France is, without a doubt, a reference point when it comes to art in all its forms. Be it painting, sculpture, architecture, music, poetry, or some other fine art, France always comes up in the conversation.
In our previous post, we discussed some of the best French books of all time. Many of them have become universal classics along with English, Italian, Russian, and German literature. The same happens with movies. France has been a major movie producer for decades. If you would like to learn more, then you have to read our list of 10 French movies everyone should watch. Let’s get started!
La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc (1928)
This silent film was based on the story of Joan of Arc, a French girl that was arrested and later judged for heresy by the French clergy. In fact, the movie centers around the trial and last days of the French heroine. Even though the movie is silent, you can still feel the emotions and pity Joan for everything she is going through.
Renée Jeanne Falconetti gave us her best performance here. Her facial expressions along with the superb art direction converted this movie into a masterpiece. The movie was a success, but it sparked controversy nonetheless. After all, how was it possible that a Danish director, and not a French one, was given the responsibility of making a movie about a French icon?
La règle du jeu (1939)
Directed by the renowned director Jean Renoir, this movie touches on the callousness of the French upper class and their servants before the beginning of World War II. Europe was on the verge of chaos and destruction, but that didn’t stop Renoir from making this movie. That is probably what makes it so special.
Although this movie was intended as a comedy/satire, it was banned by the government for being too demoralizing. Rich people on a hunting weekend on the brink of war, really? What was the director thinking?
This masterpiece transports us from comedy to tragedy and from realism to fantasy. It is indeed a mixed bag of emotions. There are several metaphors throughout the movie that get us thinking. No one judges others no matter what they do. At the end of the day, there are no rules. Everyone has their reasons for doing things.
Les Quatre Cents Coups (1959)
Reminiscent of Rebel Without a Cause, this movie is part of the French New Wave. It marked the debut of François Truffaut as a director. We could say it is a semi-autobiographical movie.
The story centers around Antoine Doinel, a misunderstood adolescent growing up in Paris. Considered a troublemaker, his behavior brings him a lot of problems with his parents and teachers. He lies, skips school, and ends up stealing to run away from home. Is there a place in society for someone like Antoine?
The main character became so popular that it appears in four other movies.
Belle de Jour (1967)
The eccentric Spanish director Luis Buñuel gave us this masterpiece. It is, in fact, considered one of his best movies, if not the best.
Here we get to know Séverine, a wealthy woman that is trapped in an unhappy marriage. She is young, beautiful, rich, wears Yves Saint Laurent, and is married to a doctor, but no matter how much she loves him, she is not sexually pleased. However, that does not mean she doesn’t have any fantasies.
She eventually meets Madame Anaïs, the owner of a high-class brothel. Initially reluctant, she becomes a classy prostitute while her husband is at work. She’s willing to become the object of desire of other men to escape the dullness of her marriage. Will her husband ever find out?
Au revoir les enfants (1987)
Written, produced, and directed by Louis Malle, Au revoir les enfants is based on a true story. When Malle was 11, he attended a Catholic boarding school. That’s where he witnessed the deportation of three Jewish students and a Jewish teacher as well as the arrest of the school’s headmaster, Père Jacques.
Set at the time of the Nazi occupation of France, the story revolves around Julien and Bonnet (a Jewish student in hiding). The two young men start to form a special bond, but their friendship will be put to the test by the Nazis.
This movie shows us the best and worst of mankind. When there’s a war going on, many people will leave their scruples aside to save themselves from danger. Is there any hope for the oppressed?
La double vie de Véronique (1991)
Weronika and Véronique are two identical women that share a mysterious and emotional bond even though they don’t know each other and live in different countries. The former is a Polish choir soprano, while the latter is a French music teacher.
The director doesn’t explain the relationship between these two women. He just limits himself to exploring the themes of identity, love, and human intuition. After all, are we all unique? Maybe not. We’re all connected in different ways and share a lot of things without realizing it.
Amélie is a romantic comedy that depicts contemporary Parisian life in a whimsical way. The main character is a naive waitress that decides to change the lives of those around her for the better.
When she was a child, her father mistakenly believed she had a heart defect and thus decides to homeschool her and isolate her from the outside world in order to protect her. Since she doesn’t have any contact with others, Amélie has to resort to her imagination and learn to enjoy the simple things of life. Helping others is great, but what about her? She will have to make a decision when she leaves home.
It is Audrey Tautou’s most famous role by far. She will always be remembered for it.
Les Choristes (2004)
Inspired by the origin of the boys’ choir The Little Singers of Paris, this musical drama was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Original Song at the 77th Academy Awards.
The first sequence introduces us to Pierre Morhange, a French conductor that is performing in the U.S. Before the concert starts, he is informed that his mother passed away. He returns to France and that’s where he meets his childhood friend Pépinot.
The two friends reminisce about their time at Fond de l’Étang, a boarding school for troubled boys. They talk about Clément Mathieu, a poor teacher that won them over. They gave him a lot of trouble, but they eventually accept him. Looking back on the past, they realize he was a major influence on both of their lives.
Starring François Cluzet and Omar Sy, the story revolves around the friendship of Philippe, a wealthy quadriplegic, and Driss, a former thief. The latter lives on welfare and needs a signature from a prospective employer to continue receiving benefits. Without expecting it, he is given the job as Philippe’s caregiver. A series of funny situations ensue, and a special bond forms between them.
The movie is based on the story of Philippe Pozzo di Borgo and Abdel Sellou. It is one of the most successful movies of the last decades.
The story of this drama focuses on an elderly couple, Anne and Georges. They are retired music teachers and have a daughter that lives abroad.
One morning while having breakfast, Anne suffers a stroke. A surgery gone wrong paralyzes the right side of her body and she has to use a wheelchair as a consequence. Georges becomes her caretaker, but she doesn’t want to live anymore. Their daughter wants to place her in a nursing home, but Georges refuses. Even though he is tired and frustrated, he doesn’t want to let Anne go. What will he do? Is love enough?
Today we discussed 10 French movies that everyone should watch. Each one of them explores a different theme and is special in some way. They make us laugh, cry, and reflect.
Have you watched any of the movies mentioned above? Do you agree with the list? Which movies would you add or remove from it? I’d love to know!
I hope you enjoyed this post. As always, feel free to leave your questions and comments in the section below. Au revoir les amis!
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