6. Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1974)
Legendary German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder often explored themes of love in his films, but the film of his that’s lesson is the most relevant and everlasting is, without question, Ali: Fear Eats the Soul.
The film tells an unconventional love story between Ali, an arab immigrant, and Emmi, an elderly widowed cleaning woman. The couple is nearly torn apart by the disapproval of their respective communities. Emmi’s family, neighbors, and coworkers abandon and disown her when they find out about her marriage. Both members of the relationship become social outcasts, and are left with no one besides each other.
Fassbinder’s film heavily endorses unconventional relationships, and the director implores the audience to look beyond race and age and into the soul that is often corrupted by fear and evil, hence the title of the film.
Rainer Werner Fassbinder was undoubtedly ahead of his time when it came to his provocative and thought provoking films, and this is especially the case with Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, a film that’s lesson remains socially relevant over forty years after its release.
7. Y Tu Mamá También (Alfonso Cuarón, 2001)
Alfonso Cuarón’s breakout film, Y Tu Mamá También, is a road movie about sexual discovery. The film follows two teenage boys who take an older woman on a road trip to a made-up beach resort.
What makes the film, and the lessons it teaches, so interesting is how it criticizes all of the values it portrays. Lust, which plays such a prevalent role in the film, is ultimately represented as an evil. Throughout the film the main characters’ inability to control their sexual desires tears their relationships apart. The ending of the film leaves the audience with the message that love is not located in lust and attraction, but rather in companionship and connections.
Y Tu Mamá Tambien is a fantastic film that explores this theme of love over lust by portraying a story featuring characters who, like most teenagers, do not yet quite understand what love. The film teaches a powerful lesson of love that advocates for human connection over lust and attraction.
8. Hannah and Her Sisters (Woody Allen, 1986)
Almost all of Woody Allen’s vast filmography could be included on this list, but none teach a lesson of love as effectively as Hannah and Her Sisters. The film tells two interconnected stories of men searching for love. One of these stories follows Elliot, a man who falls in love with his wife’s sister. The other follows Hannah’s ex-husband, Mickey (played by Woody Allen himself), a hypochondriac who falls for Hannah’s other sister.
The story focuses on less glamorous examples of love that are not often portrayed on film. The relationship between Elliot and his sister in law is awkward and clumsy, and it begins to destroy their already existing relationships with their significant others. As one becomes closer to the other, the other begins to pull away, and someone is always being harmed by the relationship.
This darker form of love is displayed both heartbreakingly and comedically by Allen’s exceptional screenplay, and the film teaches an incredibly important lesson of love through the portrayal of a dysfunctional, awkward, and somewhat immoral relationship.
9. Punch-Drunk Love (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2002)
The main characters of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch-Drunk Love are not the kinds of people who usually lead a love story. The film’s main character Barry Egan, played brilliantly by Adam Sandler, might be the one of the most self hating characters ever put to film. He is constantly emasculated by many of the people in his life, especially his seven sisters, and he is a character who seems to never believe he could find love. This, of course, is not the case, as he and Emily Watson’s Lena fall for each other.
This simple relationship gives Barry the ability to become the person he always wanted to become. He gains confidence and self respect, standing up to both his sisters and the eccentric mattress owner extorting him for money.
This message of self respect is what Paul Thomas Anderson is attempting to convey through his film. As corny as it sounds, the lesson that ‘through love anything is possible’ is one that is important to learn, and it is expressed brilliantly throughout Punch-Drunk Love.
10. Shadows in Paradise (Aki Kaurismäki, 1986)
Like some other films on this list, Aki Kaurismäki’s masterpiece Shadows In Paradise focuses on the less glamorous side of love. There are no lavish dinners, enchanting dates, or moving romantic gestures, there is only a bond between two people, and that can speak volumes.
The film follows the relationship between a garbage man and a grocery store clerk as they slowly learn to look past the sadness and hardship of their lives. The film proves that there is love out there for anyone who is willing to find it, no matter how dreary and unhappy life can often be. The film’s title is most likely representative of the idea that darkness and gloom can still be present in happiness.
Without sadness, happiness is not nearly as effective, and this is proven through Kaurismäki’s beautiful love story. Shadows in Paradise is a sometimes bleak, but overall uplifting, story that teaches lessons of love and self respect by portraying a realistic and down to earth relationship.