Next week Tom Tykwer’s (Run Lola Run, The Princess and the Warrior, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer) latest, Three, will be screening as part of Q Fest (Friday, July 8 at 5:00 at Ritz East 1 and Sunday, July 10 at 7:15 and Ritz at the Bourse). Three tells the tale of a bored, married couple (this may be redundant) who each begin an affair with, and eventually fall for, the same man (Don’t you hate it when that happens?) To celebrate the occasion, I have decided to countdown my list of cinema’s 15 most intriguing bizarre love triangles… other than Jules et Jim. (WARNING: Some contain spoilers… although if you’re only watching movies to get to the “mystery” of the last frame, you’re doing it wrong.)
15. The Night Porter Liliana Cavani (1974)
We’re only at number 15 and we’re already playing “Master and Servant at Auschwitz”? This list doesn’t fuck around. Happily-married Lucia and her husband show up at a hotel in Vienna only to find that the night porter is her former guard and lover from when she was imprisoned in a concentration camp. What’s a girl to do? In this case, the stunning Charlotte Rampling holes up with the Nazi and passionately relives her days of slavery. A poignant examination of the implications of all which we fetishize.
14. Empire of Passion Nagisa Oshima (1978)
How do you follow-up the most hardcore mainstream film of all-time? The fact that a classical ghost tale that ensues after a young lover helps his object of affection to murder her husband and start a new life together doesn’t feel like a Lifetime original movie after Oshima last left you with 102 minutes of unsimulated “action” that culminated with genital mutilation is pretty much the only endorsement this film needs.
13. The Last Mistress Catherine Breillat (2007)
One could argue that this is Breillat Light (and I’m not necessarily arguing against it), but this is also her beautifully cynical and condescending sense of humor at its most explicit. And to intellectually snub your nose at the entire Western world by telling them that the ideals of their society make infidelity inevitable through a totally cutesy period piece is pretty fucking brilliant.
12. Mudhoney Russ Meyer (1965)
A wholesome tale about a stranger who moseys into a Missouri town looking for work and finds himself falling for, and attempting to save, a sweet girl in an abusive marriage magically gets a whole lot less wholesome the moment Meyer plants his butt in the director’s chair and casts the entire thing based on cup size.
11. Last Year at Marienbad Alain Resnais (1961)
So I’m not entirely sure that this is a tale about love. I’m not even entirely sure that there are, in fact, three individuals involved. I don’t think Resnais is either. However, this stunner forces you to question everything you think you may have experienced in your conscious life and that’s beautiful to the nth degree. (I can be sincere, too!!!)
10. How to Get Ahead in Advertising Bruce Robinson (1989)
I use the tale of this triangle; comprised of a woman, a zit who grew into a man, and a man who shrunk into a zit; to help explain to my students at Temple University that the entire economy would collapse if each one of us wasn’t taught from the moment that we were born that we are absolutely detestable in our current state… regardless of what that state actually is.
9. The Element of Crime Lars von Trier (1984)
This is certainly the most bizarre love triangle on the list. It’s also likely the most disturbing (and not for the usual reasons). With his feature debut, Lars von Trier (and Tom Elling) creates the definitive cinematography of the dystopic. Imagine turning Bergman’s Persona into a postmodern epic whose entire purpose was to skullfuck the film noir genre and you’re still not even close to the subversive genius von Trier has been cinematically spouting since day one.
8. The Dreamers Bernardo Bertolucci (2003)
The Dreamers may have been the most disgustingly saccharine celebration of film history of the 21st century, fit for the People’s Choice Awards, if it hadn’t been set in the middle of the Paris student strikes of ’68 and centered around a literally incestuous love triangle.
7. The House of Yes Mark Waters (1997)
Long before he was directing my college crush’s little sis in Mean Girls (and even longer before he was directing Jim Carrey and a gaggle of CGI penguins in what I’m guessing was quite a blockbuster this summer) Mark Waters adapted Wendy MacLeod’s play about an engaged couple, coming to Thanksgiving dinner to meet his family for the first time. We eventually realize that he had a habit of fucking his mentally ill twin sister while reenacting the JFK assassination.
6. Band of Outsiders Jean-Luc Godard (1964)
The most wonderful thing about this highly accessible beauty is that it’s the good guy who Anna Karina ends up with… not like the [albeit brilliant] douche bag she was married to in real life.
5. Love Affair, or the Case of the Missing Switchboard Operator Dusan Makavejev (1967)
If there has ever been a filmmaker who could be argued to have out-Marxed Godard, it’s Dusan Makavejev. His criminally underseen and underrated sophomore film, Love Affair, is the first of his beautifully bewildering doc-fiction hybrids. It’s far less of a headfuck than Innocence Unprotected and WR: Mysteries of the Organism, which followed, and far less likely to induce vomiting than his masterwork, Sweet Movie. Yet, its narrative is still driven entirely by sex and violence.
4. Blue Velvet David Lynch (1986)
I’m guessing that for a number of my highly supportive family members and family friends who are reading this, this is the first film on the list that you’ve seen. So (since I know all of Philthy’s demographic have seen it as well), I would just like to take the time to thank my family and friends for your support: Thank you. You Rock! Come to think of it, Blue Velvet may be closer to a bizarre love square.
3. Belle de jour Luis Bunuel (1967)
Of all of the French movies of the 1960s chronicling bored housewives who turned to prostitution to spice up their nether regions, this is likely the most delightful (perhaps because it was made by a foreigner). So what goes wrong? Far sweeter than any of Godard’s ho commentaries, this lovely lady actually has a client fall in love with her, leaving her to choose between a sexy young gangster and her husband. Bunuel’s adaptation of the Joseph Kessel novel actually manages to make S&M, somehow, endearing.
2. The Doom Generation Gregg Araki (1995)
Gregg Araki appropriates Rebel Without a Cause by-way-of Band of Outsiders by-way-of-X-rated-antics to create a Gen X re-telling of the Book of Revelation and it’s totally brilliant: Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and the Antichrist blasting Meat Beat Manifesto, decapitating foes, and indulging in threeways.
1. Who Are You, Polly Maggoo? William Klein (1966)
If the Frankfurt School produced a feature-length music video inspired by Alice’s Adventure’s in Wonderland it would look something like Who Are You, Polly Maggoo?, possibly the most overlooked film of all-time. Polly Maggoo is an American model who finds herself in the world of Paris high fashion. Along the way she becomes the obsession of both a prince and a broadcast journalist. Guess who wins her in the end? Neither, they both move on to something new because everything in a capitalist society, love and affection included, are meant to be traded in like a wardrobe every three months.
*I would like to dedicate this to Tom and Elyse, who were my other 2/3rds for the best years of my life.