Sometimes that old chestnut, the patriarchy, attempts to discredit romance as a serious film genre. Here are just five of the most remarkable romances that have won awards at Cannes over the past few decades. 

The Piano Teacher

romance film cannes
Isabelle Huppert and Benoit Magimel in The Piano Teacher.

(2001)
Genre: Drama/Romance
Awards: Grand Prix, Best Actress, Best Actor.

If you’re looking for something just as much about loneliness as it is about love, this could be the film for you. In his sixth film, acclaimed arthouse director Michael Haneke, tells the story of a sadomasochistic piano teacher, and her affair with a male student, Walter. Erika has an incredibly controlling mother with whom she still lives.

She also has typically ‘unusual’ sexual desires; she goes to peep shows whilst inhaling the used, semen soaked tissues of  the strangers in the booth before her. She carries out a self-mutilation in her bathtub. She’s ashamed and painfully alone. It’s therefore heartbreaking when she finally lets down her guard to Walter, confessing her sadomasochistic cravings, only for him to dismiss them, and eventually, in a final devastating scene, take advantage of them.

Rarely do we get to see ‘perverted’ women on screen, and when we do, it’s normally sexualised to hell and very male gazey. Therefore, The Piano Teacher is an anomaly in how astutely it handles its subject matter.

Pre-warning: if you haven’t already gathered, it’s an intense film, romantic in a tragic sort of way and perhaps not an easy, popcorn-munching flick to watch with bae. However, this story is crucial for anyone who has ever felt shame, alienation, and confusion as a result of their own desires.  

 The Piano Teacher is available to rent on Amazon Prime, The Criterion Channel and Youtube.

 

Wild at Heart

romance film cannes
Nicolas Cage and Laura Dern in Wild at Heart.

(1990)

Genre: Romance/Crime.

Awards: Palme D’or.

Southern belles, explosions and motels. Yes, Wild at Heart is a typical David Lynch film; a sinister dream, but this time with a bit more romance in the mix. With a road movie, comes a spontaneous plot, and so we are taken along the ride with lovers Lula and Sailor as they desperately try to find a place where they can exist happily without the ghosts of their past haunting them. What is clear is the purity of our protagonist’s love, which is only emphasised by the contrasting chaos that seems to surround them. 

TW, It’s pretty violent. The film was booed at Cannes after winning the Palme D’or. Lynch’s  films can split opinions- some find underlying meaning in his ambiguous stories and elaborate style. Others think his work is nothing but an excuse for excessive violence and showiness.

However, surely the most important thing when watching a film, is the feeling it evokes in us, rather than what sense we can or cannot make of it. The feeling when watching Wild at Heart is one that is undeniably compelling. Plus, Laura Dern’s in it. Who can resist Laura Dern? Not to mention Isabella Rossellini. 

Wild at Heart can be bought or rented on Youtube.

 

Portrait of a Lady on Fire

romance film cannes
Noémie Merlant and Adèle Haenel in Portrait of a Lady on Fire.

(2019)

Genre: Romance/Drama

Award: Queer Palm, Best Screenplay.

French period lesbian romance…what more could you want? Artist Marianne, is hired to come and paint 18th Century noblewoman Eloise who lives on a remote shore in Brittany.  The painting will be sent to a potential husband, and if he approves, Eloise will be wed, despite her reluctance. What entails is an erotic romance between the two women, that is only intensified by their repressed feelings and awareness of their relationship’s inevitable ending. 

It doesn’t get much more romantic than this. Portrait of a Lady on Fire is both delicate and epic. Everything is in place, from the poetic screenplay, to every meticulously shot scene. With little presence of males in the film, there is a sense of peace and harmony in the day-to-day scenes, highlighting that this is a film truly told through the female gaze.

If that isn’t enough, the film makes an effort to highlight parts of female history that have been erased,  from home abortions, to women’s significant but seemingly forgotten place in art.  Be sure to check out the rest of Celina Sciamma’s filmography for more outstanding female and queer films. 

Portrait of a Lady on Fire is currently available to watch for free on BBC iPlayer.

 

In the Mood for Love

romance film cannes
Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung Chiu-wai in In the Mood for Love

(2000)

Genre: Romance/Drama.

Award: Technical Grand Prize, Best Actor.

Here we have another film which doesn’t turn a blind eye to the lesser desired L’s that often come along with love- longing and loneliness. Wong Kar Wai’s seventh directorial accomplishment is set in 1962 Hong Kong, where we follow a Mr Chan and Mrs Chow, who move into the same apartment building and soon discover their spouses are having an affair with each other.

The two start to spend more time together, and soon feelings develop. However, they vow to never be unfaithful in the way that their partner’s were. This is romance in the wrong place at the wrong time. 

The film focuses on the parts of life we try not to dwell on- the missed connections and  what-could’ve-beens. Don’t expect sunshine and rainbows. The vibe is romance- but a pensive, solemn one. The beautiful cinematography of shadowy alleyways and smoky rooms invites you into a spellbinding world that you’ll never want to leave.

Definitely a must-watch on Valentine’s Day if you fancy wallowing in your misery, cigarette in one hand and negroni in the other. 

In the Mood for Love is available to buy or rent on Amazon Prime. 

 

The Piano

romance film cannes
Anna Paquin in The Piano.

(1993)

Genre: Drama/Romance

Award: Palme D’or, Best Actress.

The second film featured on this list with intimate piano playing scenes is Jane Campion’s debut feature film, a haunting period piece about a mute Scottish woman Ada, who is sent by her father to the remote island of New Zealand along with her young child and her piano to marry a man she’s never met.

Upon arrival, Ada’s new husband, Alisdair immediately abandons her piano (which is pretty much her only form of self expression), leaving it for his friend, Baines to take hold of. You can imagine what happens next. Ada pursues the piano, and so begins a forbidden romance between Ada and Baines, in the form of Ada’s visits to Baine’s house where she yields to his simple wishes: playing the piano for him- whilst getting naked. 

Of course, the film is much more than this. Ada and Baine’s love is passionate and breathtakingly urgent. Jane Campion’s feminine understanding that repression can be erotic makes it a steamy watch.The stark, desaturated imagery, the emotion behind every shot, and the entrancing piano soundtrack creates a poignant, unforgettable piece of art. 

More than these things however, The Piano highlights the power of womanhood- a quiet stoicism that emerges from enduring a world that constantly tries to knock you down. 

The Piano is currently available to watch on Netflix.

 

 

Art
culture
Films
romance
Iso

Iso

Author

Iso is a writer and filmmaker based in East London. She is passionate about all things erotic and leads a sexy, shame-free life in hope that she can inspire others to do the same. Originally from a Northern seaside town, she is naturally drawn to the best things in life: candyfloss, trashy karaoke bars and heart-shaped sunglasses.


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