10 Romantic Movies To Stream On MUBI This Valentine’s Day: Most portrayals of romance in mainstream cinema oscillate between heterosexual characters falling in love or heterosexual characters falling out of love, cheating on their significant others, and then re-exploring the meaning of love. Now, since it’s mainstream, you’re going to get the same old recommendations if you intend to watch anything for your Valentine’s Day movie day/afternoon/evening/night that you’ve been getting since movie lists became a thing. But love is complicated. It’s a spectrum. It’s sweet. It’s messy. It’s a lot. And MUBI has curated a list of romantic movies that encompasses all these contours and then some. So, without any further ado, let’s dive right into it.
1. Love Affair (1939)
While in a cruise from Europe to New York to get married to his fiancée and heir of a great fortune in the USA, the bachelor sportsman Michel Marnet (Charles Boyer) meets the gorgeous former night-club singer Terry McKay (Irene Dunne), who is returning to her supportive boyfriend, and they have a love affair and fall in love for each other. They schedule to reunite on the 102nd floor of the Empire State Building six months later, to decide whether they should marry each other or not.
Not to glorify cheating on one’s betrothed or potential betrothed but the most adorable thing about the movie is the subdued portrayal of the titular love affair. Nowadays, movies just go all out to show the ferocity of the affair or at least insinuate appropriately that things are really hot between the cheaters. In Leo McCarey’s movie, it’s limited to a couple of sweet dialogues, hand-holding, one obscure kiss, and a whole lot of longing. People watching it now might even ask when did the affair even happen? Jokes apart, Love Affair is beautifully acted. The cinematography and production design is jaw-dropping. And the music is glorious and sweeping. That said, McKay getting maimed as if to pay for cheating on her boyfriend didn’t sit well with me at all.
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2. Jules and Jim (1962)
Based on the novel by Henri-Pierre Roché, this classic of the French New Wave by François Truffaut chronicles a buoyant love triangle between two friends. One French and one Austrian, Jim (Henri Serre) and Jules (Oskar Werner) and an alluring woman named Catherine (Jeanne Moreau) – the object of their mutual obsession for over twenty-five years.
Fair warning, if you’re not accustomed to the storytelling style of the French New Wave, it’ll be better if you pace yourself because this movie is chaotic as hell. In Jules and Jim’s case, that frenetic energy is understandable because that’s how the characters’ lives are. But it’s one thing to capture the chaos and make it accessible and another to make the filmmaking synonymous with said chaos. And Truffaut clearly went for the latter, thereby making the first half of the movie very tumultuous, but in a breezy way. The second half is much slower and delves into the crux of the movie, which is Jim and Jules’s homosocial relationship and their inability to aptly accommodate Catherine. It’s jarring, tragic, suffocating (sometimes repetitive), and all that is captured so beautifully by cinematographer Raoul Coutard.
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3. Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)
In late 18th century France, painter Marianne (Noémie Merlant) is commissioned by a countess (Valeria Golino) to paint the wedding portrait of her daughter Héloïse (Adèle Haenel). While posing as her hired companion, Marianne is instructed to complete the portrait in secret. However, intimacy and attraction begin to blossom between both women.
To put it simply, this Céline Sciamma directorial is nothing short of a masterpiece. Everything from the stolen glances to the retorts, the flirtation, the first kiss, the tragic separation, and the incomplete reunion is just pitch-perfect. The performances, the cinematography, the editing, the sound design, come together to make for such an immersive experience that you almost don’t want to end. Just like Marianne and Héloïse do not want their brief but passionate love affair to end. Sciamma makes you laugh when she wants you to laugh, cry when she wants you to cry, hold your breath in awe when she wants you to be surprised. And in that controlled projection of emotions, there’s so much space to breathe for the feeling of love to blossom. On a personal note, I could’ve watched a 28,000 hour cut of Portrait of a Lady on Fire.
Watch Portrait of a Lady on Fire on MUBI
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4. Like Someone in Love (2012)
An old man, Takashi Watanabe (Tadashi Okuno) and a young woman, Akiko (Rin Takanashi) meet in Tokyo. She knows nothing about him, he thinks he knows her. He welcomes her into his home and she offers him her body. But the web that is woven between them in the space of twenty-four hours bears no relation to the circumstances of their encounter.
It would be a stretch to say that Abbas Kiarostami’s Like Someone in Love is Abhijan (1962) or Taxi Driver (1976) told from the perspective of Gulabi (Waheeda Rehman) or Iris Steensma (Jodie Foster) respectively. But the static, observational cinematography to capture the toxic and misogynistic lifestyle of sex workers, the unrequited love between people, and the White Knight complex among men painted on the streets and structures of Japan show that it actually isn’t. Yes, it’s subversive due to the shift in the point-of-view character. However, said subversion and inclination towards realism become really strong when the third-act emancipation of Akiko goes horribly wrong. The movie is very dialogue-heavy and deliberately slow-paced. That works in its favor sometimes. However, there are moments where you might find yourself zoning out a bit.
Watch Like Someone in Love on MUBI
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5. Chungking Express (1994)
In Hong Kong, two lovelorn officers find themselves attracted to very different women. Cop 223 (Takeshi Kaneshiro) has broken up with his girlfriend of five years and is now drawn to a mysterious woman with a blonde wig (Brigitte Lin). When Cop 663’s (Tony Chiu-Wai Leung) Ex drops his keys off at a local cafe, a new girl (Faye Wong) at the lunch counter rivets him.
There’s no doubt about the fact that no one captures the nuances of urban atmosphere like Wong Kar-Wai. With the help of Christopher Doyle and Andrew Lau’s cinematography and William Cheng, Kai Kit-Wai, and Kwong Chi-Leung’s editing, Kar-Wai turns the grimey, neon-lit streets into a turbulent fairytale setting. And while I can also whole-heartedly appreciate the performances from the actors, especially Leung and Faye, I have to admit that it’ll need some getting used to Wong Kar-Wai’s movies to appreciate it fully. The wispy narrative and scattershot storytelling didn’t allow me to latch onto the characters. However, since the movie is so universally celebrated as one of the best romances, I’d advise you to watch Chungking Express and form your own opinion about it.
Watch Like Chungking Express on MUBI
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6. A Short Film About Love (1988)
19-year-old postal worker Tomek (Olaf Lubaszenko) routinely spies on his older neighbor Magda (Grazyna Szapolowska), a sexually liberated artist who lives in the apartment across the courtyard from his. As their private worlds merge, fascination turns to obsession, and the line between love and curiosity becomes blurred.
When voyeurism is analyzed through the perspective of the voyeur, it comes off as love. Because the voyeur, which in this case is Tomek, thinks that everything that he’s doing to Magda is an expression of his affection towards her. That’s when it’s necessary to put the character in the spotlight and show that, no, that’s not love or lust. It’s a perversion. Which is something that director and co-writer Krzysztof Kieslowski and co-writer Krzysztof Piesiewicz do. But when the narrative completely shifts to Magda, who is the victim of voyeurism FYI, they send her on a guilt trip and eventually make her empathize with Tomek. That’s where the movie completely lost me. The movie’s cinematography, editing, score, direction, and performances are commendable. However, its commentary on this sickly form of “love” is questionable.
Watch A Short Film About Love on MUBI
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7. Honey Cigar (2020)
Selma (Zoe Adjani) who lives in a bourgeois and secular Berber family. When she meets Julien (Louis Peres) in college, she realizes for the first time the impact of patriarchal rules on her intimacy.
To Kamir Aïnouz’s credit, she tackles a lot of themes within the framework of a coming-of-age movie. Through Selma’s nationality, the movie looks into what it feels to be from a country in the middle of a civil war (and empathize with it), which is Algeria in this case, and be identified as French because that’s where she has grown up. The fact that Selma is stuck in a household that is sprinkled with some love and a lot of misunderstanding, illustrates what it feels like to discover oneself while being hounded by parents who don’t exactly know what they’re doing. And the parallels drawn between textual romance and “romance” in real life paints a vivid picture of what it means to be a woman in a world that has no idea where it’s going but won’t miss a chance to objectify them. It’s vibrant, personal, beautifully acted, and boasts of some impeccable costume design. At the same time, it feels by the numbers. So, don’t blame yourself for not fully connecting with the characters.
Watch Honey Cigar on MUBI
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8. Skies of Lebanon (2020)
Starring Alba Rohrwacher and photographed by acclaimed cinematographer Hélène Louvart, Skies of Lebanon follows young Alice who leaves her natal Swiss mountains for the sunny and vibrant shores of Beirut. She falls madly in love with Joseph (Wajdi Mouawad), a quirky astrophysicist intent on sending the first Lebanese national into space.
Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit (2019), Potato Dreams of America (2021), and the entirety of Wes Anderson’s filmography occupy a good chunk of my list of favorite movies. The way they blend artificiality with reality while preserving the emotional essence of the stories they are telling really mesmerizes me. And it is extremely cool to find Chloé Mazlo doing the same as she aptly captures the harsh backdrop of the Lebanese Civil War and tells the fairytale-esque romance of Alice and Joseph. Throughout the movie, the whimsicality always makes sense because the story is being told through Alice’s perspective who is trying to remember the bad memories in a good way and the good memories in a glorious way. That also gives Skies of Lebanon a layer of eerie melancholy and foreboding as a lot of real lives are facing the test of civil wars, peace-keeping forces, and ethnic cleansing right now. In short, this is a must-watch.
Watch Skies of Lebanon on MUBI
9. The Monopoly of Violence (2020)
In David Dufresne’s documentary, a group of citizens questions and confront their views on the social order and the legitimacy of the use of violent police force.
There’s no doubt about the fact that this is one of the best and one of the most important documentaries in modern cinema. And that it should be viewed by everyone all around the world because the legitimacy of violence needs to be questioned as more and more people begin to prioritize their fundamental rights. That said, one way to justify the existence of The Monopoly of Violence in this list is that it’s a break-up movie. It’s a falling out of love between the state and the citizens of France. It addresses via impartial documentation the abusive relationship between those who vote politicians to power (politicians who promise to serve the people voting for them) and the politicians who then exercise that power against the people. And it requests people to never stop pulling out their phones to record this abuse because that’s the only way to break through the illusion of democracy and achieve actual democracy.
Watch The Monopoly of Violence on MUBI
10. The Night Doctor (2020)
In Elie Wajeman’s thriller, Mickaël (Vincent Macaigne) is a night doctor. Between two patients from difficult neighborhoods, he treats those that nobody wants to see. In one night, he undertakes to get out and rebuild his life. But the price to pay will be heavy.
One simple way to describe The Night Doctor is that it’s Uncut Gems (2019) but centred around medicine and drugs. It’s incredibly anxiety-inducing and frustrating to see a bumbling yet caring character like Mickaël suffer because of his love for his wife Sacha (Sarah Le Picard), his daughters Anouk (Jehanne Pasquet) and Rachel (Pauline Vidal), his cousin Dimitri (Pio Marmaï), his cousin’s fiance Sofia (Sara Giraudeau), and the drug addicts he wants to save. With every passing minute of the film, it becomes abundantly clear that the outcome of it all isn’t going to be pretty. That fear is only aggravated by the score, the neo-noir cinematography, and the performances, thereby allowing you to enjoy the fleeting moments of endearment and passion.