10 Great French Movies

Saturday, March 12 by Karen Murdock

If you haven’t seen these 10 great French movies, you are missing out on some of the finest films ever made. Each of these great French movies represents a major achievement in cinematography, acting, directing, writing, soundtracks—or all five combined. Whether classic or modern, tragic or comic, these movies should make your list of must-see films.

  1. “Jean de Florette” – This great French movie tells the story of a rural landowner scheming to steal water from his neighbor’s property. With superb acting by Gerard Depardieu as “Jean de Florette” and outstanding cinematography, it was both a commercial and critical success. It won four BAFTA awards and scored a Golden Globe nomination for Best Foreign Language Film.
  2. “Au Revoir Les Enfants” – Director and writer Louis Malle based this film on actual events from his childhood, which explains why this great French movie packs such an emotional punch. A child attending boarding school in France witnesses a Nazi Gestapo raid, during which Jewish teachers and students are deported to Auschwitz. The film won seven Cesar Awards and earned Academy Award nominations for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Writing.
  3. “The 400 Blows"French director Francois Truffaut once declared that he was not interested in “films that do not pulse.” This film about a Parisian teen descending into a life of crime most definitely “pulses.” In fact, Roger Ebert described this great French movie as “one of the most intensely touching stories ever made about a young adolescent.” But you don’t have to take Ebert’s word for it; it also scored an Academy Award nomination for Best Writing.
  4. “Elevator to the Gallows” – Director Louis Malle makes the list of ten great French movies once again with his film-noir directorial debut. In this film, a man murders his lover’s husband but gets trapped in an elevator attempting to cover up the crime. Criterion describes the jazz soundtrack by Miles Davis as “legendary.”
  5. “Breathless” – No list of great French movies would be complete without a film by legendary director Jean-Luc Godard. A key member of the French “New Wave” movement in cinema, Godard’s debut film “Breathless” rewrote “the rules of narrative, continuity, sound and camera work,” according to the “New York Times.”
  6. “Too Beautiful for You” – The thought of a great French film brings to mind beautiful French actresses. This great French movie turns the idea of beauty upside down, when leading man Gerard Depardieu finds himself more attracted to his plain-Jane secretary than his beautiful wife. It won the Grand Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival.
  7. “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie” - Nobody pokes fun at the bourgeoisie like the French, and this great French movie by Jean Renoir is no exception. Spinning a surreal tale about a bourgeois dinner party, it won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.
  8. “The Rules of the Game” – French director Jean Renoir tells the story of a bourgeois hunting party, dissecting aristocratic society as only a great French movie can. The Harvard Film Archive describes this French film masterpiece as a “balanced mixture of farce and brittle irony.”
  9. “Three Colors: Blue” – This great French movie is part of a trilogy exploring the three aspects of the French national motto: liberty, equality and fraternity. In this movie, a widow attempts to find “liberty” by starting a new, independent life. “Blue” was nominated for three Golden Globes, including Best Foreign Language Film.
  10. “Delicatessen” – The French are known for their elegant cuisine, so imagine a post-apocalyptic world in which people are so desperate for food they trade it like currency. With its plot about a delicatessen owner scheming to butcher his maintenance man, this great French movie was nominated for a BAFTA award. 
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