May 26th, 2020

Words by Victoria Campa · Artwork by Alex Smyth

Our ideas about love, whether romantic or companionate, are often shaped by music, literature and film. Many movies include a narrative of “perfect” love that is much harder - maybe even impossible - to come by in real life. Other films tell stories of love that were beautiful though they didn’t last, and during quarantine these illuminate the possibility of finding something we lack within another, however fleeting. This time offers us all a chance to rediscover love, whether that’s within ourselves, with our roommates or with family, with our pets, or even with our bodies, our belongings and our environment. Sometimes love is not about longevity or the eternal, but about a moment shared with someone else: a connection, a laugh, or a glance that changed something within two people, even briefly. The following are some of my favourite imperfect love stories, beautifully depicted in moving image and sound. I hope they will encourage you to keep dreaming, crying, hoping, and loving, even in isolation.


1) In the Mood for Love

In this restrained yet emotive film, director Wong Kar Wai has the audience enraptured in a budding, improbable relationship brought to life not through words but through glance. The two protagonists’ lives overlap when they find out their spouses are having an affair with each other. The two leads, perhaps the most gorgeous duo to be depicted on screen in film history, combined with the saturated colors and languid soundtrack, make this movie a real treat for the eyes as well as the ears. “In The Mood For Love” is a story about loneliness, and the love that can come from it. 

2) Les Parapluies De Cherbourg

This musical film holds the best of France: a beautiful, small town with cobbled streets, a female-owned umbrella shop, and Catherine Deneuve. At the young age of seventeen, Genèvieve (Deneuve) is heartbroken when her lover is drafted for the war in Algeria, and her mother pairs her with a wealthy, older businessman who can save both their lives and their business. The story is about young love, but also about the life decisions that get in the way of dreams. The recurring, plot-steering music provides a gorgeous backdrop for pastel scenes of twirling umbrellas and snowfall as we follow Genèvieve’s desolation in Jacques Demy’s flowering contribution to the French New Wave. 

3) The Bridges Of Madison County

Watching Meryl Streep in this film is a reminder of the superwoman that she is. She plays Francesca, an Italian housewife living in Iowa, who meets Robert Kincaid (Clint Eastwood), a National Geographic photographer, when he stops and asks her for directions. They only have a few days together but their love story becomes eternal for both of them. I watched this for the first time during one of the first nights of quarantine and I sobbed and sobbed on my couch, recognizing the difficulty of holding a magical connection in memory instead of extending it into a reality where, over time, it might lose that very magic. 

4) Portrait Of A Lady On Fire

Director Céline Sciamma’s masterpiece is felt entirely through its music and sensual touch. She creates tension without using words. A female painter, Marianne,  arrives at Héloise’s desolate residence to paint her portrait. Héloise, however, refuses to sit for the painting because she sees it as a symbol of her marriage to a much older man, and thus the loss of her freedom. This story, set in the 1700s, is about friendship, trust and forbidden lust. It deals quietly yet boldly with what it means to be a woman during that time.


5) Cold War

In this film, Pawlikowski tells the story of his own parents’ relationship throughout the Cold War. Joanna Kulig plays the arresting young singer, Zula, who meets Wictor when they audition for the same folk music ensemble. Watching “Cold War” makes me question whether love is always like this: physical, visceral, embodied by an intense need for the other. Pawlikowski’s visuals are difficult to forget: The image of a high-contrast, black and white Zula in front of the microphone, and of flashing, twirling, white skirts will stay with you for a while. 


6) Love Story

This is a classic love story, as the name suggests, with a devastating ending that will hit you hard whether it’s the first or the hundredth time you’re watching it. Oliver and Jenny meet in college. He is beautiful, athletic, and has a building with his name on it at Harvard. She is sassy, smart, passionate, and exactly what I wanted to be when I was a 17-year-old watching this film for the first time. The word preppy has not been the same for me since. 


7) Medicine For Melancholy

Barry Jenkins’ first film is about a one-night stand in San Francisco. The two protagonists spend the day together talking about race politics and biking up and down the hilly streets of the city. Jenkins takes an interaction that could have been insignificant and turns it into something that is meaningful, both for the characters and for the audience. For a slow, deeply-colored, moving romance also check out Jenkins’ “If Beale Street Could Talk”. 

8) Brokeback Mountain

This film, based on a short story by Annie Proulx, takes us into the world of two ranchers who develop a sincere and intense connection away from their unhappy yet socially acceptable lives as husbands and fathers. On the mountain, Ennis (Heath Ledger) and Jack (Jake Gyllenhaal) create a haven of confidence to exist in together, though it’s still clouded by undercurrents of shame. "Brokeback Mountain" is a devastating tale of lives lost that begs the eternal question, "what if?"


9) Y Tu Mamá También

One of Cuarón’s early movies, “Y Tu Mamá También” addresses romance as a fantasy, romance within a friendship, and romance with oneself. Luisa (Maribel Verdú), a sophisticated, beautiful, Spanish lady, recruits two teenage boys for a road trip that will change all of their lives forever. The movie is fearlessly narrated, shot on the gorgeous beaches of Mexico, and is as fun as it is memorable.


10) Before Sunrise Trilogy 

Richard Linklater’s trilogy is the greatest love story ever told in film. The first part, “Before Sunrise”, tells the story of an American guy and a young French woman who meet on a train and end up spending a day together in Vienna. The story could have ended there, except for the fact that Linklater and the stars, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, revisited Jesse and Celine’s story seven years later in “Before Sunset”, and then again seven years after that in “Before Midnight”. The result is an unbelievable meditation on the changing nature of human relationships and the changing nature of love. Because of the time gap between the films, we are able to witness this visually as the actors age in real life, but also via dialogue that reveals needs that haven’t been met, conflicts that span years, and the realities of life that threaten the romantic love we usually see depicted in film. Watch all three as a movie marathon or leave some space for reflection in between viewings, but be sure to allow this three-part masterpiece into your life. It will not disappoint.

A few other love stories that did not make the list but are still worth spending time with are: Call Me By Your Name,”Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, 500 Days Of Summer, Her, Lost In Translation, Terms Of Endearment, and La La Land

Victoria Campa grew up in Madrid, Spain, and has traveled around the world with her camera. She mostly lenses women in quiet moments within their environments, and she is interested in exploring the passage of time, strength in vulnerability, and inner lives through stories. She writes a bi-weekly newsletter about art, film, and writing called things to look at. You can explore her work at 

Alex 小檜山 Smyth is an illustrator and media-maker originally from California. She currently resides in Vancouver, Canada. You can find her work @guch_world or at