11 Movies That Inspire a Freaky Romcom Filmmaker

“Wobble Palace” director Eugene Kotlyarenko is a fan of Paul Verhoeven movies, Korean cinema, and a very, very weird website.
Eugene Kotlyarenko in ​A Wonderful Cloud
Eugene Kotlyarenko in A Wonderful Cloud. Photo: Courtesy of 

Eugene Kotlyarenko

All the good shit you should be watching, as curated by the East London film club Deeper Into Movies.

Independent filmmaker Eugene Kotlyarenko has been making awesome films on his own terms for more than ten years. For me his films, like no one else’s, manage to capture the ever-growing weirdness of modern romance. His hyper-contemporary satires explore how screens and technology impact love, communication, and lust. He also claims he invented the word “amazeballs”, but that’s a different story. 


A retrospective of Kotlyarenko’s work, Love Me, Click Me: Films by Eugene Kotlyarenko, is currently streaming on Mubi – so we asked him to curate a list of films that have inspired him on his movie-making journey. 

It's a cool feeling to have this mini-retrospective and to realise that the movies in it span a decade of my life. I shot my first feature, 0s & 1s in 2008 (also the year I joined Mubi) and released Wobble Palace in 2018. In between I made three other features, including A Wonderful Cloud, a web series (remember those lol) and a bunch of other work that can be found on the fringes of the internet. I also fell in love with hundreds of movies in my 20s, some of which invariably influenced my work, while others just kept my faith in cinema alive. Here are 11 movies and one website that seeped their way into the three titles in the Love Me, Click Me curation. — Eugene Kotlyarenko

‘Frownland’ (2008), dir. by Ronald Bronstein

A trollish missile from the underground launched by two titans of 21st century New York cinephilia, writer-director Ronnie Bronstein and cinematographer Sean Price Williams. Shot on 16mm over the course of many years, the movie revolves around a series of abrasive performances, none more searing than that of our freakish and freaked-out protagonist, played by Dore Mann. While most films are begging you to like them, Frownland is proudly spitting in your face, as its grimy engines of cinematic glory shift into overdrive. 


I saw this at the Silent Movie Theater, in 2008, with five other people in attendance and it felt gloriously at odds with the other American independent films I was seeing; it was cobbled together but fully-formed; a piece of art both timeless and specific. It was probably like those infamous Velvet Underground shows you used to hear about, where everyone there formed a band. Even though my aesthetic mission with 0s & 1s (which I was prepping at the time) couldn't have been more different, I found Frownland to be an important clarion call: a new American movie that captured the irreverent spirit of the older films I loved.

‘Trouble in Paradise’ (1932), dir. by Ernst Lubitsch

Movies should always be funny, emotional and entertaining! Lubitsch's early talkie about scam artists falling for each other across the European continent is as debonair, charming and punchy as it gets, creating a formula for melding suspense and romance in a way that has been endlessly emulated, but never surpassed. Do it first and do it best, I say.

The 1930s were definitely the most brilliant era for innovation in Hollywood. The birth of sound meant a focus on fast and sparkling dialogue, generated by an influx of New York newspapermen & Broadway scribes. The war in Europe created a wave of refugee artisans who came up with the film techniques that conveyed clarity, efficiency and pizazz all at once. As the inventions of yesteryear become the conventions of today, I often find myself looking at the cinema of the 1930s for spiritual inspiration. It's a kinship I also felt with the post-internet artists of the 2000s — people expressing themselves in a wild, barely-defined medium — and which I tried to apply to my filmmaking. 


‘Minnie and Moskowitz’ (1971), dir. by John Cassavetes 

I watched this movie so many times when I was 19 that it completely LA-pilled me. It got me thinkin' that I could fall in love there, that any type of movie could be made there, that wild individuals could roam free in Los Angeles. And to a certain extent all of this is true and all of this happened on-camera and off, just not like it does in the movies… which is actually one of the key monologues in this neo-screwball masterpiece.

It's a love story centred around mania, desperation and stubbornness. Gena Rowlands and Seymour Cassel get a lot of room to scream, cry and make you fall in love with them. Cassavetes himself plays the most objectionable character in the film and that seems like a great model for an actor-auteur. One time, a few years after my LA move, I ran into Seymour Cassel and quoted one of my fave lines from the movie: "Remember me?! Neighbourhood!" He understandably had no clue what I was talking about. Maybe it's my favourite because it's Cassavetes' happiest ending, and I'm a sucker for that. 

Minnie and Moskowitz is part of an essential group of movies in my mind, that create a picture of early 70s LA  as magnetic, grimy and charming: California Split (1974) Dusty & Sweets McGee, Lions Love (and Lies), Cisco Pike, and Shampoo.

‘Cléo from 5 to 7’ (1962), dir by Agnès Varda 

A few months before I shot 0s & 1s, I was lucky enough to work with Agnès Varda. Agnès's M.O. was creativity at every turn. Being on set with her was a constant tutorial on how to turn a plan into an improvisation and how to locate something beautiful in the ordinary. She was often excited, but never more so than when she got an idea that was both poetic and poppy. The viewer experience was central to her art. 


In Cléo from 5 to 7, she follows a chanteuse in real-time, over the course of a nerve-wracking few hours where her coddled existence hangs between life and death. The movie's simple ticking-clock structure adds a docu-realism to the elevated aesthetic and a tension to the relatively mundane proceedings. An audience now feels some of the thrills of a genre film (like High Noon or DOA), applied to a very personal story. This sort of nifty trick is what great cinematic art is built on. 

Time and again, when I ask myself why I'm about to undertake a movie, rather than a TV show or a videogame or some social trolling experiment (hehe), I answer that a story contained in a short period of time has the power to explode into someone's consciousness. I think my conversations with Agnès about Cléo may be why most of my movies take place over the course of a day or a weekend. And I'm sure her work has influenced me in more ways than that.

‘Turkish Delight’ (1973), dir. by Paul Verhoeven

Paul Verhoeven is my favourite storyteller when it comes to rhythm and energy. Every scene hits the highest high or the lowest low, usually alternating in succession like a thrilling narrative see-saw. With an eye for composition and a ruthless editorial precision, Verhoeven's focus is on putting characters through the ringer. This can run the gamut from grotesque spectacle, prurient eroticism, extreme violence, hilarious satire — sometimes all at once.


Turkish Delight is Verhoeven's greatest love story (Basic Instinct is a close second) and one of the highest grossing movies in Dutch history (over 3.3 million people saw the film when it came out, about a quarter of the country’s total population). For Verhoeven love is about two passionate souls uniting in the face of their own selfish egos, only to be shit upon by the rules of "polite" society. And if you can overcome that, get ready for your balls to get stuck in your fly and the Queen to catch you mid-coitus. I've always tried to remember that the visceral and absurd moments of life are what people remember best about the movies, especially when they're brave enough to bare genitalia, warts and all.

‘Il Grido’ (1957) dir. by Michelangelo Antonioni

This Pre-L'Avventura Antonioni is a completely alienated picaresque of a shitty guy traversing a twisted society ruled over by industrialisation and technology. Like most of Antonioni's work I didn't really enjoy it, but its nihilistic view of human relationships and fragmented episodic story must have deeply impacted me when I saw it at the New Beverly cinema in October, 2007. Narratively Il Grido's uprooted wandering is basically the entire framework for 0s & 1s. 

IRL, I don't believe in the commonly accepted [dramaturgical] notion that people change over time and tend to despise neat character transformations over the course of 90 minutes — even though this is the bread and butter of most movies. I believe that circumstances change and people reach their limits, but the nature of an individual is deeply ingrained. Of course it's always comforting to see your outlook confirmed by another artist in another culture in another time, as depressing as that shared insight may be.


‘We Won't Grow Old Together’ (1972), dir. by Maurice Pialat

Maurice Pialat's relationship saga is brutally realistic, while being deceptively conceptual. The story of a couple that seems to break up at the end of every gripping shitstorm of a scene, only to find themselves back together at the top of the next one. We've all been in a relationship or two like this, but I've never seen it so painfully well observed in a movie, before or since. Pialat was a master of showing how broken codes of communication fray the fabric of society. When approaching A Wonderful Cloud and Wobble Palace, it was crucial to me that I try to recreate relationship dynamics that I've often observed, but never seen represented on screen. Pialat's disasterpiece is one of my Urtexts for how to do a relationship film differently, along with the entire filmographies of Żuławski and Almodóvar.

‘Extreme Private Eros: Love Song 1974’ (1974), dir. by Kazuo Hara

Shared with me by one of my greatest movie friends and collaborators, Kate Lyn Sheil, this is one of the supreme documents of human intimacy, yearning and irritation. Cinema as pure cringe. Cinema as testament to the depths of the soul. Films like Sherman's March or the work of Caveh Zahedi come close, but there's nothing else quite like Extreme Private Eros

‘Computer Chess’ (2013), dir. by Andrew Bujalski

One of the should-be cult favourites of 21st century American cinema. Andrew Bujalski captures the spirit of Altman and replaces 70s cool with 80s nerd-dom, then doses us with a healthy mix of absurdism, social critique and cringe awkwardness. The conceptual nature of shooting it all on 80s broadcast video as a black and white pseudo-doc is ingenious. The nature of video transforms a mundane hangout into a bizarre home movie (a la Eggleston's Stranded in Canton), while transporting boring computerised gameplay into the realm of televised sports. 


As a more experimental outlier in Bujalski's charming and astute body of work, this one captivated me when I saw it at the Maryland Film festival. It belongs to a group of vital and under-appreciated American movies I was lucky enough to catch at festivals during this period, which also includes The Color Wheel, Krisha, The Great Pretender, Daddy Long Legs, Tiny Furniture, Bad Fever, Hellaware, Creative Control, Clara's Ghosts, and more.

‘La bonne année’ (1973), dir. by Claude Lelouch 

Claude Lelouch will never get the credit he deserves for synthesising the formal playfulness of the French New Wave with the tropes of noir, to craft legitimately fun thrillers.... so I'd like to give it to him here! This one and Cat & Mouse are the especially perfect balance between cool aesthetics, emo-romance and suspense. Costa-Gavras did it too with political thrillers, but they're less fun. The final shot of Dasha in Wobble Palace is an homage to a very similar one of Lino Ventura in La bonne année. 

‘Peppermint Candy’ (2000), dir. by Lee Chang-dong

This is the first movie that got me really excited for Korean cinema, probably the most interesting national industry of the 21st century. In this anti-bildungsroman the story of a petty man also serves as an indictment of late 20th century South Korean history. Its nifty conceit is presenting life's major moments in reverse; causing the viewer to register the echoes of memory in new, fascinating ways and presenting the idealism of youth as a tragic conclusion. Peppermint Candy is the first masterpiece of modern Korean cinema in my opinion, but it was quickly joined by JSA, Oldboy, Oasis, Mother, The Wailing and many more.  

A lot of the scripts I wrote during this period were in the Korean mode of “high-concept personal thrillers”. With budgets always out of reach and concepts too wild for American financiers, I didn't get the chance to make them. It seemed that whenever my bank account approached zero and corporate work was inevitable, I made a DIY movie with friends, for no money and in no time. It was the only way I could live with myself before going back to the labour force — “You have to make something, otherwise why are you here, Eugene?” With my 2020 film, Spree, I finally had a chance to take a real crack at the alchemical magic I found so inspiring in 21st century Korean movies: relevance, irreverence and giddiness in a highly planned cinematic package.

DumpFM (Ryder Ripps, Tim Baker, Scott Ostler)

DumpFM wasn't a movie or even anything narrative, but rather an experience. It was an image-based chatroom, where users communicated through gifs, original art and trolling. I found it extremely generative and exciting at a time when there were no movie peers I could bond with. The internet fiends I found on there provided the illusion of community I needed to keep going. DumpFM and the artists I met through JstChillin.org, another online art experiment, helped me feel like whatever stuff I was trying to do might matter, even if the traditional gatekeepers of cinema didn't care. 

I did incorporate DumpFM briefly into Skydiver, a screen movie I made for JstChillin. 13 years later, I do wonder how much other documentation exists of this special forum for creative madness. Like many of the earliest silent films, art that's both populist and avant-garde, is so far ahead of the culture it's often lost to the sands of time.

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