Phantom Love Stories

Lately, I’ve been watching several movies from the 40s about a subject I’ve discovered I’m quite fond of: phantom love stories. More than movies about a person literally falling in love for a ghost or a presence, I’ve discovered there are several forbidden love stories that deal with phantoms for portraying the impossibility of love and the forgetness of it through time, evoking incredibly interesting and poetic stories that tackle the absurdity of both reality and imagination. With that, I’ve decided to share a list about seven amazing movies about what I like to consider as “phantom love stories”.

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“The Long Absence (1961)” by Henri Cop

Written by no one else than Marguerite Duras – the same writer of Hiroshima Mon Amour – The Long Absence is a powerful film about memory. Therese is a café owner who mourns the disappearance of her dead husband for years until she sees a tramp walking on the street who looks exactly like him. Trying to make ways to connect with him, Therese starts a personal journey where we are never sure if she is being delusional or if this tramp is really her husband and has lost his memory, resulting in a poetic film about a forgotten love whose memory is impersonated in a person who could be resembled as a ghost.

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“Sundays and Cybelle (1962)” by Serge Bourguignon

Probably the least “ghosty” film of the list, I couldn’t leave Sundays and Cybelle out for several reasons. First, is an incredible movie that almost no one talks about. Second, it tells the story of an innocent relationship between a grown man with a young kid. Third, even though this may sound gross, Serge Bourguignon’s film is extremely special for portraying this so-called relationship as an almost “make pretend game”, where these two characters seem to live in a dream-like reality to escape their daily lives. Not mentioning the dreamy cinematography and mise en scene, making Sundays and Cybelle one of the most beautiful movies I have ever seen.

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“Juliette or the Key of Dreams (1951)” by Marcel Carné

Another film that barely no one talks about featuring one of my favorite French actors, Gérard Philipe, Juliette or the Key of Dreams is one of Marcel Carné’s best films – another incredible director who I also like to title him as an auteur of phantom love stories such as Le Jour Se Leve, Thérese Raquin and Les Portes de La Nuit. Here, we follow the story of Michel, who is arrested and starts to dream of a place where everyone has lost their memory. Trying to find Juliette, the love of his life, Michael finds himself in troubled waters when everybody decides to become part of his journey as he is the only one who remembers who he is and what he wants.

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“Portrait of Jennie (1948)” by William Dieterle

At the beginning of the year, I posted an article talking about movies featuring the lives of painters. Portrait of Jennie should have been there if it wasn’t for the fact that I hadn’t watched the movie yet. Now that I have, I can easily write about it here, since it tells the beautiful story of a painter who starts seeing a young woman in the park and becomes inspired to paint her portrait. The more the time pass, the more suspicious he becomes this girl has actually died a long time ago, starting a journey where he must face time and space to find her.

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“Letter From an Unknown Woman (1948)” by Max Ophuls

In early twentieth-century Vienna, a concert pianist receives a letter from an unknown woman telling the story of how she fell in love for a man. The more the pianist reads the letter, the more he realizes the man that this woman fell in love for was him! With that, Max Ophuls creates a beautiful, sad and poetic love story that deals with forgetness about a man who doesn’t remember who this woman is, even though they have seen each other before. 

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“A Matter of Life and Death (1946)” by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger

I have recently watched this film for the first time and I could not believe how I had never heard about it before. With outstanding production design and special effects, A Matter of Life and Death is a fascinating story about a British Air Force pilot who is about to crash his plane and contacts an Allied operator before his death. However, the man survives the crash and ends up meeting the Allied operator, which funny enough, creates a big confusion in heaven since the pilot was supposed to be dead. With that said, heaven sends a massager to earth to bring the pilot to the afterlife. To make things more complicated, he refuses and requests for a trial. PS – I dare to say Ingmar Bergman’s inspiration for The Seventh Seal came from here.

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“The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947)” by Joseh L. Mankiewcz

And for last but not least, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir had everything to be a horror movie, with the exception that here the ghost falls in love for the living woman. Set in the early twentieth century, Lucy Muir decides to buy a house next to the ocean after her husband dies. There, she discovers the house is haunted by a sailor ghost and they both start a friendship. What at first seems like the plot of The Lake House, Joseh L. Mankiewcz creates an extremely special film about love, memories and life’s purpose. Not mentioning the character of Lucy Muir, who is extremely woke for the time the movie was made.

What about you? Do you know any phantom love stories?