Staff Recs: Anti-Valentine’s Day films

The Arts Desk recommends the best films to protest Saint Valentine’s Day.

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Manasa Gudavalli

If securing a Valentine’s date proves to be a failure, WSN has you covered with a list of movies to watch alone on Valentine’s Day. (Staff Illustration by Manasa Gudavalli)

“The Living End” directed by Gregg Araki

Nicolas Pedrero-Setzer, Arts Editor

Nothing says Saint Valentine’s Day like sex, death and hedonism. Gregg Araki’s New Queer Cinema classic follows an HIV-positive gay couple — Luke (Mike Dytri) and Jon (Craig Gilmore) — as they drive around California living their last days to their fullest. The film offers a unique look at gay love in the 1990s, as the leading couple embrace the motto “Fuck the World” and enact their freest, loveliest and most transgressive way of being, aware their lives are coming to an end. The final product is a beautiful, albeit saddening, depiction of love. As a piece of protest, “The Living End” offers a potent assault against the prevalent homophobia in the United States circa the 1990s; as a portrayal of gay love, the film provides a disheartening account of how queer communities are often vilified and marginalized. Not only does the “The Living End” act as a great first film by a director with a singular style, but it also represents a transitional moment in American cinema that saw a rise in the development of queer films by queer filmmakers. “The Living End” is as hopeful as it is cynical, offering a complex look at gay love that had never been shown on film in such an unabashedly self-determined way before.

“Get Out” directed by Jordan Peele

Yas Akdag, Music Editor

If you’re looking for an excuse to never date, Jordan Peele’s psychological thriller “Get Out” is a pretty good one. The film follows the plight of Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) as he meets the parents of his girlfriend, Rose Armitage (Allison Williams), for the first time. As a Black man, Chris worries that Rose’s white parents might be hostile towards him, even when she reassures him they won’t. At first, there seems to be no cause for concern — all is well, if somewhat awkward. As Chris spends more time in their family home, however, things get really fucking weird — and really fucking white. One garden party later, Chris makes a discovery so shocking and sinister, you might be turned off from dating apps forever. “Get Out” serves as a microscope into 21st-century racism, with Peele flipping tropes of white saviors, neoliberals and third-time Obama voters on their heads. At its core, though, “Get Out” reveals that some of the worst betrayals come from those you love the most.

“Romeo + Juliet” directed by Baz Luhrmann

Isabella Armus, Deputy Arts Editor 

If there’s a singular narrative that proves that even the most fervent of romances are doomed to eventual failure, look no further than Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 technicolor chaos “Romeo + Juliet.” Though the script is lifted directly from the original text, Luhrmann replaces swords with guns, lace collars with skater-chic, and pumps an angsty, Radiohead-laden soundtrack between glittering and frenetic jump cuts. The LSD-fortified aesthetic excess doesn’t relent for a moment of the film, letting the narrative lows become just as enthralling and effective as the passionate highs. A perfectly cast Juliet (Claire Danes) and Romeo (Leonardo DiCaprio) play the titular roles with the exact level of deluded intensity required for the star-crossed lovers to meet their eventual demise. With style and immeasurable vigor, Luhrmann creates the perfect apocalyptic epic for the MTV generation and proves that, when met with vision, even the most misanthropic of classics can still be imbued with a bit of excitement. 

“Wheel of Ashes” directed by Peter Emmanuel Goldman 

Nicolas Pedrero-Setzer, Arts Editor

Peter Emmanuel Goldman’s “Wheel of Ashes” depicts the unthreading of a relationship. In it, Pierre Clémenti, everyone’s favorite sexy French member of the avant-garde, plays Pierre, a tortured poet seeking spiritual solace in mystic Buddhist traditions. He reaches a point of total discontent and distress, incapable of loving his partner, Anka (Katinka Bo), and meandering about town searching for anything that will give him a jolt of life. Goldman captures Pierre’s fall into heavy thinking through a combination of violent camerawork and still shots that make you question whether the film has lost itself in the same void of contemplative self-destruction. What emerges from “Wheel of Ashes” is a horrifying ode to a man who has lost the ability to love life, of a man in a shattered state: broken, vulnerable, free-falling with the hope that some tough concrete will finally release him from his misery. “Wheel of Ashes” is a loveless film that apprehends the inconsolable sadness behind anyone who has ever found themselves incapable of feeling, bringing to life the tragedy that lives in all when they find themselves lusting for connection while sitting alone.

“Woman in the Dunes” directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara

JP Pak, Film & TV Editor

For the subversive, contrarian or lonely viewer, Valentine’s Day is a great chance to explore the twisted and nightmarish takes on romance that reclaim the day with scorn. One of the best in the genre is director Hiroshi Teshigahara’s “Woman in the Dunes,” a surreal adaptation of Kōbō Abe’s classic transgressive novel. Eiji Okada plays an entomologist searching for insects in a grand desert outside of Tokyo. When he misses the bus back to town, local villagers persuade him to spend a night with a young woman (Kyōko Kishida) in her lair at the foot of a sand dune. What ensues is a tense battle between man and woman that mixes erotic visuals with a message about the struggles of everyday life. Teshigahara brings a gritty sense of realism to the existential themes that gave Abe’s novel its staying power. Shocking and thoughtful, “Woman in the Dunes” is a masterclass in literary adaptation that ushered in an important voice in anti-romance and surrealist filmmaking.

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