9 Movies Like Three Colors: Blue (1993) On Criterionchannel

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Called a masterpiece by many and featured on many best-of-the-21st-century lists, Director Wong Kar-wei has created a thing of singular beauty. Every frame is an artwork (painted, as it were, with help of cinematographer Christopher Doyle) in this meticulously and beautifully crafted film about the unrequited love of two people renting adjacent rooms in 1960s Hong Kong. These two people, played by Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung, struggle to stay true to their values rather than give in to their desires, while they both suspect their spouses of extramarital activities. The flawless acting, stunning visuals, and dream-like beauty of In the Mood for Love perfectly captures the melancholy of repressed emotions and unfulfilled love. The cello motif of Shigeru Umebayashi's main theme will haunt you long after you finished watching.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Chan Man-Lei, Charles de Gaulle, Cheung Tung-cho, Chin Tsi-Ang, Joe Cheung, Joe Cheung Tung-Cho, Julien Carbon, Kelly Lai Chen, Laurent Courtiaud, Maggie Cheung, Mama Hung, Paulyn Sun, Ping Lam Siu, Rebecca Pan, Roy Cheung, Siu Ping-lam, Tony Chiu-Wai Leung, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Tsi-Ang Chin

Director: Wong Kar-wai

Rating: PG

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

Two angels wander the streets of a monochrome Berlin, invisible to the colorful world that bustles around them. When one of them falls in love, he begins to question his place and yearns to give up immortality to join the ranks of the living. Wim Wender’s exceptional film is a poetic meditation on faith, cinema, and a mournful tour of a city in the grip of the Cold War. 

Wings of Desire is bursting with poetry and heartbreaking humanism emphasized by the tender performances by Bruno Ganz, Otto Sander, and Peter Falk, while serving as a beautiful love letter to a city yearning for change. If you’ve only seen City of Angels, the loose American remake, then you owe it to yourself to experience the raw poetic power of the real deal.

Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Romance

Actor: Annelinde Gerstl, Beartice Manowski, Beatrice Manowski, Bernard Eisenschitz, Blixa Bargeld, Bruno Ganz, Chick Ortega, Curt Bois, Didier Flamand, Elmar Wilms, Hans Martin Stier, Johanna Penski, Jürgen Heinrich, Nick Cave, Otto Sander, Paul Busch, Peter Falk, Sigurd Rachman, Solveig Dommartin, Teresa Harder, Thomas Wydler, Ulrike Schirm, Wolf-Dirk Vogeley

Director: Wim Wenders

Rating: PG-13

Abbas Kiarostami delivers a tale of towering simplicity. A young boy mistakenly takes his friend’s notebook home and, knowing the friend faces expulsion without it, goes on a journey to bring it back. He visits the neighboring town but without a clue where his friend lives must rely on the kindness of strangers and overcome the stubbornness of adults who get in his way.

This adventure is both a loose moral parable as well as a striking portrait of life in rural Iran. More than this, it’s a testament to the capacity of children’s films to communicate depth when the filmmaker respects a child’s intelligence. The earnest young actors at its heart add an emotional immediacy that underscores Kiarostami’s empathetic direction.

Genre: Drama, Family

Actor: Ahmed Ahmed Poor, Biman Mouafi, Mohamed Hocine Rouhi, Mohammad Reza Nematzadeh

Director: Abbas Kiarostami

Krzysztof Kieślowski’s drama stars Irène Jacob as two identical women living separate lives, and the intricate and indelible ways in which they are bound together. While Weronika, a Polish singer, balances her familial duties and intimate romantic relationship, a French music teacher named Véronique senses that she is not alone.

The Double Life of Véronique’s hypnotic and entrancing qualities will wash over you like a tide crashing over a bed of sand. It is a tough film to capture in words, when so much of it is just beyond words—Kieślowski’s film is one to be seen, sensed, and experienced. 

Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Mystery

Actor: Alain Frérot, Aleksander Bardini, Bogusława Schubert, Chantal Neuwirth, Claude Duneton, Gilles Gaston-Dreyfus, Guillaume de Tonquédec, Halina Gryglaszewska, Irène Jacob, Janusz Sterninski, Jerzy Gudejko, Kalina Jędrusik, Lorraine Evanoff, Louis Ducreux, Philippe Volter, Sandrine Dumas, Thierry de Carbonnières, Władysław Kowalski, Youssef Hamid

Director: Krzysztof Kieślowski

Rating: R

Krzysztof Kieślowski’s trilogy reflects both the colors and the values of the French republic: liberté, égalité, fraternité. In Trois couleurs : Blanc (Three Colors: White), Kieślowski explores not only the theme of equality, but also the ramifications of defining and “achieving” equality as a European ideal.

After failing to consummate their marriage, Dominique (the ever-bewitching Julie Delpy) divorces Karol (Zbigniew Zamachowski), leaving him broke and humiliated. Karol plots to exact revenge on his ex-wife, becoming richer and cruller in the process. 

Although this is often regarded as the weakest of the trilogy, White is worth a watch not just for completionists. Kieślowski interrogates what it means to be equal in sex and socioeconomic class—and if when we strive to move upward in society, whether we are really debasing our basic humanity and humility.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Mystery

Actor: Aleksander Bardini, Andrzej Precigs, Barbara Dziekan, Bartłomiej Topa, Cezary Harasimowicz, Cezary Pazura, Grażyna Szapołowska, Grzegorz Warchoł, Janusz Gajos, Jerzy Nowak, Jerzy Stuhr, Jerzy Trela, Julie Delpy, Juliette Binoche, Marzena Trybała, Philippe Morier-Genoud, Piotr Machalica, Piotr Zelt, Teresa Budzisz-Krzyżanowska, Zbigniew Zamachowski, Zdzisław Rychter

Director: Krzysztof Kieślowski

Even before Agnès Varda pivoted to documentary filmmaking, she was a pioneer of French cinema. Her film Sans toit ni loi (Vagabond) is one of her most harrowing dramas. 

Varda’s sensibilities as a burgeoning documentarian are apparent as the film opens on the corpse of a woman lying dead in a snow-covered ditch. Through flashbacks, we trace the titular vagabond’s steps to uncover how she ended up alone and dead. The camera follows its subject from a safe distance, as if tracking a wild animal. Alongside the woman, we hitchhike across the French countryside, encountering hostile men, treacherous winter weather, and occasional glimpses of hope, connection, and familiarity. Vagabond succeeds at portraying a complicated woman—Varda understood that women, above all else, are people, with dark interiors, difficult choices, and uncertain impulses. 

Genre: Drama

Actor: Agnès Varda, Macha Méril, Sandrine Bonnaire, Stéphane Freiss, Yolande Moreau

Director: Agnès Varda

Rating: Not Rated

Les Glaneurs et la Glaneuse (The Gleaners and I) is one of the late Agnès Varda’s great documentaries. The film follows “gleaners”—scavengers and collectors of discarded garbage or abandoned items—from the French countryside into the city. The first of Varda’s subjects recalls, “Gleaning, that’s the old way,” marking a clear distinction: old versus new, rural versus urban, wasted versus repurposed.

Fans of Varda will recognize the signature tenderness with which she approaches both her subjects and their objects. Those new to her work will be sure to find something familiar in this documentary: a film largely about loss, but which approaches its ideas of modernization and time with humor and lightness. Among the rubble, there is joy yet to be found—and in this documentary, there is a great comfort, too, to be gleaned.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Agnès Varda, Agnès Varda, Bodan Litnanski, François Wertheimer, François Wertheimer

Director: Agnès Varda, Agnès Varda

Rating: 0, Not Rated

Often considered Claire Denis’ best film, Beau Travail is an epic exploration of both masculinity and colonialism. Inspired by Melville’s Billy Budd, she transplants the story to Djibouti where the French Foreign Legion run seemingly aimless drills in an arid desert landscape while largely alienated from the local community. 

Denis inverts the male gaze and imbues charged eroticism to the bodies in motion as the men train and wrestle. Accompanied by the music of Britten’s Billy Budd opera, these movements transform into a breathtaking modern dance. Underneath her jaw-dropping direction is a cutting allegory on repression, desire, and violence, working on both the individual and geopolitical level. This incredible tale is capped off by one of the best end credit sequences of all time. 

Genre: Drama

Actor: Dan Herzberg, Denis Lavant, Gianfranco Poddighe, Grégoire Colin, Michel Subor, Mickael Ravovski, Nicolas Duvauchelle

Director: Claire Denis

Rating: Unrated