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The 100 best French films: 50-41

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


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...

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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...

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Naked Childood (L'enfance nue) (1968)

Director: Maurice Pialat

Among the seismic innovations of the French New Wave, it’s easy to gloss over the unsentimental approach of a movie like Franois Truffaut’s The Four Hundred Blows. Youth itself seemed to be being discovered (onscreen, at least)...

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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!'...

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Plein soleil (1960)

Director: René Clément

René Clément and Chabrol's collaborator Paul Gégauff got hold of Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr Ripley decades before Wim Wenders laid hands on the novelist's psychopathic protagonist in The American Friend...

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The Beat That My Heart Skipped (2005)

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...

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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...

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

Director: Eric Rohmer

Six months after the death of Eric Rohmer at the age of 89, the BFI is re-releasing a good-looking new print of ‘My Night with Maud’, the French filmmaker’s 1969 work which, a decade into his slow mutation from Cahiers critic to director...

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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...

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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...

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