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Valentine’s Day Special: 21 Fantastic French Romance Films

13 February 2014 | Features, Film Lists | by Brian White

french romance films

The French are renowned for l’amour. They embrace it, live it and literally love it. So it should come as no surprise that some of the best romance films in the world have been created by the French film industry.

From the enduring classics like The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Jules and Jim, to the modern favorites like Amelie and The Lovers on the Bridge, to the recently acclaimed Amour and Blue Is The Warmest Color, you should never worry about picking a good romance film from French cinema. Here are 21 mandatory French romance movies you should watch.

 

21. Fanfan

fanfan

Alexandre Jardin made a promising directorial debut with this inspired adaptation of his novel “Fanfan”, published in 1990. Whilst the first half of the film feels unconvincing and painfully superficial in places, things improve significantly in its second half.

Compelling performances from Vincent Perez and Sophie Marceau transform what looks at first like a routine romantic comedy into something far richer, far more compassionate. The second part of the film also contains some moments of artistic brilliance, notably the Cocteau-esque sequence in which the two lovers attempt to make contact through a mirrored partition.

Although there are a few unexplained gaps in the narrative – some more back story about Alexandre might have helped – writer-director Alexandre Jardin succeeds in weaving a tender love story that is both original and hauntingly poetic.

 

20. Love Me If You Dare

Jeux-d-enfant-jeux-denfants-love-me-if-you-dare

Only the French, those self-proclaimed sages of “l’amour fou,” would dream of concocting a surreal romantic allegory like Yann Samuell’s grown-up fairy tale, “Love Me if You Dare.” This rococo fantasy, tricked out with animation and with actors sailing like little Supermen through toy cutout clouds, belongs to the same school of whimsical excess as “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” and “Amelie.”

But as the movie glides along, its story turns considerably darker than those of its fluffy, candy-colored forerunners. Whether you find its dual resolution hopelessly pretentious or profound depends on your tolerance for a certain strain of Gallic sentimentality that takes itself more seriously than it lets on.

 

19. Blue Is the Warmest Color

Blue-Is-The-Warmest-Color

The colorful, electrifying romance that took the Cannes Film Festival by storm courageously dives into a young woman’s experiences of first love and sexual awakening. Blue Is the Warmest Color stars the remarkable newcomer Adèle Exarchopoulos as a high schooler who, much to her own surprise, plunges into a thrilling relationship with a female twentysomething art student, played by Léa Seydoux.

Directed by Abdellatif Kechiche, this finely detailed, intimate epic sensitively renders the erotic abandon of youth. It has captivated international audiences and been widely embraced as a defining love story for the new century.

 

18. Camille Claudel

camille claudel

The troubled life of French sculptor Camille Claudel and her long relationship with legendary sculptor Auguste Rodin are portrayed in this passionate biographical drama, featuring an acclaimed performance by Isabelle Adjani. First-time director Bruno Nuytten had previously served as a cinematographer, and he brings this experience to bear in his loving presentation of Claudel’s sculpture and the lavish period setting.

The dramatic approach is in tune with the impressive visuals, which present Claudel’s life as a grandiose melodrama, a transformation that irritated some critics. However, few questioned the film’s value as a dramatic showcase for Adjani, whose fervent portrayal was rewarded with an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress.

 

17. The Lovers on the Bridge

lovers-on-the-bridge

Leos Carax is nothing if not ambitious. He wants “The Lovers on the Bridge” to be a defining work of doomed romantic fatalism, the mood of many of the most famous French films of the ’30s. And he also appears to be trying to evoke the mixture of sleaze and enchantment that characterized the work of the great Hungarian photographer Brassao in his books “Paris By Night” and “The Secret Paris of the ’30s.”

Some movies are filigreed with poetic conceits. Carax’s “The Lovers on the Bridge” is nothing but poetic conceits. Pare them away and there’s nothing left underneath.

Carax re-creates the world as a toy for his romantic/philosophical/cinematic musings. There’s nothing wrong with dealing in artifice — if you don’t get lost in the ether.

 

16. Betty Blue

betty blue

The erotic drama “Betty Blue” opens with young lovers Zorg (Jean-Hugues Anglade) and Betty (Béatrice Dalle) enjoying a session of bed-breaking sex beneath the tranquil gaze of a reproduction Mona Lisa. As we have spent centuries debating the mystery behind La Gioconda’s smile, Zorg devotes himself to understanding Betty, who is as cracked and crazed as Da Vinci’s paintwork.

Jean-Jacques Beineix’s 1986 international hit is a playful, meandering, somewhat confusing tale that hangs together as a portrait of demented love. The film’s thesis is that there is a limit to man’s understanding, and that limit is woman.

 

15. Amelie

Amelie

Watching this movie is like being frogmarched into Maxim’s in Paris and forced to eat up the entire sweet trolley in 60 seconds, while Maurice Chevalier stands behind you, singing a 78rpm version of: “Zank Evans feur leedle gairrls, ceurz leedle gairrls gait beegaire ev-reh deh.”

Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s lavish, hyperactive, romantic whimsy is the gooiest dish on the cinema menu. You will need a very sweet tooth to take it. In fact, you may need a tooth of pure sucrose, not to mention gums of marzipan and a jawbone of sherbet.

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  • Eric A. Karno

    After Fall, Winter is glaringly absent!