by John Todd on January 23, 2023

in Extras

It’s not breaking any news that big-budget Hollywood is going rather stale. Pumping out what are now “franchise movies” month after month, while they certainly bring in hundreds of millions of dollars worldwide, they’re mostly the same CGI-driven affairs with little to offer beyond spectacle. So, it doesn’t come as a surprise that foreign-language films and shows are on the rise in English-speaking markets.

This is partially buoyed by the prevalence of non-US-made content padding out streaming service platforms, but the desire to experience something different and poignant remains. Right now, much of the craze is pointed toward productions from the Korea Republic. It can’t be denied that the Asian nation is sending over some very creative movies, but one of the best places to turn is French cinema.

Be it modern films that push the envelope or established greats, French movies always offer a grand experience. It’s why the likes of Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis and The Intouchables can sell over 20 million and over 19 million tickets in France alone, respectively. Only Titanic has sold more tickets in the country than those two flicks at 21.7 million. So, if you fancy delving into some excellent classic and contemporary French films, just scroll down.

Amélie (2001)

If there’s one place to point modern newcomers to French cinema, it’s Amélie. Starring Audrey Tautou and directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, the film takes place in Montmartre, whimsically showing life as a Parisian through the eyes of the titular waitress. It’s a charming movie and one that is made all the more memorable for the odd worldview and comments made throughout.

Above all else, Amélie is quirky, with the short black hair of Tautou now intrinsically associated with French cinema by global audiences. Despite its budget of a mere $10 million, the 2001 release made $175 million worldwide. Now, there’s even a musical adaptation of the film, but the creators of the stage production always faced an uphill task of recreating the charm of the original.

35 Shots of Rum (2008)

Inspired by Yasujirō Ozu’s legendary 1949 drama Late Spring, Claire Denis arguably created a family drama of near-equal critical acclaim in French cinema with 35 Shots of Rum. The story centers on a widower, played by Alex Descas, and his daughter, Mati Diop, as they try to make the family work while she becomes increasingly independent.

In the end, it’s a movie of life-changing bittersweet moments that dictate relationships, and while this sounds like the makings of a rather loud drama, 35 Shots of Rum is very subtle without being pretentious. Of all of the scenes in the movie, it’s the “Nightshift” that’s hailed as the must-see sequence of this modern French masterpiece.

Bay of Angels (1963)

Only the second film from a pioneering director of the French New Wave, Jacques Demy, Bay of Angels is set in Paris and deals with a distinctly French pastime and subject: gambling. Starring Jeanne Moreau and Claude Mann, the 1963 movie is the tale of Jean, who wins at roulette, enjoys his winnings, but gets wrapped up in a complex love story.

France and roulette remain intrinsically tied to this day, with French roulette being the more popular variant of the table game for its player-friendly additional rules and lower house edge. At the online casino, French Roulette takes precedence over Real Roulette, Mini Roulette Gold, Sapphire Roulette, and the celebrity Stories Roulette for its use of the La Partage and En Prison rules.

Bay of Angels is as much a tale of getting whisked away in a romance as it is about running a hot streak at the casino. Jean’s and Jackie’s story goes from Paris to Nice to Monte Carlo riding wins, but in the end, when Jean loses and decides to end his time at the tables, Jackie has to decide if she wants the romance to end like all winning streaks do. It’s now a free movie to watch online and is certainly worth the 84 minutes.

Blue is the Warmest Colour (2013)

A modern, no-holds-barred romance that helped catapult Léa Seydoux into the upper echelons of the international acting community, Blue is the Warmest Colour received rave reviews across the board. The performances by Seydoux and her co-star, Adèle Exarchopoulos, were deemed so integral to the film’s acclaim that, at the Cannes Film Festival, the Palme d’Or was awarded to the duo and the director, Abdellatif Kechiche, which was unprecedented at the time.

The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)

Considered by many to be the finest production of French cinema to this day, The Passion of Joan of Arc by director Carl Theodor Dreyer is a silent masterpiece. There’s a good chance that your depiction of the historical figure is based on Dreyer’s iconic film. Considering that it’s based on the transcripts of the heresy trial of Joan of Arc, written in 1491, the piece is remarkably powerful, with its focus firmly fixed on her experience rather than the age in which it’s set. Perhaps the only aspect more incredible than the film itself is how the original cut was discovered.

Raw (2016)

As graphic as it is an intimate take on the coming-of-age drama, Raw was Julia Ducournau’s debut feature as writer and director, and she couldn’t have hoped for a better response from critics and audiences. It tells the story of a vegetarian starting a veterinary school, where she develops a craving for animal meat and then human flesh. It’s certainly a novel experience and creative piece, but it isn’t for the more squeamish of cinephiles.

Mix up your watch list with these grand French movies to experience something distinctly different from much of what’s hitting English-language theatres these days.

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