One of the greatest things about learning another language is finally being able to understand that film that you can’t stop watching in the native language sans subtitles. Woop! But what about if you don’t have that film yet? Here’s 10 essential French films to fall in love with and help you learn French.
Of course this list is going to start with Amelie. You’ve probably seen it already. You’ve probably fallen in love with it already. But I’d have a little niggle if I didn’t include it here.
Amelie is just everything you expect (and want) from a French film. The music, the colouring, the story, the style. It’s a three-way tie as my favourite film of all time (with Mean Girls and A Clockwork Orange if you’re curious).
I first came across this film unexpectedly on Amazon Prime whilst trying my luck searching blindly for “French film”. It instantly became one of my favourites.
I can’t quite put my finger on it, but this film that follows a family through various stages of their lives is very relatable and an enjoyable drama. There’s a little comedy, there’s a little nostalgia, but mostly, it’s the family’s love for each other that keeps it interesting.
It’s also told in parts, each of which focuses on a different member of the family, which makes for an unusual narrative.
Are the French just really good at making touching films about families?
La Famille Bélier tells the story of Paula, a teenager who helps out on the family farm when she’s not at college. Her parents and brother are all Deaf and as you can imagine, things then becomes interesting when Paula decides to join the school choir and discovers she’s pretty good at singing.
I’ve seen this about 5 times now and it always makes me cry. Despite some controversy surrounding the decisions to cast hearing actors as the three Deaf members of main character Paula’s family, the film has generally been well-received and contains some really heart-warming scenes as well as some Frencher-than-French music to sing along to.
You might not expect a film which begins with Natalie (played by Audrey Tatou) losing her fiancé, to make you laugh, however this does just that.
This romantic comedy also starring François Damiens, who plays the father in La Famille Belier, is very easy to watch despite being perhaps a little predictable.
If you like Bridget Jones-style rom-coms and films that back the underdog, then this is one you’ll love.
This film stands out compared to the others on this list as it’s a little more serious, but very subtly.
Girlhood is the story of Marieme as she struggles to find popularity at school, luck with her grades, and a place in the world. After being told her grades aren’t good enough so she’ll have to take a vocational path, she soon befriends Lady and her two friends, who it’s fair to say are a bad influence on Marieme.
Think Mean Girls set in a gritty Paris banlieue with a memorable scene dancing to Diamonds by Rihanna replacing Jingle Bell Rock. This film sticks with you.
One of my favourite French films of all time because it’s one I wrote about way back when I was studying my French A level. I compared the beautiful floaty romantic style of Breathless to the brash and to-the-point style of the only 8 years younger film, Le Weekend. If you’ve seen both, you’ll probably agree with me choosing Breathless for this list over Le Weekend.
Breathless is kinda perfect. There’s walking down the Champs-Elysées, a hopeless romance between two beautiful people, and just about enough action to keep your attention beyond the visuals of the film. There’s a reason you’ve probably seen stills of this one before.
Although it didn’t receive the most positive reviews from critics, I’ve included Gemma Bovery on the list because if you’re a native English speaker and you’ve seen the work of Gemma Arterton before, you’re probably curious to see how she fares in a French film, and she does pretty good.
Gemma Bovery is a retelling of the novel Madame Bovery, so just like that version of Romeo and Juliet that you probably saw in English class with Leonardo DiCaprio and guns, it’s a good way to also become familiar with a cultural classic book without having to read it. Especially helpful if your French isn’t quite up to reading a 1857 novel yet.
A quirky and light-hearted tale based on a series of comic books, which is clear from the visuals of the live-action film. Lou is smitten by her neighbour and lives with her eccentric mum in their apartment full of flea-market finds.
Great for children, but just as enjoyable as a break from some of the more serious films on this list.
A seriously creepy French horror film set in Romania – with a scene at the start in Romanian to satisfy polyglots, Them is a fast-paced horror that avoids doing what I hate in some horror films: it doesn’t reveal what “Them” are until it’s time.
It’s a short film and very different to the rest on this list. Oh yeah, and it’s based on real events so, you know, sleep tight.
This charming steam-punk-inspired animation is unlike anything you’ve ever seen. And definitely unlike everything else on this list.
It tells the story of Avril, who tragically loses her scientist parents early on in life and sets out to continue the work they started in an alternate world. Interesting and enjoyable.
Did I miss your favourite? Which French films do you love and why? Share in the comments!