The 10 Best Foreign Romance Movies!!

Apr 24, 2004 (Updated Nov 10, 2005)

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The Bottom Line Nobody knows romance like the French . . . . but the rest keep trying!

This being my 100th Epinions Review, I thought I’d offer my list of The 10 Best Foreign Romance Movies. I’ll start with a brief outline of my criteria in composing this list:

A. By foreign, I mean non-English language films. That’s a bit unfair to the Brits, the Aussies, and the Canucks, but their films aren’t foreign enough or foreign-language enough for my intentions. Otherwise, Pride and Prejudice would head my list.

B. To qualify for consideration, the film cannot be merely a great film with a romantic component – a mere love interest. After all, most films have a love interest of one kind or another. No, the romance has to be central to the story and preferably the core of the film. It most be romance at a level that is intense, passionate, and consuming.

C. The romance does not have to be either successfully realized or “psychologically healthy” in its manifestation. In fact, the most intense romantic passions typically involve obstacles of one type or another – parents or churches standing in the way, duty keeping the lovers apart, or a large nose as an obstacle between the two. Or the love might be unrequited. It is often these very obstacles that inflame love beyond normal bounds and make it interesting as subject matter for a love story. The love may have an obsessive or even an abusive component and still qualify for my list – I won’t be judging these romances as a psychiatrist might or as role models of healthy love relationships for viewers.

D. My ranking of the films will be based on my judgment about the quality of the romantic element of the story rather than the overall worth of the film, although those two aspects are partly interrelated, given that the romance is the core theme for these films.

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Metalluk’s Ten Best Foreign Romance Movies:

#10. Jules and Jim (1962). This French film directed by Francois Truffaut is something of a love triangle. Jules (Oskar Werner) is a shy blond German living in Paris while Jim (Henri Serre) is a dark-haired Frenchman. They become best friends and share aesthetic interests, including a fascination with a ancient stone carving of a woman. When they encounter Catherine (Jeanne Moreau), who is the spitting image of the woman in the stone carving, both are smitten. The three become inseparable companions and Jules courts Catherine with Jim’s blessing. Catherine has a child with Jules but then begins an affair with Jim. Catherine is moody and has an obsessive need to be the center of attention. Her behavior becomes erratic whenever she is ignored. This film culminates in a dramatic surprise.

#9. War and Peace (1967). The young Natasha, in this Russian epic based on the great Tolstoy novel, has her man all but in the bag, but by youthful impatience, throws away her golden opportunity. Later, she feels the full force of the love for which she took too little care. This film belongs to the subgenre of romance films that pertain to a love too little appreciated until it is lost.

#8. A Man and a Woman (1966). This French film directed by Claude Lelouch starred Anouk Aimee as Anne Gauthier and Jean-Louis Trintignant as Jean-Louis Duroc. She is a widowed script girl for a film studio and he a racecar driver whose previous wife committed suicide. Their respective memories pose the main obstacle to their moving on from their pains and finding renewal in love for one another. This is a classic and touching romance story, though lacking the depth of the very best films in this category.

#7. Like Water For Chocolate (1992). Tita (Lumi Cavazos) and Pedro (Marco Leonardi) are madly in love but Tita’s Mama is the resolute obstacle. Mama has other plans for Tita. The tradition in Tita’s family is that the youngest daughter in each generation must remain unmarried and devote herself to caring for her parents until their death. Desperate to be at least near Tita, Pedro agrees to the alternative of marrying Tita’s older sister Rosaura. How’s that for a sick arrangement with which no one will be happy? Tita, however, has ample opportunity to vent her frustration, since she has acquired the magical capacity to impart her emotions to the food that she prepares for the entire family. Hold onto your intestinal tracts, folks!

#6. Black Orpheus (1959). A film based on the classic love story of Orpheus and Eurydice could hardly be less than touchingly romantic. This highly charged Brazilian film set amidst the Carnival atmosphere of Rio delivers an endearing love story despite its low-budget origin. It will leave you dancing or at least snapping your fingers.

#5. The Horseman on the Roof (1995). This romantic epic deals with the kind of love known as the “Florence Nightingale syndrome” that develops when one is nursed back to life by a loving caregiver. Angelo Pardi (Olivier Martinez) is an Italian freedom fighter in temporary exile in France. Pauline De Theus (Juliette Binoche) is the young wife of a count who is stranded in France. Both need to travel east but southern France has been thrown into chaos by an attack of the plague. Roads are closed and townspeople are in a panic, lynching strangers for fear of their spreading the plague. Pardi, who is the epitome of gallant heroism, and the somewhat older Pauline get thrown together by circumstances and romantic attraction builds inexorably between the two despite their mutual efforts at denial. When Pauline comes down with the plague, Pardi will do his utmost to try to save her. This film features probably the sexiest non-sex scene in cinema.

#4. Camila (1984). This Spanish language film is set in mid-nineteenth century Argentina, where the youthful Camila has steeped herself in the writings of romantic authors and poets. She is looking for the perfect love and a man who can excite her ideals as well as her passion. She finds him, in all places, in the person of a handsome, young Jesuit priest, Ladislao Gutiérrez. This is not a wise pick because leaving the church was not an option for a Jesuit priest in nineteenth century Argentina, especially in a political atmosphere dominated by a religiously conservative dictator. Love overcomes good sense but cannot, in the end, withstand the consequences inevitably imposed by a repressive society.

#3. Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964). This beautiful French film in luscious color and beautifully sung is a kind of double love story, pitting one kind of love against another. Guy (Nino Castelvuovo) and Geneviève (Catherine Deneuve) are madly, passionately in love, but two things stand in their way: Geneviève’s mother and Guy’s tour of duty in the war in Algiers. When Guy is drafted into service, Geneviève discovers that she is pregnant and must choose between her passion for Guy and the handsome, wealthy, and devoted suitor thrown into her path by her mother. Geneviève makes the sensible rather than the impassioned choice and when Guy returns from war, he is disconsolate that Geneviève is nowhere to be found. Wracked by anguish, he is falling apart but is pulled together by the devoted love and care of the unglamorous Madeleine, who has secretly loved him for several years. Together they build a simple, middle class life, operating a gas station, and have a son named Francois. One day, Geneviève drives into the gas station for a fill-up, with her daughter Francoise (Guy’s daughter) in the car. Now, for a moment, Guy sees in close juxtaposition both the passion of his youth and the steady, sensible love of his adulthood.

#2. Children of Paradise (1945). Once designated the greatest French film of all-time, this film revolves around Garance (Arletty), whose beautiful but impassive face reflects back to each of her four would-be lovers their own romantic ideals, making her the perfect love object for all. The story centers most especially on the obsessive love of Baptiste, a wide-eyed mime, for Garance, in whom he sees the purity of a flower. Baptiste is so consumed by his love for Garance that he cannot appreciate the love of his wife or son which he has close at hand.

#1. Cyrano de Bergerac (1990). In my opinion, no love story exceeds that of Cyrano de Bergerac for selfless and heroic devotion. Filled with self-loathing because of his hideously large nose, Cyrano hides his deep, passionate love for Roxane and sacrifices his own desires to advance her own passionate love for the handsome Christian, even providing Christian with his own soul to woo and win the incomparable Roxane. This is not only the purest love story but the most poetic.

There you have my Top Ten Foreign Love Stories. For you inveterate and insatiable romantics, here’s some other worthy contenders.

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Honorable Mentions:

#11. Wings of Desire (1987)
#12. Queen Margot (1994)
#13. Star Maker (1995)
#14. Ballad of a Soldier (1959)
#15. The Return of Martin Guerre (1982)
#16. And God Created Woman (1956)
#17 Swept Away (1974).
#18. Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959)
#19. Life is Beautiful (1997)
#20. Il Postino (1995)
#21. Chungking Express (1994)
#22. The World of Apu (1954)
#23. The Scent of Green Papaya (1994)
#24. A Year in the Quiet Sun (1984)


You may also enjoy my other genre lists for non-English language films:

Ten Excellent Spanish-Language Films
Ten More Excellent Spanish-Language Films
Coming-of-age – Outside the USA!
Top Ten Foreign Language Psychodramas
Top Ten Non-English Language Political Movies
My Top Ten Non-English Language Tragedies
Top Non-English Language Comedies
Top-Ten Non-English Language Film Biographies
Top-Ten Non-English Language Action/Adventure Films
Ten Best Non-English Language War Movies!!
Top-Ten Non-English Language Mystery Films
Top-Ten Non-English Language ~Horror~ Films
Top-Ten English-Language ~Horror~ Films from Outside the USA
Ten Excellent Films Featuring Royalty
Ten Excellent Non-English Language Thrillers
Ten Non-English Language High-Yield Tearjerkers
Ten Excellent Non-English Language Senior Films
Top-Ten Non-English Language Films Featuring Classical Music
The Top Non-English Language Epics
The Ten Best Non-English Language Love Story Movies!!

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