FRENCH LANGUAGE FILMS I RECOMMEND
a list I made for a coworker the other day. I know it's heavily skewed towards the New Wave, but those films HOLD UP, okay. and if you suggest Amelie you are dead to me. in chronological order because ranking things stresses me out.
- •The 400 Blows, Truffaut (1959)For most intents and purposes, the first film of the French New Wave. The story is simple and sad and charming and hopeful, the cinematography feels exciting even by today's standards. A classic for a reason. More accessible than some others on this list, too.
- •Hiroshima, mon amour, Resnais (1959)Helped announce the New Wave along with the previous film on this list. I don't have enough characters to get into why this movie is great but I'll try: strikingly beautiful cinematography, a story that is equally beautiful and engrossing and haunting. Fantastic performances, female screenwriter, infusion of docu style into narrative, plays with temporality. Not a light watch by any means, but well worth it.
- •Breathless, Godard (1960)Where we get the idea that stereotypical French films are all about attractive people smoking cigarettes and wearing stripes and laying in bed and talking about nothing. Cool and quotable and fun and sad. Jean Paul Belmondo! Jean Seberg! Godard's love of movies is palpable when you watch this. You can tell he's so stoked to be making one himself.
- •Last year at Marienbad, Resnais (1961)Gonna go out on a limb and say this is the least accessible film on this list. I felt like I had no idea what I was watching when I first saw this, but I decided it was cool and I loved it. If you are into unreliable narrators and shifting perceptions of time and narrative and loud organ music, this might be your jam.
- •Cléo from 5 to 7, Varda (1961)The only female director on this list/of the French New Wave! A lovely, quiet movie with commentary on, among other things: war, vanity, celebrity, feminism, love, life, and death. Which...sounds horrible and cliched, but really isn't. I promise. This movie is wonderful and you should watch it.
- •Jules and Jim, Truffaut (1962)This film might be called Jules and Jim, but it's really all about its female lead, Catherine, and it knows it. Jeanne Moreau is incredible in this story about complex relationship set against the backdrop of a war.
- •Band of Outsiders, Godard (1964)Like Jules and Jim, this is kind of a story about a love triangle. Not as moving as Jules and Jim, it's more of a cool, fun watch. If nothing else, should be mandatory viewing for the diner dance scene alone. Also Anna Karina!
- •Alphaville, Godard (1964)A weird, low-budget neo-noir sci-fi hybrid. I don't really think anyone would call this essential viewing but it's cool and different and fun.
- •Pierrot le fou, Godard (1965)My favorite Godard film! For all of the intentional artifice (which is cool and I love) and modernism, there are some really poignant thoughts about love in here. There's also a fun song, and also Jean Paul Belmondo and Anna Karina romping around the riviera.
- •Belle de Jour, Buñuel (1967)This film sort of knocked me out the first time I saw it. I just couldn't believe I was actually watching what I was watching. That opening sequence?! I also love that you're never even 100% sure if what you're watching is "real" or not, and either way it's irrelevant. God bless Luis Buñuel, and Catherine Deneuve, and good old fashioned Catholic repression.
- •Diva, Beineix, (1981)Do you love Parisian mob stories? Conspiracy theories and corruption? Bicycle delivery boys? Cassette tapes?Opera? Boy, do I have the film for you! I know my Dad is cool because when I told him about watching this movie in a college French class, he told me he saw it in theaters when it came out.
- •La haine, Kassovitz (1995)A dash of Do The Right Thing meets 90s Paris and a healthy dose of New Wave influence. This film is cool and intense and complicated and just fucking good.
- •Tell No One, Canet (2006)Of the films on this list, I have somehow seen this one the most, I think. Just a really, really solid and well-acted thriller. Keeps your attention and keeps you guessing.
- •Paris, je t'aime (2006)Just kidding! I've seen this one the most. A bunch of short films set in different arrondissements of Paris. A beautiful love letter to the city and its culture and its art and its stories. My favorite segment changes all the time.