French cinema has a rich and diverse history, renowned for its artistry, emotional depth, and storytelling prowess. And while many examples of French classics can be found throughout history, I wanted to specifically focus on the last decade or so, and look at several of the masterpieces that came out in this time. Therefore, in no particular order, here are nine of them.
Directed by Jean-Luc Godard, “Goodbye to Language” is a visually arresting and intellectually stimulating cinematic experience. Released in 2014, the film challenges conventional narrative structures and embraces a fragmented, nonlinear approach. With breathtaking 3D cinematography, Godard juxtaposes images, sounds, and text to explore the complexities of human relationships, communication, and the state of contemporary society. It’s a cinematic poem that stimulates the mind and emotions, leaving the audience questioning the very essence of language and human connection. It might have received a both lukewarm and niche reception, but it’s quite an experience.
Directed by Paul Verhoeven and released in 2016, “Elle” is a gripping psychological thriller that subverts expectations. Starring Isabelle Huppert in a tour-de-force performance, the film follows the story of Michèle, a successful businesswoman who becomes embroiled in a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse with her rapist. “Elle” fearlessly tackles themes of power, desire, and trauma, offering a complex and unapologetic portrayal of a woman’s resilience. Verhoeven’s deft direction and Huppert’s magnetic presence make “Elle” an unforgettable exploration of human psyche and societal norms.
Céline Sciamma’s “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” released in 2019, is a sumptuous and profoundly moving romance that transcends time. Set in 18th-century France, the film centers on the intense relationship between a young artist, Marianne, and her subject, Héloïse. As the two women spend time together, forbidden love blossoms, leading to a profound exploration of desire, freedom, and the power of art. With mesmerizing cinematography and exceptional performances by Noémie Merlant and Adèle Haenel, this film leaves an everlasting impression on the soul.
Directed by Michael Haneke, “Amour” is a poignant and emotionally devastating portrayal of love, aging, and mortality. Released in 2012, the film stars Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva as an elderly couple, Georges and Anne, who are forced to confront the inevitable decay of their bodies and minds. Haneke’s unflinching direction and the raw, authentic performances make “Amour” an unapologetic exploration of the human condition, showcasing the enduring power of love amidst the darkest of circumstances. I definitely regard Haneke’s film as one of the very best of the year 2012.
Directed by Abdellatif Kechiche and released in 2013, “Blue is the Warmest Colour” is a deeply passionate and intimate coming-of-age drama. The film follows the life of Adèle, a young woman who discovers her sexuality and embarks on a transformative relationship with the enigmatic blue-haired artist, Emma. At its core, the film is a tender exploration of love, identity, and the complexities of human desires. It gained immense praise for its authentic portrayal of same-sex relationships and the breathtaking performances by Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux.
This film came out of nowhere, and ran away with the biggest mainstream awards of the year. Directed by Michel Hazanavicius and released in 2011, “The Artist” pays homage to the silent film era, with its charming black-and-white cinematography and evocative score. Set in 1927 Hollywood, the film follows the journey of George Valentin, a silent film star, whose career faces a downturn with the advent of talking pictures. Jean Dujardin’s Oscar-winning performance and Bérénice Bejo’s captivating charm breathe life into this delightful tale of love, ambition, and the passage of time. “The Artist” is a heartwarming tribute to the magic of cinema itself.
Based on a true story, “The Intouchables,” directed by Olivier Nakache and Éric Toledano, is a heartwarming and comedic exploration of friendship and resilience. Released in 2011, the film portrays the unlikely bond between Philippe, a wealthy quadriplegic, and Driss, his unconventional caregiver from the Parisian suburbs. Through laughter and tears, “The Intouchables” reminds us of the transformative power of human connection and the beauty of finding friendship in unexpected places.
Leos Carax’s “Holy Motors,” released in 2012, is an avant-garde cinematic odyssey that defies categorization. The film follows a mysterious man named Monsieur Oscar, who travels through Paris in a limousine, assuming various identities and roles as if performing in a surreal theater. With breathtaking visuals, enigmatic storytelling, and a mesmerizing performance by Denis Lavant, “Holy Motors” is a thought-provoking meditation on identity, performance, and the blurred lines between reality and fiction.
Directed by Ladj Ly and released in 2019, “Les Misérables” is a gripping and socially relevant drama set in the impoverished suburbs of Paris. The film follows three police officers assigned to an anti-crime brigade as they navigate a tense community on the brink of eruption. Inspired by the 2005 Paris riots, “Les Misérables” offers an unflinching portrayal of social injustice, police brutality, and the consequences of neglecting marginalized communities. With its powerful storytelling and impactful performances, the film serves as a stark reminder of the importance of empathy and understanding in a divided world.