France has a strong ensemble of smart directors who have enriched French cinema with their art. A close look into French cinematic history reveals an impressive array of unforgettable French movies that have reflected the aspects of humanity in distinctive styles. A strong plot, identifiable characters and a distinguishable spirit helped raise these movies to the status of a classic. Although it was a tough choice but due to our resolution to showcase the most deserving, we have been able to present before you the top ten French movies of all time.
10) La Grande Illusion (1937):
La Grande Illusion is the first foreign-language film to receive the Best Picture Oscar-nomination for being acutely thoughtful, poignant and expressive on relationships. It is one of best war movies of all time. The film revolves around the lives of two opposing soldiers (a German captor and his captured French Captain), a salty airman Maréchal and his relationship with a lonely German farm girl as well as his brotherly friendship with the Jewish officer Rosenthal. These key associations form the basis of the movie that elucidates a connection transcending class, religion and conflict. Director Jean Renoir’s heart of the film is humanity, underlining unity over division, and it moves the sentimental story forward.
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9) Delicatessen (1992):
In a twisted futuristic world troubled by food shortages, a butcher keeps his business open by murdering the locals and serving their flesh. Against him is an underground police force called Troglodins determined to stop his cannibal crime. The building over his deli is composed of an eccentric class of characters whose unusual behavior animates the film imparting interesting twists to the plot. Under the building is the sewers used by the Troglodins to commute. The action begins when a comedian moves into the buildings and falls in love with a blind tenant.
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8) La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc (1927):
The movie elevated Maria Falconetti to iconic status; her luminous performance was the cornerstone of the intense movie chronicling the trial and death of Joan of Arc. Main composition of the film is probing close-ups of the actor’s faces against a white background. The original manner the actors are framed contribute to the artistic aspect of the film and other factors like shifting shots and camera angles allow the audience to discern the actor’s characteristics. The director Carl Dreyer instills raw emotion into every scene through fantastic camera work and the mood is augmented by the harsh black and white photography. Dreyers vision is powerfully cinematic, enthralling audiences to be one of the most inspired films.
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7) The Orphic Trilogy (1930/1950/1959):
Director Jean Cocteau builds a rich intricate story on the Greek myth of Orpheus, aesthetically sharpening the drama imbedded in the film. The three films; The Blood of a Poet, Orpheus and Testament of Orpheus share no plot similarities, but through these movies the director illustrates the relationships between the artist and his creations, finding a ground between reality and imagination. The first installment of The Orphic Trilogy brilliantly shows the poet’s obsession with the fight between the forces of life and death. In Orpheus, a famous poet is in love with his wife Eurydice and a secretive Princess. The final piece revolves around an 18th-century poet who time travels to acquire wisdom.
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6) Children of Paradise (1945):
‘Children of Paradise’ is a sophisticated artistic rendering of performers and their association with known criminal elements. It is simple story whose complexity and humanistic nuances is investigated to answer questions about love, life and survival. A talented mime named Baptiste falls for a street woman, Garance, but his shyness prevents him from declaring his intentions. She falls into the company of other admirers, a member of the Paris underworld, a rising young actor and an egotistical aristocrat. Garance soon realizes she passionately loves Baptiste but they are at different points in their lives and need to make a decision. The beautiful complex story is bought alive by vivid performances and dramatic scenery directed by Marcel Carné.
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5) Amelie (2001):
A fantastic French movie, directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, of an eccentric waitress at the cafe Les Deux Moulins who realizes her destiny lies in making other people happy. Finding it difficult to relate to others because of her introvert upbringing, she resolves to enjoy the small things in life until she returns a discovered box filled with trinkets to its owner. Touched by his response, she begins to meddle in the lives of coworkers, family and neighbors to brighten their lives. Amelie contains a saccharine quality though it is balanced by an odd edge to induce enchantment with the merry world. Characters may be viewed as solely by their quirky traits, but their exchanges exude strong relatable characteristics.
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4) The 400 Blows (1959):
Drawing inspiration from director Francois Truffaut’s own troubled childhood this classic of all French movies shows the plight of a misunderstood boy in simplistic profound vignettes. Antoine Doinel is intelligent and creative, but his circumstances cause him to end up in a juvenile delinquent center. His parents are not concerned for his well-being and he is regularly singled out for punishment by his biased teacher. Truffaut sets the camera to observe the daily routine of his characters, giving audience a presentation of the events that influence Antoine’s turn to crime. Each emotional incident stirs feelings in the audience and absorbs them into Antoine’s life.
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3) Three Colors: Red (1994):
The movie is the final chapter in Director Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Three Colors trilogy and traverses the subjects of platonic love and chance. A young woman named Valentine perchance meets a cynical retired judge, Joseph, who enjoys listening in to people’s conversations via an illegally tapped phone. Interweaved into the narrative is the story of two lovers immersed in their own conflict. Kieslowski accentuates a multi-faceted relationship and the inherent need to find a kindred spirit. Moreover, he portrays fate as the essence of the character’s journey and how it manipulates their lives. The Polish cinematographer embodies the scenes with red saturation giving more depth and feel. And the power of the visuals is promoted by Zbigniew Preisner’s score making it a must watch among all French movies.
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2) Un Chien Andalou (1929):
The movie characterized the dream directorial style of Luis Buñuel and his masterful use of special effects. He interweaved philosophical subtext into the storyline that deviated from a rigid plot structure. The film is considered a landmark in filmmaking. A series of appalling images and events were strung together in an irrational manner with no explanation. Viewers were subjected to images of a hand crawling with ants, a transvestite on a bicycle, a severed hand, sexual assault and so on. The movie is composed of a succession of shots with no obvious link or meaning and Buñuel laughed at analysts who tried to find one. Un Chien Andalou was a strong testament to the surrealist movement, demonstrating the potential of a film to break free of restrictions and shatter conventions.
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1) Napoléon (1927):
Director Abel Gance’s 1927 film is an incredible biopic of Napoleon that gives a profound insight into this legendary character in six hours of cinematic genius. It created his identity through dramatic storytelling that included numerous innovative camera techniques and symbolic snapshots into Napoléon’s personality. The film detailed significant facets of his life from his schooldays, the French revolution to the invasion of Italy. The legendary twenty-minute triptych direction, multi-imaged montages alternated with widescreen panoramas, leaves a lasting impact. Gance is described as the greatest French filmmaker of all times for this fascinating biopic that inspired legions of filmmakers.
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