Best French-language movies for learners – Part 1
Welcome to our today’s post! If you are reading this, it means that for some reason you have decided to join the huge family of 270 million French speakers around the world.
Whether for personal, academic or professional purposes, learning French will become your best ally when trying to open up a new whole world of opportunities and adventures.
History of French cinema
It’s impossible to talk about French language movies without talking about the history of cinema.
The world owes France, and specifically Paris, the birth of this magnificent form of expression.
On 28 December 1895, the Lumière brothers projected in the Boulevard Des Capucines (Paris) the first motion pictures in the history of cinema.
The Lumière brothers were two French inventors and researchers who created the first machine that gave birth to cinema: the cinematograph. The cinematogaph was the first motion-picture camera and projector.
The attendants to the Lumière brothers’ projection watched a short, black and white film about workers leaving their factory called “Employees Leaving the Lumière factory”.
It is said that when the brothers were presenting their first short films viewers panicked: when they watched their short film about a train entering the station they hide behind their seats.
After that, movies began to be recorded unstoppably. The French companies Pathé and Gaumont were rapidly the main producers and movie distributors in Europe, that also helped to develop cinema in the United States. Until the Second World War, French cinema was a huge success and it had playwrights and directors as important as Marcel Carné, Jean Renoir and Sacha Guitry.
The period in French cinema that came after the Second World War, known as La Nouvelle Vague, gave birth to a new way of portraying reality. The movies recorded in that period focused on individual characters living in a not so dreamy-like world. The motif was to examine reality from a critical perspective.
During the 70s, the French cinema absorbed concepts from north-American cinema and adapted it to the European concepts and traditions. From the 70s onwards, French movies will keep succeeding with tragicomedies and outstanding actors and actresses.
After this fruitful history lesson, we have selected 8 French-language movies from different times for all French learners decided to step up and discover a new way of learning French:
1. La Règle du Jeu (The Rules of the Game) – 1939
La Régle du Jeu is considered by many critics and directors as one of the greatest movies in the history of cinema. This masterpiece from 1939 was directed by Jean Renoir, the second son of the well-known impressionist painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir.
Jean Renoir said that “the subject was one of the greatest goals I’m drawn to since I make movies, to unite people”. Setting the story at the end of 1930, the plot delves into a group of bourgeois going to a chateau to enjoy a party and hunting weekend. All kinds of cheating, adultery, murder… but publicly keeping up appearances.
The movie is a satire of upper-class members of French society in comparison to their servants. A comedy-drama portraying the immorality, despotism, and callousness of French bourgeoisie at the onset of World War II.
2. La Grande Illusion (The Grand Illusion) – 1937
La Grande Illusion is another masterpiece from French cinema. Dating from 1937, it was directed by Jean Renoir. It is as well considered one of the greatest movies of all time, chosen in the Brussels Film Festival in 1958 as one of the best six movies of all time. It was also ranked by the magazine Empire in the 35th position in “The 100 best films of world cinema”, in 2010.
The movie portrays a bunch of French prisoners staying in a concentration camp in Germany during the First World War. The movie does not depict war and its horrors, those wounded or battles. The movie takes a deep insight into human nature and elaborates on a delicate, egalitarian cry for freedom and peace. The focus is on beauty, to let mankind reflect on what is lost among the pain, the suffering, and war. The movie dissipates social classes in a context where mutual understanding appears among men who deep inside, are all the same.
3. Jules et Jim (Jules and Jim) – 1962
This French movie directed by François Truffaut is considered one of the most representative movies of the La Nouvelle Vague period. It is based on the semi-autobiographical novel with the same title by Henri-Pierre Roché.
Set during the time of World War I, it depicts a tragic love triangle between the French bohemian Jim, his Austrian friend Jules, and Jules’ girlfriend Catherine. The main theme underlying the movie is the conflict between friendship and love, a love that makes the characters mere blinded puppets consumed by a burning passion.
The movie has received critics for the traditional social roles imposed on every character: the woman is depicted as capricious and childish who plays manipulative games on both men.
4. Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles – 1976
This Belgian movie dates from 1976 and was directed by Chantal Akerman. The movie tells the story of a widowed young housewife that lived with her son: Sylvain. While the son is at school, she takes care of the house chores and receives clients during the afternoons. Daily and mechanically, we see a woman devoted to her son who engages in prostitution to support her family economically.
In one of the movie scenes, the boy tells his mother: “If I was a woman, I couldn’t sleep with someone I didn’t love” to which the mother replies: “You couldn’t know, you are not a woman”. The hardness, sorrow, and loneliness of a young woman portrayed in a single sentence.
As the movie director Chantal Akerman said, this is a feminist movie. Shows how it is to be a woman, and it is not so much about what it says, but what it represents. The things that are usually not shown, that we try not to see.