Oi Polloi

Films and Things: Blue Romance

Published: Thu Feb 13 2020

Valentines Day sucks.

Even if you’re lucky enough to have a significant other, it’s still a total hassle: unrealistic expectations… plenty of gift-based mither… takeaway delivery takes ages… and perhaps worst of all, being subjected to (or witnessing for that matter) public displays of affection.

With that in mind, I’ve complied together a list of what I’d term ‘bummer-romances’ – films that usually end on a sad, or at least a bittersweet, note – that’ll hopefully make this sickly-sweet ‘holiday’ a little more bearable.

Oh yeah, and there’s gonna be some spoilers for the films mentioned.

Without further ado…


Kicking off this list of romantic bummers is François Truffaut’s seminal New Wave classic Jules and Jim.

Based on Henri-Pierre Roché’s 1953 sort-of-autobiographical novel, Jules and Jim is set around the start of World War 1 and details the tragic ménage à trois between ladies man Jim, shy ‘n’ sensitive Jules, and uninhibited Catherine.

No stranger to love’s many disappointments and agonies himself, Truffaut dedicated a large chunk of his filmography to sour romances.

Be it recurring character Antoine Doinel’s hapless attempts to find love (and steady employment) in Stolen Kisses, Bed and Board, and Love on the Run, or the allure of adultery in The Soft Skin and The Woman Next Door, Truffaut was constantly trying to untangle his knotty romantic personal life through cinema.

No stranger to love’s many disappointments and agonies himself, Truffaut dedicated a large chunk of his filmography to sour romances.

But in terms of heartbreak, I personally think Jules and Jim is his most accomplished film on the ever-cheerful subject. At times exuberant and poignant, at others devastating, Jules and Jim is a poetic meditation on youth, freedom and the crushing inevitability of change, be it circumstantial change, or the change brought on by the mercurial nature of the human mind.

A great second date watch.


Next up we’ve got another Gallic masterpiece that ends on a dour note, (the French apparently aren’t fans of happy endings) – Jacques Demy’s marvellous musical The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg concerns itself with Guy and Geneviève, two star-crossed lovers who’re torn apart when Guy is drafted to fight in the Algerian war, just after Geneviève becomes pregnant. With her snooty mother breathing down her neck, Geneviève is forced to consider marrying the rich-but-aloof Roland to support her and Guy’s child.

Even though The Umbrellas of Cherbourg’s dialogue is sung as recitative (a bit like an opera), it has more in common with the bleakly realistic films of the Italian Neorealism movement of the 40’s than your run-of-the-mill Hollywood sing-a-long.

And if you’ve ever seen a Neorealist film, you’ll know they rarely (if ever) end with the characters getting what they want. Which is of course the case with The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.
Honestly, the last five minutes of this doozy are some of the most crushing in any film deemed ‘romantic’ and makes me weep like a timid scullery maid every time I watch it.

A good one to watch if you want to remind your spouse/partner/pet that true happiness is fleeting and rare.


Heading over to Hong Kong now with one of the greatest films of the new millennium – Wong Kar-wai’s achingly beautiful In the Mood for Love.

In 1960’s Hong Kong, two neighbours, Mrs. Chan and Mr. Chow, begin to suspect that their spouses are having an affair with each other. After some weird role-play stuff, in which Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan both play each others’ spouse, the two begin to fall for each other, but agree to keep their bond platonic so as not to stoop to the level of their cheating spouses.

And yep, you guessed it – both Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan stay true to that promise and never consummate their love. They go on to live the rest of their lives filled with regret, haunted by the spectre of what could have been. The end.

And while that is certainly a downer ending, I can’t think of a film more romantic than In the Mood for Love.

Everything about this film seems scientifically-engineered to tug at your emotions and evoke feelings of nostalgia, longing and passion. After all, it’s got elegant cinematography from master camera dude Christopher Doyle, the period setting is nothing short of sumptuous, Kar-wai’s direction is tender and pinpoint, and it stars two of the most beautiful people to ever grace planet Earth, Tony Leung and Maggie Chung.

And while that is certainly a downer ending, I can’t think of a film more romantic than In the Mood for Love.

Anyway, it’s well good and you should definitely seek it out if you haven’t seen it already (for some reason).


You’re probably sick of me rattling on about foreign films, so here’s one you don’t have to watch with subtitles – Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Written by Charlie Kaufman, the poet laureate of wacky existential comedies, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind follows Joel and Clementine, two contrasting personalities who meet each other on a train after an impromptu trip to Montauk, Long Island. Immediately drawn to each other, they’re unaware that they were previously in a relationship, the memories of which having been clinically erased by the sci-fi-esque company Lacuna, Inc.

Out of all the films on this list, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind has the least miserable ending – for those that haven’t seen it, the film ends with Joel and Clementine both realising that they’ve been together before, and despite knowing how their last attempt at love ended, decide to give it another go anyway. Not too sad, right?

Well, if we hop on over to IMDb’s Trivia page, there’s a pretty interesting factoid that colours the ending with a much-needed Valentines Day soul-stomp. Apparently, an earlier draft of the script ends with an elderly Clementine going back to the Lacuna offices and asking for another memory erasure, revealing Clementine has had fifteen other erasures over the last fifty years, all of them involving Joel… which is pretty damn bleak if you ask me.

And while this was cast aside in favour of the upbeat conclusion we see in the finished film, it still strikes me as inevitable that Joel and Clementine’s relationship is doomed to an endless cycle of erasures and getting back together.

Or maybe that’s just me being a miserable sod?


Rounding things off we’ve got Cold War, Polish director Paweł Pawlikowski’s exquisite melding of the personal and the political.

Set during the Cold War from the late 1940s until the1960s, Cold War charts the tumultuous and rocky love affair between Wiktor, a musician, and Zula, a singer, who pretty much go on to ruin each others’ lives.

This film is a perfect example of the phrase “can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without ‘em”. When they’re together, Wiktor and Zula’s connection is mutually destructive (both seem intent on betraying the other, upsetting them, or generally just making them feel insignificant), but when they’re apart, neither can function. They’re lost without the chaos the other brings. Their relationship operates like an addiction: it’ll probably kill you, but it’s impossible to give up.

Considering the volatile nature of these characters, it’s worrying to learn then that the film is dedicated to, and inspired by, Paweł Pawlikowski’s parents. He went on to describe them as “the most interesting dramatic characters I’ve ever come across … both strong, wonderful people, but as a couple a never-ending disaster”.

Just imagine what their Christmases were like.

Right There you have it. Hope this has significantly damped your romantic spirit. Apologies to anyone who might receive Being and Nothingness as a Valentines present this year because of this list.