Vive La France!

by Martin Hafer

Of all the lists of “best” French films I’ve happened upon over the years, I’ve found they’ve suffered the same major problems. Firstly, most of the lists seem to think French filmmakers didn’t start making movies until the New Wave Movement began at about 1960, yet there are many wonderful pre-1960 films out there just waiting to be discovered. Secondly, too many of these lists are crammed with movies that are so artsy and incomprehensible that the average film-fan would simply give up on even attempting to understand. And who could blame them?! The best example I can think of is Un Chien Andalou. It’s an ultra bizarro film by Salvador Dali and Luis Buñuel with no coherent plot. The film culminates with a guy taking a straight razor to an eyeball … close up!! Many consider it among the best film ever made! I just think the folks who made it might have forgotten to take their medication! To give you an idea of just how “out there” and incohereant this film actaully is, you can view it on YouTube here. I’d be very interested to hear from you on how long you managed to sit through this oddity.

Ultimately, I’m trying to create a list that the average, yet open-minded person can enjoy. I say open-minded because some people just won’t watch a film with captions. And this is something I have a hard time understanding, because they’re missing some of the greatest films ever to grace the silver screen because of this mindset. So many wonderful films have been made all over the planet and not watching them is a huge loss.

List #2 Here

Trying to select a mere 10 from so many wonderful films is no easy task, and even though French movies are among my favorite, I can’t possibly watch every film they make! Moreover, because I know there are far more than just 10 great French films that could be listed, I’ll be bringing you further articles where I’ll share with you more French films that I’ve seen and hold in high regard. So, here is the list that’s in no particular order, and if you find yourself disagreeing with any of the choices I’ve made, or feel I’ve missed out a film that should be part of the article, please add your comment below. I try to respond to all comments.

1) La Balance (1982, Bob Swaim): The title refers to a ‘squealer.’ When an informant is killed, the police decide they need another–and they’ve chosen to make Dede one whether he wants to be or not!

Why I loved it: The car scenes are just insanely good.  About as good as the stuff you see in The Italian Job!  Tough and exciting throughout–it’s one of my favorite French films even though I normally don’t like action movies.

2) The Butterfly (2002, Philippe Muyl): This is the story of an old butterfly collector who just wants some peace and quiet when he goes on an outing to find an elusive butterfly. Too bad an annoying but adorable little girl stows away in his car and won’t give him a moment’s peace!

Why I loved it: The interaction between the old man and the child is priceless.  Additionally, don’t skip the final credits as they sing the most delightful duet!  It’s bound to make you smile.

3) Beauty and the Beast (1946, Jean Cocteau): While not nearly as well known as the Disney version, this is a version of the classic French tale that anyone could love, though it seems more focused towards an adult audience.

Why I loved it: The artistry of this one is amazing.  You just have to see it for yourself…it’s magical!

4) Tati Danielle (1990, Étienne Chatiliez): Aunt Danielle is the meanest old lady you could imagine–and then some! Plus, she does it with such style!  This comedy is extremely dark…and incredibly funny.

Why I loved it: When the film was being marketed, the posters bore the wonderful tagline “She hasn’t met you, but she hates you already!”

5) My Father’s Glory (1990, Yves Robert): Taken from Marcel Pagnol’s autobiography, this is the first of two amazingly well made and lovely films about his childhood in pre-World War I Provence.

Why I loved it: Characters!  This film is made up of so many wonderful people who seem real and who you really come to love.  It’s so good, you’ll soon rush out to get the sequel….

6) My Mother’s Castle (1990, Yves Robert): This is the sequel to My Father’s Glory and, believe it or not, it’s even better!

Why I loved it: If you love a good cry, watch the epilogue.  It will have you rushing for the Kleenex–especially since it’s all based on real people.  It might also push you to read Pagnol’s autobiography–which is terrific, by the way.

7) Delicatessen (1991, Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet): This is a dark sci-fi comedy. A strange young man moves into an even stranger apartment complex that holds a secret…his new neighbors are planning on eating him!

Why I loved it: Cannibalism should not be funny, but this film is a riot and even better than Eating Raoul.  Plus the direction and set design are both amazing.  What a treat!

8) Bob the Gambler (1956, Jean-Pierre Melville): Most people in the States don’t realize it, but once we were done making dark crime films (film noir), the French began making them. Many were every bit as good as the best of the Hollywood versions.

Why I loved it: I love just about everything Melville made and he’s my favorite French director.  His anti-hero, Bob, is smooth, clever and destined to failure and you just can’t stop watching.

9) Le Million (1931, René Clair): There is a winning lottery ticket and it bounces from one person to another to another. While the sound is not great in this musical, it is very enjoyable.

Why I loved it: The fun factor.  You cannot watch this without smiling.  I dare you!

10) Purple Noon (1960, René Clément): If you’ve seen any of the Mr. Ripley films (starring such folks as John Malkovich or Matt Damon), this film began them all and my favorite of these movies.

Why I loved it: The writing.  Again and again, this film kept me guessing and Alain Delon was great in the lead.

Let me know what you think about this list.  What movies would you include that I haven’t and what films did I completely overrate?  C’mon, don’t be shy.