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The 100 best French films: 100-81

Our definitive countdown of the finest French films – as chosen by industry experts

100

Enter the Void (2009)

Director: Gaspar Noé

The French-Argentinian filmmaker Gaspar Noé doesn’t do subtlety. He’s experimental in some ways; in others, he has the refinement of Michael Bay. His 2002 backwards-told tale ‘Irréversible’, is remembered for its scenes of skull-crushing and rape. Which is a shame...

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99

That Man from Rio (1964)

Director: Philippe de Broca

A delightfully preposterous thriller (the McGuffin is some stolen Amazonian treasure), wittier than any of the Bond spoofs that subsequently flooded the market and a good deal racier than 'Raiders of the Lost Ark'...

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98

Remorques (1939)

Director: Jean Grémillon

A number of cross-references apply: Reed's The Key, likewise a melancholy tale of doomed love set against a background of rough seas and salvage vessels; Le Quai des Brumes, the two stars' initial pairing, Gabin here reprising his blend of the tender and the explosive...

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97

Le Trou (1960)

Director: Jean Becker

A secular response to Bresson's A Man Escaped. No question of grace here, simply of grind and grime as four prisoners - joined and eventually betrayed by a fifth - laboriously tunnel their way to a derisory glimpse of freedom. Telling a true story, Becker maintains a low-key approach...

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96

Un air de famille (1996)

Director: Cédric Klapisch

In a French provincial town, Henri Menard (Bacri) runs the old family restaurant where the clan convenes every Friday night. This Friday, everyone's ego is in for a bruising. A subtle, breezy comedy of manners, Klapisch's follow-up to When the Cat's Away... may not have quite the novelty and charm of that work...

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95

Vincent, François, Paul et les autres (1974)

This film ranked #95 in Time Out's list of the 100 greatest French films. Click here to see the full list.  Director: Claude Sautet An actor’s director, Claude Sautet crafts films with an extraordinary attention to human detail, privileging dialogue and character development over plot turns or technical experimentation. Although unostentatious, Sautet’s camera work is subtly masterful, producing some very memorable images (a dour-faced Yves Montand on the telephone, filmed through a pane that reflects his laughing friends). An ensemble film, as its title suggests, ‘Vincent, François, Paul et les Autres’ follows a group of friends (played by Michel Piccoli, Gérard Depardieu, Yves Montand and Serge Reggiani) who meet regularly to commiserate over their personal troubles. A portrait of group friendship that transcends its many story lines, ‘Vincent…’ is typical of the French auteur cinema that, although universally admired by critics, is not always appreciated by its viewing public (for whom ‘cinematic realism’ is often code for ‘boring-as-hell’). Rest assured, ‘real life’, strained through Sautet’s lens, is deeply watchable and amusing. 

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94

Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday (1953)

Director: Jacques Tati

Tati's most consistently enjoyable comedy, a gentle portrait of the clumsy, well-meaning Hulot on vacation in a provincial seaside resort. The quiet, delicately observed slapstick here works with far more hits than misses...

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93

Caché (2005)

Director: Michael Haneke

A smart marriage of the thriller genre with a compendium of strong ideas about guilt, racism, recent French history and cinema itself, Michael Haneke’s eighth feature is an unsettling, self-reflective masterpiece. It opens with a lingering, static shot of a bourgeois Parisian home...

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92

Le Feu follet (1963)

Director: Louis Malle

Arguably the finest of Malle's early films, this is a calmly objective but profoundly compassionate account of the last 24 hours in the life of a suicide. Ronet gives a remarkable, quietly assured performance as the alcoholic...

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91

The Tenant (1976)

Director: Roman Polanski

With Polanski becoming a naturalised Frenchman, it was logical that he should start tackling specifically French subjects, and this small-scale return to the territory of Repulsion seemed a promising beginning. But it's precisely because Polanski and urban paranoia...

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90

Mr. Klein (1976)

Director: Joseph Losey

The action of Losey's film takes place against the Nazi deportation of French Jews - a set of circumstances which the film doesn't so much explore as get lost in. Klein (Delon), a Parisian art dealer, is delivered a copy of a Jewish newspaper...

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89

Sans soleil (1983)

Director: Chris Marker

Imagine getting letters from a friend in Japan, letters full of images, sounds and ideas. Your friend is an inveterate globe-trotter, and his letters are full of memories of other trips. He has a wry and very engaging sense of humour, he's a movie fan, he used to be quite an activist...

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88

The Night Is Young (1946)

Director: Leos Carax

In his second feature (following Boy Meets Girl), Carax combines his personal concerns - young love, solitude - with the stylised conventions of the vaguely futuristic romantic thriller. Loner street-punk Alex (Lavant) joins a gang of elderly Parisian hoods...

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87

Panique (1946)

This film ranked #87 in Time Out's list of the 100 greatest French films. Click here to see the full list.  Director: Julien Duvivier ‘Panique’ is Julien Duvivier’s most personal and fully realised film. Adapted from a Georges Simenon novel, it more than lives up to its name: an icy nihilistic fable about a solitary eccentric whose strange habits draw increasing suspicion from his paranoid neighbours. Michel Simon’s mesmerising performance and the film’s expressionistic visual style create an atmosphere of mounting anxiety, culminating in a frenetic lynching scene reminiscent of Fritz Lang’s ‘Fury’. Duvivier paints a bleak picture of human nature at its vilest and most cruel. 

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86

Le Plaisir (1952)

Director: Max Ophüls

Ophüls' second French film following his return from the USA was adapted from three stories by Maupassant. Le Masque describes how an old man wears a mask of youth at a dance hall to extend his youthful memories...

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85

La Vie de Jésus (1997)

Director: Bruno Dumont

Making use of locals instead of professional actors lends authenticity to this impressive look at a group of otherwise innocuous teenage lads in a boring northern French town (Bailleul in Flanders), driven to violence by a mixture of boredom, jealousy, macho pride and ingrained racism...

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84

Les Baisers de Secours (1989)

Director: Philippe Garrel 

In Philippe Garrel’s delightfully meta film, a successful director (played by Garrel) offers the lead role in his next project – an autobiographical film – to the celebrated actress Minouchette (Anémone), but his wife Jeanne, also an actress (played by Brigitte Sy, Garrel’s actual partner), feels the role should have been hers...

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83

Les Vampires (1915)

Director: Louis Feuillade

1915: Slaughter at Gallipoli; first use of gas on the Western Front; Lusitania sunk. And as diversion, this serial saga (in 10 episodes) of a band of robbers whose principals include Satanas, who keeps a howitzer behind the fireplace...

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82

Games of Love and Chance (2004)

Director: Abdellatif Kechiche

At first, Kechiche’s follow-up to the admirable ‘La Faute à Voltaire’ looks set to be a fairly routine account of life in the Maghrebi hood, with 15-year-old Krimo mooning over Lydia while his ex insists to any kid who’ll listen that they haven’t in fact split up...

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81

The Unfaithful Wife (1968)

Director: Claude Chabrol

One of Chabrol's mid-period masterpieces, a brilliantly ambivalent scrutiny of bourgeois marriage and murder that juggles compassion and cynicism in a way that makes Hitchcock look obvious...

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80-61

Comments

11 comments
Richard W
Richard W

Amelie deserves to be on here as does Band of Outsiders

Tex S
Tex S

Great list, with a few omissions. There are many I have not seen, and I would put some of them higher up in the list that I have seen. I like that "Wages of Fear" was put so high. That is a great, standout film. PTxS

Zach
Zach

It's an interesting list, but where is A MAN AND A WOMAN?

Alice Young
Alice Young

This list looks like it was just thrown up randomly. Amelie and Betty Blue aren't here, but a lot of garbage is. It's a useless list that should not be quoted.

Quinn
Quinn

Jules et Jim?

Tex S
Tex S

@Quinn Most people would call that an omission. I call that wisdom. It's the most overrated film in French cinema. PTxS

Kealan O'ver
Kealan O'ver

No Amélie? Seriously? Even if you don't place it that highly its still better than City of Lost Children.

Tex S
Tex S

@Kealan O'ver City of Lost Children was cinematic and challenging. Amelie? It was simple and sickly sweet. But it could be on the list. No problem. PTxS

Luke
Luke

Am I right in thinking Amélie is not on the list?! It should be number 1!

Tex S
Tex S

@Luke Ha ha. Number one. You have a sense of humor. Why should a simple piece of pablum be #1? PTxS  It was cute and entertaining, little else. Fine, put it on the list. #1 one, I laugh in your general direction. To each their own... PTxS