With new awards shows every other day, The Oscars looming closer, and big studios like Marvel and DC still churning out their profitable sludge, it’s understandable to be a little sick of Hollywood movies. Just in time for Valentine’s Day, here are some non–Hollywood films about love and relationships. But none of these films are conventional love stories, either—that would still be too mainstream. There are no conventionally happy endings (really, no happy endings at all), and no guarantee that the love interests will end up together. They’re moving, heartbreaking works that serve as a refreshing break from saccharine Hollywood fare.
If you’re brave and have some time on your hands, watch them all in this order, all at once. They might bum you out so much that you’ll be ready to return to The Notebook.
Start with Ossessione (Obsession), a 1943 Italian film by Luchino Visconti. It’s about an affair between the bored wife of a restaurant owner and hunky wandering tramp. The two plot to murder the woman’s husband, but things, of course, don't go as planned. It’s actually based on the American novel The Postman Always Rings Twice, which was also adapted into a Hollywood version, but only after the Italian adaptation. It’s a fascinating portrayal of two people who are in love, but whose flaws doom them from the start. In that way, it follows a lot of conventions of classical tragedy, and it’s also a example of Italian cinema’s nascent neorealism movement.
After that, head north in space and sixty years in time to watch Jeux d’enfants (Love Me If You Dare), a 2003 French–Belgian film about a man and a woman (Marion Cotillard!) who meet in childhood and embark on a weird, codependent, increasingly unhealthy relationship based around a dangerous game they first concoct as kids. The two egg each other on to perform pranks that get more and more dangerous, culminating in a final, fatal prank that seals their fate together, metaphorically and literally. The black humor and touches of surrealism (there are two alternate endings, though the film hints that the darker ending is the true one), as well as Marion Cotillard and Guillaume Canet’s vibrant chemistry—who are together and have kids in real life—make the movie.
Now that you’ve been thoroughly unsettled, you can ground yourself back in reality with 色, 戒 (Lust, Caution), a 2007 movie by acclaimed Taiwanese director Ang Lee. It’s at the same time a historical film set in Hong Kong and Shanghai during the Japanese occupation, a spy thriller, and a story about star–crossed lovers held apart by political convictions and moral obligations. The protagonist, Wong Chia Chi, is supposed to seduce Mr. Yee so that she and her friends can assassinate him for his involvement in the puppet government controlled by the Japanese. But Chia Chi and Mr. Yee fall in love...and you can guess where it goes.
To finish off the binge, watch 花樣年華 (In the Mood for Love), Wong Kar–wai’s 2000 film about two people who first cross paths because their spouses are having an affair and then begin to fall for one another. It’s yet another doomed romantic setup, and one of the Hong Kong director’s strongest and most poignant films. Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung deliver restrained, powerful performances of two characters who struggle with social conventions, guilt, personal pride, and love. It’s also visually incredibly striking—I first watched it in high school, but there are shots from this movie that are still burned into my retina. It’s a good movie to end with, because it leaves you with a quiet devastation rather than bewilderment or total heartbreak.
So run wild with these recommendations. Just remember: don’t watch any of these if you want to see a happy ending.