10 Films That Will Make You Cry

Sep. 12, 2011
Christina Newland is a freelance/academic film writer originally from New York but currently living in Nottingham, ...

10. Irreversible, 2002, Gaspar Noe

Irreversible is a notorious film by French director Gaspar Noe, infamous for its extreme violence and challenging style; it is filmed in dizzying circular movements and jarring motions under a seedy low light. It is also accompanied by a tonal frequency which, although barely audible, is known to cause discomfort in those who hear it. Narratively speaking, it is one of the few films which plays completely backwards. Interestingly, this function makes the content of the film somewhat easier to digest; if made in a linear form, the sheer misery of the plot would have seemed pointless and exploitative. Played backwards, the moral dilemmas become more apparent. ‘Time destroys everything,’ the film reminds us, but by this point, many of its viewers may feel similarly destroyed. The infamous rape of Monica Belluci’s character is easily one of the most upsetting moments in modern cinema. The camera remains static for several minutes, forcing the audience to focus on the act. Truthfully, sensitive viewers ought to avoid this film–as should those who expect to make logical sense out of the crimes depicted, or expect the film to take a definitive moral approach in order to justify its excesses. Critics remain divided; some see it as a nihilistic view of the evils of society, while others decry it as inflammatory, unnecessary violence. I personally volley between either view, but see it moreso as a fascinating cinematic experiment–less like a part of a visual medium than it is a visceral experience. Whatever your opinion of it, you won’t forget it too soon.

9. The Wind that Shakes the Barley, 2006, Ken Loach

Ken Loach’s The Wind that Shakes the Barley is a fascinating, somewhat romanticized take on the Irish War of Independence and the beginnings of the IRA. As with anything Loach attaches his name to, it is a highly ideological film, starring Cillian Murphy as Damian, an idealistic resistance fighter. Its main cast of characters–young men committed to Irish nationalism at all costs–are prone to verbose debates about socialism, nationalism, British occupation and the nature of the war. Impressively, Loach manages to fill the film with passionate intellectual dialogue without seeming self-righteous or overly contrived. The cruelty of the Black and Tans and the hideousness of the violence that the band of rebels must both face and inflict is never taken lightly or played for shocks. Each act is weighted heavily with dilemmas on moral relativism. The idealism and righteous justification of the original rebellion slowly gives way to a cynical agreement that divides the IRA. As the group splinters, idealism fails; corrupt in-fighting breaks out and Cillian Murphy’s Damian stands staunchly by his beliefs. Great sacrifices are made for a cause which has never been won, and as an audience we know that the IRA was to later become infected by violent radicalism. The Wind that Shakes the Barley is a poignant film about war and the failure of ideals. The wrongdoing of the British government and its capitalistic stance take a lashing in the film, but it is on the grounds of futile personal tragedy with which Loach shows us the inherent evils of the conflict and the suffering caused.

8. East of Eden, 1955, Elia Kazan

For avid James Dean fans like myself, Elia Kazan’s Hollywood classic East of Eden is not merely sad but impossibly tragic. In his meteoric rise over the course of a mere three films, Dean left an indelible impression. East of Eden was the first of these films, based on John Steinbeck’s family epic, and also starring Julie Harris and Raymond Massey. Anyone with a cursory knowledge of either the novel or the film is aware that the story is a retelling of the biblical tale of Cain and Abel, two rival brothers driven to murder by jealousy. Dean’s Cal is wonderfully wounded as Massey’s less-loved son; his watery blue eyes, jerky mannerisms, and slouching frame portray a lifetime of slights–an eccentricity gained by living life in the shadow of his brother. The penultimate scene is undoubtedly the one in which Cal presents his father with a hard-earned gift. His excitement and nerves are palpable; he is desperate for his father’s attention. Dean’s tendency to ad-lib and his love of Method Acting came into play; he had put himself into such an emotional state in the scene that when the gift is rejected, he lunges at Massey, grabbing him by the collar. Massey is visibly shocked but stays in character as Dean sobs and attempts to embrace him. The resulting immediacy of the scene is heartbreaking; there is always the sense that a great deal of Dean himself was in the character. But what truly renders the film tragic is the terrible awareness we have as viewers that this beautiful young man, so movingly injured and troubled, was to die so soon. At a mere 24, his talent was lost to the world, and the brief, painful moments he spent onscreen both delight and torment us. From the compelling moment he appears onscreen, hunched over in a pair of denim overalls, to the conclusion of the film, his presence reminds us of both the mythic figure he has become and the agonizingly truthful performer he was.

7. Fish Tank, 2009, Andrea Arnold

Fish Tank, the much-lauded Andrea Arnold film which won a great deal of festival laurels, is devastatingly bleak; very much an inheritor of all the great British social realism films of the past. It deals with the same themes; the same working-class alienation and hopelessness. The story involves a young girl on an Essex council estate and her estranged relationship with her single mother. Andrea Arnold’s uniquely feminine viewpoint as it depicts mother/ daughter relationships is spot-on. The previously-unknown star is Katie Jarvis as 15-year-old Mia. She bubbles with resentment and spite, but also a tender naïveté; she is not likable but inspires empathy nonetheless. Jarvis seems instinctively perfect for the role–one of the most believable onscreen characters I can fairly say I’ve seen. Michael Fassbender is equally as captivating as the almost haphazardly predatory boyfriend of Mia’s mother. He is open, funny, sexy–and an utter reptile. Like Mia, we are drawn in, trusting him because he offers the only affection in the girl’s life. As we watch this paternal affection become perverse, we, like Mia, realize our hopes were misplaced. The anger and frustration turn her into what amounts to a caged animal; things escalate. Escape routes from the misery of the young girl’s life fail to materialize; her burgeoning dancing career also reveals itself to be hollow. Fish Tank is a stirringly sad, achingly well-made film, the likes of which Loach would give a nod to. Its ultimate futility amounts less to tears than it does a prolonged, melancholic sigh.

6. Umberto D, 1952, Vittoria De Sica

Umberto D, directed by the well-loved Vittorio De Sica, is a classic of the Italian Neo-Realist movement. Highly influential for documenting real postwar Italy during its worst moments, it brought popularity to on-location shooting, use of non-professional actors, and addressing hard-biting issues. Umberto D tells the story of its titular character, a lonely elderly man living during an economic downturn which has left him practically destitute. He is accompanied by his dog, Flike, and the young maid living in his vicious landlady’s house. We watch as he struggles to retain his pride, and as he suffers when poverty threatens to steal what Umberto values most–no longer his life, but his dignity. Carlo Battisti, a professor who had never acted before, is fantastic as the world-weary, prideful Umberto who casts a lonely eye on the changing city around him. The old man wanders the streets of a Rome which has no time or use for him; an Italy which has forgotten the infirm and the elderly and their right to be taken care of by the state. The film has been criticized for using Umberto’s little dog for sentimental purposes, but his desperately codependent love for his pet mirrors real life too closely. Flike is Umberto’s only and dearest friend. Too often in modern times do we discard and disrespect the elderly, when they are at their weakest and most in need of love and companionship. Umberto D reminds us of that, not only highlighting the injustices of Italy’s postwar pension cuts, but painting a heartbreaking portrait of old age and its downfalls. I refuse to reveal more by way of plot about this film; I can only say that it would take a heartless person indeed not to be deeply moved by it.

Christina Newland

Christina Newland

Christina Newland is a freelance/academic film writer originally from New York but currently living in Nottingham, …

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