The 100 best French movies ever made

Time Out’s definitive countdown of the best French films – as chosen by industry experts
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Drumroll, please... These are the 100 best French movies as chosen by Time Out's global critics. Whether you're into Nouvelle Vague, creepy thrillers or romantic road films, you are sure to find something to tickle your Francophile fancy in this go-to guide. 

The French, particularly Parisians, are big into cinema, so if you've got longer than a weekend in the City of Light, grab a drink at one of the city's cinema bars, before getting comfy at an indie cinema. And if you want to do some real-life location scouting during your trip, check out the 50 best films shot in Paris.

The 100 best French movies

1
Les Enfants du Paradis
Film, Drama

Les Enfants du Paradis (1943)

Director: Marcel Carné

In Marcel Carné’s rich, literary romance from 1945 ('France's answer to "Gone with the Wind'!"), four men tussle for the affections of one woman, the conflicted, sphinx-like Garence (Carné regular Arletty), an ice maiden in the league of Marlene Dietrich who, in nearly every shot, has her eyes masked by a beam of light. Such ethereal, delicately cinematic touches add to a film which is content to let a dazzling, witty script (by Jacques Prévert), sumptuous set design and exceptional performers lend the fiction its lifeblood. DJ

2
Amelie1.jpg
Film, Fantasy

Amélie

Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet

Arguably the quintessential subtitled film for people who don’t like subtitled films (it’d be a dust-up between this and ‘Cinema Paradiso’), Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s rose-tinted Parisian romance is wheeled out once more to celebrate its tenth anniversary. Likely to be the role for which actress Audrey Tautou will be remembered until her dying day, the film is all the more interesting for remaining an eccentric one-of-a-kind that feels every bit the product of its writer-director’s unique sensibility and worldview. Revisiting it now, it still has the same strengths and weaknesses: the experience of watching is still like being swept along on a tidal wave of cheeky jokes and oddball observations, yet it still feels overlong and at times a little saccharine. DJ

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3
Untouchable.JPG
Film, Drama

Untouchable (2012)

Directors: Eric Toledano, Olivier Nakache

Culture-clash comedy blends with heart-tugging true-life drama in this French box-office hit. François Cluzet (‘Tell No One’) is Philippe, a wealthy man left paralysed from the neck down after an accident. Interviewing worthy types for the job of carer, Philippe is struck by Driss (Omar Sy), a street-smart criminal who’s merely applying in order to receive benefits. Admiring his irreverence, Philippe hires Driss and moves him into his palatial home. It’s an enjoyable, if familiar, set-up, recalling ‘Scent of a Woman’ as Driss opens Philippe’s eyes to new worlds (pot smoking, soul music), and vice versa. Both become aware of their privileges: chiefly education and an able body, respectively. Of course, this is not a romance, but a bromance: these two against a world that fails to understand either of them properly. It delivers broad laughs and tugs at the heartstrings without delving too deep – the very definition of a crowd-pleaser.

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4
Playtime
Film, Comedy

Playtime (1967)

Director: Jacques Tati

Tati's Hulot on the loose in a surreal, scarcely recognisable Paris, tangling intermittently with a troop of nice American matrons on a 24-hour trip. Not so much a saga of the individual against an increasingly dehumanised decor, it's more a semi-celebratory symphony to Tati's sensational city-set, all reflections and rectangles, steel, chrome, gleaming sheet metal and trompe l'oeil plate glass. Shot in colour that looks almost like monochrome, recorded in five-track stereo sound with scarcely a word of speech (the mysterious language of objects echoes louder than words), this jewel of Tati's career is a hallucinatory comic vision on the verge of abstraction. SJO

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5
Le Mépris
Film, Drama

Le Mépris

Director: Jean-Luc Godard

Le mépris. That’s contempt in French, and that’s the rising feeling that Camille (Brigitte Bardot) has for her writer boyfriend Paul (Michel Piccoli) during the time he’s summoned to Rome’s Cinecittà film studios and the stunning island of Capri to help Austrian-born Hollywood director Fritz Lang (playing himself) and coarse American producer Prokosch (Jack Palance) improve their movie version of Homer’s ‘The Odyssey’. Much of the film gives us Camille and Paul’s disintegrating relationship as he’s simultaneously seduced and repelled by the world of filmmaking. It shows Godard and his collaborators – especially cinematographer Raoul Coutard, composer Georges Delerue and editor Agnès Guillemot – at the height of their powers, creating scenes and moments of extraordinary visual power, suggestion and beauty. Like Camille and Paul’s love-hate relationship, it’s the ultimate testament to Godard’s complicated relationship with his art. DC

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6
The Artist
Film, Comedy

The Artist

Director: Michel Hazanavicius

Michel Hazanavicius and actor Jean Dujardin are well known in France for their James Bond spoofs, the ‘OSS 117’ films. Now they hop across the pond to 1920s California for a loving – and silent – recreation of Hollywood on the verge of sound. ‘The Artist’ is shot in exactly the same speechless, monochrome style as the movies in which our tragic hero, actor George Valentin (Dujardin), employs a canny arched eyebrow or breaks out into a rip-roaring tap-dancing routine to woo his adoring audience. The real pleasure of ‘The Artist’ is that Hazanavicius employs all the tricks and tics of silent cinema with wisdom, care and all the emotional and musical rhythm of the best of the films he emulates. It’s a movie about cinema that has a heart: it moves between funny and sad and turns the dawn of the sound age into a personal tragedy, expressed as silent melodrama. It’s a gentle call to arms aimed at modern cinema. DC

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7
Romance movie: L'Atalante
Film, Comedy

L'Atalante (1934)

Director: Jean Vigo

1934’s ‘L’Atalante’ is the single feature from the then 29-year-old French master Jean Vigo and was made as its director died of TB. The result is not so much a film as an entire artistic vision crammed into 89 of the busiest and most beautiful minutes of celluloid ever shot. Dita Parlo plays Juliette, the smalltown girl married off to Jean (Jean Dasté, captain of L’Atalante, a grubby barge plying the waterways of rural France. Once on board, Juliette is caught between her uncertain love for Jean and her desire to see a world beyond the restrictive confines of the boat. The situation is complicated by the constant interruptions of Jean’s beloved but irascible first mate Pére Jules (Michel Simon). The has no desire to be flawless: Simon’s performance alone ensures a ragged, playful sense of spontaneity. The result is something utterly indescribable, partway between comedy and tragedy, romance and realism, film and dream. TH

8
La Vie D'Adele - Blue is the Warmest Colour
Film, Drama

Blue is the Warmest Colour

Director: Abdellatif Kechiche

‘Blue is the Warmest Colour’ is a minutely detailed, searingly erotic three-hour study of first lesbian love. Written and directed by the French-Tunisian Abdellatif Kechiche, it is the richest film of his career. Nothing about the film’s coming-of-age narrative, nor the rise and fall of its core romance, is intrinsically new or daring, yet Kechiche’s freewheeling perspective on young desire is uncommon in its emotional maturity. Our heroine, Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos, astonishing), begins the film as a precocious high-schooler and ends it as a grown woman still with plenty to learn about herself. Unlike so many same-sex-themed films that focus on coming out as the defining gay experience, ‘Blue is the Warmest Colour’ glides past that stage of Adèle’s life in a bold chronological leap, finding more nuanced drama in the evolving challenges of maintaining an unfixed sexuality. GL

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9
Les 400 Coups
Film, Drama

The 400 Blows (1959)

Director: François Truffaut

In 1959 François Truffaut, neglected son, passionate reader, delinquent student and cinephile, wrote and filmed one of the first glistening droplets of the French New Wave: ‘The 400 Blows’, in which Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud) demonstrates – unforgettably – that a good brain and bad parents don’t necessarily turn a boy into a talented film director, although they will, one way or another, turn him into a liar. Antoine is an inept thief who winds up incarcerated; somehow, Truffaut turned this saga into one of the most joyous experience you could ever have in the cinema. The beauty of monochrome ’50s Paris helps, but the magic is in observing the thrill even a maltreated child will snatch from a book, a film or a day truanting at a funfair, through the gaze of a former critic whose elation at getting his hands on a camera burbles through every shot. NC

10
La Belle et la Bête
Film, Fantasy

La Belle et la Bête

Director: Jean Cocteau

A gorgeous, pin-sharp remaster for poet-dramatist-artist-director Jean Cocteau’s giddy, sumptuous 1946 retelling of the Freudian fairytale about a helpless girl and a kindhearted monster. Slightly pompous preamble aside, this ‘Beauty and the Beast’ is pure joy, a self-conscious but never precious attempt to revisit childhood fantasies and half-remembered dreams. The Beast’s ornate, decaying castle – ringed with thorns and filled with grasping hands – is a place of terror, wonder and mourning, the perfect reflection of its tragic, noble occupant. The tug of love between the monster and the maiden is never overplayed, but neither does the film shackle this beast – he remains unpredictable and threatening throughout. It has been accused of valueing style over substance, but place the film in historical context and its true intent is revealed: in the wake of unimaginable horror, this kind of fantasy is still achievable, and perhaps more important than ever. TH

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11
L'Armée des ombres
Film, Drama

L'Armée des ombres (1969)

Director: Jean-Pierre Melville

You couldn’t imagine a more discreet tribute to the heroes of the wartime French Resistance than this terrific late-’60s thriller by the ex-Maquis member Melville, the director best known for his gangster masterpieces like ‘The Samourai’. Tracing the self-sacrificial exploits from October 1942 to February 1943 of a small group of field operatives – the acerbic Lino Ventura’s ex-engineer, Simone Signoret’s iron-nerved Mathilde among them – Melville’s film adopts a formal essentialism to outline the codes and manners of impassive-looking ‘warriors’ over whom the Damocles sword of discovery, torture and death is ever hovering. The film boasts a startling visual quality, too – the suspenseful twilight escapades are shot with a beautifully muted, steely-grey colour palette by cinematographer Pierre Lhomme – and it is laced with moments of dry, sardonic wit that serve only to emphasise its devastating emotional core even more. Superb. WH

12
La Nuit américaine
Film, Comedy

Day for Night (1973)

Director: François Truffaut

'Day for Night' is hilarious and informative, and in the pantheon of films about filmmaking, it strikes a neat balance between the operatic neuroses of ‘8 1/2’ and the warm, pastel-hued nostalgia of ‘Singin’ in the Rain’. Truffaut stars as indefatigable director Ferrand, shooting a fusty melodrama called ‘Meet Pamela’ and wearing the same sports jacket, shirt and tie combo as he would in ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’. He delivers the same coolly detached performance too, though it works better in this context. The fact that his childish lead (Jean-Pierre Léaud, of course) is too often in a strop to concentrate on the part, or that his star (Jacqueline Bisset) is a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown are accepted as part and parcel of the business. DJ

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13
Les Demoiselles de Rochefort
Film, Drama

Les Demoiselles de Rochefort (1967)

Director: Jacques Demy

Jacques Demy’s pastel-hued masterpiece ‘Les Demoiselles de Rochefort’ is a luminous musical about dreams, romance and destiny which lovingly reworks the classic Hollywood ‘putting on a show’ template into an essay on the emotional rollercoaster ride that is movie-going. Released here in a sparkling new print, the film centres on Catherine Deneuve and Françoise Dorléac as the ‘pair of twins, born in the sign of Gemini’ looking to escape the sleepy environs of Rochefort for life in the big city. When an all-singin’, all-dancin’ motorcycle roadshow rolls into town, the girls decide to give one last big performance before upping sticks and moving on. Most will be swept off their feet by Michel Legrand’s scintillating jazz-pop score, charismatic supporting turns from Gene Kelly, Danielle Darrieux and Michel Piccoli, and – predominantly – Demy’s own infectious joie de vivre. DJ

14
Le Salaire de la peur
Film, Action and adventure

The Wages of Fear (1953)

Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot

Throughout his professional life, France's Henri-Georges Clouzot suffered comparisons to Alfred Hitchcock - the former's critical reputation languished for it, and he took it hard. Clouzot needn't have worried: On a good day, he was arguably better. Diabolique (1955) is the perfect psychosexual thriller, and this earlier effort is Hitch's bomb-under-the-table suspense formula burnished to an expert sheen. Literally explosive, the plot concerns a South American oil fire raging out of control, with only the possibility of a nitroglycerine blast to snuff it out. But which poor schmucks will transport the combustible jerricans over miles of bumpy road to the site? Clouzot's entire body of work deserves to be revisited, but The Wages of Fear is ground zero and undoubtedly the place to start. JR

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15
Mon oncle
Film, Comedy

Mon oncle (1958)

Director: Jacques Tati

Tati's first film in colour. Yes, his contrast of the glorious awfulness of the Arpels' automated Modernistic house with Hulot's disordered Bohemianism is simplistic. Yes, Hulot as champion of the individual is oddly de-personalised. And one might even conclude that Tati is a closet misanthrope. Such text-book reservations come and go as this extraordinary film meanders like the Arpels' concrete garden path. But while some episodes are protracted, many are unforgettably funny, wonderfully observed, and always technically brilliant. Insane gadgets slam and roar, high heels click like metronomes, and even a depressed dachshund in a tartan overcoat obligingly submits to Tati's meticulous direction. TS

16
Film, Family and kids

The Chorus (Les Choristes)

Director: Christophe Barratier

Mild-mannered, unemployed music teacher Clement Mathieu is hired as a house master at the Fond de l'Etang boarding school for troubled children. From the moment Clement walks through the school gates, he can sense trouble, much of it perpetrated by the repressive headmaster Rachin, who believes that physical punishment is the only way to keep the boys in line. Clement prefers a much more caring approach to schooling and he introduces his pint-sized pupils to the magic of singing.

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17
Jules et Jim
Film, Drama

Jules and Jim

Director: François Truffaut

In 1962, Trauffaut released an adaptation of Henri-Pierre Roché’s novel ‘Jules et Jim’. It was François Truffaut’s third feature film, but this one was special: the young tyro director and the art collector from another era (Roché had died in 1959, aged 80) came together like, well, Jules and Jim. Roche’s autobiographical story of a Frenchman, Jim (Henri Serre) and a German, Jules (Oskar Werner) whose friendship survives World War I and their adoration of the same woman, Catherine (Jeanne Moreau) becomes, in Truffaut’s hands, a paean to passion and an ineffably elegant classic. The filmmaking is wildly inventive, but not in a clever-clogs manner. Instead, Truffaut and his cinematographer, the great Raoul Coutard, use handheld camera, freeze-frames, newsreel footage and song in the same way the characters use races, bicycle trips or impromptu jumps into the Seine: to keep life (and cinema), crazy and beautiful at all times. NC

18
Amour_03.jpg
Film, Drama

Amour

Director: Michael Haneke

Michael Haneke's 'Amour' is devastatingly original and unflinching look at the effect of love on death, and vice versa. It's a staggering, intensely moving look at old age and life's end, which at its heart offers two performances of incredible skill and wisdom from French veterans Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva. The director of 'Hidden' and 'The White Ribbon' offers an intimate and brave portrait of an elderly Parisian couple, Anne (Riva) and Georges (Trintignant), facing up to a sudden turning point in their lives. Haneke erects four walls to keep out the rest of the world, contained almost entirely within one apartment over a period of some weeks and months. He asks hard questions and results in a devastating, highly intelligent and astonishingly performed work. DC

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19
Au hasard Balthazar
Film, Drama

Au hasard Balthazar (1966)

Director: Robert Bresson

Animal as saint: Bresson's stark, enigmatic parable, a donkey (named after one of the Three Wise Men) is both a witness to and the victim of mankind's cruelty, stupidity - and love. Taking his lack of faith in theatrical acting to its logical limit, Bresson perversely places the mute beast centre-screen as he passes from owner to owner, giving rides, heaving agricultural machinery, and receiving beatings and caresses in a coolly observed landscape of poverty and folly. The effect could not be more different from that of other films (Disney's say, or Jaws) that centre around animals; Balthazar's death during a smuggling expedition, amidst a field of sheep, is both lyrical and entirely devoid of maudlin sentiment. Imbued with a dry, ironic sense of humour, the film is perhaps the director's most perfectly realised, and certainly his most moving. GA

20
Van Gogh
Film, Drama

Van Gogh

Director: Maurice Pialat

This stunningly photographed and skilfully acted film uses an accretion of naturalistic detail to present an emotionally restrained but utterly compelling account of the last three months of Van Gogh's life. Living in Auvers-sur-Oise with his sensitive and knowledgeable patron Gachet (Sety), Van Gogh (Dutronc) works quietly and steadily, meanwhile flirting with Gachet's precocious daughter Marguerite (London). However, his ill health, a brief return to the debauchery of brothels and drink, and his irrational resentment of his brother Theo's failure to sell his work, provoke erratic swings from brooding introspection to frustrated anger. There is no attempt to trace the origins and development of his 'creative genius'; nor, avoiding the hazards of biopic cliché, does seeks to illuminate these dark corners of his subject's troubled soul. In the leading role, Dutronc has perfect right quality of physical frailty and stooped sadness to complement Pialat's beautiful, poignant images. NF

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21
Buffet froid
Film, Drama

Buffet froid (1979)

Director: Bertrand Blier

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. PT

22
Last_YEar_17.jpg_cmyk.jpg
Film, Drama

Last Year at Marienbad

Director: Alain Resnais

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. GA

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23
Cléo de 5 à 7
Film, Drama

Cléo from 5 to 7 (1962)

Director: Agnès Varda

‘Cléo from 5 to 7’ (1962) 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. WH

24
Copyright Ciné Classic
Film, Drama

Pierrot le fou (1965)

Director: Jean-Luc Godard

Jean-Paul Belmondo mooches up to Samuel Fuller at a party and, naturally, asks him his thoughts on cinema. Fuller replies: ‘Film is like a battleground. Love. Hate. Action. Violence. Death. In one word: Emotions.’ His succinct and, let’s be honest, utterly hip rejoinder fluently captures what we’re about to undergo with Godard’s mischievous tenth film, ‘Pierrot le Fou’. We’re launched into the lunatic orbit of Belmondo’s Ferdinand and Anna Karina’s Marianne: Each is an impulsive, alienated, despairing soul who finds solace in the other’s desire for chaos and withdrawal. They to the south of France in a hail of gunfire and Gauloises. They converse in disjointed, inhumanly droll patter, duff up gas station attendants and eagerly concoct a new civilisation on a deserted beach. As their relationship begins to fray, it all goes horribly wrong…It’s a wild-eyed, cross-processing of artistic, political and personal concerns, where the story stutters, splinters and infuriates its way to an explosive finale. DJ

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25
Le Samouraï
Film, Drama

Le Samouraï (1967)

Director: Jean-Pierre Melville

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. ATU

26
La Grande Illusion
Film, Drama

La Grande Illusion (1937)

Director: Jean Renoir

As relevant as ever, Jean Renoir’s 1937 masterpiece, ‘La Grande Illusion’, is a film about common values and decency – the ability in all of us to act with respect and warmth towards those with whom we share bonds stronger and deeper than national boundaries and political divisions. ‘La Grande Illusion’ is an anti-war film, too, of course, made on the eve of one conflict and looking back at another. It concerns three French officers held as prisoners during World War I by the Germans: aristocratic De Boeldieu (Pierre Fresnay), working-class Maréchal (Jean Gabin) and wealthy Jew Rosenthal (Marcel Dalio). The shared purpose of the French is to the fore (one of the film’s many illusions: we can’t be sure such unity would persist in peace). DC

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27
Le Voyage dans la lune
Film, Action and adventure

A Trip to the Moon (1902)

Director: Georges Méliès

A former magician, Georges Méliès created his silent film ‘A Trip to the Moon’ in 1902, just six years after the Lumière Brothers’ legendary first projection. ‘A Trip to the Moon’ is a cinematic legend in its own right. The earliest example of sci-fi and fantasy genres on film, it tells the story of a group of astronomers who voyage to the moon and do battle with giant insectoid aliens. Presumed lost, the film’s original print, hand-coloured by Méliès himself, was rediscovered in 1993 and restored in 2011. CC

28
Film, Drama

Pot Luck (L'Auberge Espagnole)

Director: Cédric Klapisch

Young French economics student Xavier takes part in a European exchange program in order to land his dream job. He is sent to Barcelona, where he shares an apartment with a melting pot of nationalities including English rose Wendy, Italian stud Alessandro, kind-hearted Dane Lars and Belgian girl Martine. The strangers quickly bond together and embark on a series of misadventures, some of them drawn together by the heady scent of romance.

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29
Le Corbeau
Film, Drama

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. CPE

30
Belle de jour
Film, Comedy

Belle de jour (1966)

Director: Luis Bunuel

A perverse valentine to this coolest of Gallic beauties, Belle de jour stars Catherine Deneuve 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 that seems beside the point. The film is an act of pure fetishism, and Deneuve its willing object. TB

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31
La Haine
Film, Comedy

La Haine

Director: Mathieu Kassovitz

Twenty-four hours in the Paris projects: an Arab boy is critically wounded in hospital, gut-shot, and a police revolver has found its way into the hands of a young Jewish skinhead, Vinz (Cassel), who vows to even the score if his pal dies. Vinz hangs out with Hubert (Koundé) and Saïd (Taghmaoui). They razz each other about films, cartoons, nothing in particular, but always the gun hovers over them like a death sentence, the black-and-white focal point for all the hatred they meet with, and all they can give back. Kassovitz has made only one film before (the droll race-comedy Métisse), but La Haineputs him right at the front of the field: this is virtuoso, on-the-edge stuff, as exciting as anything we've seen from the States in ages, and more thoroughly engaged with the reality it describes. He combats the inertia and boredom of his frustrated antagonists with a thrusting, jiving camera style which harries and punctuates their rambling, often very funny dialogue. The politics of the piece are confrontational, to say the least, but there is a maturity and depth to the characterisation which goes beyond mere agitprop: society may be on the point of self-combustion, but this film betrays no appetite for the explosion. A vital, scalding piece of work. TCH

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32
Céline et Julie vont en bateau
Film

Céline and Julie Go Boating

Director: Jacques Rivette

Amateur illusionist Celine (Juliet Berto) and studious librarian Julie (Dominique Labourier) meet in a park and become practically inseparable — so much so that they can try on each other’s identities like best friends swapping favourite apparel. Celine is Julie, Julie is Celine, distinct yet interchangeable: In their varying guises, they dismantle all real-world attachments (a pompous boyfriend and a burgeoning magic career are playfully, hilariously tossed to the wind) so that they can focus on a fantasy. Director and co-writer Jacques Rivette conceived Celine and Julie as a light-comic breather following the heavy experience of the epochal, politically charged Out 1 (1971). Don’t let the extended running time dissuade you: This is the rare breezy three-plus hours that manages to explore heady concepts—from the malleability of personality to the fine line separating voyeurism and participation — without once feeling laboured. KU

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33
A Bout de souffle
Film, Thrillers

Breathless/À bout de souffle (1960)

Director: Jean-Luc Godard

Godard's first feature, adapted from an existing scenario written by François Truffaut, spins a pastiche with pathos as joyrider Belmondo shoots a cop, chases friends and debts across a night-time Paris, and falls in love with a literary lady. Seberg quotes books and ideas and names; Belmondo measures his profile against Bogart's, pawns a stolen car, and talks his girlfriend into a cash loan 'just till midday'. The camera lavishes black-and-white love on Paris, strolling up the Champs-Elysées, edging across café terraces, sweeping over the rooftop skyline, Mozart mixing with cool jazz riffs in the night air. The ultimate night-time film noir noir noir... until Belmondo pulls his own eyelids shut when he dies. More than any other, this was the film which epitomised the iconoclasm of the early Nouvelle Vague, not least in its insolent use of the jump-cut. CA

34
Le Boucher
Film, Drama

Le Boucher (1969)

Director: Claude Chabrol

Classically simple but relentlessly probing thriller, set in a French village shadowed by the presence of a compulsive killer. Some lovely Hitchcockian games, like the strange ketchup that drips onto a picnic hamburger from a clifftop where the latest victim has been claimed. But also more secretive pointers to social circumstance and the 'exchange of guilt' as Audran's starchy schoolmistress finds herself irresistibly drawn to the ex-army butcher she suspects of being the killer: the fact, for instance, that alongside the killer as he keeps vigil outside the schoolhouse, a war memorial stands sentinel with its reminder of society's dead and maimed. With this film Chabrol came full circle back to his first, echoing not only the minutely detailed provincial landscape of Le Beau Serge but its theme of redemption. TM

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35
Les Tontons flingueurs
Film, Comedy

Les Tontons flingueurs (1963)

Director: Georges Lautner

Homicides provide the punch lines in this classic gangster comedy. The trouble starts when dying mob boss “The Mexican” (Jacques Dumesnil) summons ex-gangster Fernand (Lino Ventura) to take care of some of his business, and as can only be expected, Fernand finds himself overwhelmed as the death count gets higher and higher. Adapted from the novel Grisby or Not Grisby by writer Albert Simonin himself, this film’s reputation has grown since its mediocre reception in the ‘60s and is now a staple of French-speaking television. BR

36
La Règle du jeu
Film, Comedy

La Règle du jeu (1939)

Director: Jean Renoir

Banned on its original release as 'too demoralising', and only made available again in its original form in 1956, Renoir's brilliant social comedy is epitomised by the phrase 'everyone has their reasons'. Centreing on a lavish country house party given by the Marquis de la Chesnaye and his wife (Dalio, Gregor), the film effects audacious slides from melodrama into farce, from realism into fantasy, and from comedy into tragedy. Romantic intrigues, social rivalries, and human foibles are all observed with an unblinking eye that nevertheless refuses to judge. The carnage of the rabbit shoot, the intimations of mortality introduced by the after-dinner entertainment, and Renoir's own performance are all unforgettable. Embracing every level of French society, from the aristocratic hosts to a poacher turned servant, the film presents a hilarious yet melancholic picture of a nation riven by petty class distinctions. NF 

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37
Les Valseuses
Film, Comedy

Les Valseuses (1974)

Director: Jean Renoir

Banned on its original release as 'too demoralising', and only made available again in its original form in 1956, Renoir's brilliant social comedy is epitomised by the phrase 'everyone has their reasons'. Centring on a lavish country house party given by the Marquis de la Chesnaye and his wife (Dalio, Gregor), the film effects audacious slides from melodrama into farce, from realism into fantasy, and from comedy into tragedy. Romantic intrigues, social rivalries, and human foibles are all observed with an unblinking eye that nevertheless refuses to judge. The carnage of the rabbit shoot, the intimations of mortality introduced by the after-dinner entertainment, and Renoir's own performance are all unforgettable. Embracing every level of French society, from the aristocratic hosts to a poacher turned servant, the film presents a hilarious yet melancholic picture of a nation riven by petty class distinctions. NF

38
A nos amours
Film, Comedy

To Our Loves (À nos amours) (1983)

Director: Maurice Pialat

15-year-old Suzanne (Bonnaire) seems unable to progress beyond a rather doleful promiscuity in her relations with boys. Alone of her family, her father (played by Pialat himself) understands her, but when he leaves home for another woman, family life erupts into a round of appalling, casual violence, until Suzanne escapes into a fast marriage, and finally to America. Pialat's methods of close, intimate filming may place him close in many ways to our own Ken Loach, but his interests are rooted in a very cinematic approach to personal inner life, rather than any schematic political theory. The message may be that happiness is as rare as a sunny day, and sorrow is forever, but a counterbalancing warmth is provided by Pialat's enormous care for his creations. The rapport between father and daughter is especially moving. CPEA

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39
The 100 best horror films, horror movies, Les Diaboliques
Film, Drama

Les Diaboliques (1955)

Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot

Devilishly suspenseful, Henri-Georges Clouzot’s thriller about two women who conspire to knock off a sadistic boarding-school headmaster (Paul Meurisse)  – one of the women is his wife, the other his mistress – has all the dark humour and clever tension of a Hitchcock. Simone Signoret as the peroxide-blonde mistress is the harder of the two would-be killers, while Véra Clouzot is shivering and simpering as the wife. It’s a great yarn, with a delicious twist (don’t be ‘diabolique’ and ruin the end for your friends, warn the end credits), as Signoret and Clouzot dispose of their victim but then must deal with creepy signs that their plan might be coming unstuck. Charles Vanel steals the show late on as a shambling, pre-Columbo detective, but the real star is Clouzot as director who maintains a sense of dread and mystery until the end by taking his shaggy-dog story deadly seriously. DC 

40
La Vie en Rose, best Netflix movies
Film, Drama

La Vie En Rose (La Mome)

Director: Olivier Dahan

It's almost as if we don’t need a biopic of Edith Piaf; her life was a movie already. Born into poverty, she was discovered on the streets of ’30s Paris, singing for her supper, precipitating a remarkable rise to fame and fortune. All that was missing in her life was love, yet her romance with French boxing champion Marcel Cerdan was to be tragically short-lived. It was the making and the undoing of her: the pain somehow lent her singing an even greater emotional intensity, at the price of a punishing intake of drink and pills. She died in 1963 a mere husk of a woman, old beyond her 47 years. String that lot together and you’ve got a showbiz story to rank with ‘A Star Is Born’ for sheer all-out melodrama. In ‘La Vie en Rose’, much creative energy seems to have been expended on figuring out how to tell the story in as flash a manner as possible, without quite marking out Piaf’s troubled essential self. TJ

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41
Mouchette
Film

Mouchette (1967)

Director: Robert Bresson

Adapted from a Georges Bernanos story, Mouchette describes the life and tribulations of a poor, barely mature peasant girl (played with sullen but affecting grace by non-professional Nadine Nortier), and remains a magnificent and deeply rewarding example of Bresson's stripped-down methods of cutting and framing, sound and dialogue, performance and movement. Mouchette's suffering has been read as religious parable, whereby her ostracism at school, the cruel neglect by her father, the insinuating glances of the villagers and her gruelling domestic duties stand for the Stations of the Cross. But whatever Bresson's spiritual intentions the film provides boundless examples of cinema at its most sublime. In his angry yet compassionate denunciation of a rural society corrupting and undoing an unorthodox angel by self-interest, immorality, alcoholism and spiritual bankruptcy, the director conducts you to the heart of life's paradox. WH

42
La Peau douce
Film, Drama

Silken Skin (La peau douce) (1964)

Director: François Truffaut

Those whose knowledge of French nouvelle vague linchpin François Truffaut begins with ‘The 400 Blows’ and ends with ‘Jules and Jim’ should seek out this steely 1964 study in the cruel mechanics of illicit love. Like one of Eric Rohmer’s ‘Moral Tales’ recast as a smouldering thriller, the film is marked by an intense, unromantic rigour absent in the director’s early work. It traces paunchy, middle-aged publisher and lecturer Pierre Lachenay (Jean Desailly) as he heedlessly ditches his loving wife and child so he can romp around the countryside with a coquettish air hostess (Françoise Dorléac). It’s conservative, as Truffaut views Pierre’s actions as immoral. But it’s more concerned with the logistics of love, asking whether the time and energy one must exhaust for a little something on the side is worth it. DJ

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43
Ma nuit chez Maud
Film, Drama

My Night with Maud (Ma nuit chez Maud) (1969)

Director: Eric Rohmer

Eric Rohmer’s 1969 work made his name outside of France and preceded enduring works like ‘Pauline at the Beach’ and ‘The Green Ray’. The film gives us Jean-Louis (Jean-Louis Trintignant), a dapper 34-year-old engineer with a good line in wry, toothy smiles who works for Michelin in Clermont-Ferrand. He’s lived in Canada and Chile, enjoyed a few girlfriends, but now he’s single, serious and more committed to his religion and future. He spies a young blonde, Françoise (Marie-Christine Barrault) at church, who he determines to marry. He follows her in his car, but she soon disappears and he bumps into Vidal (Antoine Vitez), an old friend and teacher at the local university. Vidal is an atheist and Marxist who has less rigid ideas about love and marriage, and their chat allows Rohmer to explore various ideas relating to life, relationships and our place in the world before (or perhaps in the absence of) God. DC

44
Maine Océan
Film, Comedy

Maine Océan (1986)

Director: Jacques Rozier

In Jacques Rozier’s iconic 1986 film, ‘Maine Océan’ is the name of the coral-hued train that runs along the coast from Paris to Saint-Nazaire, with Bernard Menez and Luis Rego at the controls. When a beautiful Brazilian dancer (Rosa-Maria Gomes) boards the train, speaking not a word of French, a discombobulated lawyer (also beautiful, played by Lydia Feld) offers her services as translator. One thing leads to another and the four find themselves on holiday together on the Île d’Yeu, an island off the Vendée coast, where desire gets mixed up with criminal doings and a few litres of alcohol. Reminiscent of Rozier’s earlier, career-making film 'Du Côté d'Orouët’, ‘Maine Océan’ occupies an equal, if not larger, place in Rozier’s oeuvre. It is the film in which his signature digressiveness proves the funniest, freest and most touching. CC

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45
migrate.6654.jpg
Film, Drama

The Beat That My Heart Skipped

Director: Jacques Audiard

Remaking James Toback's 1978 Fingers, director Jacques Audiard (Read My Lips) has turned the story of Tom (Duris), a petty Parisian crook specializing in real-estate swindles and classical piano, into a melancholy study of alienation and reinvention. The suspense derives not so much from whether Tom will pass an audition and become a concert pianist, but from whether he'll succeed in leaving behind the legacy of small-time wheeling and dealing he inherited from his father (Arestrup). Duris is a handsome performer who achieved success in popular comedies; here, he pulls off his part's perilous balancing act beautifully. EV

46
Plein soleil
Film, Drama

Plein soleil

Director: René Clément

In 1960, French filmmaker René Clément was first to adapt Patricia Highsmith’s 1955 novel ‘The Talented Mr Ripley’ – Anthony Minghella returned to it 40 years later with Matt Damon and Jude Law in the roles of Tom Ripley and Dickie Greenleaf, played here by Alain Delon and Maurice Ronet. Set in Italy, this sun-bleached, louche thriller, infused with a lively documentary style, tells how Ripley arrives from the US as an envoy of Greenleaf’s father, charged with bringing the rich, dissolute son back home. But Ripley’s growing infatuation with his wealthy friend turns murderous, and Greenleaf’s girlfriend, Marge (Marie Laforêt), is one of many caught up in a tale of deceit and desperation. Delon – impossibly beautiful, impossible to read, cold, cool – steals the film here, and the most powerful scenes are on Ripley’s yacht, when Clément allows himself most freely to indulge the story’s otherwise muted homoerotic edge. DC

Time Out says
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47
Série noire
Film, Drama

Série noire (1979)

Director: Alain Corneau

Although the setting is changed from Big City USA to the dismal, wintry Paris suburbs, this neo-noir retains the outline of Jim Thompson's source novel (A Hell of a Woman), following the trajectory of its door-to-door salesman until, with an almost audible 'Voilà!', he's deposited in an abyss of hopelessness - thief, triple murderer and not a sou to show for it. But the characterisations are turned on their heads. 'A hell of a woman' is here an enigmatically passive 17-year-old (Trintignant), while the weary hero is rendered hyperactive in Dewaere's tornado-strength performance, hysterical rages, comical monologues and all. BBA

48
777.fi.dvd.x491.nakedchildhood.jpg
Film

Naked Childhood

Director: Maurice Pialat

Pialat's first feature is a wonderfully delicate study of a ten-year-old boy and his decline into delinquency when boarded out with foster parents after being abandoned by his mother. With Truffaut as co-producer, comparisons with Les Quatre Cents Coups are inevitable, but there is really little resemblance between the two films except in theme and refusal to sentimentalise. Instead of focusing on the child, Pialat concentrates on the adults: the foster parents puzzled by the boy's delinquency since he so clearly responds to their affection; the ancient grandmother with whom he breaks through to a special relationship (very warm and funny); the welfare and adoption officers, carrying out their jobs with weary patience, but tending to treat the children as pets rather than as human beings. It's a film in which nuance is everything; amazingly, given that Pialat was working exclusively with non-professionals, the performances are stunning. TM

Time Out says
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49
Histoire(s) du cinéma
Film, Documentaries

Histoire(s) du cinéma (1998)

Director: Jean-Luc Godard

Godard’s ambitious, sweeping 8-part video project exploring, as per the pun in the film’s title, the “history,” “histories,” “story” and “stories” of cinema is often considered the most important work of his late career. Examining the history of the concept of cinema and its relationship to time over the course of a 266 minute run time, this film took the French master over a decade to make and isn’t recommended for the casual viewer. BR

50
La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc
Film, Drama

La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc (1927)

Director: Carl Theodor Dreyer

Dreyer's most universally acclaimed masterpiece remains one of the most staggeringly intense films ever made. It deals only with the final stages of Joan's trial and her execution and is composed almost exclusively of close-ups: hands, robes, crosses, metal bars, and (most of all) faces. The face we see most is, naturally, Falconetti's as Joan, and it's hard to imagine a performer evincing physical anguish and spiritual exaltation more palpably. Dreyer encloses this stark, infinitely expressive face with other characters and sets that are equally devoid of decoration and equally direct in conveying both material and metaphysical essences. The entire film is less moulded in light than carved in stone: it's magisterial cinema, and almost unbearably moving. TR

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51
Le Cercle Rouge
Film, Thrillers

The Red Circle (Le cercle rouge) (1970)

Director: Jean-Pierre Melville

Melville's special achievement was to relocate the American gangster film in France, and to incorporate his own steely poetic and philosophical obsessions. He described this, his penultimate film, as a digest of the nineteen definitive underworld set-ups that could be found in John Huston's picture of doomed gangsters, The Asphalt Jungle. Darker, more abstract and desolate than his earlier work, this shows, set piece by set piece, the breakdown of the criminal codes under which Melville's characters had previously operated. Even in the butchered version distributed in Britain (dubbed and cut to 102 minutes) it's worth seeing: the mood remains, as does the film's central sequence, a superbly executed silent jewel robbery in the Place Vendôme. CPE

52
Un chien andalou
Film, Drama

Un Chien Andalou

Director: Luis Bunuel

Prelude: a young woman sits compliantly as Buñuel takes a razor and slices her eye open. What follows is a documentary rendering of the dream state, of dream logic; and/or a surrealist exposition involving, for example, a swarm of ants, underarm hair, a striped box, all addressing each other opaquely; and/or a Freudian sexual smorgasbord, with everything symbolising something else; and/or a contrivance by two ambitious young Spaniards to offer as much outrageousness as an artistic alibi can cover. And so on. Originally a silent, but three soundtrack versions are around, one containing the original (disc) accompaniment of Tristan and Isolde plus a tango, the others with specially composed scores by, respectively, Mauricio Kagel and Martin Matalon. BBA

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53
Pickpocket
Film, Comedy

Pickpocket (1959)

Director: Robert Bresson

Released in the same year as Godard’s ‘Breathless’ (1959) and filmed on the same sun-dappled Parisian streets, Bresson’s mid-career tale of the mysterious operation of grace and redemption on the fate of a young thief is considered by many to be his masterpiece. Newcomers to Bresson’s films may be surprised to hear that this is perhaps his most optimistic, open, sensuous and sexually charged film, given its dark Dostoyevskian subject matter. Bresson’s actors – ‘models’ – are non-professional and strictly coached; but there is no mistaking the orgasmic pleasure that sweeps the face of indolent, penurious student Michel (Martin LaSalle) as he succeeds on his first ‘dip’ at Longchamps racecourse; nor his despair as his world begins to fall apart. Bresson’s goals were deep; to sweep away the dross of expectation and viewing conventions by means of a purified cinema. CA

54
Comment je me suis disputé (ma vie sexuelle)
Film, Drama

My Sex Life… Or How I Got Into An Argument (1996)

Director: Arnaud Desplechin

Arnaud Desplechin’s comedy about a doctoral student (Mathieu Amalric) approaching thirty, plagued with self-doubt, is a hallmark of ’90s French cinema. Paul Dédalus is slowly realising that, as Gainsbourg wrote, ‘physical love is a dead end’. But beyond the film’s titular concerns (My Sex Life), its strength is in its surprising progression. Paul’s self-absorbed narrative branches out into a network of polyphonic plot lines, introducing a cast of neurotic and touching characters – all seeking, finding or avoiding each other in 1990s Paris.    

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55
Les Parapluies de Cherbourg
Film, Drama

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

Director: Jacques Demy

In the garage where he works, Guy (Nino Castelnuovo) plans a trip to the opera. His colleague is unimpressed: ‘All that singing’s a pain – I prefer movies.’ ‘The Umbrellas of Cherbourg’, it’s safe to say, would not be for him: every line of dialogue (including his own complaint) is sung to Michel Legrand’s melodious songbird score. That’s not to say Jacques Demy’s 1964 favourite is an exercise in whimsy: it might start in the key of blissful romance – between gorgeous Guy and Catherine Deneuve’s luminous Geneviève, daughter of the widowed proprietress of the titular shop – but it stealthily proceeds to such mundanities as teenage pregnancy, conscription and lives divergent. Like ‘Billy Liar’ – made around the same time – ‘Umbrellas’ makes escapist play with the stuff of kitchen-sink social realism. BW

56
La Grande Vadrouille
Film, Comedy

La Grande Vadrouille (1966)

Director: Gérard Oury

Gerard Oury is the uncontested king of French popular comedy and, with 17 million tickets sold its opening weekend (a record that was only broken by Titanic in 1998), ‘La Grande Vadrouille’ is, without doubt, his greatest and most enduring work. Chock full of now-classic scenes (Bourvil and Louis de Funès whistling in a Turkish bathhouse or disguised as Nazis, moseying about the French countryside), the film is now such a fixture in France’s cultural imagination that it’s hard to remember the audacity of the original project: to make a comedy set during (and in) World War II, in 1966, when the war itself was still something of an open wound in the national consciousness. Most astonishingly, Oury’s expansive, multi-genre comedy (by turns witty, situational, absurdist and burlesque) refuses to take the more obvious, patriotic line, lampooning Nazis and the French resistance alike.

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57
Le Roman d'un tricheur
Film, Comedy

The Cheat (Le roman d'un tricheur) (1936)

Director: Sacha Guitry

At age 12, our hero is sent to bed supper-less for stealing eight sous. When he wakes up his entire family is dead from food poisoning, leading him to conclude that dishonesty and survival are intimately linked. We follow his subsequent career as thief and card sharp (Guitry demonstrates a few tricks for us). The peculiarity of the narrative is that it forgoes dialogue in favour of a non-stop commentary by the author. This allows Guitry to pack the soundtrack with elegant witticisms, though rather leaving the actors stranded on occasion. But it's quite unique, with the hero's ruthlessness paralleled by Guitry's own in never letting anyone else get a look in. Borchard's tiresome score is the only really dated element. BBA

58
Delicatessen
Film, Fantasy

Delicatessen

Director: Marc Caro et Jean-Pierre Jeunet

The near future: taking a job and a bedsit at a shabby rooming-house above a butcher's shop, ex-clown Louison (Pinon) falls for the butcher's daughter. But her father, unhappy about the blossoming romance, deals in human flesh: will Louison fall victim, or will the Troglodistes, an underground group of vegetarian fanatics, come to his rescue? On to this slim story, writer-directors Jeunet and Caro pile a wealth of delicious comic detail. Each grotesquely larger-than-life inhabitant of the scrofulous tenement has his own little story; visually, the film evokes Gilliam, Lynch, the Coens and Carné, but the allusions never get in the way of the nightmarish humour. The sets, special effects, photography, pace and performances all contribute to the brash comic-strip vivacity, and even the fairytale romance avoids sentimentality. Increasingly inventive as it progresses, Jeunet and Caro's fast, funny feature debut entertains from sinister start to frantic finish. GA

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59
Best animated movies: Le roi et l
Film, Animation

The King and the Mockingbird

Director: Paul Grimault

The result of a long collaboration (and tortured production history) between animator Grimault and the respected screenwriter Jacques Prévert, this animated cartoon tells of the downfall of the king and kingdom of Tachycardia. Drawing upon ideas and images as different as Fritz Lang's Metropolis and the writings of Hans Christian Andersen, the film is distinguished by stylish graphics and an elegant visual and verbal humour that is guaranteed to appeal to all tastes and ages. The characterisations are a delight, and if the pace is occasionally as stately as the Tachycardian royal title (King Charles V-and-III-makes-VIII-and-VIII-makes-XVI), it merely allows more time to gape at the architecture of Tachycardia, a cool collage of Venetian canals, Bavarian castles, and New York tower blocks that is vast, monolithic, and truly vertiginous. FD

Time Out says
60
Une chambre en ville
Film, Drama

Une chambre en ville (1982)

Director: Jacques Demy

Although one of Jacques Demy’s final films, ‘Une chambre en ville’ had been in the works for several decades before it was finally produced in 1982. The action unfolds in Nantes (where Demy spent much of his childhood and adolescence), against the backdrop of the historic 1953 workers’ strike; and yet, the film is essentially a love story between a steelworker (Richard Berry) and an aristocrat (Dominique Sanda). Demy’s second musical film after ‘The Umbrellas of Cherbourg’, ‘Une chambre en ville’ once again demonstrates the director’s ability to whip even the most banal and formulaic story into a sublime frenzy of kitschy songs and dialogue, luscious costumes and scenery. This improbable film – set during one of France’s greatest workers’ uprisings – is pure excess, an explosion of colour, sound and feeling. CC

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61
Napoléon
Film

Napoléon (1927)

Director: Abel Gance

Bambi Ballard's 2000 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. Despite its simplistic view of Napoleon himself - seen from childhood to the fascistic start of his empire-building as a 'man of destiny', guided through hardships and loneliness by his 'inner eagle' - the film is completely vindicated by Gance's raving enthusiasm for his medium. All of the brilliant experiments with film language remain potent, from the montages of flash-frames to the bombastic poetry of the triptych finale; even the gags are still funny. To see this with Carl Davis' score (lashings of Beethoven) played live is an almost unimaginably thrilling experience. TR

62
Je t’aime, je t’aime
Film, Fantasy

Je t’aime, je t’aime

Director: Alain Resnais

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). Indifferently he agrees, is whisked through a suburban no man's land to a laboratory, and - accompanied by the mouse as an experienced travelling companion - sets off on his weird, fairytale trip through time, only to become hopelessly lost. As the scientists frantically try to trace their missing guinea-pig, fragments of his past surface momentarily, recurringly. Beautiful, tranquil, but increasingly menacing clues to a love affair with a girl he may or may not have killed. One of Resnais' most underrated explorations of the tone of time and memory. TM

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63
Le Goût des autres
Film, Comedy

Le Goût des autres

Director: Agnès Jaoui

Castella (Bacri) is an industrialist, married, who in his own world, is king. A dutiful trip to the theatre is a revelation. It's not the play which moves him, but the lead actress, Clara (Alvaro). Neither young nor especially glamorous - she's stuck in subsidised theatre - Clara touches him so deeply, she opens up horizons he's never dreamed of: a world of art, literature, philosophy and beauty. A critical and popular hit in France, Le Goût des autres (literally, 'Other People's Taste') is a culture clash comedy with the emphasis on 'culture'. Agnès Jaoui aims for the droll slow burn, subtle ironies and wry observation. The film works as a one-sided love story, yet finds time to flesh out half a dozen peripheral characters, each in his or her own way as lovelorn and alone as the industrialist. TCH

64
La Chienne
Film, Drama

La Chienne (1931)

Director: Jean Renoir

M Legrand (Simon), a mild-mannered, middle-aged cashier, paints 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, setting her up in a flat which he fills with his paintings. Lulu, who loves only her pimp Dédé (Flamant), uses Legrand as a milch-cow, and when his money runs short, starts selling his paintings as her own (with the Sunday painter ironically unaware that his work is now much sought after). Freeing himself finally from his wife, Legrand arrives at the flat, only to realise that Lulu is still bedding Dédé... That is, a glorious experiment in, and exploration of, the nature of cinema. Wonderfully moving, with great performances. Remade by Fritz Lang as Scarlet Street. WH

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65
Un Prophète
Film

A Prophet (2009)

Director: Jacques Audiard

For Jacques Audiard (‘A Self-Made Hero’, ‘The Beat That My Heart Skipped’), a master of the old-school French thriller, his fifth film offers the chance to pull off both a state-of-nation primal scream and a terrific crime flick. He gives us Malik (Tahar Rahim), a French-Arab convict who enters a concrete-and-steel hell to serve a six-year sentence. Corsican inmates rule the roost, led by ageing but vicious César (Niels Arestrup), who forces Malik to kill another inmate in an exceedingly disturbing episode. Malik is now César’s vassal, working for him on the inside and, later, using a series of day-release excursions to represent his criminal interests on the outside. But Malik is a clever individualist and he learns to read and write and exploits a friendship with another (released) French-Arab prisoner to pursue his own drug deals and invest in a power base within the jail. It bullies and persuades you to love Audiard's filmmaking style. DC

66
La Beaute du Diable
Film, Fantasy

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 is a turgidly literary cocktail of escapist fantasy and Sartrean engagement, which could not even plead the excuse of Carné's comparable Les Visiteurs du Soir of having been filmed during the Occupation. (A colour and detail-enhanced IMAX version restores a previously omitted 11-minute song-and-dance number. GAD

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67
Loulou
Film, Comedy

Loulou (1980)

Director: Maurice Pialat

‘Loulou’ is a challenging, absorbing example of the awkward beauty of the late Maurice Pialat. It’s a keenly observed, naturalist, semi-improvised ‘slice-of-life’, set in the post-Women’s Lib Paris of the late 1970s, depicting class- and culture-clashing passion. A young accountant (a still-flushed-cheeked Isabelle Huppert, in one of her most sensual and mysteriously protean performances) leaves her incredulous, angered bourgeois husband for an earthy, unemployed petty ex-con (a superbly equine and cocksure Gérard Depardieu). It seems dated, but on a deeper level, it’s part of the influential Pialat’s audacious, experimental attempt to intersect the too-often parallel lines of inquiry of realist and ‘spiritual’ cinema – imagine an unholy marriage of, say, Cassavetes and Bresson. ‘Loulou’s’ non-judgemental insights into such universal concerns as happiness or love for others may seem initially too voyeuristic – but, beware, they have a tricky habit of haunting you long after it has ended. WH

68
Un Conte de Noel
Film, Drama

A Christmas Tale (2008)

Director: Arnaud Desplechin

It may 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), who’s treating family ties as a business arrangement and calling in a genetic favour: this distant matriarch has the same disease that years ago killed her first son by her older, softer husband Abel (Jean-Paul Roussillon) and now she wants one of her three adult kids, Elizabeth (Anne Consigny), Henri (Mathieu Amalric) or Ivan (Melvil Poupaud) to donate blood marrow to increase her chances of survival. For Desplechin, Junon’s crisis is an excuse to explore endless family rifts, hidden desires, past traumas and emotional diversions. The effect flits between the wearying and engrossing, as some storylines and characters work far more than others. DC

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69
La Piscine
Film, Drama

La Piscine (1968)

Director: Jacques Deray

Four characters. A Mediterranean villa. Sun, sex and… suspicion. The ingredients are fairly simple in this star-powered psychological thriller which has remained underexposed outside of France. This is a deliciously languid, slinkily unsettling affair. Romy Schneider is all feline elegance and sphinx-like intelligence as the girlfriend of brooding wastrel Alain Delon. Their erotically charged St Tropez sojourn is interrupted by the arrival of flamboyantly smug Maurice Ronet with teenage jail-bait daughter Jane Birkin in tow. Little is said, but past indiscretions hang in the air. The ’60s trappings and jazz-meets-psychedelia score are treasure enough in themselves, but it’s Deray’s beady concentration on the pointed silences and angled looks which really turn the screw. Bourgeois-scum Claude Chabrol territory, essentially, but done with a more commercial eye for showing off Schneider and Delon’s bronzed curves. TJ

70
Du côté d'Orouët
Film, Comedy

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. With its trio of teenage sirens – who spend most of the film sauntering about the coastal town in their underwear, listening to psychedelic pop or engaged in trivial banter – the film evokes Rohmer’s moral tales, although it is appreciably less austere. Produced by channel FR3 and filmed in 1969 as a TV movie, 'Du Côté d’Orouët' is a small masterpiece of levity and improvisation, a sweet, sensual gem of a film.

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71
Le Plein de super
Film, Comedy

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 among four men forced to share a station wagon. Even in its more surreal or cinematic moments, ‘Fill ‘er Up With Super’ feels incredibly fresh, authentic and uncensored; made like a shoestring documentary (with the director, camera and sound guys squeezed into the car’s backseat), it’s a heady, poignant artefact of ’70s filmmaking. CC

72
Sauve qui peut (la vie)
Film, Comedy

Sauve qui peut (la vie) (1979)

Director: Jean-Luc Godard

Godard's return to celluloid after a decade of video is in one sense forced: his finances were drying up, and he himself admits that the film was made as a passport back into the business. But in another, this is his most personal work in years, less important for its return to narrative (the story of two women and a man joined in almost arbitrary ways) than for its chilled sense of autobiography - Dutronc plays an egotistical, washed-out video film-maker called 'Godard'. This is a confessional fantasy about a generation of men now in middle age, alienated from their sexuality, dissatisfied with their 'commerce', and unwilling to cope with a new sexual/political order. It would be hard to imagine a more courageous project; harder still to find one executed with the kind of wit and haunting elegance that have made Godard so revered. CA

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73
L'Âge d'or
Film, Comedy

L'Age d'Or

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, a scabrous essay on Eros and civilisation, wherein a couple is constantly prised apart from furious love-making by the police, high society and, above all, the Church. Financed by the Vicomte de Noailles, a dream patron who loyally pronounced the film exquisite and delicious, even as right-wing extremists were pelting it with ink and stink bombs, this is a jagged memento of that Golden Age before directors forgot the art of filming erotica (the celebrated toe-sucking is sexier by far than almost anything since), the revolutionary avant-garde lost its sense of humour, and surrealism itself fell prey to advertising-agency chic. SJO

74
migrate.29186.jpg
Film, Thrillers

Le Doulos

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. At the heart of this ambiguous world is Silien (Belmondo), by repute a professional informer, who juggles twin friendships with a police inspector (Crohem) and a burglar (Reggiani). Just out of jail, afraid he can't cut it in the underworld anymore, involved in an act of revenge that leaves him with a nasty taste in his mouth, Reggiani finds Crohem lurking in ambush when he undertakes his next job. Terrific performances, and equally terrific camerawork from Nicolas Hayer - more gris than noir - conjure a rivetingly treacherous, twilit world. TM

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75
Coup de torchon
Film, Comedy

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. Transferring the action from the American Deep South to French West Africa in the late '30s, Tavernier elicits a characteristically colourful performance from Noiret as the manic but outwardly easy going slob of a cop who initiates a private vendetta against the town's more obnoxious citizens by resorting to murder. Strange insights into the effects of racism and the complicity of its victims, embellished with black wit and an elegant visual sense. GA

76
La Cité des enfants perdus
Film, Fantasy

The City of Lost Children

Director: Marc Caro et Jean-Pierre Jeunet

A child smiles 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. The opening of another of Jeunet and Caro's forays into the fantastique is the perfect introduction to what's essentially a hugely inventive blend of dream, fairytale and myth, and to a strange, sinister sea-girt world that functions according to its own crazy logic. After his infant brother is abducted by a gang of semi-robotic Cyclops, strong-man One (Perlman) journeys to unite with feisty 9-year-old orphan Miette (Vittet) and go to the sea-rig laboratory inhabited by the evil Krank (Emilfork), his six cloned brothers (Pinon), their diminutive 'mother', and Uncle Irvin, a sardonic brain floating in a fish tank. Extraordinary. GA

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77
Peur sur la ville
Film, Action and adventure

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, crashing through plate-glass windows of high rise buildings while suspended from a helicopter, etc. But desperately little of the film's energy goes into a plot that combines a settling of an old score with a hunt for a one-eyed killer who strangles loose women. CPE

78
Le Grand détournement / La Classe américaine
Film, Action and adventure

Le Grand Détournement / La Classe américaine (1993)

Directors: Michel Hazanavicius et Dominique Mézerette

In 1993, Warner Bros. authorised Canal+ to use clips from WB’s back catalogue, resulting in Canal+'s ‘Le Grand Détournement’, one of the weirdest, most hallucinatory films of all time. An absurd montage, combining hundreds of clips from a dozen American movies (including ‘Jeremiah Johnson’, ‘All the President’s Men’ and ‘Rio Bravo’) this surreal film is surprisingly entertaining, mostly because writer-directors Michel Hazanavicius and Dominique Mézerette really push the idea to extremes:  all dialogue has been absurdly rewritten and dubbed back into French.The nonsensical plot follows three reporters (Newman, Hoffman and Redford), all investigating the death of George Abitbol (John Wayne), described as ‘the classiest man in the world’. Silly and meandering, the film is a loose parody of Citizen Kane and although for legal reasons it has never been sold on VHS or DVD, Le Grand Détournement has slowly gathered a following, achieving cult-comedy status in France. CC

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79
La Collectionneuse
Film, Comedy

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, declining to become specimens, decide to take her moral well-being in hand. In the 18th century game which Rohmer transposes to a contemporary setting, this pair can be seen as intellect trying to dominate instinct, but only succeeding in rousing unwanted passions. Wryly and delightfully witty. TM

80
India Song
Film, Drama

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: the 'drama' is entirely aural (a play of off-screen voices blending with Carlos d'Alessio's utterly compulsive score), and the elegant visuals counterpoint it by creating an atmosphere of sumptuous enervation. Many will find it fascinating, not least because its sense of stifled anguish emerges without the least hint of aggression in the style. TR

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81
La Femme infidèle
Film, Comedy

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. The obligatory cross-references are still there (blood in the sink; the exactly appropriate final use of simultaneous backtrack and forward zoom adapted from Vertigo), but they're no longer there to legitimise a vision now mature. Audran and Bouquet, as the first of Chabrol's recurring Charles/Hélène couples, are superb in discovering 'secret' parts of each other denied as much by complacency as convention. PT

82
L'Esquive
Film, Comedy

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. But what makes it all so interesting is that Lydia’s practising a Marivaux play, so Krimo – against all expectations, including his own – takes up acting opposite her and gradually the whole movie begins to resemble a transplanted Marivaux play, which throws a fascinating light on the kids’ somewhat primitive sexual politics. Strong but subtle stuff. GA

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83
Les Vampires
Film, Action and adventure

Les Vampires (1915)

Director: Louis Feuillade

1915: Slaughter at Gallipoli; first use of gas on the Western Front; Lusitania sunk. This serial saga (in 10 episodes) follows a band of robbers whose principals include Satanas, who keeps a howitzer behind the fireplace and a bomb under his top hat, and Irma Vep, the notorious anagram, to whom Olivier Assayas rendered homage 80 years later. There's a hero (a resolute reporter), but all the interest goes to Irma and Co - their heists, their feuds with a rival gang and with the agents of law and order, all conducted by means of slaughter, gassing and sinking. There's a comic strip aspect, a roundelay of disguises, kidnappings, secret codes and acrobatic getaways. It's possible to overstate the extent to which all this is a bunch of fun: if shown, as it often is, in one great unnatural marathon, it can be sheer torture. Best viewed on tape. BBA

84
Les Baisers de secours
Film, Drama

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. She exacts revenge by bedding a stranger and the couple separate. The director seeks advice from his father (played by Garrel’s actual father) and eventually reconciles with Jeanne for the sake of their child (seven-year-old Louis Garrel). In a work of cinematic autofiction, Garrel provides a voluminous inventory of human feelings, while managing to avoid navel-gazing or excessive pathos. With dialogues by writer Marc Cholodenko and a jazzy saxophone score by Barney Wilen, the ‘Les Baisers de Secours’ has all the spontaneity and cool sensibility of a Cassavetes flick.

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85
La Vie de Jésus
Film, Drama

La Vie de Jésus

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. Essentially it's a work of low key 'realism' in the Bressonian tradition (albeit less obviously 'spiritual'), though it includes odd touches, such as the local marching band's unexpectedly dissonant music, and a couple of brief sequences (involving body doubles) so sexually frank they look like out-takes from Ai No Corrida. Perhaps strangest of all is that the protagonist's girlfriend seems for most of the film to be the only young female in town, but that's a very minor criticism when compared to writer/director Dumont's tough, confident handling of mood, milieu, pace, performance and theme. GA

86
Le Plaisir
Film, Comedy

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. La Maison Tellier, the longest episode, deals with a day's outing for the ladies from a brothel, and a brief romance. In Le Modéle, the model in question jumps from a window for love of an artist, who then marries her. Although Ophüls had to drop a fourth story intended to contrast pleasure and death, these three on old age, purity and marriage are shot with a supreme elegance and sympathy, and the central tale in particular luxuriates in the Normandy countryside. The whole is summed up by the concluding line, that 'happiness is no lark'. DT

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87
Panique
Film, Drama

Panique (1946)

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.

88
Film, Drama

The Night is Young

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 whose plan to steal a serum that will cure an AIDS-like disease is complicated by the deadly rival strategies of a wealthy American woman, and by Alex falling for the young mistress of a fellow gang-member (Piccoli). Again Carax's virtues are visual and atmospheric rather than narrative; while the script may occasionally smack of indulgent pretension, there is no denying the exhilarating assurance of individual sequences, and the consistency of Carax's moodily romantic vision. The film is, finally, affecting, thanks to a seemingly intuitive understanding of colour, movement and composition, and to an ability to draw from earlier films without ever seeming plagiaristic. GA

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89
Sans soleil
Film, Documentaries

Sans Soleil

Director: Chris Marker

Imagine getting letters from a friend in Japan, full of images, sounds and ideas. He has a wry and very engaging sense of humour, is a movie fan, used to be an activist (though was never much into 'ideology'), and is thoughtful and very well read. He wants to tell you stories, but he can't find a story big enough to deal with his sense of contrasts, his wish to grasp fleeting moments, his recurring memories. Above all he hopes to excite you, to share his secrets with you, to consolidate your friendship. Now stop imagining things and go to see Sans Soleil, in which Marker, the cinema's greatest essayist, sums up a lifetime's travels, speculations and passions. Among many other things, his film is the most intimate portrait of Tokyo yet made: from neighbourhood festivals to robots, under the sign of the Owl and the Pussycat. TR

90
Monsieur Klein
Film, Drama

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. Investigating this, he becomes aware of a mysterious Jewish alter-ego bearing the same name. Though they do not meet, Klein finds the other impinging increasingly on his life, even living in his flat when he's not there. The confusion of identities forces Klein to defend himself against a charge of being Jewish. Predictably, the film ends with his deportation; quite unaccountably, Losey makes this a deliberate choice, as Klein purposely avoids the lawyers bringing the evidence which can release him, a piece of fatalism which resolves nothing whatsoever. Sadly, Losey's determinedly enigmatic treatment turns a potentially very interesting theme into cheap mystification. AS

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91
The 100 best horror films, horror movies, the tenant
Film, Thrillers

The Tenant

Director: Roman Polanski

With Polanski becoming a naturalised Frenchman, it was logical that he should start tackling French subjects, and this small-scale return to the territory of 'Repulsion' seemed a promising beginning. The tenant (Polanski himself) takes over a gloomy Parisian apartment from a suicide victim, and soon finds himself at the centre of a real or imagined conspiracy that pushes him into assuming the identity of his predecessor. The twist is that the last tenant was a girl, and our nervous, virginal hero's exploration of his latent bisexuality hits the one new note in an otherwise formulary catalogue of bizarre coincidences, inexplicable appearances, and hints of the supernatural. Everything except the dubbing of the French supporting cast is a model of craftsmanship, but as the plot escalates into increasingly arbitrary excesses of fantasy and heads for the predictable pay-off, the movie looks more and more like a potboiler. TR

92
Le Feu follet
Film, Drama

Le Feu Follet

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 who, upon leaving a clinic, visits old friends in the hope that they will provide him with a reason to live. They don't, and Malle's achievement lies not only in his subtle but clear delineation of his protagonist's emotions but in his grasp of life's compromises; his portrait of Parisian society is astringent, never facile. A small gem, polished to perfection by an unassuming professional. GA

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93
Caché - Binoche
Film, Drama

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. Georges and Anne Laurent (Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche) are a wealthy, middle-class couple who are ostensibly paragons of the Parisian intelligentsia. We watch as the pair agonise over sinister CCTV sent anonymously to their apartment. For the Laurents, it’s the start of a horrific upset that mirrors the disturbing breakdown of familial comfort that characterised Haneke’s ‘Funny Games’, ‘Time of the Wolf’ and ‘Benny’s Video’. The tapes and the flashbacks, we are led to believe, are linked and Georges becomes convinced that the videos are connected to an Algerian, Majid. Haneke crafts the fabric and routine of the couple's life with cold precision, only to upset their habits violently at regular intervals but to interpret ‘Hidden’ any more literally is to miss the point.

94
Les Vacances de M. Hulot
Film, Comedy

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, although in comparison with, say, Keaton, Tati's cold detachment from his characters seems to result in a decided lack of insight into human behaviour. But at least in contrast to later works like Playtime and Traffic, there's enough dramatic structure to make it more than simply a series of one-off gags. GA

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95
Un Air de famille
Film, Comedy

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, but otherwise it's a fresh and unassuming treat. Based on Bacri and Jaoui's award-winning play, the film avoids staginess, less through studied adjustment, than by naturalistic observation, delicately turned characterisation and confident performances. Pity, however, about the 'silent' dreamy flashbacks. NB

96
Vincent, François, Paul et les autres
Film, Comedy

Vincent, François, Paul et les autres (1974)

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. CC

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97
Le Trou
Film, Drama

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, courting reality, avoiding music in favour of natural sound, constantly stressing the sheer physicality (warders' hands laconically slicing foodstuffs in search of hidden files, prisoners' hands feverishly hacking at the unrelenting stone). Yet there is more than a touch of Bresson (even more, however, of Becker's mentor Renoir) to the close-ups which punctuate the evolving relationship between the escapees and their final discovery of a sort of forgiveness for their betrayer. Classical in its intense simplicity, this is certainly Becker's most perfectly crafted film. TM  

98
Remorques
Film, Drama

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, and Morgan again entering the movie trailing clouds of sadness behind her; and Fassbinder's Querelle - though this one's set in the real Brest, grey and wind-lashed, but still, cinematically, one of the capital cities of desolation. Remorques was begun in summer '39, shut down when war was declared and finished during the Occupation. Sometimes, as when Morgan contemplates the dead starfish which Gabin has given her, it feels precisely like the last European movie of the 1930s. BBA

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99
L'Homme de Rio
Film, Action and adventure

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. Handsomely shot on location in Brazil, with Belmondo as the cheerfully indestructible hero who cliffhangs, climbs buildings, imitates Tarzan, parachutes almost into the jaws of a crocodile, and does his best to cope with the enchantingly unpredictable Dorléac (late lamented sister of Catherine Deneuve). The dubbing in the transatlantic version isn't too disastrous. TM  

100
Enter the Void
Film, Thrillers

Enter the Void

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. ‘Enter the Void’ is Noé’s third feature and it’s a kinetic attempt, with added special effects, to capture the spirit of a city, Tokyo, and a dead young American, Oscar (Nathaniel Brown), whose ghost floats about in a vaguely Buddhist manner after being shot dead by cops soon after smoking the drug DMT. Death – and maybe the DMT – cause Oscar to revisit the events leading to his death. The seedy is the everyday. Much about ‘Enter the Void’ is rotten. The acting stinks. Noé drops facts like lead balloons, but you have to admire Noé’s ballsy vision and loopy execution, and the way he sucks you into this world with such a bold fusion of sound and image. DC

Time Out says

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