Below are my classics–tried and true– for celebrating Valentine’s Day, romantic as much for their settings as for their stories. While living abroad since 2014 I’ve seen most of them broadcast repeatedly in English on television stations in Morocco and the Dominican Republic. Valentine’s Day Movie Marathons are as popular in these two countries—one Catholic, the other Muslim– as they are in the US. It seems Cupid, son of Venus born on Mt. Olympus in Greece, is a global citizen and the universal language is love.
Nominated for 4 Academy Awards, this movie is hands-down my #1 V Day choice—this year more than ever—with its redemptive message that even the most polarised can unite with grace, real relationship, and love. The film is adapted from the novel written by Joanne Harris. Interviewing the author, born to a British father and French mother, who was once an English teacher and who lives in Yorkshire, Bronte country, was a thrill for me. See it here.
The film is delicious: a dream cast including Judi Dench, Juliette Binoche, and Johnny Depp; sensual cinematography focused on the making of chocolate in a French hillside village in the 1950s; magical realism from Latin American culture; and a challenge to change and choose love over legalism for the sake of family, friends, and community.
#2 Beyond Borders
I wonder, do we all know where we belong? And if we do, in our hearts, why do we so often do nothing about it? There must be more to this life, a purpose for us all, a place to belong. You were my home. I knew from the moment I met you, that night, so many years ago.
Angelina Jolie and Clive Owen star in a romance fueled with chemistry of a couple committed to a cause greater than themselves. It’s the story of a woman who leaves her London home for Ethiopia when made aware of the needs there in a refugee camp. Forever changed by what she sees and who she meets, she supports the ones she loves from home and on trips to Cambodia and Chechnya. The film is dedicated to relief workers and victims of war and persecution—another timely choice. Jolie adopted her son, Maddox, while in Cambodia during filming. She brought to the part experience working as a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador.
Inspired by the movie, I tried to rock the heroine’s hat on my trip to Russia.
#3 Slumdog Millionaire
As art, this one ties with Chocolat and Life is Beautiful for my three Favorite Films of All Time. When I first saw it before the Academy Award nominations, I knew it would sweep the Oscars. Here’s why. I long to go to India, but in the meantime, I take trips there in my apartment by dancing to the bonus material at the end.
#4 Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Also starring Dev Patel and Judi Dench, this film made me cry every time I watched it until I moved abroad because it made me long to try on the expat life. Having done so, I’ve quoted it often on this blog because I now know living outside your home country is what Glennon Doyle Melton, author of Love Warrior, calls a “brutifal” (brutal and beautiful experience). I’ll be forever grateful for this movie moving me to live in Marrakesh for two years. The plot has more than one love story, but the greatest one is making choices in life and learning to love them.
#5 Under the Tuscan Sun
So anyone who has known me for awhile knows the influence this film had on me and other women who have moved abroad. The first night after arriving in Morocco, I unwrapped this DVD (one of 5 in my “survival pack”) and watched it for the twentieth time. I needed to remember that things probably would not go as I planned but love always prevails even if it comes in a package we never expected. So if you are lonely–in a relationship or without one–watch this and please go to my Instagram to get inspired to decorate your own life.
#6-#8 My Favorite Trilogy: Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before Midnight
Starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, Before Sunrise, filmed in 1995, is the story of a young couple who meet in Vienna the night before she must return home to Paris and he to the US.
Before Sunset, the sequel, was filmed in 2004 when the couple meets in the City of Lights, followed by Before Midnight released in 2013 and set in Greece. For anyone who has or is open to finding love abroad or cross-cultural relationships; loves character-driven, smart dialogue or backdrops in the most beautiful places on earth; or appreciates soundtracks you’ll want to download and listen to forever…this is binge-worthy.
#9 Out of Africa
I admit that until last week I had never finished this film. Although the second half moves faster that the first, the whole is an epic love story and worth the time investment. At first Colonial Kenya sent me to Victoria magazine again—my favorite publication in a past life now online– as I saw the comfort china and crystal brought to the main character so far from home. But better, it causes us to question anew the values of that period and our own. I was moved to download the book on Kindle and read the memoir from which it was taken. I didn’t need more reason to do a safari since it already tops my Bucket List, but examining the relationship of the characters played by Meryl Streep and Robert Redford is a Cinema Bucket List must-do.
#10 The English Patient
This one would have been farther up the list a few years ago (I kept the DVD close and watched it often) based on the fiery passion between the characters played by Ralph Fiennes and Kristin Scott Thomas. Maybe actually riding a camel across the Sahara Desert in scorching heat and not looking like Katherine whose scarves always blew beautifully behind her in the breeze did it. Maybe I’m just getting older, wiser, and suspicious of that much intensity because in real life it too often turns to burn (no pun intended). Still, I love the film—especially the backdrops of the desert, Cairo, and Italy where Juliette Binoche teamed again with Fiennes years after they played Catherine and Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, based on my favorite romantic novel of all time. My fav stop on my trip to Tuscany last year was seeing the church below featured in the film. In this case, reality was as beautiful as fiction.
What are your go-to romantic movies? Please tell us in the comments below. Happy Valentine’s Day!
You might also want to check out my Weekend Escape series to inspire travel and connection.