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144 Best European Stories to Watch

In Europe, Brexit and similar nationalistic movements increase the need for finding what’s common in European storytelling. And abroad, European movies are often acclaimed but under-watched. This section’s goal is to guide you through the vast array of high-quality European films available on streaming services.

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It comes as no surprise that former Bond villain Mads Mikkelsen won Best Actor in Cannes for delivering on this challenging role. In this merciless thriller by Danish director Thomas Vinterberg, the ice-eyed actor plays Lucas, an out-of-luck high school teacher struggling to start a new life. After a bitter divorce, he returns to the close-knit community he grew up in to work as a kindergarten teacher. A few weeks before Christmas, a child from his class, who has an innocent crush on the popular teacher, hints to a colleague that he had exposed himself to her. The young girl’s intimation galvanizes the small hunter’s town into a witch-hunt that leaves Lucas’ life hanging from a string. Trapped in the lies, the more he fights back, the more irrational the mob becomes. In all its brutal honesty, The Hunt is one of those rare thrillers that will haunt you for days. Extraordinary and thought-provoking!

9.8

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Much like Berlin’s infamous nightlife, which serves as the backdrop to the plot, this daring German real-time drama will eat you up and spit you out. After leaving a nightclub at 4am, Victoria, a runaway Spanish girl, befriends a gang of four raucous young men, climbing rooftops and drinking beers among the city’s moon-lit streets. The gang’s light-hearted banter is impressively improvised from a skeleton script, offset by Niels Frahm’s ominous original score. But what starts out as late-night high jinks swerves into darker territory. Driven by her infatuation with the pack leader Sonne, played by Frederick Lau, Victoria ends up being recruited as a get-away driver for an ill-prepared bank robbery and loses herself in a sinister spiral of events. What sounds like a standard-issue crime drama is, in fact, a staggering cinematic experiment. Filmed in one take, on location, and in real time, the movie’s production is indeed a gamble, but director Sebastian Schipper more than pulls it off. The claustrophobic camerawork of cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grøvlen leaves the viewer feeling like a hapless accomplice to Victoria’s plight. With Laia Costa giving an awe-striking lead performance, the high wire acting of the entire main cast only adds to this effect. Victoria is a stellar directorial debut, heart-stopping drama, and a truly immersive experience.

9.8

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A wealthy paraplegic needs a new caretaker. His choice is surprising -- an ex-con down on his luck. Both of their lives are changed forever. Based on a true story, it is funny, touching, and very surprising.  It will have you rolling on the floor laughing one minute and reaching for your hankie the next. Intouchables is one of those perfect movies, that will easily and instantly make anyone's all-time top 10 list.

9.6

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Revealing the gaps in the social safety net, I, Daniel Blake, is a tale centered around a blue collar worker navigating the welfare system in England. At a time where class and social mobility could not be more politically salient, this film calls into question the notion of the “citizen” and exposes the inaccessibility to the social protections in which one presumes entitlement. At the forefront of this, is a heart-warming parable of paternal companionship between Daniel (played by Dave Johns) and a single mother – Katie – (played by Hayley Squires) who is wading through similar terrain. The acting in the film is unfathomably raw which cultivates the deepest source of gut wrenching compassion. Ken Loach has created a film that exposes the true power of empathy, leaving you feeling helplessly human.

9.5

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Two strangers in Germany deal with their Turkish identity in separate ways but are joined together when they agree to a fake marriage in order to help each other break free. This is a dirty, gritty and heart-wrenching story about culture, love and the violence that unites them. Winner of a Golden Bear and "Best Film" as well as "Audience Award" at the European Film Awards.

9.3

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The first movie to be nominated to both the Documentary and Foreign-Language Oscar categories, Honeyland is a portrayal of one of the last wild beekeepers in Europe shot over three years. Her life consists of taking care of her ailing mother and harvesting honey according to rules her ancestors taught her, such as only taking half of the produced honey at any one time. These rules are broken when a nomad family arrives. The father, anxious about securing for his children, threatens the beekeeper's way of life.There is so much incredible footage in this difficult documentary, from hazardous mountain climbs to a kid helping a cow give birth. But throughout, the question of "how am I watching this?" often comes up, since the footage the filmmakers gained feels unobstructed by anything: it doesn't feel like there is a camera around.

9.3

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A cynical, gripping and unconventional French film that combines prison drama with the Goodfellas-styled narrative of the rise to criminal power. A Prophet takes age-old cliches and turns them upside down, resulting in a movie that manages to be completely original while remaining truthful to its influences. It's not often that a film leaves me giddy with enthusiasm and has me constantly thinking back to it, but A Prophet achieves it. Incredible acting, fantastic pacing, great narrative arc, with a brutal, cynical and uncompromising take on morality, self-realization and life on the fringes of society. There are only two "action" sequences in this movie and they are as brutal and realistic as they are unexpected. Look past the subtitles, do yourself a favor and watch it.

9.3

This movie so heartbreaking. Wiesler, an officer of the Stasi, is designated to spy on a playwright and his girlfriend because the State Security has doubts about their loyalty. However after a while Wiesler becomes absorbed in Dreyman and his girlfriend's lives and that's when the empathy and the human component surge to be confronted with orders, and the realities of the time. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's film is a melodrama , quietly affecting, quietly chilling, quietly quiet. It captures the drab architecture of totalitarianism, the soul-dead buildings of a soul-dead state and the haunted freedom in that time.

9.3

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There is a unique emotional approach to Danish films rarely matched by anything else, that has to be seen to be understood. Oscar-nominated After The Wedding perfectly embodies that. Jacob Peterson (played by Mads Mikkelsen) is an idealist who runs a financially struggling orphanage in India. He returns to Copenhagen to seek a large donation when he discovers that in order to get the money he will be unveiling dark secrets about his own personal past. Scenes are stretched, and feel incredibly realistic. But because of the great plot and premise as well as the fantastic cast, they're never boring -- on the contrary, After the Wedding is thrilling and at all times interesting.

9.3

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Cinematography is a big part of Cold War, the story moves through stunning shots of the Polish countryside and later on an incredibly delicate portrait of Paris. All of that would be a waste if you watch it on an iPhone, so I really recommend watching this on as big of a screen as you can get your hands on. In 1950s Cold War Poland, a band of folk musicians find themselves used as a tool for Soviet propaganda. Their travel through the country is hijacked by this agenda, but it remains an incredible journey. It goes through different seasons and aesthetics uncovering lost Polish songs and poems. The leader of the band falls in love with one of the dancers, and the limits imposed on the couple under communist rule make them seek alternatives. Cold War is a statement on how far artists go for their art, especially when they become constrained not only by politics but by romance. It’s a poetic yet quiet movie that doesn’t scream its point but rather invites you to come to your own conclusions.

9.2
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