The best movies about interfaith relationships—romantic and otherwise—are a lot like good relationships. They start out with an acknowledgment of differences; there’s also a degree of attraction and it’s all topped off with a heaping helping of humanity and acceptance.
Here’s a list of some of the best films about interfaith relationships, listed chronologically by year with a little synopsis.
The Grand Illusion (1937) Jean Renoir’s antiwar masterpiece centers on a group of French P.O.W.s during World War I. In his first camp, a working-class hero (Jean Gabin) crosses paths with a wealthy, cultured Jew (Marcel Dalio), but they don’t have much in common. Thrown together again by circumstances late in the film, they forge a profound and moving, understanding. Ranked among the the best films of all time, this fillm combines an unflinching view of human nature with an enlightened declaration of tolerance.
The Heartbreak Kid (1972) Not to be confused with the more recent lame remake with Ben Stiller, Elaine May’s squirm-inducing comedy stars Charles Grodin as Lenny, a nice Jewish fellow who is on his honeymoon with Jewish wife. He falls for Cybill Shepherd, a woman who isn’t Jewish. Lenny can’t resist the siren song of something different, but there’s less to his new flame than meets the eye.
The Way We Were(1973) Hollywood reached its schmaltzy zenith with this “opposites-attract” period romance starring Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford at their blow-dried peaks. She’s a Jewish activist, he’s an All-American jock-turned writer. Their friends don’t think their high-flying relationship has a chance, and by the end of this three-hankie roller coaster ride—what, you think I’m going to give away the ending?
The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz(1974) Richard Dreyfuss plays an aggressive, ambitious and hyperactive Jewish kid in 1940s Montreal in this savagely hilarious adaptation of Mordecai Richler’s novel. Duddy’s girlfriend of another faith does her best to accommodate his self-centeredness, but he grows up a little too late.
Au Revoir, Les Enfants (1987) Set in a Catholic boarding school in Occupied France in 1944, Louis Malle’s powerful slice of autobiography turns on the brief acquaintance of two bright boys who wish for nothing more than a normal adolescence. The film is told from the perspective of a lad who’s never met a Jew; the other boy is a Jew whom the priests are hiding from the Nazis.
Enemies, A Love Story (1989) Paul Mazursky’s gorgeous and haunting adaptation of Isaac Bashevis Singer’s novel unfolds on the Lower East Side after the war. Ron Silver plays a Holocaust survivor running between his wife (the Polish woman who hid him during the war) and his lover (Lena Olin). Life throws him another curve when the wife (Anjelica Huston) he thought had died in the war reappears.
Aimée & Jaguar (1999) Based on a true story, this tense German drama explores the unexpected affair between a Jewish woman (Maria Shrader) and the wife of a Nazi (Juliane Kohler) during the Third Reich. For lovers in a dangerous time, discretion is as essential as passion.
Liberty Heights(1999) It’s Baltimore in the ’50s—a couple years before Hairspray—and curious young people are moving beyond their own cosseted cultures. Barry Levinson’s surprisingly tender autobiographical tale (echoing his great Diner) stars Adrien Brody and Ben Foster as brothers spellbound by their first crushes on girls of other faiths. Parental disapproval, class differences and racial tension are just a few of the obstacles these characters face.
God Is Great and I’m Not(2001) This fizzy, frenetic French romantic comedy stars the doe-eyed Audrey Taotou (from Amelie) as a gal looking for spirituality who enthusiastically embraces the rituals of Judaism, to the embarrassment and chagrin of her pathologically assimilated veterinarian boyfriend. This is one of the few interfaith romances, along with Ira & Abby (2007), where the woman drives the story.
Monsieur Ibrahim (2003) In early-’60s Paris, a precocious Jewish teenager is befriended, and mentored by, the Muslim shopkeeper (Omar Sharif) across the street. By turns ribald and tender, this unpredictable film ultimately leads into profoundly spiritual territory.