France is often viewed as the birthplace of cinema.
Starting in 1895 with the Lumière brothers French cinema laid the groundwork for many artistic and technical aspects that modern cinema has grown from. Today France has developed a globally respected and thriving film industry being the largest exporter of films within Europe and the second-largest exporter of film globally.
Many French films like Amélie and The Artist have gone on to experience worldwide success, receiving academy award nominations and wins. French actors have also been able to work quite prolifically around the world, starring in many American blockbuster films. French films have also inspired American filmmakers for almost every genre from horror, drama and comedy.
Canada is extremely welcoming to French cinema, holding several film festivals dedicated to it annually, across the country. The purpose of this article is to provide information about some of the most well regarded and popular French films from the past century.
France is often noted as being the birthplace of filmmaking as we know it. Starting with the Lumière brothers in 1895 with their film L'Arrivée d'un train en gare de La Ciotat (The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station), since then France has become the most successful film industry in Europe in terms of number of films produced per year. Currently, French cinema is positively regarded globally and is the most appreciated cinema after American cinema.
Les Tontons Flingueurs (1963)
Les Tontons Flingeurs (Crooks in Clover), is a comedy crime film, directed by Georges Lautner and released in 1963. The film is an adaptation of the novel Grisbi or not Grisbi, by Albert Simonin. The film features Lino Ventura as the retired mobster Fernand, who inherits a fortune from his old friend and supremo gangster the Mexican–played by Jacques Dumesnil.
However, Fernand soon realizes he has also inherited the responsibility of caring for the Mexican’s modern and free spirited daughter. Upon the film’s initial release, it was favoured by audiences but not critics; the film has since developed into a cult classic. The film is currently available to purchase on Amazon as a DVD or Blu-ray.
Les Bronzés (1978)
Les Bronzés (French Fried Vacation), is a comedic film, directed by Patrice Leconte and released in 1978. The film was created by Le Splendid, a café-théâtre company founded in the 1970s by a team of writers and actors. Members of this company went on to be some of French cinema’s most important actors and directors.
The company created the film based loosely on a play they wrote called Amours, Coquillages et Crustacés. The film is a satire of holiday resort life, featuring a cast of eccentric holidaymakers, which typically refers to a person vacationing away from home. These holidaymakers attempt to forget about their usual problems and indulge in games, competitions, and casual affairs.
The film gained cult status upon its release and has since spawned two sequels, Les Bronzés font du ski (1979) and Les Bronzés 3: Amis pour la vie (2006). The director, Patrice Leconte was primarily only known in France until the 2000's when several of his films were distributed in the United States. His films have now been noted as having a great impact on American arthouse cinema. The film is currently available for purchase on Amazon as a DVD or Blu-ray.
Les Aventures de Rabbi Jacob (1973)
Les Aventures de Rabbi Jacob (The Mad Adventures of Rabbi Jacob), is a comedic film, directed by Gérard Oury and released in 1973. The film stars Louis de Funès as Victor Pivert, a bigoted businessman who must disguise himself as a rabbi to avoid a group of assassins. Louis de Funès played over 130 on-screen roles and was voted as France’s favourite actor in 1968, holding that position through the 70's.
While he is well known in France and throughout Europe, he is largely unknown in the English speaking world. However, Les Aventures de Rabbi Jacob allowed him to be exposed to an American audience and even earned him a Golden Globe Nomination. The film is currently available on Amazon as a DVD and YouTube or Google Play as a digital purchase.
Les Choristes (2004)
Les Choristes (The Chorus) is a dramatic film, directed by Christophe Barratier and released in 2004. The film is an adaptation of a 1954 film called, and inspired by the true origins of the boys' choir.
The film stars Jean-Baptiste Maunier as Pierre, a young child attending a strict boarding school where the students and teachers are constantly at odds. When Clément Mathieu, a music teacher played by Gérard Jugnot arrives, he starts a choir to better support students, especially Pierre who demonstrates musical talent.
The film was nominated for two Academy Awards in 2005, for best foreign-language film and best original song. The film is currently available for purchase on Amazon as a DVD or Blu-ray.
Le Dîner de Cons (1998)
Le Diner de Cons (The Dinner Game) is a comedic film, directed by Francis Veber and released in 1998. The film was an adaptation of a popular stage play by the same name.
The film stars Thierry Lhermitte as Pierre, an editor who attends a weekly dinner where everyone brings the dumbest person they can find as their guest. The film had an American adaptation called, Dinner for Schmucks, starring Paul Rudd and Steve Carell. The film is currently available for purchase on Amazon as a DVD, Blu Ray or video on demand.
Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain (2001)
Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain (Amélie) is a romantic comedy, directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet and released in 2001. The film is about Amélie, a shy waitress played by Audrey Tautou, who helps others better their lives and find happiness, all while struggling with her lifelong isolation. The film was a huge success in America and is currently the highest-grossing French film in American history. Amélie also was nominated for five Academy Awards including best foreign language film and original screenplay. Even today, the film remains present in American pop culture.
The lead actress Audrey Tautou was later seen by American audiences in the Da Vinci Code, Alien Resurrection in 2006. Jean-Pierre Jeunet is widely regarded as one of the most important directors in French cinema, achieving both critical and commercial success. While quite successful in Europe, he was able to direct a film for American audiences. Other popular media have taken inspiration from the film including the Emmy winning show, Pushing Daisies, which based its tone and style on Amélie.
In 2017 the film was adapted into a musical and ran on Broadway for a limited engagement with Phillipa Soo Hamilton, previously seen in the title role. Since its Broadway run, there have been several productions internationally, including Finland, Germany and Australia. The film is currently available for purchase on Amazon, HBO and iTunes.
La Grande Vadrouille (1966)
La Grande Vadrouille (The Great Stroll) is a comedic film, directed by Gérard Oury and released in 1966. This film is about French civilians helping the crew of a Royal Air Force bomber that was shot down over Paris to make their way through German-occupied France and on to safe territory in 1942. Upon the film’s release, it was a massive box office success, becoming the highest-grossing film in France for forty years until it was unseated by Titanic in 1997.
Still, the film holds the title of the fifth highest-grossing film in France of all time. When released in America, it was titled, Don't Look Now... We're Being Shot At! The film is currently available for purchase on Amazon as a DVD or Blu Ray
Les Visiteurs (1993)
Les Visiteurs (The Visitors) is a fantasy comedy directed by Jean-Marie Poiré and released in 1993. The film stars Jean Reno as a knight and Christian Clavier as his squire, the pair enlist a wizard to send them back in time to undo their mistake, except they are accidentally sent forward to contemporary times and must find a way home.
Upon the film's release, it was the highest grossest film in France and the highest-grossing non-English language film worldwide. The film later had an American remake in 2001 called, Just Visiting, starring the original duo but it was not successful in either America or France. Jean Reno went on to star in several American films, including The Matrix, Godzilla, The Pink Panther and The Da Vinci Code. The film is Currently available for purchase on Amazon and iTunes.
La Haine (1995)
La Haine (Hate) is a dramatic film directed by Mathieu Kassovitz and released in 1995. After police brutality against a young Arab, a riot erupts, three of the victims' peers attempt to navigate both the literal fallout and the emotional fallout out of these events. Upon the film’s release, it was praised by critics and received a standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival. Currently, the film is ranked 32nd on Empire’s list of the top 100 films of world cinema.
Actor Vincent Cassel has become popular among American audiences with his work in films like; Ocean’s Twelve, Ocean’s Thirteen and Black Swan, and he can currently be seen on the popular show Westworld. Saïd Taghmaoui who stars in the film has become known to American audiences with his performances in the box-office hit, Wonder Woman. The film is currently available for purchase on Amazon as DVD, Blu Ray and digital purchase.
Intouchable (The Untouchable) is a comedy-drama film directed by Olivier Nakache & Éric Toledano and released in 2011. A French nobleman, played by François Cluzet, becomes a quadriplegic from an accident. He hires a young immigrant played by Omar Sy to be his caregiver and a friendship soon begins to develop.
Upon its release, the film set a box office record for being number one in France for ten weeks consecutively. The film also became the highest-grossing non-English film worldwide. Omar Sy has become known to American audiences with his work in X-men: Days of Future Past, Jurassic World and Transformers.
The film later had an American remake called The Upside, starring Kevin Hart and Bryan Cranston, the film was a critical and box-office success. The film is Currently available for purchase on Amazon and iTunes.
Les Yeux Sans Visage (1960)
Les Yeux Sans Visage (Eyes Without a Face) is a horror film directed by Georges Franju and released in 1960. Based on a novel by Jean Redon, the film is about a plastic surgeon, played by Pierre Brasseur, who after a car accident disfigures his daughter, played by Alida Valli, attempts to perform a face transplant.
Upon its initial European release, the film received reviews ranging from praise to disgust, with many reviews claiming audience members were fainting. Upon its American release the title was changed to The Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus, certain graphic scenes were cut and other scenes were added to humanize Jean Redon’s character. Modern critics now praise the film as a masterpiece in horror and highly influential.
The film later went on to inspire John Carpenter when creating Micheal Myers in Halloween. Face/Off starring Nicolas Cage and John Travolta also took inspiration from the film’s overall concept. The film is Currently available for purchase on Amazon and iTunes.
OSS 117: Le Caire, nid d’espions (2006)
OSS 117: Le Caire, nid d’espions (OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies) is a spy comedy film directed by Michel Hazanavicius and released in 2006. The film is based on the OSS 117 novel series, a series of books that act as a parody for the spy genre, written by Jean Bruce. Jean Dujardin stars as Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath, AKA OSS 117, a spy sent to Cairo, posing as a profiteer of a chicken farm. While investigating the death of a fellow agent, he discovers an intentional conspiracy. Upon its release, the film was a success and earned itself a sequel, OSS 117: Rio ne répond plus.
The director Michel Hazanavicius is best known to American audiences for his work in The Artist which won him the Academy Award for best picture and best director in 2011. The film’s lead, Jean Dujardin, was also introduced to American audiences in winning the award for best actor and being the first French actor to do so. He was later seen alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in the Wolf of Wall-street. The film is available to purchase on Amazon and iTunes.
Le Père Noel est une Ordure (1982)
Le Père Noel est une Ordure (Santa Claus Is a Stinker) is a comedic film directed by Jean-Marie Poiré and released in 1982. The film is based on a play by the café-théâtre company Le Splendid. Two individuals working at a suicide prevention hotline deal with a variety of colourful and eclectic characters while working a shift on Christmas Eve.
The film is available for purchase on Amazon as a DVD or Blu-Ray.
French Film Festivals in Canada
There are many festivals throughout Canada that work to highlight french cinema. Cinemania is a french festival that originally started in 1995 and runs every year, on the first Thursday of November, and lasts for eleven days in Montreal Canada. Cinéfranco is a Toronto film festival that consists of French films from Canada and around the world, the festival runs throughout November. MyFrenchFilmFestival.com is a digital film festival that seeks to showcase French-language filmmakers and allow users across the globe to share their passion in French cinema.