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.
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.
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!