10 French Films that are not Amelie
Studies have found that regularly watching foreign films and TV shows is one of the most successful means of studying a language. Even if at first you can’t understand a word, you’ll soon enough start to pick up whole sentences.
Personally, I’m a huge fan of this method of language learning. If you intend on watching the same foreign film until you can follow the dialogue without subtitles, however, you have to find a film that you’ll want to come back to time and again.
Here are my top 10 favourite French films that have helped to build my confidence in the language — and which aren’t Amelie.
La Grande Vadrouille (The Great Stroll)
This 1966 French classic was the most successful French film for 40 years and remains today the fifth most popular French film of all time.
When a British plane crash lands in occupied Paris during WW2, two Frenchmen (Bourvil and de Funès) find themselves reluctantly shielding and reuniting the plane crew from the occupying Nazi army.
Starring French comedians and actors Louis de Funès and André Bourvil alongside British comedy actor Terry Thomas, La Grande Vadrouille is the perfect bilingual film for French studies, as the language barrier between characters means there is always someone on screen to translate, mime and clumsily stumble through an unfamiliar language as two nationalities attempt to communicate.
Cléo de 5 à 7 (Cleo from 5 to 7)
In this classic by the late Agnès Varda, we meet Florence "Cléo" Victoire, a singer, as she waits until to hear the results of a medical test that will possibly confirm a diagnosis of cancer. Vardas expertly explores the subjects of grief, mortality, existentialism, and finding joy in times of hardship.
While by no means a light film and it should definitely include a trigger warning, it’s certainly a film that will leave its mark, and I personally find myself drawn to it time and again.
À Bout de Soufflé (Breathless)
One of the most famous French films of all time, À Bout de Soufflé (known internationally as ‘Breathless’), is a crime drama written and directed by the great Jean-Luc Godard. Starring Jean-Paul Belmondo as a young criminal and Jean Seberg as his American girlfriend, this is another bilingual film perfect for language learners.
After stealing a car in Marseille, Michel (Belmondo) shoots and kills a persuing policeman. On the run from the law, Michel flees to Paris, turning to his girlfriend Patricia, who hides him in her apartment, unaware of his crimes.
While Seberg speaks French beautifully, her speech is easier to follow than native French, and throughout the film we witness very believably natural conversations between a Frenchman and an American who isn’t fluent, making this an easier film to follow for beginners/intermediate learners.
Vivre Sa Vie (My Life to Live)
The second of Jean-Luc Godard’s films to feature on this list, Vivre Sa Vie tells the story of Nana (portrayed by the amazing Anna Karina), a young Parisian woman who has left her husband and young son in the hopes of pursuing a career as an actress.
However, she soon finds herself struggling to afford the rent alone, and, determined not to return to her husband, she turns to prostitution to make ends meet.
Intouchables (The Untouchables)
Another of France’s most popular films of all time, Intouchables (which, I must begin, is considerably better than the American remake), this multi-César-winning comedy-drama stars François Cluzet and Omar Sy as quadriplegic multi-millionaire Philippe and Driss, a young man who is abusing the welfare system to avoid work.
When Driss attends an interview to be Philippe’s new caregiver, he has no intention of finding employment, hoping only to gain a signature to prove that he is attending job interviews in order to continue receiving welfare. However, he is hired despite his lack of interest or experience as a caregiver. What follows is a hilarious friendship blossoming between two outcasts of society.
This is an especially wonderful film for those of an intermediate-advanced level, looking to learn more about colloquial and slang French.
Les Quatre Cents Coups (The 400 Blows)
Returning to French New Wave, this François Truffaut film introduces us to Paris of the 1950s. We follow the fragmented youth of Anthony Doinel, a boy who routinely plays truant, and finds himself in trouble when he does attend school, going as far as to lie about his mother’s death to excuse his truancy. Eventually, he runs away from home, stealing a typewriter to finance his plans to leave, as his life continues to take a series of wrong turns, landing the boy into deeper and deeper trouble.
This animated adaptation of the world-famous Graphic Novel of the same name by Marjane ‘Marji’ Satrapi, this multilingual film (available in four languages; English, French, German, and Persian) tells autobiographical film tells the story of Marji during her childhood in Tehran during the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Her family struggles to navigate the precarious political landscape of the Revolution while attempting to shield their outspoken daughter from harm.
Belle du Jour
In this 1967 film by director Luis Buñuel, Séverine Serizy (wonderfully portrayed by Catherine Devenue) is a beautiful young housewife, happily married to a man she loves. However, she finds herself unable to be physically intimate with her husband, despite their devotion to each other, and so she explores her sexual fantasies (involving domination, sadomasochism, and bondage) by working as a high-class prostitute while her husband is at work; an arrangement that is begrudgingly accepted by her doting husband.
Portrait de la jeune fille en feu (Portrait of a Lady on Fire)
The most recent film on this list, Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a historical romantic drama by Céline Sciamma, starring Noémie Merlant and Adèle Haenel. Set in 18th-century France, it tells the story of a passionate affair between an aristocratic French woman (Haenel) and the female portrait artist (Merlant) who was commissioned to paint her portrait, entitled ‘Portrait de la jeune fille en feu’ (Portrait of a Lady on Fire).
C’est quoi cette famille ?! (We are Family)
One of the funniest French films I have ever seen, C’est quoi cette famille ?! is a 2016 French comedy film directed by Gabriel Julien-Laferrière.
The family of thirteen-year-old Bastien is far from conventional. Both of his parents have been married and divorced several times, thus, Bastien’s family consists of “a number of parents” and many half-siblings, who are constantly moving between the various homes of their parents. Tired of this arrangement, Bastien comes up with an innovative idea where the kids will live together in one place and, instead, the adults will be the ones doing the weekly rotations.