The countdown to celebrating the National Day of France has begun: seven days left until 14 July. Just like the storming of Bastille way back in 1789 represented a turning point in the French Revolution, French cinema has also been rather revolutionary throughout the ages – after all, the Lumiere brothers were the very inventors of the cinematograph device in 1895. For someone generally accustomed with mainstream Hollywood productions, French films might seem a bit of a departure from what they’re used to seeing. Both thematically and stylistically, they’re bolder and significantly more audacious than some of their counterparts.
Since only a week remains until the celebrations, I’ll give you exactly seven recommendations, so that you can watch one each day! The history of French cinema is rich, so if I were to delve several decades back into it, I would end up making a top 100, which is not exactly the point of this article. Therefore, I’m only selecting films released in the last 6 years, and listing them chronologically. You might be surprised to notice the absence of The Artist. Well, I’m counting on the fact that most of you already watched it when it won its Best Picture Academy Award, among many other prizes. If not, start with that one and work your way along the other titles on this list.
The film directed by Olivier Nakache & Éric Toledano is a real reference point in the recent history of French cinema. Voted as the Cultural event of 2011 in France, it has also fared very well at the national box office, ending up as the 2nd highest grossing film. It tells a heart-warming buddy story of two men who befriend each other after one of them is left handicapped by a paragliding accident.
Definitely the most peculiar of the bunch, Holy Motors follows Monsieur Oscar during a nocturnal voyage which sees him change into and represent a wide variety of personas. A constant sense of ‘what the hell is going on here’ is prevalent throughout all the mini-scenarios presented here. The film was listed for the Palme d’Or at the 2012 edition of the Cannes Film Festival.
My personal favourite from the list, Amour is written and directed by the famous Bavarian director Michael Haneke, and it’s not his first foray into French-language films: Hidden (Cache), released in 2005, is also a real gem of his. Amour, which won the Best Foreign Language Film of the Year award at the 2013 Oscars, while also being nominated for the grand prize itself, tells a simple yet emotional tale of an octogenarian couple’s love for each other.
This comedy written and directed by François Ozon and inspired from a play by Juan Mayorga works miracles in alleviating the depressing mood which might have taken over you after having watched Amour. A French teacher gets increasingly intrigued by one of his student’s apparent amorous dealings with a best friend’s mother, as it is told to him via short essays. Dans la Maison was awarded the main prize at the 2012 edition of the San Sebastian International Film Festival.
Blue is the Warmest Colour was declared by many critics as one of the best films of 2013 and can pride itself with unanimously winning the Palme d’Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival. Director Abdellatif Kechiche reportedly shot around 800 hours of footage, while the final cut ultimately ended up at exactly 3 hours. Sounds like a fair bit of work was put into editing. This erotic lesbian teen coming-of-age drama is wonderfully expressive and speaks volumes about the intricacies of life and the process of finding oneself.
Another listing, another Palme d’Or winner, this time in 2015. Dheepan is directed by Jacques Audiard, who you might know from some of his other successful titles, such as The Beat that My Heart Skipped (2005) and Rust and Bone (2012). In what is likely his best achievement so far, the director tells the story of Dheepan, a Tamil warrior who emigrates from his native Sri Lanka and ends up getting a job on the outskirts of Paris.
A somewhat different proposal from the other listings, Elle is a wonderful psychological thriller starring Isabelle Huppert, who won numerous awards for her performance, including the 2017 Golden Globe award for Best Actress, and was nominated for an Academy Award as well. Directed by veteran Dutch filmmaker Paul Verhoeven, Elle tells the story of a successful businesswoman who aims to track down the man who had raped her.
That’s all. Since ‘La Fête Nationale’ is commonly known as Bastille Day, you might find yourself tempted to watch Bastille Day, a 2016 action film starring Idris Elba. While I’m undoubtedly a big Idris Elba fan, I’d advise you to stay away from this generic and uninspired movie, no matter how perfectly appropriate for this occasion its name might sound. A great idea would be preparing a bottle of fine French wine to go with each of these fantastic films on the list. However, for a ‘Top 7 French Wines to Go With French Films’ list, you’d have to search somewhere else.