AJFF What to Watch: Films About Romance

05/18/2020

From rocky starts to immediate attractions that take hold, we've chosen a variety of romantic stories that were formerly featured at AJFF's annual festival. Film titles are linked with information on where to watch.

For a Woman
A daughter digs up her parents' old WWII-era memories, a clandestine love affair, and secrets about her own origins in this time-shifting melodrama from veteran writer-director Diane Kurys. Inspired by the director's own family memoir, the film opens in 1980s France as young novelist Anne (Sylvie Testud) scours through photos and letters that trigger an investigation into her shadowy past. Flash back to postwar France, where pretty newlywed Léna (Mélanie Thierry) and Jewish husband Michel (Benoît Magimel), a Ukranian-born tailor and staunch communist, are settling into a new life in Lyon, opening a fledgling suit shop beneath their apartment. Previously imprisoned together at the Rivesaltes internment camp, Léna owns her escape to Michel, and dutifully agreed to marry. Their tenuous domestic arrangement is upset by the unexpected arrival of Michel's long-lost brother Jean (Nicolas Duvauchelle) and his mysterious acquaintance Sacha (Clément Sibony). An inconvenient attraction develops between Léna and her brother-in-law, while swirling political debate and a manhunt for Nazi war criminals overtake them. Featured at the 2014 AJFF. 

Keep the Change
Two adults with autism strike up an unlikely and transformative relationship, in this heartfelt, humorous and wonderfully surprising reinvention of the New York romantic comedy. David (Brandon Polansky), a high-functioning, upper-class charmer must attend a support group for people on the spectrum, where he falls for vivacious Sarah (Samantha Elisofon). Despite contrasting personalities, they start an endearing romance, exploring Manhattan, breaking down barriers, and dealing with their disabilities, as Sarah’s happy-go-lucky spirit overrides David’s negativity. Show-casing naturally spontaneous performances by actors with autism, writer-director Rachel Israel’s inclusive and fresh debut is a unique and universal love story full of vibrant characters under-represented in cinema. Featured at the 2018 AJFF.

Mr. & Mrs. Adelman
The decades-spanning tumultuous romance of a quintessentially French couple is chronicled in this thought-provoking and scathingly funny narrative featured at the 2018 AJFF. Told in flashback from the early 1970s forward, this epic love-hate relationship begins as angst-ridden writer Victor meets Sarah, a brilliant doctoral student who falls head-over-heels. A complicated courtship and eventual marital discord ensue, as the egocentric Victor becomes a literary superstar and the enigmatic Sarah—his muse and steadfast source of strength—lingers in the shadows. Intimately detailing the intricacies of a lifetime of shared highs and lows, this saga of passion, betrayal, tragedy and unexpected twists of fate is co-written by the film’s two stars, Nicolas Bedos and his life partner Doria Tillier. 

The Names of Love
A middle-aged Jewish scientist falls for a young Algerian sexpot in this audacious French romantic comedy tempered with intelligence and tenderness. A free-spirited leftist, Bahia Benmahmoud (Sara Forestier) vows to sleep with and thereby convert as many right-wingers as possible. She meets her match in the unassuming Arthur Martin (Jacques Gamblin), a complete white-bread square. Bound by common tragic family histories (the ALgerian War and Holocaust under Vichy), the duo improbably fall in love. Cheerfly flashing her nude body in a succession of wardrobe malfunctions, Forestier charms as the firebrand extrovert. Amid the bubbly amour, humorous lasciviousness and moments of sheer madness, filmmaker Michel Leclerc injects satirical riffs on such hot-button sociopolitical issues as Arab Jewish relations, anti-Semitism, immigration, and racial and cultural identity. Featured at the 2011 AJFF.

Natasha
A forbidden romance between the son of Soviet-Jewish émigrés and a scandalous young girl from Moscow leads to heartache in this Canadian coming-of-age tale that starkly captures a slice of contemporary immigrant life. Sixteen-year-old Mark Berman (Alex Ozerov) is something of a slacker, lazing away the summer in his parent's basement, and selling drugs and riding his bike through a tightly-knit Toronto neighborhood. When Mark's feckless uncle (Igor Ovadis) enters into an improbable marriage, his flamboyant younger mail-order bride (Aya-Tatana Stolnits) arrives with her jaded daughter Natasha (Sasha Gordon) forcibly in tow, both of them products of New Russia decadence. The two teenagers gradually warm to each other, with Mark succumbing to his underage cousin's debased seduction, until family rancor and Natasha's troubled past threaten to destroy their assimilated suburban fantasy. Based on a collection of award-winning autobiographical short stories by Canadian author David Bezmozgis. Featured at the 2016 AJFF.

Out in the Dark
A troubled gay romance between an aspiring Palestinian grad student and well-heeled Israeli faces personal and political crisis in this arresting debut feature from director Michael Mayer. After meeting at a Tel Aviv nightclub, psychology major Nimr and Jewish lawyer Roy (handsome leads Nicholas Jacob and Michael Aloni) feel an instant attraction and fall in love. Torn between a homeland that would reject his secret sexual identity and an Israeli society that repudiates his nationality, Nimr faces further adversity in the increasingly violent activism of his brother, a member of an extremist group, and the tightening noose of Israeli security forces. Ultimately, he is forced to decide between his dreams of studying aboard and the emotional lifeline offered by Roy. Morphing from tender and sensual border-crossing romance to suspenseful thriller, the film features sympathetic performances, and a gritty visual palette that heightens the sense of urgency. Featured at the 2013 AJFF.

The Second Time Around
Two senior citizens discover it's never too late to fall in love, in this unabashedly sentimental romance featured at the 2017 AJFF. An independent and vivacious widow, opera-loving Katherine Mitchell finds herself in an assisted living facility with a broken hip. Determined to make a quick recovery and get back on her feet, she puts on a brave face and tries to ingratiate herself with the other residents, a quirky mix of characters. She seems unable, however, to soften the heart of Isaac Shapiro, a cranky and cynical Polish immigrant still raw from the death of his wife years earlier. Over time, a shared love of music slowly thaws their relationship and sows the seeds of a blossoming romance. Together they will face family upheaval and unforeseen illness while embarking on an unexpected, tentative, but ultimately welcome journey into the future.