You wouldn’t be wrong to think that the French have it all.
They make some of the tastiest food known to man (crêpes, steak and chips, baked camembert, crème brûlée…), they’ve produced some of the finest authors the world has ever seen (Proust, Molière, Voltaire…) and their capital city just happens to be Paris.
And, to top it all off, it looks like France has got a pretty good film industry too. I suppose that’s only fair, considering they gave us the Lumière brothers.
Let’s take a quick look here at what I think are (in my humble opinion) ten of the best French-language films of the past ten years, starting with 2006 right up until last year.
- Hors de prix (2006)
Released in the UK and USA as Priceless, this is the super-stylish French take on Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
Pierre Salvadori’s film stars Audrey Tautou as Irène, a beautiful woman who has relationships with wealthy businessmen to fund her luxurious lifestyle.
Romantic rivalry (perhaps inevitably) ensues when Irène soon falls for Jean, a poor but handsome barman played by the rather lovely Gad Elmaleh.
The first time I watched it, I remember being mesmerised by a scene in the chic hotel bar where, in an attempt to impress Irène, Jean treats her to a selection of delicious cocktails, each served with a pretty patterned cocktail umbrella.
As Irène gets more and more tipsy, she adds one cocktail umbrella after another to her perfect chignon, leaving her pleasantly sloshed and with an enviable hairstyle to boot, as you can see below 🙂
- La Vie En Rose (2007)
With its title taken from one of Édith Piaf’s most famous songs, Olivier Dahan’s film looks back at the life of La Môme Piaf.
Marion Cotillard is terrifyingly good as the singer, seeming to effortlessly imitate her instantly recognisable rolled r and powerful voice.
Cotillard’s performance is incredibly dynamic – her body language and mood can abruptly change from being sprightly and coquettish in one scene to utterly lethargic in the next.
This physicality acts as a compelling outer manifestation of the complications in Piaf’s life and as a way of charting her painful decline from an internationally successful entertainer to being frail and sickly, before her death in 1963 at the age of 47.
- Entre les murs (2008)
More or less the opposite of 2002’s cosy and comforting school documentary Etre et avoir, this is a hard-hitting adaptation of a teacher’s experiences of teaching in a tough Paris secondary school.
François Bégaudeau, who wrote the original memoirs, plays himself in this film by Laurent Cantet, released in English as The Class.
Enough, I hear you say. The formula of idealistic young (male) teacher bounding in to tame a group of young delinquents has been done to death (see Dead Poets’ Society, Freedom Writers, even Tony Kaye’s depressingly dark Detachment etc. etc.)
I take your point. But I have a sneaking suspicion that once you watch Cantet’s film, you may just change your mind…
- Intouchables (2011)
This was hugely successful when it came out four years ago, with Golden Globe and Bafta nominations and several wins in the César awards, France’s equivalent of the Oscars. Controversially though, it didn’t get any Oscar nominations.
Inspired by the true story of Philippe Pozzo di Borgo’s bond with Abdel Sellou, his French-Algerian caregiver, Intouchables tells the story of Driss, an unemployed young Parisian. He reluctantly accepts to care for Philippe, a wealthy and cultured man who is quadriplegic following a paragliding accident.
I loved how the storyline explores the developing attachment between the two men through a carefully constructed flashback, portraying their dissimilar lives with empathy and tenderness.
Veteran Italian composer Ludovico Einaudi is on hand to provide an evocatively beautiful soundtrack to chart the protagonists’ friendship as they gain each other’s trust.
- La Désintégration (2011)
Although it came out in the same year as Intouchables, Philippe Faucon’s film is a world away in terms of its subject matter and tone.
The director looks at the threat of religious extremism, focusing on the link between radicalisation and disenfranchisement (or ‘disintegration’) among young French Muslim men.
Although its running time is on the short side, the film makes up in intensity for anything it lacks in length.
Uncomfortably high levels of tension throughout, and a feeling of suspense that continues from start to finish, means that I still remember the film in vivid detail long after watching it.
- The Artist (2012)
Okay, so this one’s not strictly a ‘French language’ film, but it definitely had to come in here somewhere.
Starring Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Béjo respectively as suave silent film star Georges Valentin and pretty ingénue Peppy Miller, Michel Hazanivicius’ film also brought Uggie, one of Hollywood’s most talented canines, to the world’s attention. Now sadly departed to the Great Field in the Sky, he will live on in film as the eternally faithful companion to Dujardin’s character.
First, Uggie’s an ever-resourceful wingman as Georges attempts to win over Peppy. Next, the pooch pulls out all the stops to help his master out when his acting career is threatened by the arrival of talkies…
- Amour (2012)
The brilliant Emmanuelle Riva received an Oscar nomination in this film by Michael Haneke.
Aged 85 at the time of the 2013 Academy Awards, she is the oldest actress ever to be nominated. Here she plays Anne, a retired music teacher who is forced to increasingly depend on her elderly husband Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant), after she suffers a stroke.
Riva and Trintignant’s many years of experience on the stage and screen serve them well here as they portray their characters with well-judged sensitivity.
- Laurence Anyways (2012)
Now still only 27 years old, French-Canadian director Xavier Dolan was in his early twenties when he made this, promptly winning a prize for it at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Set in Montréal in the 1980s, it centres around a story of apparently impossible love between Laurence, a transgender woman, and her girlfriend Fred.
On Fred’s birthday, Laurence tells her how she has never felt fully comfortable with living as a man and that she wants to try living as a woman. Fred finds this very difficult to come to terms with, but agrees eventually to support her partner.
In particular, I loved the energy and theatricality of the film. One memorable example involves the main characters hysterically acting out their inner turmoil in increasingly outlandish dream sequences, accompanied by a ridiculously dramatic – if entirely appropriate – opera soundtrack. What do you think? 🙂
- La Vie d’Adèle (2013)
Known in English as Blue is the Warmest Colour, Abdellatif Kechiche’s film tells the story of spirited teenager Adèle.
The film starts as she simultaneously begins a relationship with a boy in her class and with Emma, a young woman who she becomes infatuated with.
When I first watched the film, what struck me was its realistic and matter-of-fact representation of adolescence whilst fifteen-year-old Adèle explores her own identity.
Another part of the storyline that I still love is Kechiche’s focus on food – especially cooking, eating and sharing food – as a way of expressing closeness and love between different characters.
This is shown particularly well in a scene where Adèle is having a party. She cooks a huge pot of delicious-looking spaghetti bolognese made to her family’s carefully-perfected recipe, and her guests spend the rest of the night complimenting her on how much they loved her food.
Aside from the appetising emphasis placed on food in the film, it’s also got a fantastic soundtrack. There’s music from Swedish songwriter Lykke Li, Cuban band Pupi Y Los Que Son Son and French group HK & Les Saltimbanks, who are brilliant live – you can see them in concert in this YouTube clip here.
- Bande de filles (2015)
Céline Sciamma’s unflinching portrayal of female gang violence on the outskirts of Paris won critical acclaim when it came out last year.
The film’s main character is Marieme, an introverted teenager who joins a girl gang in the hope of gaining self-confidence and respect from her peers.
She’s alternatively bribed, manipulated and threatened to become part of the group, and the aggression foreshadowed at the start is followed through with some very brutal scenes.
Having said that, some of the film’s most memorable moments feature the convincingly acted friendship between Marieme and the three other gang members, Lady, Fily and Adiatou. It is at these points that the film’s English title, Girlhood, seems most apt.
In one of my favourite scenes, the girls dance to Rihanna’s Diamonds together, momentarily shrugging off their aggressive gang personas – as if they were nothing more than the leather jackets that they enjoy wearing so much – to poignantly reassume their former identity of giggly teenagers.
Enough about me though – what do you all think?
Are the films I’ve listed here some of the ten best French films of the last decade?
What are your favourite French films?
Let me know your thoughts in the comments below! 🙂