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13th February 2024

Falling in love with the screen: 7 things to watch this Valentine’s

Spend this cold and unforgiving Valentine’s season snuggled up to a film or show, expertly judged and recommended by our globally cultural and renowned experts
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Falling in love with the screen: 7 things to watch this Valentine’s
Credit: Daniel Collins @ The Mancunion

‘Tis the season for romance and generally liking people enough to get them a card. Regardless of how you’re planning to spend Valentine’s, pretend to be a hot cultured stud with our film and TV recommendations. They may not be all romance films, but they’ll definitely impress your date or flatmate.

Call Me By Your Name (2017)

CMBYN is the film to watch this Valentine’s – period. With the same allure as Death in Paradise – i.e. endless sunshine – Luca Guadagnino’s adaptation of CMBYN immerses you into a 1980s Italian summer, with no escape in sight. That is exactly how Elio and Oliver’s relationship and love are depicted that summer – endless.

The simplicity and nonchalance of the movie, starring Timothée Chalamet (Wonka) and Armie Hammer (The Social Network), is the main draw of the film. That and the sexy men… anywho!

The film was a huge success among teens and the queer community upon its release and is still viewed as a romantic queer classic today. The intense sense of internal and emotional conflict Elio confronts is something these groups could resonate with, adding to the emotional investment viewers experience throughout the film. That, and the romanticised, picturesque scenes Guadagnino uses to convey the turmoil and angst Elio and Oliver experience over the course of that summer somewhere in Northern Italy.

In conclusion: watch it. You’re welcome.

Look Both Ways (2022)

Netflix romcom Look Both Ways follows university graduate Natalie (Lili Reinhart), whose life diverges into two separate realities after taking a pregnancy test. She explores different career avenues and romantic possibilities in each timeline.

Both circumstances include relatable hardships, from struggling to gain professional recognition to fears around ruining relationships. Equally, Natalie’s experiences prompted her to redefine her career and perspective on love on her own terms.

The film strikes an excellent balance when portraying the different facets of Natalie’s life. The central romantic storylines do not detract from her inner experience, friendships, and career aspirations. Visually, the film pops off the screen with its vibrant colour palette and tastefully decorated locations – reflecting Natalie’s own artistic prowess.

Look Both Ways captures the messiness of young adulthood with sensitivity and authenticity, giving a heartfelt tone. The resounding message of the film is that there is no singular path to a fulfilling life, nor only one person who could be the right romantic fit for you.

Mr. and Mrs. Smith (2005)

Up next on the list is an action romcom starring Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt as a bored middle-class couple, Jane and John Smith, undergoing counselling in an attempt to save their marriage. However, no counselling session would be sufficient for the dram that ensues when it turns out that husband and wife are both spies from competing agencies sent to kill each other.

Starting at the beginning with the whirlwind encounter that leads to their sudden marriage and transition to suburban life, the film sets up the antithesis of domestic bliss brilliantly. These undertones layered with Jane and John’s true natures makes for an intriguing and highly watchable romance film.

Tense throughout with biting sarcasm, an entertaining narrative, and some exciting action sequences – what more could you want? Perhaps I’m biased as an action film fanatic, but I still think that Mr. & Mrs. Smith is the perfect watch if you’re looking for a romcom that’s a bit different to the usual. Released just after the couple’s divorce, could the actors’ own turbulent marriage have contributed to the prickly and rocky relationship shown on screen? Maybe. One thing’s for sure, Mr. & Mrs. Smith is certainly a must-see.

Grey’s Anatomy (2005-present)

Definitely not a series to start during exam season, but one that is so worth the watch is Grey’s Anatomy. If you’re not familiar with the show – where have you been? The longest-running American primetime medical drama created by Shonda Rhimes in 2005 follows the life and career of Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo) and fellow surgeons played by Patrick Dempsey, Sandra Oh, Chandra Wilson, Katherine Heigl, and many others. The show was so successful that it had two spin-offs, Private Practice (2007-2013) and Station 19 (2018-2024), which I would also highly recommend for a post-exam season treat.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that Grey’s Anatomy is the craziest show I’ve ever watched in terms of the sheer number of plot twists, relationships, and all-out drama, whilst also having some of my favourite character arcs, romances, and quotable lines of all time. Summarising a show that has spanned two decades, endured a global pandemic, and featured an extensive cast is difficult, but so far everyone I have suggested the show to has become equally as obsessed with it as I am. If you’re prepared for the emotional rollercoaster and putting in the hours then there is no better TV series to watch.

Chico y Rita (2010)

Like many of the greatest love stories, Chico and Rita’s goes largely unrecognised. Tono Errando’s soulful shot at Best Animated Feature is a scarcely noticed bolero gem, glittering humbly amongst the glaring fakes of its American romcom cousins. Chico is a pianist, and Rita is a singer. They love each other, and they love their art, but which is more important? If this story sounds familiar, that’s because Damien Chazelle needs to count his days. This is La La Land’s cooler, older sister, doing the same ballad of love-sick artists but better, brighter and first.

Hailing from south of the border in a bittersweet mourning of pre-Castro Cuba, Chico y Rita disguises its sucker-punch tragedies within a twinkling Havana; think linen fluttering from cobalt terraces and sultry percussions muttering faintly from cobbled corners. It’s easy to fall in love here, and our protagonists fall hard, strewn passionately across crumpled sheets and piano lids in a hazy first act, before art and politics drive them to opposite ends of the continent. The next hour is spent toeing the line between lovers and otherwise, with Chico and Rita oscillating from career devotees to enlightened romantics and back again, driven by an unshakeable yearning for those caramel nights of rum-soaked rooftops.

The tale that Errando spins is a teensy predictable, but I simply do not care. It’s everything that you expect from a knackered old dog of a love story, in the best way possible. A film that revels in its own dizzied, love-struck grin, Chico y Rita is an indulgent slice of the earth-shattering connection that most merely dream of. Every scene swells with that glowing familiarity of old cartoons, where happy endings are inevitable and time itself stops to savour fleeting moments. Even the glimpses of tragedy and violence are soft at the edges, blurring contently into the vibrant dreamscape like the fuzzied faces of old films.

The music is a wailing love confession in its own right, with Bebo Valdés’ drunken memory of a score cutting sweeping big-band waltzes with the brassy habañeras of Cuba’s golden age. Limara Meneses loans Rita a voice best described as toffee that hardens and melts on command, simultaneously dripping off her molten tongue and yawning deeply into impossible shapes. These two elements tango perfectly, swaying and sizzling under the pulsing intensity of the film’s striking visuals.

Chico y Rita serves a satisfying dollop of substance with its style, sewing shattering political commentary amongst its rolling landscape of sleepy nostalgia and crumbling devotion. Chico and Rita’s connection feels as achingly impeded whether there’s a slither of piano seat between them or three countries at war. Errando revels in the agony of drip-fed, half reunions that never quite emulate the breathless jive of the initial Havana affair. The beauty of Chico y Rita, however, is in the gentle devotion that quietly lingers even after the scorching nights end and the lights in the Tropicana flicker on.

Bridget Jones trilogy (2001-2016)

A classic rom-com film series chronologizing the love life of “spinster” Bridget Jones (Renee Zellweger) across three films: Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001), Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (2004), and Bridget Jones’s Baby (2016). Starting out as a 30-something-year-old who embarks on a mission to find love and undergo what Gen Z would call a “glow-up”, Bridget encounters Mark Darcy (Colin Firth) and Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant) leading to love triangles, family drama, a career in journalism, a prison stint, and enough embarrassing moments to last a lifetime. Although cheesy at times, the Bridget Jones series is a funny, light-hearted watch that will probably make you feel much better about your own dating mishaps!

Fire of Love (2022)

Fire of Love is a faultless film to watch on Valentine’s Day whether with a date, with friends or by yourself. At the film’s epicentre lies Katia and Maurice Krafft, two geologists madly in love with volcanoes and each other. Journeying to as many active volcano sites as possible, they set out to unpick the mystery of the beautiful but ultimately dangerous landforms. The documentary depicts how the couple’s work pioneered world understanding of volcanoes and their risks to local communities living near them.

But beyond that, lies the imprinting nature of love, a sensibility that when you deeply love someone or something the world around you becomes so much richer. Just like the volcanoes they study, Katia and Maurice’s love for one another knows no bounds as it spews like lava.

As filmmakers too, their tender view of volcanoes transfers onto the screen as the documentary uses archival footage that the couple filmed on their expeditions. These clips were taken from short films the Kraffts made; they were inherently educational, beautiful, and amusing to watch. The highly stylised images of Katia and Maurice in silver astronaut-like suits where behind them a spectrum of volcanic ash, debris and red lava engulfs the screen are enthralling to marvel. These images are interspersed with humorous moments such as Maurice cooking an egg on molten lava to the couple gleefully running around the site. It’s unconventional to describe a documentary about two volcanologists as endearing but that’s what it is. Fire of Love is one of the most romantic documentaries in film.

Imogen Mingos

Imogen Mingos

Head Fashion & Beauty Editor 2023-24 | Winner of Best Newcomer (The Mancunion) at SU Awards 2023

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