We’ve noticed you skipping the French film section on Netflix to catch up on the latest episode of Black Mirror, and we can hardly blame you. However, you might be surprised and/or pleased to know that French films are more accessible than they have ever been anywhere in the world.
Since the arrival of streaming media and platforms such as Netflix and Amazon Prime, everybody seems to be glued to their screen day in and day out, watching comedies, dramas, thrillers, adventure movies or sometimes just binging baking shows. Don’t judge us. There’s truly something for everybody.
When one thinks of French movies, the Festival de Cannes or Jean Dujardin immediately spring to mind. That’s because the French cinema industry has shaped film-making around the world, thanks to the talent of its directors and the versatility of its actors. Did you know that France was actually the birthplace of the big screen? Indeed, the Lumière brothers shocked the world when they sent a giant train towards audiences in one of the earliest moving pictures on record.
So if you are learning, want to learn French – or simply curious about French culture – don’t miss out on these classics to improve your command of the langue de Molière – whoever that may be. Don’t worry about it, this article is about movies anyway. Without further ado, here’s our list of some of the best French films to learn French:
1) Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain (2001)
Released in 2001, this quirky French RomCom set in the Montmartre district of Paris follows a young waitress who becomes a guardian angel to those around her. This light-hearted movie will make even the most stoic or robots tear up, and make you want to head to Paris on the next Eurostar (or plane or boat – we don’t discriminate). We recommend Amélie as a French movie to watch for beginners, but it’s also great for intermediate learners, as the dialogues are relatively easy to follow. It’s a great point of entry to the French language if you ask us. You’ll come to love Audrey Tautou’s immaculate French accent all whilst immersing yourself in authentic Parisian culture.
2) Le Roi et l’Oiseau (1980)
This animated feature film created by French poet Jacques Prévert follows two lovers seeking to escape from a tyrannical king who rules a megalopolis called Takicardia. The 90-minute French gem is both touching and memorable, and contrary to popular belief, it is fit for all ages. The abundance of cultural and historical references makes Le Roi et l’Oiseau a must-see for learners of the language: from King Louis XIV of France (the one who lived in a modest Palace in Versailles) to the neo-Sacré-Coeur-like castle, the references in the movie are noteworthy and plentiful. Clear and authentic French accents are featured throughout the film.
3) Le Brio (2017)
Hailing from the suburbs (« la banlieue”) of Paris, Neila enrolls in the prestigious Panthéon-Assas University in the hopes of becoming a lawyer, but on her first day, she is humiliated for being late by venerated professor Pierre Mazard. Thus begins a love-hate relationship between Neila and Mazard, who is forced coach Neila in the annual “concours d’éloquence”, a rhetoric competition. Elegant, fluent and persuasive French dialogues are at the very core of the movie. Le Brio is the perfect film to highlight the differences between informal and formal French. Whilst Pierre uses sophisticated turns of phrases and vocabulary, Neila’s lines are filled with colloquial expressions and idioms, and both styles imbue the film with resonance.
4) Les Choristes (2004)
When Clément Mathieu, a new music teacher arrives at the Fond de l’Etang boys’ school (literally the “Bottom of the Pond”), he decides to introduce his troubled pupils to singing. He soon realizes that what the children needed most in their lives was music. Les Choristes will improve both your vocabulary and pronunciation with its clear dialogues. As most of the movie is set in a school, you’ll mostly hear children speaking (and singing). Warning: you may be singing the soundtrack for a while after seeing the film, or even before if you’re a pre-cog.
5) La Môme (2007)
Learning French and getting up close and personal with Edith Piaf? Yes please. The 2007 Oscar-winning drama starring Marion Cotillard has achieved critical acclaim worldwide. Throughout the movie, you’ll be exposed to authentic and comprehensible French, a very useful combination to practice your listening skills and train your ear. Fear not, as all of the artist’s songs come with subtitles. We promise that pronouncing the much-feared letter “r’ will be a piece of cake at the end of it. Her signature song La Vie en Rose will remind you why you started learning French in the first place.
6) La Famille Bélier (2014)
Set in a remote Normandy village, this gripping drama tells the story of a deaf family with a 16-year-old hearing daughter, Paula (played by French singer Louane), who decides to join a choir and discovers she has a hidden talent for singing. The movie is bursting with Frencher-than-life songs. Our favorite? The Je vole cover (originally sung by Michel Sardou). This movie is a great way to learn French and very handy to expand everyday vocabulary. But, as in life, if you find things getting too tricky, add subtitles.
7) Disney classics (1928 – onwards)
From Aladdin to Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame to Snow White, it seems there isn’t anything you can’t learn with Disney cartoons. His timeless animated movies have been translated and dubbed in more than 50 languages, and French is no exception. The variety of accents, characters, stories, situations and topics means you’re bound to find a film which appeals to you. Even though lipreading isn’t an option, chances are you’ve already seen some of the movies in English – you’ll understand dialogues much faster and learn vocabulary effortlessly!
8) Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis (2008)
While this movie nearly went unnoticed outside of France, it was critically acclaimed on its home turf. Post office manager Philip abandons sunny, southern France to take up a job in the gloomy town of Bergues (Nord-Pas-de-Calais region). Regional French culture including food, language, and pastimes) are well represented in this 100-minute comedy starring beloved French actor and comedian Dany Boon. The movie is very useful in distinguishing the subtleties of French accents, especially the Northern dialect of France “Ch’tis” (hence the title) and the southern accent of Marseille. The film can be challenging for non-advanced learners of French, as the Ch’tis accent can result in confusion – they add many “ch” sounds, (pronounced “sh”) to words that normally include an “s”. Even the simplest of French questions, “ça va ?” can become an adventure.
9) Yves Saint Laurent (2014)
“S’habiller est un mode de vie.” (“Dressing is a lifestyle”). From a language, cultural and aesthetic point of view, the 2014 biopic Yves Saint Laurent is a must-watch for any French learner (and fashion mavens). Relive the rise and fall of the French haute-couture icon (played by Cesar-winning actor Pierre Niney), from his upbringing in Algeria sketching his mother’s dress closet, to his rise to stardom and his love affair with Pierre Bergé. Thanks to this compelling movie, not only will you learn new vocabulary centered around fashion (amongst others), but you’ll also be able to work on your pronunciation.
10) Les Triplettes de Belleville (2003)
If there’s one film you should watch exclusively in its original version, Les Triplettes de Belleville is it. The plot revolves around Madame Souza and her grandson Champion. When Champion is kidnapped by a mysterious « French mafia », Madame Souza goes looking for him and winds up in the fictional city of Belleville, where she teams up with the « Triplets of Belleville » a trio of eccentric sisters. Calling this film « weird » is an understatement – oddball, spooky and unearthly are more appropriate terms. As far as language learning is concerned, there is very little dialogue, as the narrative is mainly conveyed through songs and pantomimes. The original score and soundtrack feature brilliant examples of jazzy French melodies.
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