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The 50 most romantic films: numbers 40-31

The Shop Around the Corner
1/10
Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!
2/10
Shadows...
3/10
Devi
4/10
Up
5/10
Domicile Conjugal
6/10
True Romance
7/10
La Belle et la Bête
8/10
The English Patient
9/10
L'Atalante
10/10

40-31

The Shop Around the Corner (1940)

The struggles of a coterie of neurotic, underpaid, underloved department store clerks are brought to the screen with the delicacy and grace of a fine ermine purse by that German-expat genius Ernst Lubitsch, in this wonderful 1940 comedy. At its centre is Jimmy Stewart playing bookish grafter Alfred Kralik, who penfriends a dame more enlightened and worldly than any of his colleagues (or so he thinks). But this is as much a film about group dynamics in the workplace and how the distress and desperation inflicted on those at the top of the ladder can trickle down to the rank and file as it is about romance.For my money, this is Lubitsch’s masterpiece, an immaculate conflation of his sprightly shooting style, expertly layered wisecracking and bracing realism, all topped off with a romantic subplot that offers a nakedly joyous celebration of young, serendipitous love. Now, does anyone know where I can buy a cigarette box that plays ‘Ochi Tchornya’?

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Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1990)

After the kitschy melodrama of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Almodóvar returns to the darker terrain of Law of Desire, concentrating on the relationship between soft-porn actress Marina (Abril) and the two men who try to control her. The more benign is her director in the movie-within-the-movie (Rabal), a genial, wheelchair-bound obsessive who leaves romantic messages on her answering machine and beguiles his lonely hours watching her masturbate on video. Less kindly are the attentions of Ricky (Banderas), recently released from a psychiatric hostel and determined to father Marina's children. He kidnaps her in her apartment, beats her up, and ties her to the bed while he goes out to score drugs for her. Almodóvar turns a standard hostage thriller into a grim examination of the power games implicit in marriage; Marina, addictive in all things, soon becomes a willing accomplice in Ricky's fantasy. Almodóvar withholds all comment, and many will hate his refusal to moralise; others will relish the opportunity to think for themselves. A very black comedy in the vein of Buñuel's Belle de Jour, and worthy of the comparison.

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Shadows of Our Forgotten Ancestors (1967)

Paradjanov was considered a safe director of Ukrainian 'quota' features until he seized a unique moment of freedom to make this Carpathian rhapsody, which spoke loud his own closet dissidence and ushered in a flood of non-conformist movies from the other regional Soviets, including Tarkovsky's Andrei Rublev and Abuladze's The Wishing Tree. The 'forgotten ancestors' are mid-19th century villagers, who frolic naked in their youth and grow up into adulterers, lovelorn misfits, and feuding murderers. Their 'shadows' are not exactly sombre either: Paradjanov stops at nothing in his quest for startling images. The athletic camerawork and the bizarre visual effects take their tone from the folk ballads that recur on the soundtrack, sometimes touching an authentically barbaric or tragic poetry. The film is as chaotic as The Colour of Pomegranates is formalised, but it confirms that Paradjanov was 'dangerous' because he was committed to artifice - and imagination.

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Devi (1960)

Less obviously a work of humanist realism than the Apu trilogy, Ray's film is nevertheless a carefully nuanced study in religious obsession, with Biswas convinced that his daughter-in-law (Tagore) is in fact the goddess Kali reincarnated. Comparatively baroque and melodramatic in terms of its images and story, it manages to mount a lucid, finally very moving argument against the destructive nature of fanaticism and superstition, with Tagore gradually losing all sense of her own individuality. Without a doubt, it is impressive film making; but whether its very Indian concerns are of widespread interest remains a moot point.

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Up (2009)

In terms of sophisticated storytelling and emotional complexity in animation, Pixar has set the bar perilously high; no one’s come within pixelated spitting distance of Toy Story 2’s cynical view of black-marketing generational nostalgia, or Wall-E’s graceful swan dive into utter dystopia. There’s a hint early on in Up that something equally as bitter and blissful may be in store. A wordless montage follows two youngsters—Carl and Ellie—as they become best friends, get married, dream of a South American Shangri-la and grow old together. Then Ellie dies. Given the choice between the nursing home or freedom, Carl opts for escape. And that’s when we get The Moment: A modest house, miraculously held aloft by brightly colored balloons, floats past apartment windows and glides slowly, silently, into a sea of clouds. There’s nowhere to go but earthward after that, yet to its credit, Up keeps things buoyant even as it descends into the business of dominating the Happy Meal demographic. A Weeble-like kid has stowed away on Carl’s flying home, and the duo sets sail in search of the mythic Amazonian paradise. Adventure ensues; chase scenes and literal cliff-hangers thrill even when they’re choreographed in gratuitous 3-D (the gimmick is meant to distract filmgoers from bankrupt artistry, so what’s it doing affixed to a Pixar movie?). You could suffer through worse climaxes than an air fight between a zeppelin, canine-piloted biplanes and a three-bedroom colonial. If such first-r

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Domicile Conjugal (1970)

For those who found Truffaut's later work becoming flaccid, this fourth instalment in the continuing saga of Antoine Doinel provides plenty of critical ammunition. The early years of marriage for Truffaut's quasi-autobiographical character involve estrangement from his wife, an affair with a Japanese mistress (ending in long silences and cramp in the legs for Doinel), reunion with his wife, fatherhood, and acceptance of his lot. Truffaut takes immense pains to keep his characters interesting, scenes being built around elaborate (and often very funny) sight gags and running jokes, but ultimately they only serve to remind us what a pompous and self-regarding bore Doinel has become. Funny enough, if that's all you want.

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True Romance (1993)

When Detroit comic-store assistant Clarence (Slater) and novice whore Alabama (Arquette) meet, not only do they immediately fall in love, but the tone of her voice-over lets us know that we're in for a Badlands-style rerun. Having killed her monstrous pimp (Oldman, OTT) and accidentally stolen his coke haul, the pair head for Hollywood, pausing only to bid farewell to his drunkard dad Clifford (Hopper). But the couple's get-rich-quick plans go awry when suave mob boss Coccotti (Walken) tries to 'persuade' Clifford to divulge his son's whereabouts. If the romance seldom seems 'true', the spiralling violence (script, Quentin Tarantino) does succeed, in a brutish, cod-Jacobean kind of way.

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La Belle et la Bête (1946)

A gorgeous, pin-sharp remaster for poet-dramatist-artist-director Jean Cocteau’s giddy, sumptuous 1946 retelling of the Freudian fairytale about a helpless girl and a kindhearted monster. Slightly pompous preamble aside, this ‘Beauty and the Beast’ is pure joy, a self-conscious but never precious attempt to revisit childhood fantasies and half-remembered dreams. The Beast’s ornate, decaying castle – ringed with thorns and filled with grasping hands – is a place of terror, wonder and mourning, the perfect reflection of its tragic, noble occupant. The tug of love between the monster and the maiden is never overplayed, but neither does the film shackle this beast – he remains unpredictable and threatening throughout. ‘La Belle et la Bête’ has been accused of valueing style over substance, but place the film in historical context (alongside, say, ‘A Matter of Life and Death’ and ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’, both released the same year) and its true intent is revealed: in the wake of unimaginable horror, this kind of fantasy is still achievable, and perhaps more important than ever. Tom Huddleston

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The English Patient (1996)

Tuscany, as the Allies pursue the Germans north at the end of WWII: traumatised by loss and carnage, Canadian nurse Hana (Binoche) decides to stay behind in an abandoned, bombed monastery and care for her dying patient (Fiennes). He seems to recall little of his life, but when Caravaggio (Dafoe), a vengeful, morphine-addicted thief, turns up and quizzes him over past dark secrets, and as Hana reads from his beloved Herodotos, memories return of the pre-war years when, as an archaeologist/cartographer in the Sahara, he had a passionate affair with Katharine (Scott Thomas), wife of a British colleague. Though Anthony Minghella's adaptation of Michael Ondaatje's novel simplifies, jettisons and changes certain elements of the original story, it remains a rich, complex, entrancing piece of work. Part poignant romance, part suspenseful adventure, part enigmatic mystery, it's essentially a study in different responses to love and war, honour and betrayal, nationality and identity, falsehood and forgiveness, which sounds subtle echoes as the narrative flashes to and fro between two main time frames. Needless to say, the performances are flawless; more surprising is the fluency, poetry and scale of Minghella's direction (John Seale's sensuous desert photography is superb), equally eloquent whether depicting boudoir intimacies, bomb-disposal skills, drunken dementia or a deadly sandstorm.

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L'Atalante (1934)

Some filmmakers have a lifetime in which to develop their art, to explore their themes, to express their world view. Others do it in a single film. 1934’s ‘L’Atalante’ is the single feature from the then 29-year-old French master Jean Vigo and was made as its director died of TB. The result is not so much a film as an entire artistic vision crammed into 89 of the busiest and most beautiful minutes of celluloid ever shot.Dita Parlo plays Juliette, the smalltown girl married off to Jean (Jean Dasté, captain of L’Atalante, a grubby barge plying the waterways of rural France. Once on board, Juliette is caught between her uncertain love for Jean and her desire to see a world beyond the restrictive confines of the boat. The situation is complicated by the constant interruptions of Jean’s beloved but irascible first mate, salty sea-dog Pére Jules (Michel Simon).It’s a traditional set-up, and the film was intended by its producers as a straight romantic melodrama. But Vigo had other ideas: as his life slipped away, he stuffed the film with reference and resonance, fusing groundbreaking visual trickery with an almost tangible sense of ecstatic romance, startling eroticism and unexpected moments of harsh social truth. The film is far from flawless, and has no desire to be: Simon’s performance alone ensures a ragged, playful sense of spontaneity. The result is something utterly indescribable, partway between comedy and tragedy, romance and realism, film and dream. See it and swoon.

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30-21

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