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9 intercultural love stories for language and movie lovers

Movies and series can be a great way to practice your language skills and to travel (at least virtually) to different countries. Provided they’re not too full of clichés, they can open windows into other landscapes and cultures. In this respect, intercultural love stories are particularly apt at showing the struggles and necessary compromises in bringing together two different cultures and families in order to build a new home.

Netflix and other streaming giants have helped break down barriers by bringing foreign films and intercultural love stories to their platforms and into our homes. But they by no means started the trend. In decades past, many movies of all genres have depicted love stories between two people of different nationalities and backgrounds, so much so that you may have a hard time taking your pick! To help you, we’ve selected nine of our favourites.

1. From Scratch

From Scratch’ is a TV series based on the real life story of Tembi Locke and her late chef husband Saro Gullo, with a few small changes, including the characters’ names: Amy and Lino. While the first episode focuses on the pair meeting in Florence and falling in love, the following seven episodes step away from their early romance to show their daily life over several years. As a biracial couple, with Amy being African-American and Lino Sicilian, they not only face the judgemental attitude of their families, but also have to find a common cultural ground on which to build a life together.

2. Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight

An indie favourite, the ‘Before Sunrise’, ‘Before Sunset’ and ‘Before Midnight’ trilogy portrays the relationship between American boy Jessie and French girl Céline,spanning a period of 18 years. The films are set about ten years apart, but feature the same general storyline: Each time, we follow Jessie’s and Céline’s meandering footsteps and thoughts over a number of hours in a different European destination. The films grow in maturity with their two characters, from the innocent idealism of their early twenties to their broken hearts hoping for a second chance in their thirties, and finally their disillusioned, bitter fortysomething selves.

3. Brooklyn

Set in the 1950s, ‘Brooklyn’ tells the story of Eilis Lacey, a young Irish woman who immigrates to New York City. There, she meets Tony Fiorello, a young Italian-American. But her love is put to the test when she has to return home after the sudden death of her sister. Beyond the inevitable romance, this is very much the story of a journey from one country to another, with the equally inevitable moment when you are torn between two places, two people and two allegiances.

4. My Big Fat Greek Wedding

If, like ‘From Scratch’, ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ tells the true love story of two people from different cultures, it does so with much louder comic clashes. Fotoula Portokalos, a shy Greek-American woman, finally comes out of her shell when she meets and falls in love with Ian Miller, a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant. But once Ian asks her hand in marriage, they face a hilarious uphill battle until their wedding day. Like Lino, Ian sacrifices a lot to marry the love of his life: While he doesn’t leave his home country for love, he does change religion to become an Orthodox Christian…

5. Once

In our list of movie titles, ‘Once’ is the only love story that doesn’t materialise, and it’s all the more poignant for it. The emotion comes from the sense of longing (and the beautiful songs in this musical). The story is so elegantly simple that the names of the two main characters are never known: It’s literally the story of “guy meets girl”. An Irish busker meets a Czech woman in the streets of Dublin. Over the course of a few days, they bond over music, share songs and record an album before parting ways. Doesn’t sound that thrilling? Then watch the movie and be proven wrong!

6. West Side Story

One of the most highly regarded musicals of all times, ‘West Side Story’ is a re-telling of Romeo and Juliet set in the streets of New York City. The Montagues and Capulets have been replaced by two warring teenage gangs: the White Jets and the Puerto-Rican Sharks. In the midst of it all, Tony, a former Jet, falls in love with Maria, the sister of the Sharks’ leader. We’re not going to get into a debate about whether Steven Spielberg’s recent remake is better than the original ‘West Side Story’ from 1961, but we are going to stop and ponder the fact that the very same story, with the very same ethnic backgrounds, is still as relevant today as it was 60 years ago.

7. One, Two, Three

While not as well-known as ‘Some Like It Hot’ or ‘The Apartment’, ‘One, Two, Three’ is still a classic from Billy Wilder. The comedy is set in West Berlin after World War II, but before the construction of the Berlin Wall. C.R. MacNamara is a top executive at the Coca-Cola company in the German capital, who has been entrusted with Scarlett, the 17-year-old daughter of his American boss. During her stay, she falls in love and marries Otto, a young East German Communist, and falls pregnant. MacNamara has no other choice but to turn Otto into the perfect son-in-law for Scarlett’s parents, i.e. a young capitalist with real aristocratic pedigree. Cultural clashes and political satire inevitably ensue…

8. The Hundred Foot Journey

Like ‘From Scratch, ‘The Hundred Foot Journey’ is a story of love and food. Seeking asylum in Europe, an Indian family opens up a restaurant in a small village in the south of France, just opposite an upscale French restaurant. If sparks fly at first, Hassan, the second eldest son of the family and aspiring chef, soon finds love with Marguerite, a sous-chef, and success with his flair for French-Indian fusion. Yes, it’s a romcom. Yes, it’s a bit cliché. But who doesn’t enjoy some home-cooked comfort food from time to time?

9. Come See The Paradise

Behind the fictional romance, ‘Come See The Paradise’ recounts a lesser known chapter of US history: the treatment of Japanese Americans during World War II. The story begins in 1936, when Jack McGurn falls in love with his boss’ daughter, Lily Kawamura. As her Japanese parents are against their relationship, they elope and settle down in Seattle, where they have a daughter, Mini. The war separates them, with Lily joining her family in internment camps, while Jack is enrolled in the US army. Amid the greater scope of history, allegiances and loyalties are tested.

Indies, musicals, political satires, historical dramas or real life stories… Whatever your favourite genre, there’s bound to be an intercultural love story for you. Beyond the romance, these films and series give you an inkling of the necessary cultural adaptation that comes with opening your heart to a person of a different background. Then, and only then, can you live happily ever after…

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