Kim Longinotto's Top Alternative Love Films

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Piccadilly, 1929
Piccadilly, 1929

Ahead of Valentine's Day, director of Love Is All Kim Longinotto reveals her favourite alternative love flms

If you’ve ever caught the flicker of a black and white love film on TV late at night and felt compelled to reach for either the tissues or your cat, then Love Is All is the film for you. A composition of those monochromatic late night movies, and many, many more, it’s a documentary about the way in which love has been represented in cinema throughout the ages. With a swooning original soundtrack from Richard Hawley, the film compiles various pieces of archive footage to create a brand new celluloid story about the way we show our love.

To celebrate the release of Love Is All on Valentine’s Day (the anti-Fifty Shades, if you will), we asked its director – prolific and award winning female documentarian Kim Longinotto – to tell us about some of her favourite love films.

Piccadilly (1929)
"I only discovered Piccadilly while making Love Is All – it’s this wonderful black and white film I'd never heard of. It’s not the fault of the filmmakers, but black or Asian people usually didn't get filmed before the 1950s, and yet this film features a Chinese woman as the love interest and it’s from 1929! 

The female lead is a Chinese actor called Anna May Wong who I read all about after I discovered Piccadilly. She was funny and said things like, 'oh, you know, whenever I was in a film, if ever I got off with a white guy they would have to kill me off immediately as a threat to the other female costar.' And what I love about the clip we show in the film is you can actually see that happening: the other woman sees Amy as a threat – she sees her for the beautiful, charismatic woman she is and immediately comes in and tries to kill her. It's beautifully filmed and scripted."

My Beautiful Laundrette (1985)
"I was determined to put My Beautiful Launderette in Love Is All. I love Launderette 'cause you've got so much going on; you've got a heterosexual couple that are mixed race, you've got a gay couple, and you’ve got a young Daniel Day Lewis. It’s about two guys, standing up and saying, 'Whatever happens, I'll always be with you.'

There was a lot of pressure on me to take the Beautiful Launderette clips stuff out of Love Is All, as some of the producers thought it was too gay-heavy, but it was a pleasure to sneak that bit in because it meant that, when we showed it at the Cairo Film Festival – where they don't even let men dance with each other – there was a gay relationship on screen. I was so pleased that it got shown there."

In the Mood for Love (2000)
"A brilliant film about a couple having an affair in Hong Kong. I've seen all of Wong Kar-wai’s films and this is my favourite and it reminds me a bit of [Chen Kaige’s] Farewell My Concubine. What I love about him is that he never makes me feel uneasy; his films are very subtle and open-ended and you can watch them in many different ways. There's room for space, you know? And they don't have to end in a wedding. They're cool, they're fun, and they're beautiful to look at."

The Lives of Others (2006)
"Another film that I think is a really deeply romantic, in the wider sense of the word, is The Lives Of Others. It’s a German film and it’s one of the films that changed my life. It’s about this guy works for the Stasi, the East German secret police, and he's spying on this couple, an actress and a playwright. Only, he falls in love with them, their lifestyle, what they stand for. He realises that his life is really bleak and hateful, and at the end of the film he loses his job because he won't incriminate them. He tries to save them, but he loses his status, his home, everything.

Right at the end, the ex-spy goes into a bookshop and discovers that this theatre director has written a book about him. He buys it and the guy behind the counter says, 'Do you want it wrapped, is it a present?' and the guy says something like, 'No, this is for me,' and he holds the book to his chest. He's lost everything but he's still got this book and he's still got his self-respect.

I think that’s a profoundly romantic film and actually it's a metaphor – everything in film is a metaphor for getting to know people, seeing into their words, empathising with them. It changes you. That’s why we read novels, that’s’ why we read articles about other people, that’s why we watch films."

Brick Lane (2007)
"One of the strands in Love Is All is about how Britain has become more multicultural and multiracial over the years, and that’s one of the reasons we used Brick Lane. So, when the woman in the film stands up for herself and says, 'I don't want to go back to Bangladesh,' she's saying to her husband that she’ll always be there for him if he wants to come back, and she's also saying that 'we, as Bangladeshi women, are here and we're always going to be here.'

I also love it when she says, 'Nobody told me there were different kinds of love' and that was kind sums it up for me. When we say love we think of weddings and men and women and families and in fact the film that the producer of Love Is All wanted more romance, heterosexual couples and weddings, but there are different types of love. It doesn't always have to be about romantic love."

Show Me Love (1998)
"I would have put in this Swedish film by Lukas Moodysson, as it’s the one film I would have loved to put in Love Is All. I absolutely love it. It's about a love affair between two girls at school; one is being bullied and the other is the glamourous girl that everyone wants to get off with. It’s so simple. The Swedes are so cool like that. It’s a beautiful film and often taken for granted."

The Hangover (2009)
"I know it’s an unconventional choice but I don't really like traditional rom coms. I've been forced to go to many I always sit through them and I never really like them and my friends will call me a curmudgeon. Notting Hill was the first one I ever saw and I hated it! There are no black people in Notting Hill! One of the few I liked was The Hangover. I thought that was quite fun because the guy in it has an awful wife and he splits up with her and gets off with the prostitute, then they end up being together. I thought that was really clever and unusual."

Boyhood (2014)
"Boyhood. I adored that film. I loved the ending. It ends with a beautiful scene, which is sort of romantic but it’s ambiguous. The protagonist finally gets away from home and manages to go to college and he meets this girl and they go to the canyon together and they have some hash cookies, and it’s love, but not necessarily romantic love and you get the sense that he's found his people.

There's this wonderful quote at the end where he's beginning to trip on this hash cookie and he says, 'I'm totally in the moment' or something like that (you know how you say really corny things when you're stoned) – and the girl, she's on his wavelength, which is such a lovely feeling when it happens, and she says 'You're not in the moment, the moment's in you,' and you think WOW, THAT'S DEEP and it’s just brilliant.

And then it ends. And you think, ‘Good on you, Richard Linklater, you understand it, you understand me’. I love it when you get to the end of a film and you love the person that made it."

Love is All is in cinemas from February 14.