11 Movies Like The Handmaiden (2016) On Criterionchannel

Staff & contributors

Chasing the feel of watching The Handmaiden ? Here are the movies we recommend you watch right after.

The 2016 outing of South-Korean auteur director Park Chan-wook (maker of Oldboy and Stoker) once again shifts attention to the dark side of what makes us human: betrayal, violence, and transgression. Based on the 2002 novel Fingersmith by British author Sarah Waters, The Handmaiden revolves around the love of two women and the greedy men around them. Park shifts the novel's plot from Victorian London to 1930s Korea, where an orphaned pickpocket is used by a con man to defraud an old Japanese woman. Routinely called a masterpiece with comparisons made to the likes of Alfred Hitchcock, this is a stylish and meticulous psychological thriller that packs enough erotic tension to put a crack in your screen. If you love cinema, you can't miss this movie. You might even have to watch it twice.

Thirty years after its release, the first ever Chinese language Palme d’Or winner has finally been made more accessible through Criterion Channel through its uncut 4K restoration. Farewell My Concubine is one of those classical epics that is considered essential viewing, but even with its near 3 hour runtime, the film still holds up all these decades later with its startlingly heartrending love story and depiction of the tumultuous shifts of 20th century China. Director Chen Kaige masterfully balances both sides, tapping into the pain Dieyi (Leslie Chung) chooses as he clings to the classical opera, the very art form that allows him a sliver of his unrequited love to be realized, but that is also limited depending on whichever government is in charge at the moment. It’s possibly one of the most beautiful and most miserable films ever made.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Dan Li, David Wu, Fei Zhenxiang, Ge You, Gong Li, Huang Lei, Jiang Wenli, Lei Han, Leslie Cheung, Li Dan, Lu Qi, Shen Huifen, Yang Lixin, Yin Zhi, Ying Da, Zhang Fengyi, Zhi Yitong

Director: Chen Kaige

Rating: R

The apex of Abbas Kiarostami’s monumental filmography, Close-Up is a testament to the late directors’ ingenuity and humanism. Kiarostami documents the real-life trial of a man who impersonated fellow Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf, and ingratiated himself to a family believing him to be the real deal. The courtroom drama and interviews are fascinating enough, but Kiarostami takes it one step further by having everyone involved reenact the events as they happened.

The result is an unparalleled piece of filmmaking that blurs the boundaries between documentary and narrative while posing vital questions about the exclusivity of cinema and the storytelling process. Despite its sophisticated constructions, Kiarostami’s direction is lucid and direct as it builds to a passionate and unforgettable conclusion.

Genre: Crime, Documentary, Drama

Actor: Abbas Kiarostami, Hossain Farazmand, Hossain Sabzian, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Monoochehr Ahankhah

Director: Abbas Kiarostami

My Life as a Zucchini (or Courgette in Europe) is unlike any kids' movie you'll see in America. It isn't afraid to be honest about children's feelings, no matter how dark or sad, nor is it afraid to be frank about things like intimacy and abuse. It understands that kids need these kinds of narratives too, and sometimes they need to hear them without being pandered to. 

There is an openness to it that makes it comforting to adults as well. Lines like “Sometimes, we cry because we’re happy," are so deceptively simple and tender that they'll catch you off guard. Couple this seemingly endless reserve of empathy with adorable, almost melancholic stop-motion animation and you get a film that will have you floored for days, regardless of your age.

Genre: Animation, Comedy, Drama, Family, Romance

Actor: Adrien Barazzone, Brigitte Rosset, Iannis Jaccoud, Michel Vuillermoz, Monica Budde, Natacha Koutchoumov, Paulin Jaccoud, Sixtine Murat, Véronique Montel

Director: Claude Barras

Rating: PG-13

In Cameraperson, documentarian and cinematographer Kirsten Johnson creates an incredible patchwork of her life—and her life’s work. Johnson has been behind the camera of seminal documentaries like Citizenfour, The Invisible War, and The Edge of Joy. Here, Johnson stitches together fragments of footage, shot over 25 years, reframes them to reveal the silent but influential ways in which she has been an invisible participant in her work. 

In one segment, Johnson places the camera down in the grass. A hand reaches into the frame briefly, pulling up weeds that would otherwise obscure the shot. Cameraperson is a must-see documentary that challenges us to reconsider and reflect upon how we see ourselves and others through the camera lens, and beyond it.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Jacques Derrida, Kirsten Johnson, Michael Moore, Roger Phenix

Director: Kirsten Johnson

Rating: Not Rated

This drama was the first feature written and directed by an out Black lesbian, Cheryl Dunye, and it is an absolute joy: a cheeky faux-documentary that ingeniously blends lesbian dating life with a historical dive into Black actors in 30s Hollywood.

Dunye plays Cheryl, a self-effacing version of herself, an aspiring director working at a video store who begins to research an actress known as the Watermelon Woman for a documentary. The more Cheryl dives into her research, the more she sees parallels between her subject and her own relationship. 

As incisive as it is funny, The Watermelon Woman shares some common ground with other major indie debuts of the era like Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It and funnily enough Kevin Smith’s Clerks, but Dunye’s style is wholly her own and a dazzling treat to experience.

 

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Brian Freeman, Camille Paglia, Cheryl Clarke, Cheryl Dunye, David Rakoff, Guinevere Turner, Irene Dunye, Lisa Marie Bronson, Sarah Schulman

Director: Cheryl Dunye

An absolute delight of a gem starring a young Winona Ryder as well as an amazing cast. Arguably Jim Jarmusch's best film, it tells the story of 5 different places at night from the perspective of cab drivers and their passengers: Los Angeles, New York, Paris, Rome, and Helsinki. It's really hard to pick a favorite among the stories, from a messy tomboy having to deal with a busy businesswoman, to a blind woman in Paris making a frustrated driver from Ivory Coast go insane. But look out for Helmut and Yo-Yo, from the New York story. I've rarely seen anything in film as fun as their story.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Armin Mueller-Stahl, Béatrice Dalle, Eija Vilpas, Emile Abossolo M'bo, Gena Rowlands, Giancarlo Esposito, Gianni Schettini, Isaach De Bankolé, Jaakko Talaskivi, Kari Väänänen, Klaus Heydemann, Lisanne Falk, Matti Pellonpää, Paolo Bonacelli, Pascal N'Zonzi, Richard Boes, Roberto Benigni, Romolo Di Biasi, Rosie Perez, Sakari Kuosmanen, Stéphane Boucher, Tomi Salmela, Winona Ryder

Director: Jim Jarmusch

Rating: R

A relatively straightforward story of a village of Sotho people building the courage to resist unwanted development on their land and the erasure of their culture, the rousingly titled This Is Not a Burial, It's a Resurrection wastes no time on the oppressors' point of view. For director Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese, there is no debate: these people are more important than any markers of progress hoping to displace them. Their struggle is rendered in some of the most crisp and colorful cinematography you could hope to see, with a powerful performance by the late, great Mary Twala front and center, channeling so much sadness into fury and determination.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Jerry Mofokeng, Jerry Mofokeng Wa, Makhaola Ndebele, Mary Twala, Siphiwe Nzima-Ntskhe, Tseko Monaheng

Director: Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese

Once banned by Chinese censors, Suzhou River depicts love and obsession amidst the gritty, urban underbelly of Shanghai. As the film is portrayed through an anonymous videographer, seen only by his hands, it’s easy to fall in love as he does, with the mesmerizing Meimei (Zhou Xun), performing as a mermaid in a dive bar. However, he can’t seem to trust her, as she flits in and out of his life, with no clear notice. Likewise, the tragic romance told by motorcycle courier Mardar can’t be trusted, given that the river’s inhabitants warped it into folklore. Faces can’t even be trusted, especially with the double casting of actress Zhou Xun as Meimei and as innocent rich daughter Moudan. Because of these contrasts and its ambiguity, Suzhou River sweeps us into an alluring, mysterious tale, but reminds us not to get caught by the current.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Jia Hongsheng, Nai An, Yao Anlian, Zhou Xun

Director: Lou Ye

While it would be easy to make comparisons to The Good Place and other shows and films dealing with the afterlife, Hirokazu Kore-eda's film is devoted to a single thing: commemorating the ordinary moments that make our life precious. Through little more than workplace banter and documentary-style interviews (with an ensemble delivering uncannily naturalistic performances), After Life reminds us how beautiful the mundane can be and how important it is for us to be present for each other in the everyday. And as the fim's characters prepare to create reenactments of each person's most precious memory, Kore-eda also defines filmmaking itself as an act of comfort and empathy. No existential crises here; an overwhelming sense of peace floods After Life, making it all the more memorable.

Genre: Drama, Fantasy

Actor: Akio Yokoyama, Arata Iura, Erika Oda, Hisako Hara, Kazuko Shirakawa, Kei Tani, Kotaro Shiga, Kyōko Kagawa, Miyako Yamaguchi, Natsuo Ishido, Sadawo Abe, Sayaka Yoshino, Susumu Terajima, Tae Kimura, Takashi Naito, Taketoshi Naitô, Tōru Yuri, Yûsuke Iseya

Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda

The Safdie Brothers spent over a decade making films before their mainstream breakout with Good Time and Uncut Gems. Their rich backlog captures New York City in its raw vibrant glory. Daddy Longlegs is the sardonic semi-autobiographical portrait of the Safdies’ childhood spent with their father after their parents' divorce. 

Lenny (Ronald Bronstein) is an awful dad whose parenting style ranges from the wildly irresponsible to the criminally negligent. While his behavior is often detestable and has few if any redeeming traits, the Safdies’ puncture through his demeanor and craft a sensitive portrait of fatherhood imbued with affection and feeling that could only originate from the well of a child’s capacity for forgiveness and love.

 

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Abel Ferrara, Alex Greenblatt, Alex Kalman, Casey Neistat, Dakota Goldhor, Dakota O'Hara, Danny Callahan, Eléonore Hendricks, Josh Safdie, Lance de los Reyes, Lee Ranaldo, Marc Raybin, Ronald Bronstein, Sage Ranaldo, Salvatore Sansone, Sean Price Williams, Seth Fleischaner, Steve Davis, Van Neistat, Wayne Chin

Director: Benny Safdie, Josh Safdie

Happy Together is a beautifully devastating tale about a gay couple, portrayed by Tony Leung Chiu-Wai and Leslie Cheun, who struggle with maintaining romance and fidelity in their relationship. Despite their efforts, they find the emotional distance growing between them, especially as they leave their home of Hong Kong for Buenos Aires.

Filmed and set in the late 1990s, Happy Together explored the depths of queer love in a way most films hadn’t. 

Since its release, it has touched the souls of many and caused tears to be shed. It serves as a reminder that love isn’t perfect, but it’s always worth the effort.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Chang Chen, Chen Chang, Gregory Dayton, Law Shu-Kei, Leslie Cheung, Shirley Kwan, Tony Chiu-Wai Leung, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai

Director: Kar-Wai Wong, Wong Kar-wai

Rating: N/A