The most heartbreaking tales of unrequited love

Celebrating failed attempts from the one-sided love in ‘God Help the Girl’ to the try, try, try again of ‘500 Days of Summer’

Paradise Hope 1
Still from Paradise (Hope)

When Eve (Emily Browning) meets James (Olly Alexander) at a gig in God Help the Girl it's pretty much love at first sight – for him. She's well up for moving into his flat and forming a band together, meaning his awkward crush has little time to fade out. With the pop musical – the directing debut of Belle and Sebastian's Stuart Murdoch – out this week, we stew over some of the messiest one-way obsessions on film.

LAW OF DESIRE (1987)

One of Spanish director Pedro Almodovar's early vibrantly coloured, black humour-tinged melodramas of troubled desire, this sees frequent collaborator Antonio Banderas play a guy who hooks up with a noncommittal film director at a premiere party and quickly becomes obsessed with him. His possessive neurosis spirals to extremes when he learns his new lover – who wants to keep things casual – is still writing emosh letters to his former partner Juan.

500 DAYS OF SUMMER (2009)

That downer truth (for cynics, anyways) that one half is keener than the other in many couples drives the story of this indie sleeper hit. Zooey Deschanel stars as Summer Finn, the new workmate of Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) at a greeting card company. As they get to know each other, his crush intensifies – but she insists she doesn't believe in love and isn't much up for having a boyfriend. 

A SHORT FILM ABOUT LOVE (1988) 

Young post office worker Tomek is beyond infatuated with the jaded women who lives in the apartment block opposite him and has no shortage of late-night booty calls in this (not that short) feature from Polish arthouse maestro Krzystof Kieslowski. He watches her through his telescope, but while that's more on the stalkerish than sweet side the earnestness of his feelings challenges her belief that "there's no love, only sex".

THE DOUBLE (2013)

Also into pining from an adjacent apartment block is Simon James (Jesse Eisenberg), who's head-over-heels for his co-worker and neighbour Hannah (Mia Wasikowska) in this pitch-black comedy of torment adapted by Richard Ayoade from a 19th-century Russian novella by Fyodor Dostoevsky. His awkwardness in making a move becomes a much greater torture when his extroverted doppelganger swanks in and wastes no time trying to seduce her.

HUSTLER WHITE (1996)

This cult classic – with frequent nods to bygone silver-screen Hollywood – sees its underground director Bruce LaBruce play Juergen Anger, a European writer who's in California to research a book on gay hustlers. He develops a crush on a handsome rent boy (Tony Ward) he meets on Santa Monica Boulevard.

AUDITION (1999) 

A widower holds a mock casting audition so he can screen potential candidates for a new wife in this elegantly shot, flamboyantly twisted Japanese cult classic from Takashi Miike. He is smitten by a former dancer who's among the hopefuls and rushes headlong into marriage, despite signs something's amiss. Prey to the desperate blindness of passion (and his own questionable partnering-up methods), he's shocked when she suddenly splits on him, and determines to track her down.

MALA NOCHE (1986) 

The black-and-white indie debut of My Own Private Idaho director Gus Van Sant, based on street poet Walt Curtis's autobiographical novella, was shot among the shabby tenements of Portland's skid row. Liquor store clerk Walt (Tim Streeter) tries in vain to win over his crush, young Mexican hustler Johnny (Doug Cooeyate), in a dynamic skewed by power and down-and-out desperation.

LOVES OF A BLONDE (1965)

The disappointment that can stem from off-the-mark romantic impulses strikes a naive girl from a fading factory town where women outnumber men sixteen to one after she has a one-night stand with a visiting musician in this black-and-white, low-key Czech New Wave classic from director Milos Forman. She turns up at his place in Prague with a suitcase – but not to the greeting she'd hoped.

PARADISE (HOPE) (2013)

The last in Austrian director Ulrich Seidl’s boldly confrontational, out-there Paradise trilogy about three female relatives and their idiosyncratic searches for sexual fulfilment sees a teenager (Melanie Lenz) pursue an infatuation with a doctor decades her senior at diet camp. You don't need us to tell you that's bound to end in tears – but the film's more tender and comical than it is perverse.

JULES AND JIM (1962) 

No-one does messy love like the French New Wave. In Francois Truffaut's audacious classic Jeanne Moreau plays free spirit Catherine, who two best friends are enamoured with - starting a beautiful but dangerous entanglement of intense bonds and shifting loyalties. As Jules says to Jim: "She is an apparition on this earth, not a woman for a man." Look out world.

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