It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that world cinema is incomplete without mentioning French cinema. Interestingly, most people know France for its film festivals, especially the Cannes Film Festival. After all, how can one not mention the claps that seem to go on forever for the movie that wins The Palme d’Or (English: The Golden Palm) and for the winners in other categories?
Cannes is a global film festival almost as famous as the Oscars. However, once the Cannes is over, cinephiles forget there’s a connection between France and movies. France is more than just film festivals; if you still need to explore French cinema, you are in for a delightful exploration. This list includes some of the best French movies you can watch on weekends.
French cinema is diverse in terms of subject matter, unique in terms of locations, and narratives that go beyond convention, challenging the very limits of cinema. Our list includes some famous French movies and some you may find for the first time. So, let’s find out some of the best French movies, as the magic of French cinema awaits your discovery.
La Haine is one of the famous French films with a global following, released in 1995. The subject matter of the film is racial tension in the suburbs of Paris, leading to riots, and France is no stranger to racism and riots. The entire movie is black and white, creating a stark and realistic atmosphere and showing the seriousness of its themes.
The story revolves around three friends, Vinz, played by the charming Vincent Cassel, Hubert, and Saïd, who belong to different ethnic backgrounds and live in impoverished and marginalized suburbs. The film unfolds over 24 hours following a racially motivated violent police incident. As tensions escalate, the characters grapple with issues such as police brutality, racism, and social inequality.
La Haine is one of the best French movies because of its powerful performances, script, and brutally honest insights into the struggles of youth in the French suburbs. The film’s story and relevance made this movie one of the prominent works in French cinema.
Amélie is a romantic French comedy film by Jean-Pierre Jeunet. It is one of the best French movies that became a major international success when released in 2001. The film is characterized by vibrant colors, much like the Three Colors Trilogy, with its use of creative visual effects and a witty narrative.
The story revolves around an imaginative young woman named Amélie Poulain, who grows up in isolation. As an adult, she works as a waitress in Montmartre, Paris. One day, she discovered a hidden box of childhood treasures in her apartment. She dedicates herself to making others happy by performing small acts of kindness and subtle interventions in those around her.
Amélie was a big deal in 2001 for its visual style, color vibrancy, and not to forget Audrey Tautou’s performance. It received nominations for five Academy Awards, including Best Foreign Language Film and Best Original Screenplay. To this day, Amélie remains one of the famous French movies of the 21st century.
A Prophet is one of the best French crime drama films by critically acclaimed director Jacques Audiard, who you may also know for Rust and Bone (which we discuss below), Dheepan (available on Netflix), Read My Lips, among many others. Audiard released the film in 2009 and received praise for its solid acting and realistic depiction of prison life.
The film follows the story of Malik El Djebena, an illiterate French-Algerian man who got a six-year prison sentence for assaulting police officers. Interestingly, French prisons are more complex in terms of various ethnic and cultural backgrounds, and prisoners join fellow prisoners from very different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. All of this leads to more radicalization.
Malik, a French of Algerian descent, finds himself in a similar position where he is alone and vulnerable. Malik must decide his loyalties between his people and rival groups. What unfolds is genuinely fascinating as Malik becomes ambitious to outweigh his mob boss under whose protection he was in the first place. It is one of the standout films of its genre and one of the best French movies of contemporary French cinema that you should watch.
I Lost My Body is an animated fantasy drama film released in 2019. There are many French animated movies, but this movie is unique in its thought-provoking narrative. It is one of the best French movies on Netflix that you should not miss.
The story revolves around a severed hand that escapes from a laboratory refrigerator and travels across Paris to reunite with its body. The narrative has a backstory of Naoufel, a young man who experienced a traumatic event that led to the separation of his hand. As the hand moves around Paris, flashbacks reveal Naoufel’s life and the events that brought him to this point.
I Lost My Body explores themes such as fate, identity, and the interconnectedness of life. The film received critical acclaim for its originality, emotional depth, and blending of fantasy elements with the human story. If you are looking for Netflix French movies, you can stream this movie right away!
Deerskin is a French black comedy film released in 2019. If you are into French comedy movies, this film deserves a watch. Dark comedy is a genre that only a handful of directors can capture and convey, and the writer-director Quentin Dupieux does the job well.
The film is about a man who buys an expensive deerskin jacket and a camcorder and is obsessed with it. The story starts when Georges visits a bar, where he claims to be a filmmaker and befriends Denise, a bartender. Georges convinces her to finance his film. Georges steals jackets for his project and even resorts to violence. Denise discovers his dark side but continues filming. Will she continue to shoot the movie? Is there an end to this obsession? That’s for you to find out.
There are many French comedy movies, but this film’s humorous take on identity and obsession makes it a unique dark comedy. Unsurprisingly, with a film cast that includes Academy Award Winner Jean Dujardin and Cesar Award Winner Adèle Haenel.
In the House is a French comedy-drama film directed by François Ozon. The film won several César Awards in France. It is one of the best French comedy movies, full of wit and drama.
The story revolves around a high school literature teacher, Germain, and his student, Claude. Claude is a fine writer who submits his observations of a classmate’s family, the Rapha family, and their seemingly perfect home life. As Germain is intrigued by Claude’s writing, he encourages Claude to continue his voyeuristic activities. Claude goes on to seduce his friend’s mother and the teacher’s wife.
Will the teacher face any consequences? Will the student keep his voyeuristic activities? And what will happen to their relationship after Clause finishes school? These questions will keep you intrigued as the movie is known for its clever narrative structure with layers of storytelling.
La Belle Époque is a French romantic comedy-drama film directed by Nicolas Bedos. The movie explores themes of memory, nostalgia, and the impact of technology on our perception of reality. A perfect combination of comedy and drama makes it one of the best French comedy movies.
The story follows Victor Drumond, who is in his 70s. The present disenchants him, and he’s nostalgic for the past. Therefore, to help him escape his mundane reality, Victor’s son-in-law allows him to experience any period in time through a service that recreates historical events. Victor chooses to relive a specific moment from his past, May 16, 1974, the day he met the love of his life.
As the time travel is “staged,” Victor gets trapped in the game until he loses himself in these reconstituted memories. It is one of the best French movies exploring the complexities of human relationships using nostalgic elements.
Rust and Bone is a romantic drama film by the acclaimed director Jacques Audiard. The film stars Marion Cotillard, a global star who is an Academy Award, Golden Globe Award, and César Award winner, among many others. Matthias Schoenaerts, a Belgian actor, plays alongside Marion Cotillard.
Stéphanie, played by Marion Cotillard, is a killer whale trainer at a marine theme park. One day, she suffers a life-changing accident, leading both her legs to be amputated. Her co-actor plays Alain, a former boxer struggling to make a living. The two characters develop an unlikely and complex relationship as they help each other cope with their challenges and traumas.
It is one of the best French movies of modern times and is famous for its emotional intensity and powerful performances. The movie is a perfect watch if you want to get inspired regarding resilience and physical and emotional healing. Marion Cotillard won several awards, including a nomination for an Academy Award for Best Actress.
Blue Is the Warmest Color is a French romantic drama film by the Tunisian-French director Abdellatif Kechiche. He released the movie in 2013 and based it on the same name graphic novel “Blue Is the Warmest Color” by Julie Maroh. The film received critical acclaim and won the Palme d’Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival.
The story is about a romantic relationship between Adèle, played by Adèle Exarchopoulos, and Emma, played by Léa Seydoux. Adèle is a high school student discovering her sexuality, and one day, while passing through the street, she falls for Emma. She eventually forms an intimate connection, which will take an unexpected turn. The film is notable for its explicit and intimate depiction of the lesbian relationship and its exploration of the emotional and sexual complexities of adulthood.
It is one of the finest erotic French movies, as it received critical acclaim for its realistic portrayal of intimate love played by the lead performances. Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux, in particular, were extremely compelling which leads to an emotionally resonant work.
While the film’s explicit content and how the director took many takes sparked controversy, the movie became critically praised for its lead role performances, perfectly capturing the intensity and nuances of human relationships.
Divines is the second movie on our list that revolves around the 2005 French riots. The film is a powerful portrayal of two young girls from a low-income suburb near Paris who aspire to a better life through friendship, rebellion, and involvement in the world of crime.
The main character, Dounia, becomes involved with a drug dealer named Rebecca. She takes along her best friend, Maimouna. As the plot unfolds, they navigate the challenges of their environment while pursuing their dreams of wealth and success. However, nothing ends well as they are about to witness the unexpected, which will change their lives forever.
It is one of the best French movies on Netflix, as it received critical acclaim for its realistic portrayal of the characters and their environment. The film went on to win the Caméra d’Or at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival. There are many French movies on Netflix that you can stream, but this one takes the cut.
French cinema is no stranger to the world of cinema. Many French actors like Marion Cotillard, Léa Seydoux, Vincent Cassel, Juliette Binoche, and Tahar Rahim, among many others, are global actors as they have played lead roles in big Hollywood productions. The problem, however, is that we take every actor/actress in American movies/TV series to be an American. The reality is the opposite, however.
If you consider yourself a cinephile but don’t know French cinema, are you really a cinephile? Well, it’s up to you to decide.
Let me know in the the comments if you have watched the movies that made it to our list of best French movies. If you feel one is missing, let me know the title please!
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