Five French Films Worth an Hour and a Half of Your Time

Amélie
French: Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain
dir. Jean-Pierre Jeunet (2001)

Arguably the most mainstream of the five films, Amélie is the epitome of quirky and whimsical.  The main character, Amélie, decides to dedicate herself to helping others find a glimpse of happiness, if only for a brief moment.  Amélie, the movie and the character, is reminiscent of an introvert’s Sex and the City; she lives alone in an extremely attractive apartment on a waitress’ salary in a small diner and galavants around an ideal France whilst spending most of her time playing reindeer games with her neighbors and a potential love interest.  It’s chock-full of bright colors, quick camera movements, and mischievous little surprises at every corner.

If you’ve never seen a foreign film or even a French film, I’d recommend this as a reliable primer.

Amelie

Heartbeats
French: Les amours imaginaires
dir. Xavier Dolan (2010)

It’s astounding that someone so young, at the tender age of 21, could have written, directed and starred in a movie so entertaining, beautiful and complete.  Heartbeats introduces us to two friends, Marie and Francis, and the introduction of  the blonde, Greek God lookalike, Nicolas.  The crux of the story is that Marie and Francis are friends, both are attracted to Nicolas, and it is ambiguous as to which one he is attracted to.  The ambiguity of his attraction, if at all, is relayed through subtle queues that just seem to linger a little longer than they should, i.e. a gaze, a kiss, a hug.  Not to mention sleeping in the same bed as both friends and inviting them away (and together) on romantic weekends.

Though this may seem like the typical Hollywood type of love triangle, it has the benefit of not being produced in Hollywood and therefore isn’t expected to follow the prescribed romantic comedy script that pervades American cinema.  The trifecta of the characters mirrors that of the film: wonderful cinematography, a solid story, and a perfect ending.

Heartbeats

17 Girls
French: 17 filles
dir. Delphine Coulin & Muriel Coulin (2011)

Based on the real life events that took place in Gloucester, Massachusetts in 2008, directors Delphine and Muriel Coulin tell the story of 17 high school girls who all became pregnant during one year.  Though not a documentary, the directors hold true to interviews and news stories of the time.  The film begins with a group of tight knit high schools girls where the leader (she sits at the head of the table, she accepts or rejects others, has sex first, et al) becomes pregnant.  All we know about the male partner is that he is out of the picture, and a quiet slight is alluded to.  After she decides to carry to term, one by one, her friends and girls outside of their posse begin seeking out random guys to impregnate them.  The result is an ever-growing circle of pregnancy, social acceptance, comfort and inclusiveness.  The teenage angst genre has rarely been expressed so subtly.

This is definitely an onion of a film.  At the end, I was left with a faint aura of a Sofia Coppola film circa the Virgin Suicides.

17Girls

Paris-Manhattan
French: Paryz-Manhattan
dir. Sophie Lellouche (2012)

From the age of 15, Alice has not only been in love with the films of Woody Allen, but has also been corresponding with the poster of him in her bedroom.  Mostly taking place in her 30s, she is still being fed words of wisdom from God-like Allen who answers her questions about love, life and struggle through quotes from his films.  As the main character Alice grows into a woman, one can’t help but be drawn to her independence and confidence (yes, I do want to be best friends with her).  Whether that is a result of Allen’s guidance or not is for the viewer to decide.

Of course, the Woody Allen fan would adore this film, but its appeal spans that of his fan base.  The script is solid, the characters are well-developed and you end up caring for them at the finish line.

ParisManhattan

Queen of Hearts
French: La reine des pommes
dir. Valérie Donzelli (2009)

Queen of Hearts is about a woman who gets dumped by her boyfriend, and spends the subsequent weeks unable to financially support herself and basically makes horrible decisions in judgement by sleeping with unavailable men.  The character is basically an emotional mess and her actions left me screaming at the screen at how incredibly awful she was.  Definitely not a queen of hearts.

As the film came to a close, I was truly turned off.  So why spend an hour and a half of your time watching?  It’s because if you’ve ever gone through a break up, been single, or young, or made a bad decision, then this film is extremely uncomfortable to watch because it is a mirror into your own life.  The realism of the sex, nudity, lapses in good judgement and heartache are all so tangible that they require a level of introspection on the viewers’ part that may be off-putting, but it’s worth the experience.

QueenofHearts

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2 thoughts on “Five French Films Worth an Hour and a Half of Your Time

  1. michaelgloversmith says:

    Good list! Five good French-language movies worth anyone’s time. Interestingly, 17 GIRLS is the one film on the list that can’t be described as a romantic comedy. Also, 3 out of these 5 films were directed by women.

    You should make this a regular feature and do a 5-film primer for different languages or countries. Italy or Spain next?

    • jilliemae says:

      I actually am already thinking of five more indie French films! There are so many out there that I could do a lot more lists just on French language films. But great idea on other languages! Italy is coming to mind…

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