The 20 Very Best European Movies on Netflix

November 17, 2019

European movies are a wonderful path to explore for those who feel like they’ve seen everything on Netflix. These under-watched titles need to be sought one by one because it seems like Netflix algorithms would almost never put them at the forefront.

I know what some of you might be thinking: “wait, subtitles, ew!” – not necessarily. Many European movies are in English, and not just the ones from the UK. Clouds of Sils Maria from this list, for example, is a French movie set in France, but its main language is English and it stars none other than Kristen Stewart.

Europe has a long history with film – the French New Wave, Italian Neorealism, and the great Swedish movies of Ingmar Bergman. And what’s happening in Europe today is equally as exciting: French thrillers, Scandinavian dramas, Irish comedies… there is just so much to discover.

This list has past Oscar winners like The Lives of Others, a past winner of the Berlin Film Festival (On Body and Soul), and other award-sweepers. But you might be asking yourself why you haven’t heard of some or all of them. The answer depends on each movie but it’s often either bad marketing or that fear of subtitles. Both have nothing to do with the quality of the movies themselves.

So, friends, let’s try something new. Below are the best European movies on Netflix right now.

In Order of Disappearance (2014)

This movie is pretty much in every regard a Norwegian Kill Bill. It’s a dark gory comedy where, naturally, the substitute for Uma Thurman doing damage is an emotionless Stellan Skarsgård.

After his son is killed by a drug gang, Skarsgård’s character, fresh off a win of a “citizen of the year” award, embarks on a ruthless journey to track and kill the murderers. This takes place in one of the most remote areas in Norway, where the main character works as a snowplow driver. You guessed it, some people will get snowplowed.

Seems familiar? That’s because this year it was turned into a horribly sub-par American movie called Cold Pursuit, with, ugh, Liam Neeson.

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A Fortunate Man (2018)

This is a gorgeous Danish period drama that’s based on a famous story and book in Denmark called Lykke-Per (or Lucky Per) by Nobel Prize-winning author Henrik Pontoppidan.

Per, the son of an overbearing catholic priest, leaves his family house in the country side to seek a new life in Copenhagen. His passion about engineering was at the time contrary with the Christian faith, but manages to introduce him to the capital’s elite, and a chance at social ascension.

Lykke-Per and A Fortunate Man are about nature versus nurture. Per’s passion about engineering and renewable energy (back in the 1920s) is set against his need to emancipate and the pride that was instilled in him by his upbringing.

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Girl (2019)
18.

Girl won four awards at the Cannes Film Festival last year and was nominated to 9 Magritte Awards. It was also Belgium’s entry to the Oscar for best foreign-language film. When a dance school accepts her, Lara has the opportunity to realize her dream and become a professional ballerina. The dancing takes a toll on her body, but her biggest obstacle is that she was born into the body of a boy. Girl illustrates the trans teenage experience with sensitivity, slowly and humanly making Lara’s anguish become the viewer’s. Based on a true story.

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Clouds of Sils Maria (2014)

The film for which Kristen Stewart became the first American actress to win the César Award. The Twilight star turned indie prodigy plays next to another award favorite, Juliette Binoche, as her assistant. When rehearsing for the play that launched her career many years earlier, Binoche’s character, Maria, blurs the line between fiction and reality, her old age and her assistant’s young demeanor, and the romance story portrayed in the play and her own life. The movie itself is stylized as a play, adding another interesting layer of artistic creativity to the complex plot line. A film for film lovers.

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On My Skin (2018)

This Netflix production is based on a case that rocked public opinion in Italy. Stefano Cucchi was arrested for a minor drug charge and died five days later from police brutality.

The movie takes its time to expose what Cucchi went through, which might lead some viewers to find On My Skin slow, and rightfully so. Thinking about the issues at hand here, it’s easy to understand why the director made that choice. In fact, Italians’ complex relationship with the Carabinieri, a division of the Italian army that carries out domestic policing, is delicate to explain and requires meticulous unveiling.

Nominated to nine David di Donatello Awards (the equivalent of the Academy Awards in Italy), of which it won three.

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And Breathe Normally (2018)

Iceland is a country of vast lands but limited population – only about 300,000 people can call themselves Icelandic. On the other hand, 8 million people have connecting flights through Iceland every year.

In this setting of mass movement, a single mother dealing with poverty is offered a chance to turn things around – a job as a border agent. One of her first days, she comes across an asylum seeker on a connecting flight from Guinea Bissau to Canada, trying to cross with a fake passport.

Their stories don’t only intertwine as border agent and asylum seeker, but as two mothers. And Breathe Normally is about struggling with poverty both in Europe and coming from a place like Guinea Bissau. It’s a beautiful, plot-heavy statement on the importance of solidarity and of seeing the human behind the country of origin or race.

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Contratiempo (2016)

This movie is like thriller-candy. It is full of twists, it is very atmospheric, and in nicely predictable fashion it will deliver that excitement rush we (most of us) love. Accused of murder, a wealthy entrepreneur hires the best witness preparation expert he can find. They have three hours before the trial to come up with the most solid, plausible defence. But ?, a new witness surfaces. Don’t expect anything overly original, but expect to be entertained.

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Happy as Lazzaro (2018)

Set in 1970s Italian countryside, this is a quirky movie that’s full of plot twists.

Lazzaro is a dedicated worker at a tobacco estate. His village has been indebted to a marquise and like everyone else, he works without a wage and in arduous conditions.

Lazzaro strikes a friendship with the son of the marquise, who, in an act of rebellion against his mother, decides to fake his own kidnapping. The two form an unlikely friendship in a story that mixes magical realism with social commentary.

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Handsome Devil (2016)

I can’t get a song out of my head from this movie: the 1985 UK hit Desire As from Prefab Sprout.

It plays when the two main characters, a sensitive kid who’s bullied by his school for not liking rugby, and the school’s rugby star; talk over the “Berlin Wall” that separates their dorm room.

The song echoes “It’s perfect as it stands, so why then crush it in your perfect hands?”. These two seemingly incompatible personalities form a friendship that comes under threat from their school’s traditional authority, especially as one of them is revealed to be gay.

It might seem like a tough premise, but Handsome Devil is actually a comedy. It’s a sweet and easy coming-of-age comedy.

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The Young Offenders (2016)

The Young Offenders is a comedy about two Irish teenagers who go on a 160km bicycle trip to salvage 7 million euros worth of lost cocaine.

As they sit on a hill overlooking their city, they imagine what they would do with that money. The answer is building a house that has lava lamps, “big gold walls”, Spanish girls, and an English butler to wake them up every morning with the phrase “what’s happenin’?”.

You get the vibe. It’s is a silly movie, although the premise is actually based on a real-life event where cocaine from a capsized smuggling boat washed up on the Irish coast.

The Young Offenders wears its heart on its sleeve. It’s a sweet funny movie, half slapstick and half plot, which sports an infinity of highly quotable one-liners.

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Layer Cake (2004)

Featuring a Pre-Bond Daniel Craig, Layer cake can be described as a mix between Lock Stock, Two Smoking Barrels and Scarface—a darkly funny and incredibly violent film. It features great acting from Craig and the rest of the cast, action that will keep you on the edge of your seat once it gets moving and a complex and deep theme that can make you reconsider your worldview. This is a true action movie for the thinking man (or woman).

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Nowhere Boy (2010)

In a different change of pace, this biopic focuses on John Lennon’s reckless adolescence and family life instead of his soon-to-be iconic music. It brings an epic rockstar many of us have known our entire lives down to a more relatable level. The young Aaron Taylor-Johnston gives a very angsty performance which feels a little over the top at times. Anne-Marie Duff does comes off too flirtatious for a newly formed mother-son relationship but Kristin Scott Thomas outshines them all with her steely demeanor.

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Shéhérazade (2018)

A gritty and realistic thriller set in France’s notorious capital city of crime – Marseille.

Zachary is released from Juvenile prison to learn that his mother has abandoned him. He finds kinship in an underage sex worker by the name of Shéhérazade.

This seems like the set-up for a tough watch, but Shéhérazade plays like a romance when it’s slow, and a crime thriller when it’s fast (it’s mostly fast). Everything about the story and two leads’ relationship rings true. Added to the fact that it has no interest in emotionally manipulating you, the movie is more gripping and thought-provoking than sad.

A great story, fantastic acting from the cast of first-timers, and outstanding direction give the feeling that Shéhérazade is bound to become a modern classic. If you liked City of God, you will love this.

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Trainspotting (1996)

Renton (McGregor), a Scottish twenty-something junkie, must choose to clean up and get out, or continue following the allure of the drugs and the influence of friends. Find out if he chooses life in this brutal yet entertaining Danny Boyle masterpiece. While definitely not for the faint of heart, Trainspotting still manages to be funny at times, and provides an overall very entertaining experience.

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Blue Is the Warmest Color (2013)

Emma, a free-spirited girl with blue hair, influences Adele’s life dramatically, teaching her how to be honest with herself and discover her true desires about love. The film beautifully and realistically portrays Adele’s evolution, from a high-school girl to a grown-up woman. The spirit Emma lights up in her never dies. Blue Is the Warmest Color or La Vie d’Adèle is an honest, intense, and charming picture, prepare not to blink and have your face glued to screen from start to finish.

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Deep in the suburbs of Paris, Divines follows the story of Dounia (played by Oulaya Amamra) and her best friend Maimouna (played by Déborah Lukumuena). Director Houda Benyamina serves a nest of social issues – welcoming the viewer into a world where poverty is pervasive and adults are haunted by their own ghosts, where there is a life vest only in the reliance on friendship. The nature of this bond between the two female characters is deep, playful, and backed by mesmerizing acting on behalf of Amamra and Lukumuena.

Just as prevailing throughout the film is the commentary on immigrant diasporas and the power of idealization. The girls fantasize about financial excess with guttural determination, guided only by the realization that their escape from their current lives has to come to fruition no matter what the cost. This film is entrancing and thought-provoking. You won’t be able to look away.

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On Body and Soul (2017)

On Body and Soul is the impeccably crafted winner of the 2017 Berlin Film Festival.

Two strangers have the same dream every night, they meet as deer in a forest and eventually fall in love. When they run into each other in real life, they search for the love they experience unconsciously. The reality of their introverted personalities and their surroundings make it hard to establish that same connection.

This unconventional love story is passionately told by Hungary’s best director, Ildikó Enyedi. Before it, she had taken an 18-year break from making movies, something that kind of makes sense when you watch On Body and Soul. That break was probably the only way to come up with something as thoughtful and creative as this.

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God’s Own Country (2017)

A Call me By Your Name without the privilege, pretentiousness or wealth, and it’s probably a better movie because of it. God’s Own Country tells the story of Johnny, a kid from the Yorkshire countryside and underclass. The family’s workload and responsibility fell on his shoulders after his father suffered from a stroke, which drove him further into loneliness and alienation. Upon meeting a Romanian farmer, his ideas of loneliness, sex, and intimacy are confronted with change. A beautiful and beautifully humane film, and an unbelievable debut by British director Francis Lee.

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The Lives of Others (2006)

I saw this movie about a month ago, and I can’t stop seeing it again every weekend. It’s 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.

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I, Daniel Blake (2016)

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.

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