When we think of Valentine’s Day, we often think of romcoms with happy endings. There are the occasional heartbreaks, but the lovers eventually emerge unscathed or move on to greener pastures. Death, then, is an anomaly on February 14, unless we are discussing such classics as Love Story (1970) and Titanic (1999), in which the protagonists survive to carry on the eternal flame of love. Can a romance be considered to have triumphed when the lovers die at the end? We pick 11 films that try to answer this question.
The Ninth Circle (1960)
Considered a Croatian classic, France Stiglic’s WWII drama is about Ivo (Boris Dvornik), a Catholic who marries a Jewish woman named Ruth (Dusica Zegarac) to save her from the Nazis. Though Ivo loves Magda (Beba Loncar), he finally falls in love with his new bride. Their joy is short-lived as Ruth is arrested and sent to a concentration camp.
Bamboo Doll of Echizen (1963)
Tsutomu Mizukami’s novel is the basis of Kozaburo Yoshimura’s Japanese movie. Kisuke (Jun-Ichiro Yamashita), a bamboo doll-maker, marries the prostitute Tamae (Ayako Wakao) on a whim and out of pity. Tamae had been his father’s client, and this knowledge fills the relationship between the young couple with tension and uncertainty. Tamae leaves Kisuke and gets pregnant by another man, but desperately seeks to abort the baby. While returning to her husband, she loses the child but dies in the process. Kisuke too dies of heartbreak, thus ending the cycle of suffering.
Manila in the Claws Of Light (1975)
Few directors have filmed the Philippines like the legendary Lino Brocka. Manila in the Claws of Light is perhaps his most scathing attack on Manila’s unforgiving nature. Julio (Bembol Roco) comes to the city in search of his lover Ligaya (Hilda Koronel), who has become a prostitute. Julio does odd jobs to survive, and gets firsthand experience of Manila’s brutality. He does finds Ligaya, but the city finally swallows them up.
Gypsies Are Found Near Heaven (1975)
A volatile tragedy from the former Soviet Union. Gypsies Are Found Near Heaven has been directed by Emil Loteanue, who based the movie on several short stories by Maxim Gorky. Proud horse thief Loiko Grigore Grigoriu) falls in love with free-spirited Rada (Svetlana Toma), but she refuses to be easily tamed. Loiko’s jealousy overpowers his love. One of the biggest hits of the Soviet era, the movie is also known for Eugen Doga’s soundtrack.
My Heart is That Eternal Rose (1989)
Directed by Hong Kong New Wave sensation Patrick Tam, this tragic love story is about a gangster’s mistress, Lap (Joey Wong), and her ex-lover Ricky Ma (Kenny Bee), who has become an assassin. Fate brings them together again, but it is not meant to be. Tony Leung Chiu-wai (Infernal Affairs, In the Mood for Love) makes his mark as one of the gang members who has a crush on Lap but tries to help her reunite with Rick.
Seoul Rainbow (1989)
This movie was recently uploaded by the Korean Film Archive on its official channel, and it deserves a watch for its expose of the hellish price of fame. Director Kim Ho-sun creates a drama that is straight out of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth. Yu-ra (Kang Ri-na) wants to become a top model and is ready to do anything to achieve it, even as her photographer boyfriend Jun (Lee Dong-jun) watches on helplessly. As she tries to break out of the image trap, Jun resorts to desperate measures to rescue her.
A successor of sorts to Moondram Pirai (1982), Santhana Bharathi’s Tamil movie has Kamal Haasan as the mentally unstable Guna, who believes that he will marry an angel on a full-moon day. He kidnaps the unsuspecting Rohini (Roshini). She gradually falls in love with her captor, but this kind of love can lead only to tragedy.
Agir Roman (1997)
Mustafa Altioklar’s Agir Roman takes mild inspiration from Naguib Mahfouz’s novel Midaq Alley (1947) and is based on another novel by Metin Cacan of the same name. This melancholic, yet visceral, movie is about Salih (Okan Bayulgen), a mechanic who stands up to the gangster Reis (Mustafa Ugurlu). Salih becomes a hero of sorts and falls in love with the prostitute Tina (Mujde Ar). She leaves her profession, but tension mount between them because of Salih’s jealousy. The romance reaches its foregone conclusion when Tina gives herself up to the gangster to protect Salih from a murder charge.
The Other (1999)
Celebrated Egyptian director Youssef Chahine made this scathing treatise about his society squeezed between and throttled by capitalism and fundamentalism. Two doomed lovers, Hanan (Hana Tork) and Adam (Hani Salama), get caught in a cross-fire that leads to a tragic conclusion. Noted intellectual Edward Said makes a small but significant appearance in the drama.
Caracas Onto Death (2000)
Young Aixa (Eliana Lopez) is pregnant by of her fugitive boyfriend Ramon (Luke Grande). Aixa’s grandmother tells her to abort her baby, but Ramon has other ideas. Director Gustavo Balza maintains a balance between religion and rationality, but shows that no one wins in the end. Aixa becomes a victim of both forces, with Ramon as collateral.
Giasuddin Selim’s lyrical movie, supported by a folk-induced soundtrack, tells the tragic story of Shonai (Chanchal Choudhury) and Pori (Farhana Mili). Shonai works for a rich landlord. When the landlord’s mentally unstable son commits a murder, Shonai has to take the blame and seek refuge on a remote island. There, he meets Pari, but his past catches up with him. The fairytale ends in a nightmare.