9. Bay of Angels (Jacques Demy, 1963)
You may say that if one considers this gambling-based film as romantic, then why not consider Masahiro Shinoda’s Yakuza masterpiece “Pale Flower” as romantic? Even though the male and female leads of “Bay of Angels” mostly spend their time gambling, they are actually having a uncertain and short romantic relationship that Jacques Demy has so mesmerizingly depicted. So, it’s ridiculous to include the film on this romantic list, this author supposes.
Demy is almost equal to the level of other French New Wave directors like Godard and Truffaut, as their visual style and the characters in their films are comparable to a certain extent. “Bay of Angels” and “Lola” are two of the most important New Wave films that Demy had made.
Here, a young bank employee (Claude Mann) falls in love with a gambler woman (Jeanne Moreau), who is divorced and mother to a child. Even though Jeanne likes Claude’s infatuation towards her, she continuously warns him that she always gives priority to gambling over anything or anyone in her life. She likes the risks of gambling, which is also the main intriguing component of the film.
Due to the romantic-like visual style and uncertain romantic relationship and meetings and dating between Jeanne and Claude, this film can be seen as one of the most romantic films of all time.
10. A Man and a Woman (Claude Lelouch, 1966)
“Claude Lelouch, remember this name well, because you will not hear it again,” wrote Cahiers du cinema in the harsh review of Lelouch’s debut film, but “A Man and a Woman” changed his fortune, which was cited as a masterpiece even by the Cahiers group.
At the beginning of his career, he wasn’t taken seriously, but after this one, his films started to get high critical acclaim. He has given another masterpiece of equal level, a musical epic “Les Uns et les Autres”. Lelouch is especially great with lush photography, beautiful cinematography, and use of songs and music.
This film is especially famous for immensely beautiful cinematography, use of black and white as well as sepia-toned imageries, great tracking shots in car riding scenes, selection of music and songs, intensely romantic conversations between its male and female leads etc.
A widower (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and a widow (Anouk Aimee) end up meeting each other when they go to take their respective children to their boarding school.
When Jean offers Anouk a lift in his car, they start to talk about each other, which slowly changes to romantic conversation. They start to have an affair but deep down in their heart, they still feel love to their deceased spouses, which become the psychological problem in their relationship.
11. Claire’s Knee (Eric Rohmer, 1970)
It wouldn’t be hyperbole if one says that Rohmer’s typical style has been mastered to the highest level in this beautiful film, which doesn’t have a particular plot but has shown the thoughts, desires, and emotions very intriguingly and powerfully. This film is the fifth of Rohmer’s “Six Moral Tales”.
As the title suggests, its plot is simple: a man sees the knee of a girl named Claire and gets infatuated by it. Just like other men like a certain woman’s eyes or lips or neck or breasts, he likes Claire’s knee and develops this intense desire to touch it at least once. And one day, he gets a chance. He doesn’t take advantage of her; he has no desire to make her his girlfriend. He has his own plan to marry another woman. He has just this desire to touch Claire’s knee. Simple. That’s the plot.
12. The Mother and the Whore (Jean Eustache, 1973)
If you can endure a film that has never-ending conversations, then you can watch this film that is three and half hours long. Even it is sometimes boring, the film is brilliant overall. It is one of the finest films that France has produced. Eustache, who died by suicide at 42, was in doubt about his career before the shooting of this film. But after he made it, he achieved a great film, the best and most audacious film of his career.
It shows the love triangle where Jean-Pierre Leaud (Truffaut’s favorite character) falls in love with Francoise Lebrun and Bernadette Lafont. Bernadette is a mother-like figure to Jean here, who supports him financially and is many years older than him. Francoise is very lusty, who doesn’t hesitate to get involved in sexual relationships with other guys. So now, Jean ends up in the psychological dilemma whether to chose the “mother” or the “whore”.
13. Tess (Roman Polanski, 1979)
“Tess”, probably Polanski’s best film, is one of the most beautiful films ever made. It was dedicated to his wife Sharon Tate, who had actually asked him to make a film about Thomas Hardy’s novel “Tess of the d’Urbervilles”, and had shown interest to play the role of Tess. That became the last moment that he sees her, as she was murdered by the Manson Family. Polanski then dedicated this film to her.
“Tess” is also one of the greatest films about a love story that tells the love triangle between Tess, a man who makes her pregnant, and her lover. Her family was descended from a noble line that is now living a very poor life in the village. Due to her striking beauty, each and every man wants to marry her.
A noble man takes advantage of her at one point and then she becomes pregnant. That man never knows about this and more especially, that the baby dies some time after the birth. After many years, another “pious” and “virtuous” man falls in love with her, but he leaves her immediately the night of their marriage when she confesses her past.
This film is all about beauty, character, struggle and the love of Tess. Don’t miss it.
14. A nos amours (Maurice Pialat, 1983)
First and foremost, watch all films made by Maurice Pialat, one of the greatest directors of film history. His masterpiece is “Under the Sun of Satan” but don’t miss other classics like “Van Gogh”, “Loulou”, “Naked Childhood” and “Police”. One can know so much about the French typical flavor from his films, which mainly show the study of the characters of the films.
This film is also mainly focused in the character study of its main character, Suzanne (Sandrine Bonnaire) who involves herself in a number of affairs as an angry reaction to her miserable situation at home. The promiscuous 16-year old Suzanne is overly controlled by her father and brother and they are completely aware of her promiscuity.
Therefore, she doesn’t care about anything and as she gets angered, she gets involved in sexual and casual romantic relationships with more and more men.
15. Mauvais Sang (Leos Carax, 1986)
Carax is a visual master who makes visually stunning and mesmerizing romantic as well as poignant films. His greatest film is obviously his latest film “Holy Motors”, where his typical style has been mastered to the utmost level so far. “Mauvais Sang” and “Lovers in the Bridge” are his other two masterpieces that deal with love. Camera movements, beautiful cinematography, immensely mesmerizing imageries, and romantic characters are the common traits of his films.
“Mauvais Sang” is no exception. It tells the strange story of a Paris in a distant future: a mysterious virus called STBO is killing the people who “make love without love”. A serum is developed and Alex (Denis Lavant) is recruited to steal it. Though he has a girlfriend (Julie Delpy), he ends up falling for a another woman (Juliette Binoche).
Carax isn’t overly conscious about its story, but he is concentrated on the style, music, imageries, and characters. Don’t miss it.
16. Monsieur Hire (Patrice Leconte, 1989)
Leconte is great at depicting the love of lonely and shy people, especially men. Watch his all films if you like it.
A man almost always spies on a woman’s apartment room from his apartment room, since they are face to face. Generally he keeps the light off in his room so he can watch her without any hesitation and psychological difficulties.
He watches everything she does: eating, drinking, changing clothes, making love with her boyfriend. One day, she also comes to the window and at that very moment, due to a sudden lightning strike, she sees him watching her.
Now what? She likes being spied on by him and then she tries to seduce him. She even tries to start a relationship with him.
17. The Hairdresser’s Husband (Patrice Leconte, 1990)
The second film from Leconte in this list doesn’t have a shy male lead like in “Monsieur Hire”, but he is still lonely and introverted. He falls in love with a hairdresser who is herself introverted, lonely, and compassionate. He frequently goes to cut hair at that hairdresser’s place and she is shown immensely erotically. One day, he dares to tell her he loves her. At first, she instantly denies it, but afterward she starts to think and accept his desire.
They get married but as happiness doesn’t remain, tragic incidents happen. Leconte chose a very interesting love story and atmosphere regarding this hairdresser. There are sexy scenes in this film that are hundred times more erotic than hundreds of other so-called “erotic films”.