Moviegeek5: French for Beginners
France was a pioneering country in terms of movie-making, has a rich heritage of cinematic gems, and has received an impressive 12 Oscars for Best Foreign Film out of 40 nominations. “Yes, I know all that, but I just don’t like reading subtitles”, you might say, or, “French films are just so… French”. Well, we are here to put those assumptions to rest and recommend 5 very different French films that arebe good starting points if you want to start watching French films – and you are bound to like at least one of them! If you already enjoy French films you will most likely have seen all of these already. We hope you still enjoy the read and leave some further recommendations to French film newbies in the comments below.
Diabolique (Les Diaboliques) (1955)
The first entry on our list was a massive success for its director both at home in France and internationally and is often mention as one of the best thrillers of the 1950s. Director Henri-Georges Clouzot (Le salaire de la peur, 1953) and Alfred Hitchcock both wanted the rights to the script, so naturally this would be the perfect French beginner film for fans of Hitchcock and classic thrillers. With good acting, great directing, a thrilling mystery, and a surprise ending, this is a French thriller classic that is bound to please!
If you learned French in school, chances are you were treated to this to-part adaptation of the classic French novel by Marcel Pagnol. Now, I know this is a Moviegeek5, and I’ve audaciously included both Jean de Florette and its sequel, Manon des Sources, bringing the total number to 6, but you really need to watch both to get the full story; and more importantly: you will want to. Pagnol’s stories about rural Provence around the turn of the century have lots of charm and a real sense of place and atmosphere to them. The story in the two fims about the girl Manon and her greedy neighbours revolves around secret and actions that effect several generations and is gripping from beginning to end. A real classic that will appeal to people who like historical movies and family dramas with a melancholic bend.
Long atmospheric dramas set in turn-of-the-century rural Provence might not be you cup of tea. If that is the case you might try another French film, which was a succes both in France and internationally. Serial killer mysteries seem to have a very broad appeal and it helps when the killer is hunted by the two very well-known French actors Vincent Cassel and Jean Reno. Tense, macabre, and fast paced, this is a good place to start with French films if you are partial to classic 1990s style action thrillers with a dark twist.
Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s 5-time Oscar nominated Amélie is a great place to start for anyone with a love for fantastical and enchanting films. In fact, Amélie was my own introduction to French film and I have rarely come across one that has so captivated my imagination. Audrey Tautou (La délicatesse, 2011) is fabulous as the naive and endearing Amélie who seeks to help the people in her quirky little life in her very own way and falls in love with a young man along the way. One of a kind, and very French, yet marked by a sense of timelessness and universal appeal – much like a fairy tale.
The final entry on our list is another international hit and a superb feel-good film about an unlikely friendship. The paralyzed airstocrat Philippe (François Cluzet) has lost all sense of joy in his life until he hires Driss, a young man from the projects, to be his caretaker. Omar Sy (Chocolat, 2016) is the abrasive and street smart Driss who gets in over his head with this new job, but the two soon develop a friendship that transforms both of them. Touching, funny, and memorable, The Intouchables will appeal to anyone who likes a feel-good film about friendship and is an excellent starting point if you want to start watching French films!