It is not uncommon that romantic movies lean pretty much on ‘romanticised’ notions and idealisation that allow us to escape from reality embracing life is all about rainbows and sunshine without the boring bits that follow ‘fairy-tale ending’. Yet, Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy and Spike Jonze’s Her emerged to challenge all this irrational and utopian depiction of relationships. In fact, they should be seen as the finest romantic movies of all time. Here is, in my opinion, the reason why!
The Before Trilogy
The films focus on a couple Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Céline (Julie Delpy) who falls in love on a spontaneous trip to Vienna. What strikes me the most is that Linklater has always spotted a thematic preoccupation with time in a way that it carries a different facet of the couple’s romantic journey.
The Before trilogy explores the inevitability of time and shapes us all with a wide range of wisdom that few filmmakers ever carried out. The union of these three premises results in one of the most nuanced and authentic cinematic portrayals of romantic relationships with a peerless intimacy and grace.
The three films—1995’s Before Sunrise, 2004’s Before Sunset, and 2013’s Before Midnight—even kick off their meagre plot with a protagonist describing another’s future. Not only do the protagonists grow, but the characters playing them also age, thus bringing their own experience of getting older to their depictions.
Céline and Jesse’s youthful optimism is well-documented in Before Sunrise, their early-thirties frustration in Before Sunset and middle-aged introspection in Before Midnight, making all this stage more entertaining as one can see the characters physically age.
Linklater creates a trilogy about what it means for two people to deeply connect and how that connection can be strengthened or threatened. Realistic dialogue, relatable situations, brilliant cinematography and performances, lack of mediocre entries and most importantly the complex depiction of love are what make the trilogies the greatest films of all times.
Unlike Before trilogy, Spike Jonze’s Her captures the magic and the heartbreak of falling in love. Her tells a story about what makes love real: the lover, the loved one, or the means by which love is conveyed?
Her is a remarkably ingenious film but, more importantly, it is all about the digital affairs between Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) and his operating system; a film about future projections, but in fact, everything we see is within reach now—the isolation and starkness of the “business district,” the oppressive scale of the architecture (with thin, clumsy attempts to soften its sterility) and the need for continuous connection to remote voices. By turns sad, funny, optimistic and flat-out weird, it is a work of sincere and forceful humanism.
There are many other films out there that qualifies as being rich in romanticism with a unique point of view, but I’ve merely listed the ones that struck me the most recently. Legendary works like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Sense and Sensibility, Shakespeare in Love, Gone with the Wind, Pride and Prejudice, As Good as it Gets, The Notebook, A Walk to Remember, The Vow, While You Were Sleeping are among the swoon-worthy list. What’s your all-time favourite romantic film?