8 Brilliant Films About Terrible Relationships

Turns out love can be fucking awful - who knew?
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If you’re in a relationship it’s good from time to time to check how things are going.

If things are going well just keep doing what you’re doing, and if it’s not as rosy as it could be maybe it’s time to analyse what exactly is wrong. If you’re in either type instead of spending money on counselling or books specialising in fixing your relationship, just watch these films and if you’re like anything in any of them then it’s probably time to end it.


Ever the iconoclast, Jean Luc Godard took aim at the classic Hollywood Women’s Picture where we follow Brigitte Bardot’s bored housewife start a relationship with a film producer who has hired her husband to adapt Homer’s Odyssey. Bardot moves playfully between to two, riling up their belief about what the film should be, working as a mouthpiece for Godard to speak his mind on the relationship between commerce and art in films.

Scenes From A Marriage

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Having first been made for television Ingmar Bergman cut down his five hour tome on the slow-burn fucking-up of a relationship to a more “digestible” two and a half hours for international audiences, yet the film loses none of its harsh edges or potency. With two huge performances from Liv Ullmann and Erland Josephson they carry this probing and upsetting exploration of marital stress with such panache you wonder how it can’t not have affected their relationships back in the real world.


Andrzej Żuławski’s 1981 horror movie is perhaps more well known for a mad over the top performance at the heart of it from Isabella Adjani, one that undoubtedly inspired Natalie Portman for Black Swan, but the basis of the horror is the very real disintegration of a marriage. I say real, Anna’s (Adjani) desire for a divorce appears to be a her discovery of a bizarre creature she has found in a squalid flat’s bathroom, but whether she sees that as physical representation of her marriage is totally left up to the audience to decide...

Carnal Knowledge

After making The Graduate and Catch-22 director Mike Nichols took a hard left from the comedy genre and in 1971 he released this dark drama following the many failed relationships of Jonathan (Jack Nicholson with perhaps his least Jack Nicholson performance) and his best friend from college Sandy (Art Garfunkel proving that whatever Neil Simon can do he can do just as well). At the heart of the is a deeply nihilistic streak to Jonathan’s approach to women, he loves them and abuses them in equal measure in spite of how much love they give him.

Dusty Hoffman in a diving suit, it ain't.

We Won’t Grow Old Together

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From the title of Maurice Pialat’s 1972 drama alone you know this film isn’t going to end very well. Looking at the relationship between a documentary filmmaker (Jean Yanne, clearly playing Pialat who he also looks a lot like) and an office worker (Marlene Jobert) Pialat’s harsh approach to narrative was firmly developed here. We jump forward in time at a rapid rate, seeing the highs and lows of the relationship in a way that feels like flicking through a photo album; one scene they argue passionately on the streets of Paris, and in the very next they’re walking hand in hand, deeply in love on the beach. The sense of looking back in anger at how much of a brute Yanne is feels palpable in every frame of the film.


Taking it’s cues from the work of Douglas Sirk, Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s riff on the Hollywood melodrama of the 1950s follows the trials and tribulations of one unfortunate woman. Martha (Margit Carstensen) is on holiday in Rome when her father suddenly dies of a heart attack, forcing her home to look after her alcoholic mother. From there Fassbinder piles misery upon misery on Martha, forcing the audience to squirm as each situation she hopes to find salvation in sadly turns out to be just as bad as the last.


Telling the story of a relationship ending in reverse order Francois Ozon adds an unnerving level of bitterness and pain to scenes which are normally filled with passion and excitement. Towards the end of the film, we see the start of the relationship and it is - at times - fucking agonising viewing. We know where this is headed because we’ve just seen it and isn’t the beautiful place the characters are imagining.

Modern Romance

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Often forgotten within the context of 1970s Hollywood is the work of Albert Brooks. Unfairly considered by some to be a lesser Woody Allen, Brooks’s comedy unlike all the other films on this list ends up with a happy ending it’s just as bruising in it’s portrayal of a relationship breaking apart. There’s an admirably lack of vanity shown by Brooks, playing film editor Robert, and Kathryn Harrold, playing his long suffering on/off girlfriend, as each of them throws vicious barbs at each other over the course of the film, giving the somewhat happy ending a feeling of pain, making the audience think that these two are meant to be together yet will ultimately be the end of one another.


You can listen to Joe's excellent film podcast The Left Field Shout on the Holdfast Network here or on iTunes here.