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Valentine's Day: The alternative viewing guide when a traditional romcom just won't do

What will you be watching this Valentine's Day?
What will you be watching this Valentine's Day? Copyright Phantom Thread - Focus Features
Copyright Phantom Thread - Focus Features
By David MouriquandAmber Bryce, Theo Farrant, Saskia O’Donoghue, Jonny Walfisz, Joanna Adhem
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Tired of romantic comedies? We've got you covered. Here's our pick of the films you should be watching this Valentine's Day.

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Valentine’s Day is just a day away and we’re kicking off our romance coverage with a question:

Are you bored with conventional rom-coms and are looking for inspiration if your big plans tomorrow night end up with snuggling next to your loved one / pet / pillow-partner (for the singletons out there) in front of a good movie?

Euronews Culture has got you covered. We’re giving you our picks for the alternative, unusual or left-field films that are the perfect Valentine’s Day watch.

So, do yourself a favour and don’t re-watch that Richard Curtis film for the 20th time or whatever schmaltz that’s currently streaming, and enjoy any one of these films in our guide. They aren’t anti-Valentine’s Day; they just look at love, relationships and lust in a different, more refreshing way.

Phantom Thread

Focus Features
Vicky Krieps as Alma in Phantom Thread (2017)Focus Features

It was a toss-up for me with regards to the most alternative-romantic film to watch on Valentine’s Day. 

10 Things I Hate About You remains pretty damn perfect but adheres to the romcom genre a bit too much… Portrait of a Lady on Fire will just punish my tear ducts again… And the queer love triangle between Iago and Aladdin with Jafar at its center may be one for the ages, but it still isn't left-field enough.

However, there is one film that I treasure the most when it comes to romance: Phantom Thread, Paul Thomas Anderson‘s misunderstood romantic comedy.

Set in '50s London, the film sees revered and picky fashion designer Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) take the young Alma (Vicky Krieps) as his muse. Their relationship isn’t exactly traditional, to say the least and avoiding any 2017 spoilers. Seriously, if you haven’t seen it by now, get busy. Many will say that’s it’s a tale of a toxic power struggle between an overgrown man-child and an increasingly assertive woman who realises the lengths she must go to in order to keep their bond alive. Fair assessment. However, you can also read it as a film about two people who come to understand that at the heart of any relationship is compromise, as well as letting go of oneself and the selfish tendencies you previously nurtured, in order to better establish a dynamic that can be embraced by both parties. 

No matter how warped that dynamic may seem.

The deceptively funny Phantom Thread even follows the structure of a romcom. It’s not a film about fashion, but rather one about food and the knotty complexities of any inexplicable and passionate attraction. So before you dismiss it as toxic and go for another rewatch of the far more problematic Love Actually, take the time to appreciate this unconventionally romantic and powerful film. 

As for its final punchline: “Kiss me, my girl, before I’m sick”… Now there’s a happily ever after! David Mouriquand

WALL-E

Pixar - Walt Disney Pictures.
Wall-E and EvePixar - Walt Disney Pictures.

Hot take but I feel like Pixar’s WALL-E could be the greatest love story ever told.

Set in the year 2805, the film follows the adventures of a small waste-collecting robot named WALL-E, who lives alone on a desolate, garbage-filled Earth, abandoned by humanity. We see WALL-E going about his daily routine, as he compacts trash, collects trinkets, befriends an endearing Twinkie-eating cockroach and watches old romantic Hollywood movies.

The little guy has a lot going for him, but it’s clear he still yearns for one thing: a partner to spend his life with.

Enter EVE, a sleek and sophisticated robot, who flips WALL-E's world upside down. Despite her initial hostility, WALL-E falls madly in love with her and the two embark on a thrilling adventure through space, as they work to save their dying planet from destruction.

With very minimal dialogue, the film masterfully portrays the growing bond between its two loveable main characters, while also providing a thought-provoking commentary on consumer capitalism and its impact on the environment.

In one of the film's most memorable scenes, WALL-E and EVE float gracefully against the vast and starry backdrop of space. They hold each other's hand as they spin and twirl, leaving twinkling trails of stardust in their wake. It's an incredibly romantic moment.

Despite WALL-E and EVE being two robots, barely even able to speak, this is one of the most human love stories I’ve ever seen. Theo Farrant

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Cinema Paradiso

Rai 3
Marco Leonardi and Agnese Nano in Cinéma Paradiso (1988)Rai 3

If you want to fall in love, listen to Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack to Cinema Paradiso.

Suddenly your life is a movie, and every mundane surrounding or wandering thought is rushed with a childlike wonder and heartache. It so perfectly captures the emotional grandiosity of youthful romance - and that’s before even seeing Giuseppe Tornatore's film.

Cinema Paradiso begins in 1988, the same year it was released. We meet Salvatore Di Vita, a famous film director returning home to the small village of Giancaldo, Sicily for his friend's funeral. 

The rest of the story unravels in flashbacks to Salvatore’s childhood and adolescence, when he formed a close bond with a middle-aged movie projectionist named Alfredo, who worked at the cosy, neon-lit Nuovo Cinema Paradiso.

Captivated by big screen stories, a young (and sometimes quite annoying) Salvatore - or Toto as he is nicknamed - falls in love with the comfort and escapism of the tiny projector booth, listening to the audience's laughter below and dreaming of a faraway future, yet untouched by the harsh realities of life. 

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My favourite thing about this film is its magical details, like when Alfredo uses mirrors to project a film on to a building in the piazza, or the local priest's censorship of all kissing scenes, which fizzle out instead to audience jeers.

Cinema Paradiso is a love letter to many things: friendship, growing up, movies and memories. While its themes are sometimes sickly sweet, that's part of its enduring charm. The nostalgia-tinted atmosphere, romanticised dialogue and Morricone's emotive score take my cold, dead heart and warm it once again - just like Alfredo's kissing montage does for Salvatore in the film's infamous final scene. Amber Bryce

Harold and Maude

Paramount Pictures
Harold and Maude - Ruth Gordon and Bud CortParamount Pictures

What does a suicidal teenage boy, a concentration camp surviving pensioner, and a anti-Vietnam War allegory have in common? They’re all the ingredients of the most romantic film I’ve ever seen: Harold and Maude.

If you’ve not seen the 1971 film, it follows Harold, a morose 19-year-old who, suffering under an overbearing mother who wants him to find a wife, routinely scares off potential suitors with increasingly elaborate fake suicide attempts. Harold’s life changes when he meets the renegade Maude, 60 years his senior and full of all the zest for life that he is missing. Together, they form an unlikely pair as Maude takes him along with her on daring escapades, liberating other people’s cars and introducing him to her artistic loves.

Maude’s passion in all areas of life is infectious, and as it bores through Harold’s misanthropic armour, it’s impossible not to be equally taken in by Maude and the film’s treatise on valuing the time we have and enjoying the wonders of existence - a lesson it’s implied she’s learned through her experience of the Second World War, and Harold struggles to comprehend facing the then-current Vietnam War.

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Harold and Maude is my favourite on screen romance because it manages to walk a fine line, threading utter joy, hippy sentimentality, and sincerity without ever becoming smug or trite. Most important of all, Harold and Maude celebrates weirdness. They are the quintessential odd couple. But what is love if not a celebration of what makes each other different?

Oh, and did I mention the whole thing is to a Cat Stevens / Yusuf Islam original soundtrack? What more do you need? Jonny Walfisz

Charade

Universal Pictures
Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn in CharadeUniversal Pictures

If you like your romance with a side of murder and intrigue, Charade might be the ideal Valentine's Day pick for you.

While occasionally bordering on the slightly cheesy, this 1963 vehicle for Audrey Hepburn and love interest Cary Grant spans three genres: rom, com and suspense thriller. Set chiefly in the ultimate clichéd city of love - where else but Paris? - the movie opens in a deeply unromantic way, with a corpse being thrown off a moving train. That shocking first scene is followed by a stunning 1960s titles, scored by the inimitable Henry Mancini. That music and the groovy graphics set the tone for the fast-paced film to come.

We then see Hepburn - in her role as Regina ‘Reggie’ Lampert - being apparently threatened with a gun while eating lunch in the snowy French alps. Luckily for her, it turns out it’s just the son of her holiday companion Sylvie’s young son and the weapon? It’s a water pistol. Reggie tells Sylvie - I promise this movie gets a little more romantic! - that she’s planning on getting divorced from her husband Charles. Enter Cary Grant, who introduces himself as Peter Joshua, before Regina heads back to Paris. As soon as she arrives back at her glorious, vast apartment, it’s clear something is hugely amiss, namely that the gorgeous place has been stripped bare of everything. A police officer explains her husband sold off all their belongings and was then murdered. You’ve guessed it, it was his body tossed off the train.

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Reggie has even more problems when it turns out the money he made - $250,000 (approximately €233,600 and a vast amount in the early ‘60s) - is missing too. Luckily, Peter Joshua comes to the rescue and moves Regina into a hotel, vowing to help her find her husband’s killers and find the money. But can she actually trust him?

I can’t give any more spoilers but if an incredibly stylish ‘60s Stanley Donen-directed film (Hepburn’s wardrobe was, of course, designed by her longtime collaborator Hubert de Givenchy) with CIA agents, French resistance gold theft, tonnes of false identities and tonnes of Paris’ best scenery appeals, this is the picture for you. My colleague also waxed lyrical on this film - naming it Audrey Hepburn's best film of all time - so, we're big fans here at Euronews. 

Cary Grant is charming and Audrey Hepburn is cute and their love story is a slow burner and convincing despite all the frequent danger and high jinks surrounding it. My only tip - I’d avoid looking up their age gap during filming but, then it was the 1960s and anything went! Saskia O’Donoghue

Basic Instinct

UGC Distribution
Sharon Stone in Basic InstinctUGC Distribution

Paul Verhoeven's cult film Basic Instinct is my pick for the perfect Valentine’s Day watch.

This erotic thriller never fails to win me over with its combination of suspense, romance and eroticism. All key ingredients for a Valentine's Day evening, I think you'll agree. 

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For those amongst you who may have slept on it, the story revolves around detective Nick Curran (Michael Douglas), who is assigned to investigate a murder in San Francisco. The prime suspect is mysterious and disarmingly sexy Catherine Tramell, played by Sharon Stone. As Nick delves deeper into the investigation, he becomes involved in a passionate and dangerous love affair with Catherine.

Verhoeven's direction is brilliant and adds a touch of sophistication to the story with the composition by Jerry Goldsmith. Stone's performance as Tramell is incredibly seductive and compelling, while Michael Douglas is equally fantastic as Curran. The film also caused much controversy upon its release in 1992 due to its explicit depiction of sexuality and violence. However, these scenes add excitement and tension to the story and never fail to raise a pulse even 30+ years on.

It's the ideal choice for a Valentine's Day movie night and a gripping alternative to any traditional romcom you may be considering. Joanna Adhem

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