14 Movies Every French Major Must See
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Paris is the “City of Lights” in more than one way! While the Eiffel Tower’s sparkling lights are charming to be sure, the city also houses more movie theaters per capita than any other in the world. The flickering lights of the film projector have illuminated French citizens since the first movies were played at the turn of the century, helping cement film as an important part of French culture over the past century. Its cinema isn’t just a big deal within the country itself, however, and many French films, directors and actors are legends around the world.
Any student of the French language, whether a beginner or nearing fluency, should make these movies part of their education. They will benefit from the films not only as a primer on conversational French language, but also as a crash course in the surrounding culture, history and geography. While it is nearly impossible to create a list of just fourteen definitive French films, we’ve tried to choose a variety that will provide a good entry point for college studentsjust dipping their toes in its output. With everything from art house staples to horror films, there’s bound to be something on this list that will strike your interest no matter your personal tastes.
Please keep in mind that this article uses French capitalization rules when writing titles. Thanks for not freaking out and correcting us!
A major hit in America as well, this film (known Stateside as, simply, Amelie) follows a charming French waitress who decides she must intervene in the lives of those around her and help them find happiness. Nominated for five Oscars and winning four Cesar Awards, it is not only a great cinematic work, but a just plain pleasant way to spend an afternoon.
Based on the 1885 Emile Zola novel of the same name, this film takes a harsh but realistic look at French life in the 1860s. It centers on a group of coal miners who, unhappy with their brutal working conditions, decide to strike. The violent and disastrous results of that decision make for gripping cinema, and no French student should miss out on a chance to learn more about the country’s film, history and literature in one fell swoop.
Les quatre cents coups (1959)
Francois Truffaut is one of France’s most renowned filmmakers, playing a major role in spawning the French New Wave film movement. This film, The 400 Blows (though it should more accurately translate to To Raise Hell), is a cornerstone of that movement and holds a place of honor in any film geek’s collection. Both a character study and an expose of the injustices doled out to French juvenile offenders during the 1950s, it is undoubtedly among the greatest works of the nation’s cinema. Those who like the film may want to check out itssequel, Baisers voles.
Les visiteurs (1993)
A departure from the more serious films listed here, this classic sends a 12th century knight and his squire through time to the modern day. As you would expect, the knights have a tough time adjusting to the brand new world, and hilarity ensues. American viewers might be familiar with the English-language remake called Just Visiting, but the original French version is far funnier – even though both films star the same actor.
Le placard (2001)
Politically correct this film is not, but — despite being a comedy — it offers up a pretty direct and insightful take on French society. Actor Daniel Auteuil stars as a man who pretends to be gay in order to keep his condom factory job, resulting in some unexpected reactions from his boss, his homophobic coworker, played by the iconic Gerard Depardieu, and his family.
La Femme Nikita (1990)
Made into multiple popular television shows, the Nikita character introduced by this Luc Besson film has become a cultural icon. In the original movie, the eponymous character is a young junkie and petty criminal who murders a cop. Locked away, the government recruits her for an elite French intelligence agency and turns her from a drug-addled mess into a dangerous assassin. Filled with action and adventure, it’s a must-watch for any student who wants to learn more about French pop culture.
Cyrano de Bergerac (1990)
The real-life Cyrano (a French dramatist and duelist) may not have had a comically large nose, but his name became synonymous with them after Edmond Rostand fictionalized his life in an 1897 play (let us stress the fiction part — the play bears little resemblance to the real Cyrano in any way). Many movie adaptations have been made in the years since, including the ’80s American classic Roxanne, but this version is perhaps one of the best ever. A lavish production, it stays true to the original play and often ends up ranked among the top films in world cinema.
Les roseaux sauvages (1994)
Directed by Andre Techine, this touching film details the coming of age of four teens in southwest France. All are just beginning to understand their sexuality and the long-reaching effects of the French battle in Algeria. A rare cinematic look at the often taboo subject of the Algerian War (and French culpability in it), the it is thought provoking on a number of levels, and won numerous awards in its native land and abroad when it was released.
8 femmes (2002)
This musical/comedy/murder mystery is based on a play by Robert Thomas called Huit femmes. Set in the French countryside during the 1950s, the story follows a family and their servants as they prepare for Christmas dinner. When the master of the house turns up dead, the heat is on to discover which of the eight women in the house did the deed. With an amazing cast and a lot of twists and turns, it’s an entertaining way to improve your French.
L’histoire d’Adele H (1975)
Based on the tragic real-life story of Victor Hugo’s daughter, this film by Francois Truffaut is in both French and English — great for students just mastering the linguistic basics. Viewers will see the beautiful and tragic Adele destroy her life and her sanity pining away over an unrequited love – events even more heartbreaking because they really happened.
Les diaboliques (1955)
If you love a good scary movie, then you’ll appreciate this French thriller. The film follows a woman and her husband’s mistress (both of whom he cruelly mistreats) who conspire to murder him. The women succeed — with one catch. The body disappears, and scares and suspense ensue as they try and figure out what has become of their murdered lover.
The first in a series of action/comedy films (the most successful franchise in French cinematic history) by director Gerard Pires and written by Luc Besson, this film is perfect for viewers who love a good car chase. Head and shoulders above the abysmal American remake, it isn’t a masterpiece by any stretch, but is a solid action-packed adventure that lets viewers hear the characteristic Marseilles accent. And, of course, see the city’s beauty as it races past the window of a speeding cab.
Les triplettes de Belleville (2003)
In the mood for some cartoons? While there is little dialogue in this film for French speakers to follow, the amazing animation, ridiculously catchy song and take on the country’s obsession with bicycles and cycling make it well worth a watch.
La grande illusion (1937)
We would be remiss not to include one of the greatest French films ever made. La grand illusionis not only a cinematic masterpiece, but an engaging look into France’s history and society in the WWI years. Focusing on a group of officers taken prisoner during the war, the movie reveals their class relationships and struggles as they plot an escape.12/09/2011 From: Student Blog reader Original site: 14 Movies Every French Major Must See