10 non-English language romance films to watch on Valentine’s Weekend

Happy Valentine Weekend, everyone!

February is unofficially a romantic month given everywhere you look you’ll see pink/red flowers/hearts of some kind to remind people that Valentine’s Day is upon us. When it comes to movies, perhaps some of you might watch more romantic movies this month.

Love is universal, so why not watch some romantic movies in a language other than English?

Since I’ve been watching some French shows recently, I thought I’d highlight 10 romantic films from various parts of the world.

Now, not every single one of these are happy love stories… just like real life, love is complex and things don’t always work out the way we want to. But the best love stories are those that not only sweep you off your feet, but also make you think deeply about life and the people who mean most to you.

So here are my film recommendations in alphabetical order:

A Copy Of My Mind (2015)

A cheap salon worker and a pirated DVDs subtitle maker fall in love during the turbulent presidential election in Indonesia.

This was the first Indonesian film I saw in the theater here in the US, as part of a local film festival. It takes place in my hometown Jakarta and explores the gritty, unglamorous side of the overpopulated (and over-polluted) Indonesian capital. It’s a love story between Sari (Tara Braso) who works at a cheap salon and spends her nights watching pirated movies (which are everywhere in Indo). She meets her match in Alek (Chicco Jerikho), a guy who actually works providing subtitles for illegal dvds, including porn, ahah.

Joko Anwar is a pretty renowned Indo director and he’s definitely a talented filmmaker. He’s got a gift in creating a genuine sense of intimacy and realism in his romances as the characters relationship feels natural and their journey emotionally involving. The film turns into a political thriller as Sari accidentally gets a hold of a DVD that connects a politician and the mafia. No, it doesn’t suddenly turn into a Bourne movie, but there are some scenes that are tough to watch. The open-ended ending was quite frustrating, but doesn’t negate all the positive aspects of this thought-provoking film.

Amelie (2001)

Amélie is an innocent and naive girl in Paris with her own sense of justice. She decides to help those around her and, along the way, discovers love.

When one hears the term joie de vivre that is, the joy of living, I often think of Amélie, the quirky, vivacious protagonist in Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s French rom-com. Jeunet takes us along on a journey through Paris, a world full of misfits and outcasts, where she delights in the simplest things in life.

One day she meets Nino who likes to collect and reconstruct rejected photos under photo booths. Love sometimes hits you when you least expect it and this is a romantic journey you wouldn’t want to miss. Audrey Tautou is simply mesmerizing in the title role and the cinematography, ambience and music will make you fall in love with the City of Light.

Anna Karenina: Vronsky’s Story (2017)

During Russian-Japanese War, the head of the hospital Sergey Karenin learns that the wounded officer Count Vronsky is the person who ruined his mother Anna Karenina.

There have been SO many adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s tragic romance, but this one is actually a Russian adaptation and told from the perspective of Anna’s lover, Count Vronsky. I actually reviewed this one a few years ago and though I wasn’t overly fond of it, I’d still recommend this one for fans of period dramas for the gorgeous set pieces, costumes, music, etc. It’s meticulously crafted and perhaps because the characters speak Russian and it was shot in Russia, it feels authentic.

The beautiful actors, Elizaveta Boyarskaya as Anna and Maksim Matveev as Vronsky depict their tumultuous love story with intense passion, as their story is told in flashback 30 years later after Anna’s doomed end. It’s quite interesting to imagine Anna’s son, who’s now the head of the hospital where Vronsky is being treated. The film tends to be on the melodramatic side, but I’d still recommend this one for those who love Tolstoy’s work and are fans of historical dramas.

Bombay Rose (2019)

A romance set on the streets of Bombay we witness Kamala and Salim’s quest for love in this chaotic and beautiful city.

I wanted to include an animated film on this list and immediately thought of this one I watched last year. It’s quite rare to see an animated romantic dramas (now I wouldn’t count the more fantastical Disney Princess movies in the same category as this one) and this beautiful hand-painted animation was created by animation filmmaker Gitanjali Rao. It’s quite impressive given this is her debut feature–every frame is strikingly beautiful but also laden with passion and humanity.

It’s a tale of forbidden love between a Hindu and a Muslim, and a subplot involving an English language teacher who pines for a long lost love. While the story gets overly complicated at times, there’s still a magnetic quality that keeps you engaged. I also like that there’s a film-within-a-film in its storytelling, as well as an intriguing mix of realism, life on the streets of Bombay, with surrealistic elements such as a character turning into an eagle. While it’s not perfect narratively, it’s still well worth a watch for its exquisite visuals and unique storytelling style.

Cinema Paradiso (1988)

A filmmaker recalls his childhood when falling in love with the pictures at the cinema of his home village and forms a deep friendship with the cinema’s projectionist.

I’ve blogged about Cinema Paradiso quite a few times and it remains one of the foreign-language movies I recommend to people. Written and directed by Giuseppe Tornatore, it’s more than just a romance between two people (Toto and Elena), it’s also a beautiful love letter to cinema, as well as a heartfelt tribute to life-altering friendship (Alfredo and Toto).

There are plenty of romantic moments between the handsome Italian boy Toto and the subject of his affection is Elena, including an iconic kissing scene in the rain. But it’s the final scene of the older Toto who’s now a successful filmmaker… alone in an empty cinema watching something Alfredo made specially for him. I won’t spoil it for you… but let’s just say it’s one of cinema’s greatest scenes.

Cold War (2019)

In the 1950s, a music director falls in love with a singer and tries to persuade her to flee communist Poland for France.

This Polish black/white film by Pawel Pawlikowski is a beautiful and emotionally-haunting film. It’s not exactly a ‘joyful’ movie, nor is it a fantastical, dreamy look at love. Joanna Kulig  and Tomasz Kot have that Bogie/Bacall vibe, a strong chemistry and a passionate intensity that burns through the screen.

Billed as an impossible love story in impossible times, their romance is dark, thorny and even tragic. I remember watching this on the big screen in a nearly empty theater and I almost couldn’t move when it ended. The minimalist filmmaking style packs an emotional punch, definitely one of the best love stories that speaks about the complexity of human emotion living in difficult times.

For A Woman (2016)

After their mother’s death, a filmmaker and her sister discover a cache of old photos and letters that lead them to unravel their parents’ tangled relationship with a mysterious uncle.

I saw this as part of Minneapolis/St. Paul Film Festival. The post-WWII story is based on French director Diane Kurys’ own family history. The lovely Mélanie Thierry plays a young mother Lena whose husband Michel (Benoît Magimel) had rescued her when they both were in a concentration camp. The new life they’ve built together in Paris takes an unexpected turn when her husband’s long-lost brother Jean (Nicolas Duvauchelle) suddenly shows up in their apartment.

I enjoy love stories with a bit of mystery thrown in, and the political aspect of this film certainly makes this one even more beguiling. The film moves between two periods, late 1940s and in the 80s where Lena’s daughter Anne (Sylvie Testud) is now a filmmaker who’s inspired to write a screenplay based on her parents’ story.

House of Flying Daggers (2004)

During the reign of the Tang Dinasty, two captains of the government army, plot a scheme against the rebels using the blind dancer Mei to approach their leaders, but their love for Mei leads them to a tragedy.

I barely watch any Kung Fu movies, but I remember enjoying this Kung Fu romance drama by Zhang Yimou. Known for his beautifully-shot epic movies such as Hero, Curse of the Golden Flower, this one also features spectacular action sequences that take your breath away. The one in the bamboo forest is one that’ll make you go ‘how did they do that?’ But what I remember most is the chemistry between Takeshi Kaneshiro and Zhang Ziyi who are both phenomenally gorgeous actors. Ziyi plays a beautiful blind dancer who get entangled with two men (the other one played by Andy Lau) who happen to work together.

It’s one of those impossible love stories where the odds are always against them and there are larger forces at work that prevent them from ever being together. I remember thinking that despite all the stunning landscapes (shot in China and Ukraine) and unbelievable, physics-defying Kung Fu, there is still a tender love story at the center.

Photograph (2019)

A struggling street photographer in Mumbai, pressured to marry by his grandmother, convinces a shy stranger to pose as his fiancée. The pair develop a connection that transforms them in ways they could not expect.

I’ve been wanting to see this movie for a long time and I finally did earlier this week so I could include it on this list. I had heard of Ritesh Batra’s The Lunch Box starring the late Irrfan Khan, where Nawazuddin Siddiqui has a supporting role. This one is also set in Mumbai and this time Siddiqui plays a street photographer Rafi, who asks a woman named Miloni he took a picture of to pretend to be his fiancée. He does it to appease his grandmother (Dadi) who, unsurprisingly in that culture, has been pestering him to choose a wife. Farrukh Jaffar is quite a hoot in the role of Dadi, providing some of the lighter, comic moments.

There is such a quiet grace about this film, even amidst the chaotic Mumbai streets and in a cramped living quarter where Rafi shares with his work buddies. The story touches upon themes of social class given that Miloni comes from a more affluent background. Yet it doesn’t stop their chance encounter to blossom albeit ever so tentatively, which might seem unusual in the age of instant gratification. There’s a pretty bizarre scene involving a ghost that seems a bit out of character, yet somehow delivered in a nonchalant manner that you just go with it. I’m really impressed by Batra’s work here and will definitely be checking out his other work.

In The Mood for Love (2001)

Two neighbors, a woman and a man, form a strong bond after both suspect extramarital activities of their spouses. However, they agree to keep their bond platonic so as not to commit similar wrongs.

This movie is one of my cinematic blind spots but I finally rectified it this week when I saw it for the first time on HBO Max. I’m not too familiar with Wong Kar-wai’s work, the only other film of his I saw was The Grandmaster which is a visually-ravishing film. Now, the same could be said about this one, which also stars Tony Chiu-Wai Leung. He and Maggie Cheung have such an exquisite chemistry… even as they steal glances every time they pass through a narrow corridor to get to their cramped home, you can cut their repressed tension with a knife.

Set in Hong Kong in the 1960s, Mr. Chow is a newspaper editor and Mrs. Chan a secretary. Both of their respective spouses are barely shown or not at all, allowing them to spend time together as they suspect their spouses’ infidelity. It’s one of the most beautiful films about love and loss… stylishly-directed by Kar-wai and shot by his longtime collaborator Christopher Doyle. A poignant and heart-wrenching drama for the ages. In fact, reading IMDb trivia, this was the film that made Alejandro González Iñárritu want to be a filmmaker, wow!


Which of these films have you seen? If you have foreign romance films to recommend, please leave them in the comments!

The Flix List – Valentine Edition: 10 Romantic Comedies I LOVE

It’s Valentine’s Day eve! Guys, did you order your flowers yet? 😀

Photo courtesy of Princess Ashley on Flickr

Romantic comedies or rom-com for short, gets a bad rep these days. Obviously a lot of them deserve it, i.e. When in Rome, Leap Year, The Ugly Truth, etc. which can’t even be included in the ‘so bad it’s good’ category. Alas, year after year, Hollywood keeps churning out one banal rom-com after another. But of course, not all rom-coms are created equal, when the ‘chemistry’ is right, that is when the cast, dialog, direction, etc. all mesh together well, we’ve got ourselves a movie that warm the heart. They make us laugh and cry tears of joy and we can always go back to them whenever we need a dose of romance in the movies. So, here are ten rom-coms that I certainly don’t mind watching over and over again (in alphabetical order):

  1. Amélie
    A delightful gem that beguiles me from the start with its unabashed kookiness. Audrey Tatou is perfectly cast in this winning French movie, it proves that a love story can be charming and sweet without being sickeningly saccharine. A delicate balance surely, but director Jean-Pierre Jeunet pulled it off beautifully (check out my full review)
  2. Four Weddings and a Funeral
    Is it wonder this British rom-com was such worldwide box office hit? The highest-grossing British film in cinema history boast a fabulous cast, a wonderfully witty dialog and a realistic portrayal of unrequited love. Witty, funny, delightful… if only there are more rom-coms like this one. This scene alone with Kristin Scott Thomas deserves a place in this list.

  3. Notting Hill
    Ok, I promise you I didn’t pick this one because I have a penchant for floppy-haired Hugh Grant 😀 Let’s face it, who hasn’t dreamed of a scenario like this one, actually having one of our favorite celeb fall in love with us. Yet somehow, despite the lofty potential of cheese, I can’t help but be swept away by the lovely romance between Grant’s everyman and the superstar, played w/ extra megawatt smile by Julia Roberts. The fabulous London location and this inventive changing season scene also play a huge part why I adore this movie!

  4. One Fine Day
    I can’t exactly say I’m a big fan of George Clooney but I’ve got to admit he charms up a storm in this one. He’s got a delightfully effortless chemistry with sexy Michelle Pfeiffer, surprisingly believable as a single mom who’s driven but vulnerable. The New York City setting is as equally appealing as the two leads and definitely adds to the romantic mood. Even the kids in the movie are likable instead of annoying, making this a one fine rom-com.

  5. P.S. I Love You
    Ok, I’m one of those who wants Gerry Butler to get off the rom-com trail, but this is one I actually adore. Initially I thought the usually-serious Hilary Swank was miscast in this, but upon several re-watching, I now think she perfectly captures the essence of a woman mourning the loss of her husband and her bumbling scenes are actually pretty funny. I put this one in my favorite unconventionally-romantic flix list last Valentine’s Day as it doesn’t follow the same formula of girl-meets-boy or a happily-ever-after ending. As I said in that previous post, Butler’s so darn charming you’ll be more than willing to forgive him for his ghastly Irish accent 😀 Not to mention the great supporting cast of Kathy Bates, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Harry Connick Jr., among others.
  6. Return to Me
    If you’ve read this post I titled ‘the beautiful, poignant chickflix nobody’s ever seen.’ There’s a reason David Duchovny and Minnie Driver are one of my fave romantic couples of all time. You just can’t help rooting for them and just want them to find happiness after the circumstances they’ve been through. The classically-tinged soundtrack is awesome, too, especially if you’re a fan of The Rat Pack. I can’t recommend this movie enough, folks, if you haven’t already, put this in your Netflix queue!
  7. Sabrina (1995)
    Last month I listed this movie as one of my favorite remakes. Granted I have not seen the original and Audrey Hepburn’s a tough act to follow. Yet Julia Ormond is enchanting in this Sydney Pollack movie. It’s also surprisingly goofy in parts, and the tone is decidedly fluffy. Like Swank in P.S. I love you, I initially thought Harrison Ford was miscast, but I end up loving him in this role. Greg Kinnear is amusing as always, and he complements Ford’s ‘curmudgeon’ character perfectly. Oh, and if you’re observant, see if you can spot Paul Giamatti as one of the kitchen staff.
  8. Sleepless in Seattle
    Sure the two leads hardly spent more than ten minutes together, but it’s the events leading up to it that is just so fun to watch. This is definitely one of the best of Meg Ryan‘s abundant rom-coms (she’s practically a sub-genre!) and Tom Hanks is as endearing and funny as ever. Lots of iconic NYC scenes and landmarks in this one that no doubt still inspire lovebirds on Valentine’s Day. The supporting cast is great: Rob Reiner, Victor Garber, Hanks’s own wife Rita Wilson, and even Rosie O’Donnell were delightful. Again, the music is one of the best thing of this. In fact, I still play the soundtrack from time to time.
  9. Roman Holiday
    Who doesn’t love Audrey Hepburn? Pair such a lovable icon with an equally winsome Gregory Peck and you’ve got a recipe for a marvelous classic. The Italian setting also piles on the charm and is almost the ‘star’ of the film itself, but of course the charismatic leads can’t be outdone by even the most beautiful scenery. This is also in my favorite unconventionally-romantic flix list, and as I said in that post, the best love story is the unexpected kind.
  10. The American President
    Speaking of unexpected, who’d have thought a movie about a widowed US president be so romantic? But that’s exactly what you get in this Rob Reiner rom-com starring Michael Douglas and Annette Bening as the unlikely couple. I’m not much into political movies, but I was able to get past all the rhetoric and just focus on the sweet romance. I love the first time Sydney Wade hangs up on the prez because she thought it was a prank phone call, and the cute first kiss in the China Room. No doubt Andrew Shepherd is on my list of memorable movie presidents.
    ….

Honorable Mentions

10 Things I Hate About You, Bridget Jones’ Diary, Kate & Leopold, Serendipity, Some Kind of Wonderful, While You Were Sleeping, You’ve Got Mail, (500) Days of Summer, What Women Want, When Harry Met Sally.

The rom-com still on my must-watch list: Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night (1934) Well I finally saw it, read my full review.


Here’s wishing you all a lovely Valentine’s day! So what are some of your favorite rom-coms? Viewing suggestions welcome!

Weekend Roundup: Amélie & 28 Days Later

Happy Monday, readers, and welcome to March!

Hope you had a nice weekend, wherever you are. It was a nice, mellow weekend for me, can’t complain really when the sun shone for the entire weekend with temp ‘soaring’ to the mid 30s (yes, that’s a ‘warm’ front for us Minnesotans after a long, cold Winter!). On top of our girls’ monthly movie nite on Friday, I managed to squeeze in another movie this weekend, as well as a trip to a local arts museum on Saturday. Below is my Amélie and 28 Days Later reviews:

Amélie

Finally watched this French movie with my girlfriends – as it’s been well-recommended by fellow bloggers (thanks guys!) and something my friends have also been curious about. Now I finally get why everyone just loves this movie.

Immediately we’re introduced to the film’s charming heroine Amélie Poulain (Audrey Tautou), whose unusual childhood shapes her imaginative propensity as a way to cope with her loneliness. Ever since she was a little girl, Amelie has a certain way to deal with what life throws at her, including one particularly traumatizing event, and we’re in for a treat as we’re pulled in to see the world through her curious eye.

As a young woman, she lives a quiet life as she glides about through the streets of Paris. She lives alone in a tiny apartment, works at a local cafe, and occasionally pay her also-lonely father a visit. But one day, she discovers a tin box containing a boy’s childhood memento, which sets off an adventure as she strives to find the rightful owner. It is then that Amélie comes out of her ‘shell’ – and her imaginary world – to bond with people around her, and inadvertently finds love in the process. When I wrote my post about unconventionally romantic flicks, several people mention this movie as one of their top picks, and it’s easy to see why. From the time Amelie first bumps into Nino (Mathieu Kassovitz), they both embark on an endearing and whimsical journey that finally leads to a joyfully rewarding climax as the two finally meets. Unlike Hollywood movies are overloaded with cliched and hackneyed circumstances of couples who ‘meet cute’ or ‘initial hostility that grows into love’, etc., the love story here is utterly charming and sweet but not sickeningly saccharine.

Amelie & Nino in the cafe

Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet paints a visually-dazzling film with its stylized cinematography. The skewed camera angles and clever direction makes the surreal, even bawdy scenes downright amusing, and they help enrich the simple story. But amidst the aesthetics, Tautou is hands down the star of the film. She dominates nearly every frame with her adorable wide eyes and mischievous grin, and all of us girls couldn’t stop admiring her gorgeous haircut that only such a pretty face as Tatou’s can pull off. But her quirkiness is matched by her kind heart as well, which is probably what I love most about this character. Even when she pulls on some pranks on people, it was motivated by benevolence and a sense of injustice that came to her attention.

I’m so glad I finally saw this movie. Amélie is a delightful film that charms you from the start with its unabashed kookiness. It’s also a joie de vivre … a hearty celebration of life and humanity.

4 out of 5 reels


28 Days Later

After watching a quintessential ‘feel-good’ flick, this is obviously as far-flung as it can possibly be in more ways than one. Yet they share something in common in that both are critically-acclaimed, and I’m glad to say that both of them exceeds my high expectation. Promoted as a gory zombie horror flick, I’ve avoided this flick for a while. As it turns out, it’s so much more than a ‘scary’ movie and it’s definitely not your run-of-the-mill flesh-eating corpse story.

Directed by British director Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, Sunshine, Slumdog Millionaire), the movie opens at a Primate Research Center facility where a group of animal activists attempt to free the test-subjected chimps from their cages. Ignoring the scientist’s desperate warning that the primates are infected with rage, the group’s action sets off a devastating calamity. The rest of the movie takes place 28 days after that incurable virus has spread throughout the UK, and only a tiny handful survivors are left in the city. One of them is Jim (Cillian Murphy) who wakes up completely naked from a coma after a traffic accident. He exits the hospital and keeps walking into the city, baffled as to why the entire city is deserted.

Jim surveys the deserted city of London atop Wenstminster Bridge

The part of Jim in his hospital gown wandering on top of Westminster Bridge with the Big Ben looming in the distance is such an iconic scene, and it’s got such a realistic feel to it as the movie is shot almost entirely on digital video. According to its Wikipedia page, in order to depict these locations as desolate, the film crew closed off sections of street for minutes at a time, usually in early morning to minimize disruption. The quietness of the scene makes the ensuing fracas as Jim discovers the zombies – in a church of all places – all the more terrifying. The incident brings him to the first non-contaminated people, Mark (Noah Huntley) and Selena (Naomie Harris), and they enlighten Jim about the incident that leaves the world in utter chaos and immensely deprived of what we take for granted every day: order (government, police/army), basic necessities (electricity, running water) and any form of communication (TV, radio).

Gleeson, Murphy and Harris were perfectly cast

In their quest for survival, those left standing are united with two additional ‘healthy’ people, a father-daughter duo who occupies an abandoned condominium. The dad, Frank (played brilliantly by Brendan Gleeson), urges the team to go to Manchester to find a band of soldiers he heard over a pre-recorded radio broadcast, that not only promises shelter but also “the answer to infection.” Aboard Frank’s black cab, their journey provides for comic relief – but not entirely devoid of suspense – and gives a nice opportunity to get to know the characters. But as soon as they find the abandoned military blockade, a tragic incident robs another survivor’s life, and the rest of the team are led to a bolstered mansion where seemingly ‘good’ people will offer them protection from the savagery of the ‘infected.’ Yet, we quickly learn that there’s more than meets the eye, and that these seemingly good’ people end up being as harmful and terrifying – if not more so – in their perversion disguised as a ‘survival tactic.’

The movie is not without violent/gory scenes, but they’re served in context of the realities the survivors now face, not for pure shock value. In fact, it isn’t so much a movie about zombies, but more about how the survivors cope with dire circumstances. It also makes a commentary of what people are capable in desperate measures, which can be both horrific and admirable, sometimes even both. The zombie attack scene at Jim’s parents’ house is harrowing not exactly for the actual attack, but when it shows the extent of survival instinct that compels us to do the unthinkable. It’s just one of the many scenes that make your skin crawl and stick to your gut because of what they represent, which is a reflection of human nature that are sadly just as scary as the crime-laden headlines we read every day.

Overall, it’s an impressive film for its witty, no-nonsense script and clever direction, boosted by great performances throughout, particularly Irish actor Cillian Murphy, who’s also excellent in sci-fi flick Sunshine, his second collaboration with Boyle. Both Gleeson and Harris were notable as well, this is the first time I’ve seen the latter, but I hope to see more of the London-based actress in the future.

I’m glad I step out of my comfort zone and give this ‘horror’ flick a chance. It proves that you don’t need a big budget or hi-tech gizmos to create a great film. A must-see indeed.

4 out of 5 reels


Thoughts on either one of these films?