Trying to be Conscious: Beyond Amélie - a French film guide
Cécile's guide to the best of French cinema.
Want to be a culture snob and impress your friends with your deep knowledge of French cinema? Hate mainstream stuff and wish you were a hipster? Loved Amélie and want more of the same? Then this guide to my favourite French movies is for you!
Amélie is great but if it’s the only French film you’ve ever seen, you need to broaden your horizons. So here is a compilation of my favorite French movies (although it’s unfortunately limited to the ones that you’ll find easily with English subtitles). Not only do I guarantee they’re all absolutely worth watching, but there’s also a little lesson to learn in each of them. No need to thank me - I aim to please.
Priceless (A tout prix)
Why I love it: Priceless is the French romantic comedy par excellence- funny, light-hearted and charming. People often tell me I look like Audrey Tautou so I enjoy seeing her at her best, like in Priceless. When I met Nick, my fiancé, he mentionned being in love with Audrey Tautou because of this movie. I thought: “It’s in the bag! He’s gonna fall in love with me if he likes that type of girl.” If he’d said he was in love with Heidi Klum, I would have had to give up.
What you’ll learn: this movie reveals the secrets of French charm and seduction. Audrey Tautou will teach you how to confuse your lover with distant gazes and unfinished sentences. Success guaranteed.
I Do (Prète-moi ta main)
Why I love it: I Do is an adorably twisted French comedy starring Charlotte Gainsbourg, the quintessence of French nonchalence and coolness. It’s also funny and charming, just watching the trailer again made me laugh out loud. The dynamic between the two main characters reminded me of Harry and Sally.
What you’ll learn: that while telling the truth is always the best way to handle a situation, scheming and lying leads to more unexpected and comical outcomes.
The Dinner Game (Le Dîner de Cons)
Why I love it: it made me cry happy tears of laughter and snort popcorn through my nose and slap my thighs in delight. It’s a bit old now and Nick thinks it’s a mean story but I giggle pretty much non-stop every time I see it.
What you’ll learn: that it can be funny to be mean. That the fool of the story is not necessarily the one you thought. You’ll also understand why even French idiots make fun of the Belgians - their accent sounds ludicrous.
Romantics Anonymous (Les émotifs Anonymes)
Why I love it: the English translation doesn’t reflect the meaning of the movie at all! It should be called “Emotionals Anonymous” as the characters don’t suffer from romanticism but from overwhelming emotions. Romantics Anonymous is not a flash Hollywood love story, just two moderately attractive people with lots of issues connecting through their mutual weirdness. It made me laugh AND cry at the same time which is a precious state to be in. Also, the main character wears a green coat, just like me!
What you’ll learn: sometimes, people act in a weird way. It could be that they’re mean or stupid or insenitive. But maybe they’re just extremely emotional and don’t know how to deal with it, so they just try to shut their emotions down and keep them bottled-up.
Why I love it: it’s highly entertaining, romantic and funny. The story made me question the relationship I was in at the time.
What you’ll learn: that the French are really good at making romantic comedies without getting cheesy or sappy. Heartbreaker is another proof that French cinema is all but boring. Must see!
Love lasts Three Years (L’amour Dure Trois Ans)
You may have to wait a little bit for this recent movie to come out in DVD with English subtitles but it’s not to be missed!
Why I love it: beautiful actors, interesting soundtrack and impossible love story. The cinematography is modern and tells the story in unexpected ways - as bubbly and refreshing as Champagne.
What you’ll learn: that marriage and even love were invented by advertising companies to sell us more stuff (we never consume as much as when we’re getting married - and divorced). That adultery leads to adulthood. That men will always be more excited by the new girl than by the girl they have. Even if their wife is the most beautiful woman. But that even knowing all that, we fall in love over and over again.
Intouchables and The Artist
I’ll finish my list with the two huge successes from last year: Intouchables and The Artist. If you haven’t seen these movies yet, go for it! They deserve every bit of the buzz they’ve created.
Why I loved it: it made me want to stop talking and start expressing myself with smouldering looks, winks, smiles and little dances. The actors and the dog managed to display a wide range of soundless emotions. It’s just an hour and a half of sheer visual bliss.
What you’ll learn: that silent movies are cool and that there are many ways to express an emotion.
Why I love it: watching Intouchables put me in an emotional trance that can normally be induced only by ingesting chemicals. I came out of it feeling good.
What you’ll learn: that friendship is powerful and might even save your life. So be kind to your friends and grateful to have them.
Cécile is a French girl who decided to settle for a while in Zürich after trying New York for a year. When she is not teaching French to the Swiss, she sits in cafés for long hours and writes. You can find her writings on her blog Trying to be Conscious and now on Expatica. Enjoy!
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