The subject of French cinema is a lot to tackle. It is without doubt, the home of some of the greatest films ever made, and many of the best actors to ever perform before a camera. It will need at least two posts on its own at a later date, but here are five film recommendations, just to get you started.
Le Samourai. This 1967 film, shot in Paris, gives you two of the best; the director, Jean-Pierre Melville, and the lead actor, Alain Delon. In this production, they are both seen at the very top of their game. The moody direction and lighting from Melville, the coolest acting style of ‘less is more’ from Delon. The clothes, the hats, the cars, all scream 1960’s, and urban cool. The very good-looking Alain Delon out-cools every actor of his time, in the role of the lonely hit man. It is not about Japanese Samurai, as I fear that the title may mislead. This is merely a euphemism for the rigid rules that Delon’s character lives by, in the shady underworld of Parisian low-life he inhabits. He even drives a Citroen DS, so I admit to bias. Stylish, minimalistic, and with an excellent Jazz soundtrack, this is one of my favourite films of all time. This is the trailer.
I’ve loved you so long. Starring an English actress, Kristen Scott Thomas, speaking perfect French, this 2008 film won a Bafta, yet is never shown on TV, and relatively unknown in the UK. It is about family relationships, reconciliation, and tacking conflicting emotions. It is just an amazing film, with acting of unsurpassed quality, and I guarantee that it will move you, almost like no other. Here is the official trailer, with subtitles in English.
The Hairdresser’s Husband. A film directed by Patrice Leconte in 1990, and starring the wonderfully expressive Jean Rochefort, an actor who could only ever be French. If you read the synopsis of this film, you are likely to give it a miss. The lifelong obsession of the lead character, with the ambiance of Ladies’ hairdressing salons, seems an unlikely story to provide entertainment. You would be wrong though. It is a complete delight, from start to finish, and the quirky performances and restrictive sets, just add to the magic. With lead performances from Rochefort, and the delightful Anna Galiena, that can only be described as flawless. An absolute gem. Here is a short clip of the wedding scene.
Nikita. It wouldn’t be a list of French recommendations without including something from Luc Besson, and this 1990 thriller is one of his best. Ignore all the remakes, and terrible TV spin off, this is the real deal. In the title role, of petty criminal, turned killer, then trained assassin, Anne Parillaud excels. And she is good to look at too. Tcheky Karyo (amazing name, but French) as her cruel mentor, Bob, gives a performance of menacing authenticity. You even get the Grande Dame of French Cinema, Jeanne Moreau, thrown in for good measure. With a pacy feel, high tension set pieces, and a believable plot, given the subject matter, you simply cannot go wrong with this one. Here is a good scene, with subtitles in English.
La Bonne Annee. Another one of my favourites, this 1973 film stars the late Lino Ventura, as a con-man reflecting on his life, and a previously bungled jewel theft, seven years earlier. Told mostly in flashback, this gentle film exudes quality every time Ventura is in a scene, and is one of my fondest memories of watching a film in French. Add to this the fact that it is written and directed by Claude Lelouch, one of the greatest French directors, and you have a winning pedigree that will not disappoint. Here is a short clip, in French.
OK, I know. No sign of Catherine Deneuve, Gerard Depardieu, Yves Montand, or Vincent Cassell. An absence of French New Wave, and the omission of Jean Renoir, Bardot, Belmondo, and many more. They are all in my head somewhere, and will appear on a post one of these days. I hope that you find something to enjoy in this short list.