From New Wave classics to modern favorites, here are the most essential French movies to watch now.
Hollywood may be the undisputed king of global film industries, but modern cinema owes its entire existence to the French. In 1895, brothers Auguste and Louis Lumière invented a motion-picture camera called the cinematograph and made their first feature, the 46-second long La Sortie de l’usine Lumière à Lyon, which they screened for a private audience that March, making it the first presentation of projected film. In the 126 years since, the French movie industry has grown into one of the most highly regarded in the world, and with creating generations of talent, from Brigitte Bardot to Léa Seydoux, Alain Delon to Omar Sy, Jean Renoir to Olivier Dahan.
Lately, French TV shows especially Call my Agent or Lupin on Netflix have been successful, reaching a wider American audience. The best movies, on the other hand, have long been accessible, if only for a small rental fee on Amazon. So whether you are a diehard Francophile, need to brush up on your French, or just want an excuse daydream about—and plot—your next trip to Paris, we’ve curated a list of French masterpieces to consider for your next movie night.
1. La haine
France’s troubled history of racism and its continued, fraught relationship with immigrant populations are given a blistering critique in this film about three friends who struggle and clash with police while living in Paris’s low-income banlieues.
In this whimsical tale, Audrey Tautou plays a shy waitress who combats her own loneliness by resolving to better the lives of those around her. Not only is Amélie endlessly charming and sweet, it’s
also a veritable love letter to Paris, and especially Montmartre.
3. La Grande illusion
Considered one of the greatest films ever made—Orson Welles once said if he could save just two films for posterity, this would be one—Jean Renoir’s 1937 magnum opus is about a group of soldiers plotting their escape from a German prison camp during the Great War.
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4. The Intouchables (Les Intouchables)
Before he captured our hearts in Lupin this year, Omar Sy became a household name thanks to this 2011 hit, which is based on a true story about a wealthy quadriplegic (François Cluzet), his live-in caretaker (Sy), and the unlikely bond that forms between them.
5. La Vie en Rose
Marion Cotillard won the Best Actress Oscar (plus a BAFTA, Golden Globe, and César) for her portrayal of the legendary singer Edith Piaf in this biographical musical, becoming the first and only actor to win the award for a French-language performance.
6. The Artist
This beautiful tribute to the silent film era of 1920s Hollywood swept the awards circuit in 2011, winning 3 Golden Globes, 7 BAFTAs, 6 Césars, and 5 Academy Awards, including for Best Actor for Jean Dujardin, making him the first French actor ever to win in this category.
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This drama, depicting the professional and personal lives of the members of a police squad who deal with crimes against children, is thrilling, heartbreaking, and, as The Hollywood Reporter put it, “like a whole season of The Wire packed into a single two-hour-plus film.”
8. Belle de Jour
In Catherine Deneuve’s most iconic role, she plays a young housewife whose more carnal and masochistic desires can’t be fulfilled by her husband. So she turns to a brothel instead to work, by day, as a high-class prostitute.
Brigitte Bardot, the irresistible settings of Rome and Capri, a disintegrating marriage, clashing egos on a movie set (with Fritz Lang playing himself)—all add up to a perfect recipe for another explosive Jean-Luc Godard film.
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Source: Town & Country