6 French Films You Should See Before You Die
Summer is coming to an end and with it the blockbusters will enter their annual repose and Hugh Jackman will put his claws away for another winter. Alongside this, last week saw the Toronto Film Festival inaugurate the awards season. Question is, until the flood of Oscar-bait movies sail into our shores in Autumn, what else is their for us to watch?
Why not pull on that black turtle neck and uncork the discounted bottle of Château Châtaignière and enjoy a movie from our Gallic neighbours? Pensive women, trench coats, aqueous cobbled streets, black and white, tangled love and cigarettes all fill these movies and offer a lot more than whatever is currently on at Odeon for £9 in 3D.
Get your Key Stage 3 French Grammaire book out and give these French movies a chance, pourquoi pas?
La Vie d’Adèle / Blue is the Warmest Colour (2013)
Last year’s controversial and lascivious movie directed by Abdellatif Kechiche tells the story of a young girl called Adèle as she gradually unfurls and accepts her homosexuality. With the help of blue haired Léa Seydoux, Adèle takes the audience through hostile arguments, typical teenage moments of apprehension and very, very intimate scenes. Winner of the Palme D’or at Cannes and unfairly ignored by the Academy, this movie is both enormous in length and emotion.
Just don’t watch it on the train, or anywhere public for that matter.
Trois couleur: Bleu / Three Colours: Blue (1993)
Death, tears and concertos arrive in the opening minutes of this very blue movie about death and how people react to its slings and arrows. The first of a trilogy the plot is, on the surface, non-existent as it unravels the emotions of Juliette Binoche (‘The English Patient’ and ‘Chocolat’) as she smashes things, swims and drinks ice cream-coffee. The film is about death and does everything but talk about the subject which is irresistible.
L’amour l’après-midi / Love in the Afternoon (1972)
Quintessentially French, the movie establishes all the tropes we associate with French cinema today. The main character is bourgeois and has an excellent set of polo necks that are ever present under his long trench coat. He spends his evenings at home with his pregnant wife but spends his afternoons, his secret-mid-life-crisis afternoons, in cafes watching people and speaking of love with a woman named Chloe. Éric Rohmer’s ponderous polo-neck rhetoric can be seen in many independent movies today. Why not go back to its simple, romantic beginning?
Un prophète / A Prophet (2009)
The best gangster movie ever, and that’s including Goodfellas. Violently emphatic, A Prophet centres on a callow French teenager of Algerian descent as he is sentenced to six years in prison and falls under the austere and aggressive stewardship of Corsican mobsters. Nominated for Best Foreign Film at the 82nd Academy Awards, the film deals with the fluid and volatile notion of French identity.
La Haine / The Hate (1995)
Set in the hopeless and virulent banlieues of Paris, the film details the fissure between ethnicities and classes in France. The three main teenage characters are an Afro-French boxer named Hubert, the Maghrebi Sayid and Vinz (played by the brilliant Vincent Cassel) who is Jewish. The three characters articulate discordant youth and the film follows them after the conclusion of a city riot. The three characters find a police issued Magnum Revolver and we watch them as they work through their rage and wrath. The gun is the hate and we are left to wonder how they treat it. Look out for the elderly man in the bathroom and his anecdote about trains, excrement and a friend called Grunwalski.
Les Quatre Cents Coups / The 400 Blows (1959)
The words ‘French New Wave’ may make you shudder with disparagement, but bear with it. Francois Truffault’s classic movie is about a very young boy who no one understands or attempts to understand. Expelled from school for paraphrasing Balzac and marginalised by his non-biological father, young Antoine deals with existentialist issues that Sartre and Camus poured on the country a generation before. Rendered in black and white and with an unclear conclusion, the movie establishes the styles of French cinema. Expect brooding in big knitwear.