic method, only to magically fall in love despite having zero chemistry together. Where is the romantic comedy for the unstable, insane person? It can be found in a gem of a film from 2002 titled Punch Drunk Love

If I were to utter the words “starring Adam Sandler” most rational people would avoid the film at all costs. However, this is not a typical lowest common denominator vehicle that we have become used to from Sandler, mainly because it isn’t really his film. Despite starring in it, Punch Drunk Love sees Sandler under the direction of Paul Thomas Anderson, the acclaimed director of  Boogie Nights and There Will Be Blood. In Anderson’s eclectic world, Sandler brings forth a hidden depth and complexity that we have never witnessed from him before or since.

The story focusses on a man called Barry Egan, an introverted and socially anxious single man. He has seven overbearing sisters who ridicule and emotionally abuse him regularly; he leads a lonely life punctuated by fits of rage and anguish. Imagine trying to put a man like that in a relationship.

Punch Drunk Love has all the trappings of your usual romantic comedy but, as always, Anderson subverts them to his unique style and vision. It is a bizarrely funny and sometimes dark view of relationships, one that isn’t above being ridiculous and fanciful when it wants to be, but also obsessively murky. Amid Anderson’s wonderful style lies the story of a lonely man trying to maintain a connection with the first person he’s ever truly cared about. The plot is quirky and exhilarating as it unfolds with brilliant unpredictability – you find yourself having to laugh at the increasing absurdity of it.

While it would be easy to look at a character like Barry and make him the source of all the comedy, Anderson’s script displays a touching sense of sympathy too. It understands his obsessions and fears; why he does not like people interfering in his private life, why he is enraged by seemingly simple things and why facing the world around him is so difficult and terrifying for him. It is a dark and intelligent form of comedy that works not just as a cheap laugh but also a strikingly poignant character study.  Nowadays, Adam Sandler has drifted so far from the promise he showed in Punch Drunk Love that it’s tough to imagine him ever recapturing it.

The strange intensity of the film is all the more remarkable in its strangely believable love story thanks to some terrific on screen chemistry and great writing. It is the simple story of two misfits finding each other, but elevated to such complex and intriguing levels that it demands to be absorbed. What makes Punch Drunk Love so unique is how it takes these darker aspects and weaves them so wonderfully into its joyous comedy. It is not a film that everyone will enjoy, that I can say for certain. It blends the painful and profound with the ridiculous and hilarious. For myself, the quirky and oddly touching nature of the film combined with some truly fantastic performances from the likes of Philip Seymour Hoffman, a masterful story structure and incredible direction, as well as being visually stunning from start to finish, all make this a joy to watch even when it’s painful.

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