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Greta Gerwig in Noah Baumbach’s “Frances Ha”

The arthouse love films to watch this Valentine’s Day

Being single on Valentine's Day with only your laptop for company needn't be a bummer, so here are some cult favourites to stay in with

There’s nothing wrong with being alone, independent, or too undesirable for a date on Valentine’s Day. But what does a singleton do on February 14? It’s too crowded and couple-y to visit your usual joints. Yet hanging out with unattached friends is simply eating Domino’s with a mirror into your own crushing loneliness.

The only solution, really, is to stay in and catch up on some indie classics on your own, all evening, where nobody will interrupt the important bits by saying something stupid like “Does Rüdiger Vogler ever shut up?” or “It’s not you, it’s me”. Who knows, maybe what you lack in the form of a lovelife can be compensated for by obscure film knowledge.

So here are some arthouse movies to compound the fact you’re spending Valentine’s Day alone at home on your laptop. At the very least, you’re not in an overpriced multiplex watching La La Land with someone you’re thinking about breaking up with.

THE LOBSTER (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2015)

In the land of The Lobster, monogamy is a compulsory, all-consuming cult – and unlike Scientology, there’s no book deal if you escape it. With only 45 days to find a partner, Colin Farrell must snag a mate-for-life, or else be transformed into an animal of his choosing. That last bit’s only a side-note. Really, it’s a savage deconstruction of dating and societal pressures to beat the countdown. 

The arbitrariness of wooing a stranger (“Do you get nosebleeds too?”) sticks a pincer into Tinder, and you suspect the exiled creatures derive pleasure from their freedom. At least lobsters don’t have to deal with Valentine’s Day.

THE GREEN RAY (Éric Rohmer, 1986)

“A lettuce is a friend,” Delphine informs her meat-loving companions. They don’t get it. Instead, the group – all couples – dish out patronising relationship advice to the newly single vegetarian. What follows is Delphine sulking around Europe all summer, unable to find Monsieur Right, while fending off leery guys and their chat-up lines. It’s about that feeling of deeply wishing you were at home, and hey presto, that’s exactly where you are. 

Rohmer, though, was entering a romantic phase of his career, and towards the end there’s an optimistic twist. Perhaps there’s a green light at the end of the tunnel for even the gloomiest, most socially dysfunctional loners. (But not really, because it’s a film.)

THINGS TO COME (Mia Hansen-Løve, 2016)

A fine anti-Valentine’s Day double bill would be Elle and Things to Come. In both, Isabelle Huppert plays a tough, fearless cat-owner who, in the aftermath of trauma, refuses to be the victim. More specifically, Things to Come involves a marital breakup and a family death – not that Huppert’s character crumbles. Whereas movie logic dictates that middle-aged divorcees must seek a rebound, she opts for a solo lifestyle, even resisting a young, sexy student on her countryside sojourns. As with Hansen-Løve’s coming-of-ager Goodbye First Love and her EDM masterpiece Eden, it’s about the passing of time, and accepting that former partners mature in your absence. When in doubt, just think: what would Huppert do?

FUCKING AMAL (Lukas Moodysson, 1998)

Moodysson’s hilarious Swedish-language lesbian teen drama posits two options: hiding in your bedroom vs going out and exploring the shitty world. When Agnes’s parents throw a surprise party for her 16th, she reacts sourly, burying herself under the covers until the few guests depart. Fair enough. But by chance, Elin – Agnes’s school crush – turns up, kisses her on a whim, then suggests hitchhiking to a wonderful land of opportunity (aka Stockholm). Chances are it’ll make you sad your unrequired love will never conveniently turn up to your bedside. Still, maybe you can recommend this film to him or her at 4am in a regretful, drunken Facebook message.

FRANCES HA (Noah Baumbach, 2012)

Though it’s ostensibly about young singletons in Brooklyn, Frances Ha isn’t really about dating. If anything, it subverts the rom-com structure by following two platonic friends – Frances (Greta Gerwig) and former flatmate Sophie (Mickey Sumner) – who break up, miss each other, then get back together.

Ultimately, Frances just wants to grow up, which involves finding a place to live alone, not the cliché of settling down with a family. For her, it’s more about finding herself, not necessarily finding a guy (even if it is Adam Driver), and the self-deprecating cries of “undateable!” are an oddly soothing weight off her back.

MAUVAIS SANG (Leox Carax, 1986)

It’s often forgotten that Mauvais Sang is tinged with sci-fi. Namely, a virus spreads that kills young Parisians who have sex without romantic attachment. It’s an unexpected plot quirk that establishes a love triangle between Denis Lavant, Juliette Binoche and Julie Delpy. How sure can one be that they’re in love, and that the feeling is mutual?

Of course, Carax is more interested in dazzling set-pieces that illustrate the anguish of Lavant’s unrequited longing. Famously, there’s the frenzied dash to Bowie’s “Modern Love”, but also check out the heart-stopping parachute leap of faith and Binoche sprinting down the runway.

NYMPHOMANIAC (Lars von Trier, 2013)

“I left him standing up against the wall with his pants around his ankles looking stunned.” Cue applause from the rest of The Little Flock, an all-girls club at school who, as Stacy Martin puts it, are “committed to combating a love-fixated society.” Two rules: no boyfriends, no sleeping with the same person twice. Plus, something for the CV.

This anti-romance philosophy exemplifies the unsexiness of Nymphomaniac, a four-hour cold shower that goes on and on about the inevitability of heartbreak. Come for Shia LaBeouf’s lessons in lift seduction, stay for Stellan Skarsgård equating desire with Fibonacci – a sentiment too radical for Valentine’s Day cards.

SOLARIS (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1972)

It’s astonishing how sci-fi, a genre with infinite possibilities, is often reduced to one character’s bitterness over a failed relationship. In Solaris, it’s Kelvin who’s catapulted across the galaxy, only to suffer the loneliness of a long-distance astronaut. Reaching Solaris, he meets Hari, an artificial duplicate of his dead wife. So he wonders: can he accept the love of a non-human replica? Sort of.

By depicting technology as a cure for romantic failure, Solaris is a more artful sight than, say, you scrolling through DMs. Ahead of its time, the Soviet epic was a precursor to Her, the “Be Right Back” episode of Black Mirror, and a yet-to-be-invented iPhone app we’ll be emotionally dependent on later in our lifetimes.

SHE’S GOTTA HAVE IT (Spike Lee, 1986)

There’s something about Nola Darling. Chased by a trio of men, the free-spirited New Yorker proceeds to sleep with all three separately, insisting she views them as a single organism – albeit one with three heads, six arms and three penises. Ultimately, she believes, dudes wish to control her mind and body, which is why she dodges relationships.

On the other hand, Lee’s sharp script also highlights the ugliness that only materialises from romantic jealousy. And also the entitled bargaining. “With Nola, you get four days and I get three,” Mars suggests to a love rival. “But I get the weekends.”

WHAT TIME IS IT THERE? (Tsai Ming-liang, 2001)

Set in Taipei and Paris, Ming-liang’s staple of slow cinema establishes a long-distance relationship with no logic, just flawed hope. A Taiwanese watch-seller falls for a woman he meets for barely a minute; when she flies to France, he pines from a separate continent, converting clocks to her new time zone.

In part, the meditative drama advertises self-delusion as a coping method. His mother waits for their dead father to return as a fish, and with each tick of his watch he optimistically connects with his oblivious crush. (For further viewing, there’s the sequel, The Wayward Cloud, which opens with a 10-minute watermelon-fucking sequence, then gets even weirder. It’s anti-Valentine’s for a different reason.)

AQUARIUS (Kleber Mendonca Filho, 2017)

For Clara, a retired pop critic, living alone is a political move – particularly with corporate bullies pounding at her door. It’s also a matter of principle. Property developers try to purchase her flat in Recife, then resort to dirty tactics when she refuses the cheque. Their fatal flaw is underestimating Clara, a defiantly independent 65-year-old who still enjoys casual sex, smoking weed and flirting with hunks at the beach. As with the film’s Cannes premiere (the cast and crew staged a protest against the Brazilian government), there’s courage in not going with the flow. It hits UK cinemas in March, but is on Netflix for some countries.