“In the Land of Blood and Honey” (2011)
Angelina Jolie made her move to directing with this ambitious foreign language romance drama set against the background of the Bosnian War. Goran Kostić brings a weary vulnerability to Denijel, a solider fighting for the Bosnian Serbs, whose father happens to be the savage leader of the Yugoslav People’s Army and their prison camp. To his surprise, he finds a former love suffering in confinement as a Bosniak prisoner. Ajla (Zana Marjanovic) is a sensitive young woman with envious resolve and self-assurance to spare. Their romantic reawakening passionately plays out in secret as they go to harrowing lengths to protect a history that could kill them both.
“Bright Star” (2009)
Jane Campion’s gorgeously realized and lovingly crafted “Bright Star” keeps its protagonists — poet John Keats (Ben Whishaw) and the forward-thinking Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish) — apart due to seemingly surmountable issues, like wealth (he doesn’t have it) and health (again, he doesn’t have it), making the eventually unrealized nature of their romance all the more wrenching. As Fanny’s own mother observes, “Mr. Keats knows he cannot like you, he has no living and no income,” making the forbidden nature of their romance something internal (give it up, Keats, my God, man) rather than, as is so often the case, external. Although initially mismatched, with the more shy Keats unable to fully comprehend what makes the fashionable Fanny tick, the pair fall into a deep adoration that’s only bolstered by their mutual affection for words.
“Boys Don’t Cry” (1999)
Similar to Todd Haynes’ “Carol,” Kimberly Peirce’s award-winning drama is a powerhouse look at sexual repression and passionate connection, made more tragic due to its devastating conclusion. As real-life trans male Brandon Teena, Hilary Swank won the Oscar for Best Actress and gives an extraordinary performance thats puts the universality of human feelings above the restrictions of gender identity. Brandon’s blossoming relationship with Lana Tisdel isn’t necessarily illegal, but such sexuality is severely frowned upon by members of their Nebraska town. Abuse, rape and murder tear the lovers apart as the community learns the truth, yielding a forbidden romance where short-term joy resonates for a lifetime.
“Harold and Maude” (1971)
Though car theft is not an oft-employed meet cute, Hal Ashby uses it to great effect in his age-bent manic pixie dream girl tale “Harold and Maude.” Starring Bud Cort as the macabre and disaffected teenager who stages elaborate fake suicides and attends funerals in his spare time, the film explores his burgeoning relationship with the titular Maude, an ingeniously madcap Ruth Gordon. After lifting his car (a converted hearse) from a funeral they both attend, the two find themselves drawn to each other despite an age difference of 60-odd years. Encouraged to “L-I-V-E” by the vivacious near-octogenarian, Harold begins to open up to the world (and to Maude) as the two creep towards the film’s devastating and life-affirming conclusion. Speaking volumes about the precious ephemerality of life and the importance of connection, “Harold and Maude” is a film that is as much about romance as it is about self-acceptance.
Scandalous for its sordid subject material, “Lolita” is Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov’s masterpiece about a professor named Humbert Humbert who falls obsessively in love with his underage stepdaughter. Boasting a tagline that reads, “How did they ever make a movie of ‘Lolita?,'” the film’s portrayal of love is just about as forbidden as it gets. Played by a 14-year-old Sue Lyon, Lolita is a gum-chewing, soda pop-drinking, ticking time bomb set to blow the decidedly conventional life of James Mason’s Humbert right up. For all of its controversy, the film actually shies away from depicting anything too provocative due to severe censorship at the time. Regardless, Kubrick’s film feels less a watered-down adaptation than a darkly comic and sharply suggestive film that makes us hyper-aware of everything we do not see.
“Shakespeare in Love” (1998)
John Madden’s 16th century fictional love story will forever be remembered as one of the most controversial Best Picture winners ever, though it’s hard to deny the spell of its irresistible charms, mainly due to the smoldering forbidden love thanks to the chemistry between stars Joseph Fiennes and Gwyneth Paltrow. In this version of history, Fiennes is a sultry William Shakespeare whose writer’s block is cured by Paltrow’s Viola. Viola’s family has courted her to marry Lord Wessex, making her affair with Shakespeare fatal to her family legacy. As complications arise and truths are twisted, Madden spins a web of heartfelt comedy and lighthearted drama that makes this forbidden romance quick on its feet and sharply witted.
“Brokeback Mountain” (2005)
In “Brokeback Mountain,” two working class men — Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) — fall in love in 1960’s Wyoming. Many films that deal with forbidden queer romance tend to portray its characters’ homosexuality as the one obstacle standing in the way of their love, which becomes tired and tedious since gay couples have a lot more to deal with in their personal lives than just their sexuality. Ennis and Jack do face bigotry and discrimination during their decades-long secret affair, but their love isn’t forbidden due solely to conservative values. Both men must consider the well-being of their families, their own troubled pasts, their financial stability and any number of other concerns when deciding the future of their relationship. This transforms what could have been another tragic gay love story into a careful and tear-jerking meditation on the sacrifices we make for love, as well as the ones we don’t.
“The English Patient” (1996)
Ralph Fiennes is Count Laszlo de Almasy, a mapmaker who is completely focused on his work and only his work. He is the only man on his expedition, and he’s without a wife and prefers solitude. Enter Katharine Clifton (Kristin Scott Thomas), who arrives with her husband and joins Fiennes’ expedition as new members, much to his dislike. At first awkward with each other, Almasy and Clifton soon grow agitated due to their growing feelings not being able to be realized and expressed. Eventually, they both give in and begin a passionate love affair, which ultimately culminates in Katharine being injured by her husband’s jealousy. Fiennes brings her to their cave and promises to return with aid, but along his journey through the desert he is captured. She dies alone in her cave and he dies years later after being badly burned in a plane crash, still in love with a ghost.
“Never Let Me Go” (2010)
This heartbreaking film adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s dystopian sci-fi novel is one of the more poignant depictions of youthful romance on film in recent memory, exploring the concepts of loss and unrequited love. A love triangle at an English boarding school between Cathy (Carey Mulligan), Ruth (Keira Knightley) and Tommy (Andrew Garfield) develops through the years as they grow to adulthood. The catch is that they are genetically crafted orphans living in a society where they are expected to donate their organs one by one until they die, allowing the upper class to effectively live forever. The fact that their love has a time limit adds a melancholy dimension to this forbidden romance, and the more the characters learn about the twisted world they live in, the higher the stakes become.
“Beyond the Lights” (2014)
In one of last year’s most criminally overlooked indies, Gugu Mbatha-Raw gives a powerhouse performance as Noni Jean, a rising pop superstar whose real ambitions are lost in a storm of celebrity, fame and ruthless control from her own mother. There’s a real artist in Noni, though she’s fighting to be heard amidst the life and career that is expected of her if she wants to conquer the pop mainstream. Hope arrives in Kaz Nicol, a young police officer who saves her from a life-threatening decision and works his way into her heart. As everyone around her protests for her to end this blossoming relationship so that her career can take cetner stage, Noni follows the beat of her own drum, defying a forbidden romance and finding her own voice.
“The Virgin Suicides” (1999)
If there’s anything worse than being a teen, it’s being a caged up teen. The sequestered Lisbon sisters may be kept away from the outside world and its cultural offerings, but that does nothing to diminish their lust and passion for being a part of the kinds of things that are literally just outside their front door (like music and cars and boys, so many boys). As the Lisbons start acting out in different ways, they ensnare a variety of suitors, most of whom are culled from a group of neighborhood guys who have long obsessed over the sisters, desperate to free them from the clutches — real and imaginary — of their parents. Despite early hope that maybe, just maybe the girls can break free, Sofia Coppola’s film, adapted from Jeffrey Eugenides’ startling novel of the same name, pares and peels away hope until everything — not just love — is truly forbidden.
“Before Sunrise” (1995)
In the first installment of Richard Linklater’s tender-hearted trilogy, nothing other than time truly forbids the romance between Céline and Jesse. In fact, when the pair first meet as strangers in a Vienna train station, they are refreshingly free and impulsive. Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke carve two irresistible characters, delivering naturalistic performances that blend charm, naïvité, wisdom and humor in such a way that you forgive what might otherwise seem insufferably cutesy. Yet while their romance is potent, the clock is always ticking and the promise of morning threatens to bring the couple back down to reality. Borrowing from “Brief Encounter,” David Lean’s masterpiece of unconsummated love, “Before Sunset” ends in the train station where it began, leaving us to watch our romantics go their separate ways.