As Valentine's Day is nearly upon us, we've tuned into our inner romantics and put together this selection of documentaries on the nature of love and relationships. So whatever kind of night in you're having, here's the perfect docs to go with it.
When you’re in love with non-fiction you don’t need an excuse to snuggle up with a good doc, but as Valentine’s Day is nearly upon us, we’ve tuned into our inner romantics and put together this selection of documentaries on the nature of love and relationships.
Our list of docs to watch for Valentines Day includes odes to young love, testaments to enduring love, portraits of turbulent relationships, journeys through dating, and love on the big screen in all its glorious forms.
Whether you want to go big on the romance, or you’re looking for an excellent distraction, we got you.
Love is All / Kim Longinotto / 2014 / 74mins
From the very first kisses ever caught on film, through the disruption of war, to the birth of youth culture, gay liberation and free love, director Kim Longinotto tells the celluloid story of love on screen through the Twentieth Century.
Commissioned BBC North, BBC Storyville and the BFI, and premiering at Sheffield Doc/Fest 2014, Longinotto’s film is created from the BFI and Yorkshire Film Archives and set to an incredible soundtrack by Richard Hawley.
With its amazing archive footage of a hundred years of love and courtship on screen, this is really one for lovers of film just as much as lovers of romance.
Of Love and Law / Hikaru Toda / 2017 / 94mins
Kazu and Fumi are partners in life, as well as partners in law. In Japan, where artist Rokudenashiko says people tend to hide anything that is ‘inconvenient’, these openly gay lawyers are fighting for human rights for all – taking on Rokudenashiko’s vagina sculptures obscenity case for starters.
Hikaru Toda’s intimate portrait of the loving relationship between Kazu and Fumi follows their journey to building a family, whilst fighting fascinating cases centred around personal liberty and freedom of expression.
In a society where it’s risky to go against the grain and everybody is expected to “read the air”, the pair are a rock of compassion.
Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love / Nick Broomfield / 2019 / 102mins
Norwegian expat Marianne Ihlen was the ‘muse’ behind some of Leonard Cohen’s most famous songs. Their love began on the idyllic Greek island of Hydra in 1960, as part of a bohemian community of foreign artists, writers and musicians.
Director Nick Broomfield also met Marianne on Hydra, in 1968, when, aged 20, Marianne introduced him to Leonard Cohen’s music and encouraged him to make his first film. Her influence on Broomfield was enormous, and many decades on, he has circled back to make this film about Marianne and Leonard’s relationship – from the early days of free love and hedonism in Hydra, to how their love evolved when Leonard became a successful musician.
A Deal with the Universe / Jason Barker / 2018 / 90mins
Made entirely from personal archive footage and home video diaries, A Deal with the Universe follows director Jason Barker and his partner Tracey’s incredible story of how he came to give birth to his child, charting over 15 years of the highs and lows of their lives.
A long-standing part of the BFI Flare Film Festival’s team, Jason dealt with this both exciting and terrifying moment in his life as any out-and-out film fan would: by documenting every single minute of it on a humble home-movie camera.
Revealing some of the more complex aspects of the trans experience and pregnancy, Barker’s film is an unusually intimate and passionate love story and shines a light on the emotional roller coaster of fertility treatments.
Mating / Lina Maria Mannheimer / 2019 / 90mins
You’ve probably never seen a documentary like Lina Maria Mannheimer’s Mating, following the love lives of Swedish millenials Naomi and Edvin, without ever meeting them in person.
We see them meet, start a relationship, misunderstand each other, understand each other, hurt each other, and develop a friendship.
All online calls, selfies and self-shot videos by this frank and self-aware pair, Mating is extraordinarily intimate – but as we all know, there’s a distinct gap between our real selves and our digital personas, and so Mating offers up an endlessly compelling ‘meta’ conundrum alongside a roller-coaster ride of a relationship drama.
Looking For Love / Menelik Shabazz / 2015 / 115mins
Director Menelik Shabazz (The Story of Lover’s Rock) tackles dating and relationships in the UK’s black British community head on, in this honest and intimate study.
He combines music and performance with a series of frank interviews with psychologists, comedians, experts and just ordinary men and women looking to form relationships with other men and women. It’s a brilliantly compelling tour through love, sex, intimacy and all the good and bad that comes along with them.
Sherman’s March / Ross McElwee / 1985 / 157mins
Ross McElwee is setting off on a journey across the American south to make a film about Union Army General William Sherman’s march of destruction during the American Civil War. He has a grant to make the film. He has a camera. But then his girlfriend ends their relationship, and McElwee’s film becomes, improbably and often amusingly, almost entirely about his encounters with women.
Many, many filmmakers have subsequently made autobiographical films from behind the camera, but McElwee’s self-focussed personal essay is a classic for a reason.
My Love, Don’t Cross That River / Jin Moyoung / 2014 / 85mins
The New York Times said of My Love, Don’t Cross That River, “Many of the passages in this gentle film may be universal, but the love here is extraordinary.”
Jo Byong-man and Kang Gye-yeul have been married for 76 years, living in rural Gangwon Province in South Korea. She is almost 90, he is almost 100. Following them for over a year, we witness a relationship of true companionship, playfulness and love, but also a relationship that must come face-to-face with death as Jo’s health declines.
This lyrical portrait was a huge hit in South Korea, but is a blueprint for enduring love wherever you are from.
Stream of Love / Ágnes Sós / 2013 / 70mins
Ágnes Sós’s delightful portrait of the love lives of the most senior inhabitants of a small Transylvanian village holds a special place in our hearts: it played across the opening weekend of the Bertha DocHouse screen, back in 2015.
Time may have stood still here for the village inhabitants but they remain refreshingly young at heart. At times funny, heart-warming and eyebrow-raising, the women share their most intimate thoughts and dreams while Feri, the 80-something local heartthrob is still making moves on the village’s twenty-five widows.
Stream of Love proves that the ancient game of love and romance is still very much on the minds of these remarkably outspoken villagers.