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The 100 best French films: 80-61

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

80

India Song (1975)

Director: Marguerite Duras

Duras' main protagonist is Anne-Marie Stretter (Seyrig), a bored consular wife in '30s India, and the film details the languorous desperation that drives her to suicide. But the formal approach to this subject is like nothing before in film history...

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79

La Collectionneuse (1967)

Director: Eric Rohmer

The third of Rohmer's six moral tales, and the first of his films to achieve wide recognition. The collector of the title is a delectable nymphet, footloose in St Tropez, who makes a principle of sleeping with a different man every night until two friends...

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78

Le Grand Détournement / La Classe américaine (1993)

Directors: Michel Hazanavicius et Dominique Mézerette

In 1993, in celebration of its hundred-year anniversary, Warner Bros. authorised Canal+, then at the height of its creativity, to use clips from WB’s back catalogue, waiving all rights fees while instructing the French studio to avoid Eastwood and Kubrick at all costs... 

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77

The Night Caller (1975)

Director: Henri Verneuil

Belmondo plays super-cop on the tops of Paris buildings and undergound trains, piling stunt on daredevil stunt and risking his neck for a particularly silly story. Like The Eiger Sanction, there's some mileage in seeing a star so blatantly performing his own stunts...

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76

The City of Lost Children (1995)

Director: Marc Caro et Jean-Pierre Jeunet

A child smiles delightedly in his toy-filled room as Santa emerges from the chimney-piece, but joy turns to terror as the bearded visitor is followed by more of the same; cut to a man screaming in a laboratory where, unable to dream himself, he has stolen the nightmare of a kidnapped orphan...

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75

Clean Slate (1981)

Director: Bertrand Tavernier

Purists may object to Tavernier's treatment of Jim Thompson's excellent if sordid and sadistic thriller, Pop.1280, but this eccentric, darkly comic look at a series of bizarre murders is stylishly well-crafted, and thoroughly entertaining...

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74

Le Doulos (1962)

Director: Jean-Pierre Melville

Darker than Bob le Flambeur, Melville's second foray into the Parisian underworld borrows its epigraph from Céline: 'One must choose: die... or lie?' Appropriately, in a film devoted to the principle of duplicity, Melville teases the spectator by reproducing the police station from Mamoulian's City Streets, while his Paris features American lampposts, call-boxes, subway entrances...

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73

L'Age d'or (1930)

Director: Luis Bunuel

'Our sexual desire has to be seen as the product of centuries of repressive and emasculating Catholicism... it is always coloured by the sweet secret sense of sin,' mused Buñuel in his autobiography My Last Breath. One might describe L'Age d'Or as 63 minutes of coitus interruptus...

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72

Sauve qui peut (la vie) (1979)

Director: Jean-Luc Godard

Godard's return to celluloid after a decade of experiment in video is in one sense forced: the sources of finance for his projects were drying up, and he himself admits that the film was made as a passport back into the business...

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71

Fill ‘er Up With Super (1976)

Director: Alain Cavalier

Made in 1976, Alain Cavalier’s ‘Fill ‘er Up With Super’ is a well-kept secret among French cinephiles. A road movie set in the south of France, it chronicles – through a series of comic and touching vignettes – the burgeoning friendship...

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70

Du côté d'Orouët (1973)

Director: Jacques Rozier

In September, as their classmates prepare for the school ‘rentrée’, three teenage girls set off for a sea village on the Vendée coast, determined to make the most of their remaining weeks of freedom. There they meet a local man, Gilbert (Bernard Menez in his first role), whom they tease and tantalize mercilessly...

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69

La Piscine (1968)

Director: Jacques Deray

Four characters. A Mediterranean villa. Sun, sex and… suspicion. The ingredients are fairly simple in this welcome reissue for a star-powered psychological thriller which has remained underexposed on these shores...

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68

A Christmas Tale (2008)

Director: Arnaud Desplechin

It may still be Christmas for the troubled Vuillard clan in the northwest French town of Roubaix but it’s not shared seasonal goodwill that’s bringing this extended brood back together in the family home. The instigator is mother and grandmother Junon (Catherine Deneuve)...

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67

Loulou (1980)

Director: Maurice Pialat

‘Loulou’ is a challenging, absorbing example of the awkward beauty of the late Maurice Pialat. Superficially, it’s a keenly observed, naturalist, semi-improvised, hand-shot ‘slice-of-life’, set in the post-Women’s Lib Paris of the late 1970s, depicting class- and culture-clashing passion...

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66

La Beauté du diable (1950)

Director: René Clair

In spite/because of what must have seemed impeccable credentials - Clair, the two leads, a screenplay by dramatist Armand Salacrou, and nostalgic, Méliès-inspired sets by Barsacq - this version of the Faust legend...

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65

A Prophet (2009)

Director: Jacques Audiard

Filmmakers love a good prison. No, scrub that, filmmakers adore a bad prison. You can see why. For writers and directors, the volatile jail is a ready-made theatre, its prisoners and guards with their various conflicts and loyalties all perfect players for a drama that, if it tries hard enough, can reflect life on the outside too...

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64

La Chienne (1931)

Director: Jean Renoir

M Legrand, a mild-mannered, middle-aged cashier, uses painting as a means of expression, of escape from his shrewish wife and the tedium of his job. After an accidental encounter with femme fatale Lulu (Marèze), he falls madly in love...

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63

Le Goût des autres (1999)

Director: Agnès Jaoui

Castella is an industrialist, married, temporarily inconvenienced by the presence of a bodyguard while a sensitive business deal is ironed out. In his own world, he's king. A dutiful (groundbreaking) trip to the theatre is a revelation. It's not the play which moves him, but the lead actress, Clara (Alvaro)...

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62

Je t'aime, je t'aime (1968)

Director: Alain Resnais

One of Resnais' most underrated explorations of the tone of time and memory. Claude Ridder (Rich), a failed suicide, is visited by two men who invite his cooperation in an experiment (already tried with a mouse) to project him into the past to see if he can recapture a moment of his life (since he has no wish to live, and therefore has no future, he is the perfect subject)...

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61

Napoléon (1927)

Director: Abel Gance

Bambi Ballard's latest restoration of cinema's supreme, grandiloquent epic (63 mins longer than the version premiered by Kevin Brownlow in 1979, tinted and with an extended three-screen climax) is the closest we're ever likely to get to Gance's original...

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60-51

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