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The following films demonstrate the incredible depth of French language films over the decades. Just glance at the directors names that are listed below. Crikey!
I'm sure Criterion will continue to add to their impressive French language offerings, and this list will continue to grow as I see new releases. Nice to see Michael Haneke in the collection, and Jacques Rivette now as well. I'm hoping Jean Eustache, Jaques Audiard, and Philip Garrel will make an appearance soon.
This list focuses on less celebrated films because the most well known films can certainly speak for themselves. You all probably know them already. These films here, I think they could use a little promoting.
Based on the 1957 novel "Oms en série" by Stefan Wul, one could call this a reverse anthropomorphic film, since humans are the pets, the playthings on the planet Ygam.
I'm so happy to see this affecting, creepy, imaginative film added to the Criterion Collection. The design work of Roland Topor is just so special. Watch the trailer. I dare you not want to see this film.
First off, one must bring up Jacques Tati, as he and Etaix both made stylish, inventive, genteel comedies of the highest quality. Both act in the lead roll of their films, both like sight gags, dead-pan, and are influenced by silent film comedies. Etaix was a Tati collaborator before venturing into making his own films. Etaix actually designed the byzantine house of M.Hulot in "Mon Oncle". Chances are if you like Tati, you should check out the Etaix.
Having now watched all the Etaix films, I think Le Grand Amour is his best. The scene with the bed(s) featured in the Criterion header photo, showcases Etaix's imaginative approach to comedy perfectly.
In the Introduction to the film, Etaix explains that he had gone through a divorce that really knocked the wind out of him, and that was an impetus for doing a film on marriage troubles. Famed screenwriter, and longtime friend/collaborator Jean-Claude Carrière helped write the script for Le Grand Amour, based off Etaix's first draft.
Haneke's fifth feature film, "Code Inconnu" is his first French language film.
It has a fractured structure, with long takes that end abruptly, rather than a traditional narrative. There are 3-4 main story lines that intersect here and there. I have seen it twice now, and find it to be a very effective picture. Modern urban life, and France's multi-cultural struggles are on display as the main themes of the film.
There is no score to most of the film, but drumming is used late in the picture to great effect. Oh, and the deaf kids that bookend the film, my take is it symbolizes our ongoing struggle to communicate well with each other.
I know many adore her work, but Chantal Akerman's films have not been up my alley. She was a minimalist in the extreme, and I found her work sometimes unwatchable. "Anna's Meetings" worked very well for me though. It's a good example of perservering in exposing oneself to celebrated directors that don't seem to be up one's alley, paying off.
"Anna's Meetings" made me think of a mixture of Bresson's sombre actors, Wender's road films, and some of Karismaki's (and Roy Anderson's) aesthetic. This film is wonderfully shot by Jean Penzer, gorgeous stuff from start to finish.
More happens than in all the other Akerman films I've seen. There are a number of great actors in the main roles: Jean-Pierre Cassel, Aurore Clément, Lea Massari, Helmut Griem. I did find some of the dialogue stilted, but what is being said is usually quite interesting.
It's just an excellent, top notch thriller by Clement. I just watched it for the second time and was even more impressed with the high level of craft and taste this film possesses. Be sure to watch the extras on this disc. The Denitza Bantcheva interview is pure gold.
This is the same story as "The Talented Mr. Ripley".
All the "Six Contes Moraux" films deal with variants of a man who has a woman in his life, or even just one on his mind, but is then tempted by another woman. It is amazing the variety Rohmer gets out of this theme, as the six films do not strongly resemble each other. Yes, they are all dialogue heavy, but the basic setup and characters vary greatly, and so do the results.
The naturalness, and insouciance of the lovely Haydée serves as the main catalyst in this film. She upsets the summer serenity of two male friends when she rooms at the same seventeenth-century villa on the Riviera as them.
This setup is not played as a farce, or a romance. It is presented in a very understated, realistic manner. This is a key element of what is so insightful, fascinating, and atypical about the "Six Contes Moraux" films.
There are so many great moments of ambivalence and self-delusion in the main character Adrien towards Haydée. The gap between what we say we are, and who we actually are is also one of the main themes of Eric Rohmer.
No one does talky, intellectual relationship pictures like Rohmer, and this is one of his best that many people may not have seen, compared to the number of people who have seen Rohmer's chef d'oeuvre 'Ma Nuit Chez Maud'.
'Love in the Afternoon' is top notch as well.
I could have easily chosen "Le Roman d'un Tricheur" or "Les Perles de la Couronne" from the same eclipse set for this list instead of Désiré. They all exude the same elegant, light, playful charm and wit that Désiré does.
Most people would say that Jacques Tati is the french Chaplin, and I can certainly see that in their physical, wordless humor. For me, there is something of Charles Chaplin in Sasha Guitry as well, but a different dimension. There is a gentle, benevolent outlook on humanity, but mixed with healthy cynicism, then frosted heavily with Guitry's natural elegance. Bon appétit!
I own two Arnaud Desplechin films, this, and "Kings and Queen". They have a lot in common. Both feature a number of intergenerational characters in various stages of psychic distress, comedy and drama are presented in close to equal doses, and the excellent actor Mathieu Amalric looms large.
Desplechin's style and tone is hard to describe if you haven't seen his films. For me, he finds a line between actuality and stylization that is very interesting, and in the aggregate, captures the feeling of contemporary life spinning off it's fulcrum.
Imagine a film that profiles a family like "The Royal Tenenbaums" with no nostalgia, no over the top stylizing of sets and costuming, and a lot more teeth. That is what you get with "A Christmas Tale".
P.S. Despite it's name, this is NOT a film to watch at a holiday gathering with the whole family.
Better than 'Les Diaboliques' and 'Wages of Fear' in my opinion. It's a truly great noir thriller, in fact, it's simply one of the very best films period. I've had the pleasure of watching it three times, and it killed every time.
I pray for a Criterion Blu-ray one day of this picture. It is one of my very favorite films.
Godard called this his "second first film", and it is stuffed tout plein with originality. For example, I love the various characters asking "Where's that music coming from?" (referring to the score of the film). There is another late riff on the "Where's that music coming from?" question. I won't spoil for you by saying what it is. It is an idea many of us have probably thought would be neat to see in a film, but Godard actually did.
The slow motion use is the most creative I've ever seen. It made me think I would like to see what J-LG would/could do with the capability of newer digital cameras that shoot 1000 frames a second.
There is also a sexual frankness present in Sauve Qui Peut (La Vie) that is seldom ever heard in films. Godard featured prostitution in many of his films including this one. One can imagine part of it is a comment (Godard was a huge leftie during the 70's) on commerce, and what any of us have to go through to earn a buck. The subject may also simply turn him on, or fascinate him.
To quantify these comments, and my very high opinion of this film, I'd like to add that I am far from an unconditional fan of J-LG. I think Pierrot Le Feu is his best, followed by Vivre Sa Vie, and À Bout De Souffle. Sauve Qui Peut (La Vie) is probably fourth for me. There are many of his films I find over rated, and his somewhat later films like La Nouvelle Vague, and Notre Musique, I just can't stand.
There is a suite of wonderful extras within this package. The two episodes of the Dick Cavett show featuring J-LG, a plethora of interviews with most of the principal participants, and more. I thought actress Nathalie Baye's interview was particularly interesting.
It is shall we say, a slight exaggeration of the pains of a weekend in the country. Driving in bad traffic is a type of hell, that's for sure, and Weekend takes you on one hell of a creative, screwy, disturbing trip.
This is a satire with a vicious stinger on it's tale. Was Godard at this time, aside from being a Maoist, a misanthrope? Ouais, peut-être.
This could be the number one neglected "Nouvelle Vague" film (and filmmaker for that matter). For me this is a hell of a fun, stylish film. What a terrific piss-take on the world of fashion and celebrity.
There's a Monty Python feel to some of this film that predates that brilliant TV series. I wonder if this film may have influenced the M.P. guys?
Do you want to be charmed like you've never been charmed before? This is the film. I love the Michel Legrand music. That song that Anouk Aimée sings at her work..."Cest moi...Lola", it's just killer. Hell, every minute of Anouk Aimée for that matter.
Keep in mind the film budget was small for this early nouvelle vague picture, so all the sound was done in post-production. If you love this picture like I do, check out Agnes Varda's "Cléo from 5 to 7". They occupy the same mental space for me as two of the most glorious, lighter nouvelle vague films, both with superb Michel Legrand songs featuring the same quality and charm as those in the (rightly) hugely celebrated J.L. Godard film "Pierrot Le Fou".
Denis ramps up her oft visited theme of post-colonial tension in Africa to a fever pitch in this excellent film. It stars the one and only Isabelle Huppert, who (along with Meryl Streep and Juliette Binoche) is one of the finest actress of our time. Her character is blind to the danger of her situation, being too attached to the upcoming harvest on her plantation. That denial of seeing the facts on the ground as they really are, manifests in real trouble.
You've got Phillip Noiret (what an interesting character he plays here) and the superb Isabelle Huppert, plus Bertrand Tavernier directing this neo-noir set in Senegal in the late thirties. Add a razor sharp script adapted from Jim Thompson's Pop. 1280, strip out bold colors, and cliché exotic Africa, and you've got just a wonderful film.
I always enjoy listening to Bertrand Tavernier talk film. He was J-P Melville's assistant on several films, so is featured on a number of Criterion Melville releases. He is interviewed extensively on the many interesting aspects of Coup De Torchon (Clean Slate).
Yes it won the Palme D'Or in 1999, but like "Cléo from 5 to 7", how many have seen it? It was until recently, not out on home video in North America, being one of the only Palme D'Or winners to remain unreleased for more than a decade! When I talk film with people, 95% of them have never heard of the Dardenne brothers. Their tough, uncompromising films seem to be too gritty for most North American viewers.
I'd think if one appreciated a film like "Breaking The Waves", Rosetta would go down oh so well, but one of my friends who loves "Breaking The Waves" just doesn't groove on the Dardennes. Tant pis pour liu!
What an excellent idea for a plot. I was completely absorbed. This is the everyday life bravery of real people in a situation that any of us could face.
The Dardennes are in top form on this one, working for the first time with an 'A list' star. If you've enjoyed Marion Cotillard's other film rolls, this is at least equal to her best work in films like the excellent "De rouille et d'os" (Rust and Bone), or her portrayal of Edith Piaf in "La Mome".
La Promesse is notable for being the first Dardenne film in which the brothers found a way to make films that felt authentic, that left them satisfied with their work. Familiar to us now, their oft copied rough hewn, scoreless, hand held camera, signature style has remained largely unchanged ever since.
La Promesse is also notable as the film that introduced two actors that the Dardennes have worked with several times: a very young Jérémie Renier, and the excellent Olivier Gourmet.
It's great that Criterion has put out so many Dardenne films. I do hope they can add the superb "Le Fils" to the collection one day. It is an amazing film.
Oh la la la la la, what a film! With tension between young citizens and police in Ferguson, Missouri being in the news so much lately, this is a hell of a relevant watch. This picture has plenty of style, and IMO, it all serves the flow and impact of the film beautifully.
Funny how we all have our tendencies to like and dislike certain genres of film. I don't tend to like musicals. Frankly, I'm also lukewarm on Jean Renoir, a director most regard as possibly the best ever. I love this film though.
It's probably the presence of the legend Jean Gabin in the lead, and the theme that he always falls for the girl who will benefit the show the most. He loves the performance, the craft, THE SHOW! more than any other single aspect of his life.
Forget the celebrated "A Man With A Movie Camera", this is the film. Give it a few minutes to get it's cereative juices flowing, and then hang on for a wild ride!
Jean Gabin in the lead is an awfully good way to make your picture come alive. He's in that rarefied air of actors like Humphrey Bogart and Toshiro Mifune. Aside from Gabin the writing of Jacques Prévert and Jean Grémillon's direction make this an exciting, engaging film. I really enjoyed this film, and it certainly deserves more attention than it gets.
The (bourgeois) threshold of true, modern adulthood is coupled with existential angst in this terrific film. This is Louis Malle at his best, and if you've seen lead actor Maurice Ronet in "Plein Soleil" (aka Purple Noon), you won't believe it's the same actor. He's profoundly different in this film.
What a strong debut film! A noir story of elicit love, murder, and how small mistakes, and chance events can mess with plans for a "perfect murder". Jeanne Moreau had been in about 20 unremarkable films when Malle cast her in "Ascenseur Pour L'Echafaud", and she was shown in a new light, her presence, and expressive face able to say so much given the opportunity. Maurice Ronet (Plein Soleil, Mort D'Un Pourri, Le Feu Follet, La Femme Infidèle), who I always enjoy, does well as her lover/partner in crime.
The Miles Davis score adds much. Jazz critic Phil Johnson said of it "The loneliest trumpet sound you will ever hear, and the model for sad-core music ever since. Hear it and weep."
After seeing this and 'Au Revoir Les Entfants', Malle is becoming a favorite of mine. What a sophisticated, yet simple film about a young man who's (lack of) thinking might not manifest so terribly if not during war time.
I know this film does usually get listed when la nouvelle vague is written about, but it's on my list because I think the amount of people who have actually seen it are in fact, a very small number. I think it is just a wonderful watch. It's style is very indicative of the non precious, playful, and innovative ways of so much of la nouvelle vague.
There certainly is the fact of Cléo waiting on medical test results and bracing for the worst that adds the depth to this film, but there is also often a breezy charm to this film (and the music of Michel Legrand certainly contributes greatly to both feelings).
I just watched this film for the second time, and loved it even more than my first viewing. It may be the Michael LeGrand music, but I often connect this film with Jacques Demy's wonderful nouvelle vague picture "Lola".
What a great performance by Sandrine Bonnaire. It's a terrific, unsentimental, realistic film about a girl living on the road.
The style reminds me of Maurice Pialat's post-new wave realism that I'm so fond of, and Bonnaire (who was given her first big part by Pialat) being in it sure contributes to this feeling.
Aka: "Couscous". Very high quality family drama that reminded me a bit of the Dardenne brothers in the tone and reality of the film-making. It's long, so one might want to watch it in two sittings. This is a really good example of how the best films convince you that the fictional characters seem completely real. The tension this film achieves as it nears it's end is unreal.
I've enjoyed all three Kechiche films I've seen ("Couscous", "Blue Is The Warmest Color" and "Games Of Love And Chance").
The lead actress, Adèle Exarchopoulos is amazing. Totally convincing in every aspect. This is another great Kechiche film.
Two warnings though: It's very long, and contains a lot of graphic sex (which, IMO, does very much serve the story of the love affair).
Palme D'or winner
I just watched this for the first time, and loved it. Truffaut called it "an autopsy of adultry". The film was not well received because of it's polish, and formalism, which went against the earlier predominant ethos that nouvelle vague films be more rough hewn, and immediate. Truffaut's Hitchcock influence shows throughout this picture. The scene at the gas station pops to mind. The cutting is terrific, in fact the editing is excellent throughout (I'm thinking of the taut pace of the scene when Jean Desailly is rushing to get the sable stockings to his mistress). The film is beautifully shot by ace cinematographer Raoul Coutard.
I think those who like Truffaut's films Mississipi Mermaid, and Vivement Dimanche! will really like this film. What a shame that Françoise Dorléac (Catherine Deneuve's sister) died so young! She was so great in this, and of course in Polanski's Cul-De-Sac.
A very enjoyable noir that transcends the style. For whatever reason, it doesn't get much heat when people talk about Truffaut's filmography. Quelle dommage.
The price of friendship can be very high indeed. If you like "films noirs", and/or have seen the classic Becker film "Le Trou", I recommend seeing this film.
What terrific stars! The incomparable Serge Reggiani and Simone Signoret, and a classic story of love at first sight set the tone for a cracker of a film. Call it a "belle epoque" Noir love story. Jacques Becker was a truly great director.
This is a late addition to the list and I have a comment by CC member Collection to thank for the reminder of non native french speaking directors making films en français. Bunuel (Belle De Jour, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie) is probably the best example of creating masterpieces in french, while being non-native to the language. Austrian director Michael Haneke springs to mind as well. It's nice to see his "Code Inconnu" now featured in the collection.
Le Havre is a special film full of style and heart. The song that the band 'Little Bob Story' perform is just some wonderful rock and roll, and that type of music is an AK hallmark, featuring in many of his films. The first time I watched Le Havre, I loved all of the film save one of the plot points near the end. The interview with AK in the extras included him talking about the ending, and it helped me fully understand his thinking regarding the way he concluded the film. I recently watched Le Havre again, and loved every minute of it, including the ending. I think I'm going to watch this film a lot over the next number of years. IMO, this and 'The Match Factory Girl' are AK at his very best, and that's saying a lot!
Not far behind Le Havre in quality is another wonderful Kaurismaki film en français, set in Paris. Les travails et malchances of struggling artists make for a very nice (bitter)sweet film.
I love the style of this excellent political thriller. It's one of the best, and stars one of my all time favorite actors, Jean-Louis Trintignant. Raoul Coutard shot this film, and it's got such a wonderful look to it. Coutard shot most of the best J.L. Godard films as well.
Although born in Greece, Costa-Gavras studied film in France, and apprenticed under Rene Clair and others. He was the president of Cinémathèque Française from 1982 to 1987, and from 2007 to present.
Here is just one of a thousand reasons why a one party state is so bloody scary. It eats it's own heroes. Dictators are made nervous by hero figures. It's the possibility that heroes could use their moral standing to critique the regime without appearing as traitors to the party. Because of their high standing in the culture, the masses might heed them, and turn against the powers that be.
That reminds me of the great Russian film "Burnt By the Sun", which is very different from "The Confession" in style, but shares the theme of no state hero being safe.
Yet another superb J.P. Melville crime film. He is my favorite director of "films noirs". You'll want to watch this gem twice.
I love the fact that the chap who runs theyshootpicture.com (Bill Georgaris) put this film is his "Sight and Sound" top 10 of all time films!
(Repeated comments from my "12 Films all should know, but few do" list)
Not at all a second rate Melville, but one of his best. For me it's right there with "Army of Shadows" at the very top of Melville's work. One could also ask, was there anyone as tough/cool as Ventura in his prime?
I knew Melvilles brilliant crime films, and then I saw this little gem. Proof positive that Jean-Pierre did not need to rely on the thrust of a crime/noir plot to make a terrific film.
Don't let the fact that it's about a priest turn you off this film. I'm a long time agnostic, and I loved the discussions between the two main characters regarding faith.
Shot by the legendary Henri Decaë, the first film by JP Melville does take a little while to get cooking, but give it a chance, and you'll be rewarded with an excellent watch. Regarding war films with an anti war message, I prefer this to Renoir's La Grande Illusion.
If you're a Melville fan like me, you'll also want the disc for the very interesting and informative documentary "Code Name Melville" (2008). It covers all of Melville's life, with a focus on his time during WWII.
One of the cornerstones of the nouvelle vague, Rivette's first feature is an art-house murder mystery that keeps you off kilter. Rivette liked films that felt a little disjointed, a little incomplete. That said, it's not a hard film to follow, it's more a matter of who to trust.
Another fine film shot by Henri Decaë, this film rides a fine line, to keep the audience on edge about the nature of the secretive relationship between the two protagonists. Is it innocent, or indecent? They certainly are both in need of healing.
If you, like me, are a big fan of Marcel Carné's marvelous film "Les Enfents Du Paradis" (Children of Paradise), I'd recommend this film as well. I don't want to downplay it's many qualities, but it is a slightly lesser film that the aforementioned, but not by much!
Three Colors: Blue gets the most attention, and may be the best of the trilogy, but Red is a close second. Kieślowski is in fine form on the last of the three films, it's theme being fraternité (brotherhood). There are many underlying themes present in this film, so multiple viewings are rewarded.
Irène Jacob, plays a part-time model, Jean-Louis Trintignant, an eaves dropping ex-judge, and an intriguing friendship(?) develops between the two.
Andrzej Wajda makes a great film en français about the terrible frenzy of guillotining by Robespierre just after the french revolution. Depardieu is as charismatic as ever as Danton.
If you are not averse to seeing some real S&M, this Barbet Schroeder film is a very good watch. A very sexy Bulle Ogier, and a young buck Depardieu have a love affair at Bulle's apartment upstairs, while downstairs Bulle plies her trade as dominatrix. The home and work levels intersect from time to time, as Gerard struggles with his partner's metier.
I love French films, especially from the 60's and 70's, and this film is packed with great 70's style. This is yet another example of Criterion's breadth of quality french offerings. I do think Criterion should have used a different image for the cover though. Time after time, watching the film, seeing a great frame, I thought to myself "this would make a great cover...".
Mon Oncle, and Playtime are much better known, but Trafic is cut from the same cloth. It's a really fun little film to watch. Try it if you've seen the first two films, and enjoyed them. Wikepedia says "the primary meaning of 'trafic' is "exchange of goods", rather than motor vehicle traffic. Interesting.
Here's a little taste of what you get in the sly "Les Dames..."
Hélène: You've married a tramp. She was a cabaret dancer. You've played a trick on me and now I've played one on you.
Hélène: Yes, me. You don't seem to realize where a woman's scorn can lead.
Hélène: Don't be absurd. You've married a tramp. Now you must face the consequences. You're suddenly so sentimental.
Jean: You're horrid!
This is before Bresson went with his signature approach of dour, unemotional delivery from his "models" (usually amateur actors). His "cinematographic", rather than theatrically influenced approach to dialogue delivery would dominate every film he made after Les Dames..". For me, that signature approach worked well in a few films (A Man Escaped is one of the best films ever made), but failed in many (L'Argent comes to mind, was everyone in Paris really depressed?) Watching 'Les Dames..." is an interesting look at Bresson using a more classical film making approach. It works beautifully.
First off, I think it's nice to remember that Chabrol and Rivette were the first of the many critics at Cahiers Du Cinema to champion Alfred Hitchcock as a true cinema artist. Truffaut then caught Hitchcock fever, and did his interviews with Hitch which then became the book that scores of cinéastes and cinefiles cherish.
Before Clabrol earned a reputation as the "French Hitchcock" by making countless mediocre thrillers, he was at the very vanguard of la nouvelle vague. "Le Beau Serge" may actually be the first new wave film released, but I prefer "Les Cousins". It is my favorite Chabrol film. It is nice to see both films though, to see lead actors Jean-Claude Brialy and Gérard Blain pretty much reverse roles from one film to the next.
Pialat's first feature film won the Prix Jean Vigo in 1969. It's a very real feeling, unsentimental look at ten-year-old François, a foster child, and his path through placements in two different homes.
Pialat's stripped down style was fully formed even in this first film. Imagine the Dardennes if they were making films in the post-new wave years.
(Repeated comments from my "12 Films all should know, but few do" list)
He's been called the french John Cassavetes, and he may well be. I love Pialat's work, but I just don't groove on Cassavetes films, with the exception of "Love Streams", and "Shadows".
There are excellent supplements on the disc, and they sing the praises of Pialat's oeuvre better than I could. I'm sad that Pialat, this incredible Director, and formidable actor at one time regarded himself as a horsefly on the tail of French cinema, which he regarded as a small industry to begin with. He did win the Palme D'Or for "Sous Le Soleil De Satan" (which I have yet to see).
I did notice this film did go from nowhere, to right into the middle of the latest top 1000 films list at theyshootpictures.com (highly recommended read BTW). That does my heart good.
This is the work of an under appreciated modern master. If you like the Dardennes brand of very real feeling films that aren't overly polished, or slick, you should see this film, and investigate Pialat's work.
(Repeated comments from my "12 Films all should know, but few do" list)
The first film Claude Sautet directed from start to finish. His 'first' film "Bonjour Sourire!" being the taking over another director's ailing project. This is one of the best noirs of all time. Make it a top priority.
I've seen all the French TV series "Maigret" (and some of the British version). I've even read one Maigret novel en francais, so am quite familiar with the George Simenon character Jules Maigret.
I thought this 1933 film had a good first half, and an exceptional second half. The nihilistic villain is superb, and there is wonderful tension, and a lot of style.
Fictional cameraman and globe trotter Sandor Krasna is the medium for Chris Marker to share his thoughts on life, on humankind, on the passage of time. These are all at the core of our daily experiences. He shows us many interesting, and varied parts of the world in the late 20th century, including un pèlerinage cinématographique to San Francisco to visit sites used for Hitchcock's chef-d'œuvre,Vertigo.
This is a voyage well worth taking, and certainly illustrates vividly the merits of the "film essay" form. Not only does Marker have something to say that is worth hearing, he is poetic.