The 100 best French films: 30-21

30-21

Claire’s Knee (1970)

Director: Eric Rohmer

The fifth and most accessible of Rohmer's six 'moral tales', Claire's Knee is the story of the temptation of an affianced diplomat (Brialy) while on holiday, and its successful suppression. The film was rapturously received as a cinematic equivalent to Jane Austen at the time of its original release. The comparison is apt, though a better one would be with Joseph L Mankiewicz, a director of similarly literate, talky, classically structured movies, but none the less misses the point. For Brialy is no throwback to the 19th century but rather a Martian, a visitor to this planet discovering the values of his own culture through surveying those of the people he finds himself among, and finally retreating back home. If this makes Rohmer sound like a poet of bourgeois repression (just as Chabrol can be seen as a poet of bourgeois excess), one must also add that the film's self-reflexive structure makes it both more exciting and more ambiguous than such a description allows for.

Read more

Beau travail (1999)

Director: Claire Denis

Denis' extraordinary movie centres on Galoup (Lavant) who, while holed up in Marseille, recalls his time as a sergeant-major in the Foreign Legion. In the desert, he drilled raw recruits while quietly nurturing feelings of respect and love for his superior, Forestier (Subor). Then, with the arrival of Sentain (Colin), a soldier Forestier honoured for bravery, Galoup caved in to resentment, envy and hate. Though little is spelt out explicitly in this elliptical tale of repressed emotion leading to murderous jealousy, the film is admirably accessible and clear throughout. 

Read more

Belle de jour (1966)

Director: Luis Bunuel

Marlene Dietrich had Sternberg. Anna Karina had Godard. Catherine Deneuve had Buuel, as the revival of 1967’s Belle de Jour reaffirms; the film is a perverse valentine to this coolest of Gallic beauties. Deneuve stars as Sverine, a Parisian housewife dressed in Yves Saint Laurent, who is married to Pierre (Sorel), a handsome, dull doctor. Sverine makes fervent protestations of love but cannot, alas, consummate; instead she succumbs to theatrically erotic reveries—of being whipped by two burly coachmen, pelted with shit while wearing a diaphanous white gown, elaborately bound to a tree la St. Sebastian. When she hears of a high-class madam (Page) who operates a brothel out of her apartment, Sverine takes a day job as a classy whore servicing middle-aged businessmen. In the age of Desperate Housewives and downloadable S&M porn, there’s little in Belle de Jour that shocks—but then, pater le bourgeois seems beside the point. The film is an act of pure fetishism, and Deneuve its willing object. 

Read more

Le Corbeau (1943)

Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot

David Thomson calls Clouzot's a 'cinema of total disenchantment'. This exposé of a malicious small town in France must be one of the most depressed films to emerge from the period of the German Occupation: everyone speaks badly of everyone else, rumours of abortion and drug addiction are rife, and a flood of poison-pen letters raises the spiteful hysteria to epidemic level. Clouzot's misanthropy concludes in total defeat; his naggingly over-insistent style occasionally achieves a great blackness. 

Read more

Le Samouraï (1967)

Dir Jean-Pierre Melville (Alain Delon, François Périer, Nathalie Delon)

Melville's hombres don't talk a lot, they just move in and out of the shadows, their trenchcoats lined with guilt and their hats hiding their eyes. This is a great movie, an austere masterpiece, with Delon as a cold, enigmatic contract killer who lives by a personal code of bushido. Essentially, the plot is about an alibi, yet Melville turns this into a mythical revenge story, with Cathy Rosier as Delon's black, piano-playing nemesis who might just as easily have stepped from the pages of Cocteau or Sophocles as Vogue. Similarly, if Delon is Death, Périer's cop is a date with Destiny. Melville's film had a major influence in Hollywood: Delon lying on his bed is echoed in Taxi Driver, and Paul Schrader might have remade Le Samourai as American Gigolo. Another remake is The Driver, despite Walter Hill's insistence that he'd never seen it: someone on that movie had to have seen it.

Read more

Cléo from 5 to 7 (1962)

Director: Agnès Varda

‘Cléo from 5 to 7’ was French new waver Agnès Varda’s second feature and is filled with the beauty of Paris’s natural light. ‘Hold on, pretty butterfly!’ says Cléo (Corinne Marchand, pictured), a fretful and fame-occupied singer, to herself as she prepares to  roam the city for two hours while awaiting a possibly momentous doctor’s verdict. It’s experimental and free-wheeling in design – Varda gives us overlapping dialogue, parodic inserts, a documentarist’s eye mixed with a painter’s, found sound and Michel Legrand’s songs, and juxtaposes frippery with political reality. Quietly touching and profound, it epitomises the youthful delight Varda always shows for the tools at her disposal and her sensitive and easeful way of expressing the sways and shifts of life, love and desire.

Read more

Last Year in Marienbad (1961)

Dir Alain Resnais (Delphine Seyrig, Giorgio Albertazzi)

Something of a key film in the development of concepts of cinematic modernism, simply because - with a script by nouveau roman iconoclast Alain Robbe-Grillet - it sets up a puzzle that is never resolved: a man meets a woman in a rambling hotel and believes he may have had an affair with her the previous year at Marienbad - or did he? Or was it somewhere else? Deliberately scrambling chronology to the point where past, present and future become meaningless, Resnais creates a vaguely unsettling mood by means of stylish composition, long, smooth tracking shots along the hotel's deserted corridors, and strangely detached performances. Obscure, oneiric, it's either some sort of masterpiece or meaningless twaddle.

Read more

Buffet froid (1979)

Dir Bertrand Blier (Gérard Depardieu, Bernard Blier, Jean Carmet)

Rigorously absurd contemporary film noir which presents every character, incident and situation known to the genre, but none of the customary explanations, motivations or consequences. A blackly surreal procession of amoral and/or illegal acts proceed haphazardly from Depardieu's discovery of his lost penknife embedded in a dying Métro traveller, and his subsequent alliance with his wife's murderer and a police inspector, producing a cherishably Buñuelian depiction of the far-from-discreet crimes of the bourgeoisie.

Read more
20-11

Comments

2 comments
hugo french
hugo french

Si peu de comédies..qui a voté? Jeunet amelie pour le farfelu, jean de florette de Berri, pour la beaute B13 pour l'action, Haute tension pour la terreur, trois hommes et un couffin pour la tendresse, incroyable tout dernierement Aucun dans les 100 meilleurs films.... plutot une liste de film francais qu'un valide classement