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It’s French Movie Night ! Our Guide of the Best Films for French Learners

It’s your turn to pose on the red carpet ! You may not yet be able to chat with Marion Cotillard or have a drink with Gérard Depardieu. But you can watch the movies that made them famous.

Sounds like the easy way out of homework ? Not quite ! At FrenchPod101, we advocate diving into the pop culture as one of the best ways to master a new language.

  • It’s a unique way to practice your oral comprehension skills, and to get acquainted with the natural French flow.
  • Watching a movie allows you to test your French-learning level in a relaxed environment. It’s much less pressure than trying to chat with a native speaker ! And if you don’t understand something, you can still pause or even add subtitles.
  • You will also expand your cultural horizons and find a new motivation to learn.

No classroom can offer this kind of experience !

Thanks to Netflix, YouTube, and other streaming services, the best movies for learning French are already available online. Whether you like romance, drama, or comedy, FrenchPod101 has the perfect selection for your French movie night. Here are some tips to improve your pronunciation while watching movies in French.

Ways to improve pronunciation

Table of Contents

  1. Oldies but Goldies: Classics to Understand the French Culture
  2. Master the French Sense of Humor
  3. French Movies to Take on a Romantic Blind Date
  4. Our Favorite French Dramas
  5. Bonus – La Belle et La Bête
  6. Conclusion

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1. Oldies but Goldies : Classics to Understand the French Culture

If you’ve ever heard of la Nouvelle Vague (The New Wave), you know you don’t want to miss out on classic French cinema. Here are the most common French vocabulary that you may find in the movies.

Top verbs

1- Jules et Jim (“Jules and Jim”), directed by François Truffaut (1962)

Level : Intermediate

Rebellious Jules and his shy friend Jim both fall in love with the charismatic Catherine. Unbeknownst to them, France is on the brink of World War I.

Director François Truffaut is a legend of French cinema. And young Jeanne Moreau shines in this love triangle story. She delivers one of the film’s most iconic quotes, in the form of a made-up nursing rhyme :

Tu m’as dit “Je t’aime”, je t’ai dit “Attends”
J’allais dire “Prends-moi”, tu m’as dit “Vas t’en”

You told me “I love you”, I told you “wait”.
I was about to say “take me”, you said “go away”.

2- A Bout de Souffle (“Breathless”), directed by Jean-Luc Godard (1960)

Level : Intermediate

Michel, a young rebel on the run, seduces aspiring journalist Patricia, who joins him on his flight to Italy.
This iconic New Wave movie marks Jean-Paul Belmondo’s first breakthrough as an actor.

(SPOILER) Michel’s death scene is the set of a famous dialogue between him, Patricia, and detective Vital. Whether Michel is blaming Patricia or the whole world remains voluntarily ambiguous.

MICHEL: C’est vraiment dégueulasse.
PATRICIA: Qu’est-ce qu’il a dit?
VITAL: Il a dit que vous êtes vraiment “une dégueulasse”.
PATRICIA: Qu’est-ce que c’est “dégueulasse” ?

MICHEL: It’s really gross
PATRICIA: What did he say?
VITAL: He said that you are “really gross”.
PATRICIA: What is it, “gross”?

3- Jean de Florette, directed by Claude Berri (1986)

Level : Advanced

In post-WWI’s rural Provence, Ugolin Soubeyrand (Daniel Auteuil) and his cunning grandfather César (Yves Montand) scheme to trick naive Jean de Florette (Gérard Depardieu) out of a plot of land he just inherited.

But that’s not all—the saga continues ! Manon des Sources stars a young Emmanuelle Béart as Manon, and here, Jean de Florette’s daughter might be the demise of Ugolin.

(SPOILER) Ugolin remains morally ambivalent to the end. After the death of Jean in the first movie, he confesses to César :

“Ce n’est pas moi qui pleure. C’est mes yeux.”
I’m not crying. It’s my eyes.

Both movies are adapted from Provençal writer Marcel Pagnol’s novels. They’re rather easy to read, so check them out to see how the movies compare !

2. Master the French Sense of Humor

Movie genres

This selection is slightly longer than the other genres for two reasons:

  1. Comedies are an obvious favorite for a fun learning experience
  2. Your French friends will be delighted to share these cultural references with you
    Quotes from these movies often pop up in casual conversations, so feel free to take notes !

1- Les Visiteurs (“The Visitors”), directed by Jean-Marie Poiré (1993)

Level : Intermediate

Middle-Age Count of Montmirail (Jean Reno) and his servant Jacquouille la Fripouille (Christian Clavier) are sent to the 20th century by mistake. They discover modern civilization as they try to come back to their own time.

One of the (many) famous quotes is from Jacquouille’s distant descendant Jacquard :

“Qu’est-ce que c’est que ce binz ?!”
What’s all this mess?!

2- Le Père Noël est une Ordure (“Santa Claus is a Stinker”), directed by Jean-Marie Poiré (1979)

Level : Advanced

Two volunteers for a suicide hotline are stuck with the Christmas Eve shift. They start losing control as several distressed people show up at their headquarters.

Basically every quote from this movie is famous. A general favorite remains Thérèse’s assessment, while she tastes a pastry of dubious origins :

“C’est fin, c’est très fin, ça se mange sans faim !”
It’s refined, very refined, you can eat it without hunger!

The movie started as a successful play. Original troupe of actors, Le Splendid, brought it to film, and its members—Thierry Lhermitte, Gérard Jugnot, Christian Clavier, and Josiane Balasko—became iconic French movie stars.

Another classic comedy by the same troupe is Les Bronzés font du ski, directed by Patrice Leconte in 1979.

3- Le Dîner de Cons (“The Dinner Game”), directed by Francis Veber (1998)

Level : Advanced

Snobbish Parisian Pierre Brochant (Thierry Lhermitte) organizes “idiots’ dinners” with his friends. Each must invite an unknowing “idiot” guest, to be ridiculed by the other guests. After the party, they vote for the “idiot of the evening.”

But things take an unexpected turn when Pierre invites François Pignon (Jacques Villeret), an employee of the Finance Ministry.

One of the best quotes may also give you an idea of the kind of puns to expect. Pierre tells François about one of his friends, named Juste Leblanc.

FRANCOIS : Ah bon, il n’a pas de prénom ?!
PIERRE : Je viens de vous le dire : Juste Leblanc. Votre prénom, c’est François, c’est juste ? Eh bien lui, c’est pareil, c’est Juste.

FRANCOIS: So, he doesn’t have a first name?!
PIERRE: I just told you: Juste Leblanc. Your first name, it’s François, right? Then it’s the same for him, it’s Juste.

As such puns may be difficult to get for French learners, you might want to use the subtitles. We promise it’s worth it !

4- Astérix : Mission Cléopâtre (“Asterix & Obelix : Mission Cleopatra”), directed by Alain Chabat (2002)

Level : Intermediate

Time for more recent movies ! This one is every French Millennial’s favorite. When lovers Cleopatra (Monica Bellucci) and Cesar (Alain Chabat) make a gamble, Gallic heroes Astérix and Obélix (Christian Clavier and Gérard Depardieu) are sent to help Cleopatra’s architect Numérobis (Jamel Debbouze).

The most diligent fans can recall from memory Otis (Edouard Baer)’s lengthy monologue. When Obélix asks him if he’s satisfied with his situation as a scribe, he answers :

“Vous savez, moi je ne crois pas qu’il y ait de bonne ou de mauvaise situation. Moi, si je devais résumer ma vie aujourd’hui avec vous, je dirais que c’est d’abord des rencontres. Des gens qui m’ont tendu la main, peut-être à un moment où je ne pouvais pas, où j’étais seul chez moi. Et c’est assez curieux de se dire que les hasards, les rencontres forgent une destinée… Parce que quand on a le goût de la chose, quand on a le goût de la chose bien faite, le beau geste, parfois on ne trouve pas l’interlocuteur en face, je dirais, le miroir qui vous aide à avancer. Alors ça n’est pas mon cas, comme je disais là, puisque moi au contraire, j’ai pu : et je dis merci à la vie, je lui dis merci, je chante la vie, je danse la vie… Je ne suis qu’amour ! Et finalement, quand beaucoup de gens aujourd’hui me disent « Mais comment fais-tu pour avoir cette humanité ? », et bien je leur réponds très simplement, je leur dis que c’est ce goût de l’amour, ce goût donc qui m’a poussé aujourd’hui à entreprendre une construction mécanique, mais demain, qui sait ? Peut-être simplement à me mettre au service de la communauté, à faire le don, le don de soi…”

You know, I do not think there is a good or bad situation. If I had to summarize my life today with you, I’d say it’s first of all meetings. People who reached out to me, maybe at a time when I could not, where I was alone at home. And it’s quite odd to say that accidents, encounters forge a destiny … Because when you have the taste of the thing, when you have the taste of the thing well done, the beautiful gesture, sometimes we do not do not find the representative, I would say, the mirror that helps you move forward. So that’s not my case, as I said there, since I, on the contrary, I could: and I say thank you to life, I say thank you, I sing life, I dance life … I am only love! And finally, when many people today say to me, “But how do you do to have this humanity? “Well, I tell them very simply, I tell them that it is this taste of love, this taste that pushed me today to undertake a mechanical construction, but tomorrow, who knows? Maybe just to put myself at the service of the community, to make the gift, the gift of oneself …

5- OSS 117 – Le Caire Nid d’Espions (“OSS 117 : Cairo, Nest of Spies”), directed by Michel Hazanavicius (2006)

Level : Intermediate

The French actually have an acute self-mocking sense of humor. If you can’t believe it, watch the adventures of chauvinistic, “typically French” special agent OSS (Jean Dujardin) as he stumbles around 1950’s Cairo. And listen to him declare to an Egyptian ambassador :

“On est en 1955 les gars, faut se réveiller. Les ânes partout, les djellabas, l’écriture illisible, ça va hein ! S’agirait de grandir ! S’agirait de grandir…”

Guys we are in 1955, it’s about time to wake up. Donkeys everywhere, djellabas, unreadable writing, it’s enough! You need to grow up! You need to grow up…

Don’t miss the sequel ! OSS 117 : Rio ne répond plus (OSS 117 : Lost in Rio) gets back to Hubert Bonnisseur de la Bath for a new mission in the 60s.

3. French Movies to Take on a Romantic Blind Date

French cinema takes care of its glamorous reputation ! The French love a romantic story with a quirky twist.

1- Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain (“Amélie”), directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet (2001)

Level : Intermediate

Shy waitress Amélie decides to fight her own isolation by transforming the life of her neighbors for the better. She evokes her paradoxical situation with one of her friends, a painter :

AMELIE : Vous savez, la fille au verre d’eau, si elle a l’air un peu à côté, c’est peut-être parce qu’elle est en train de penser à quelqu’un.
RAYMOND : À quelqu’un du tableau ?
AMELIE : Non, plutôt à un garçon qu’elle a croisé ailleurs. Mais elle a l’impression qu’ils sont un peu pareils, elle et lui.
RAYMOND : Autrement dit, elle préfère s’imaginer une relation avec quelqu’un d’absent que de créer des liens avec ceux qui sont présents ?
AMELIE : Non, peut-être même qu’au contraire, elle se met en quatre pour arranger les cafouillages de la vie des autres.
RAYMOND : Mais elle, les cafouillages de la sienne de vie, qui va s’en occuper ?

AMELIE: You know, the girl with the glass of water, if she looks a little lost maybe it’s because she’s thinking of someone.
RAYMOND: To someone on the board?
AMELIE: No, rather to a boy she met elsewhere. But she has the impression that they are a little similar, she and him.
RAYMOND: In other words, she prefers to imagine a relationship with someone who is absent than to create links with those who are present?
AMELIE: No, maybe even on the contrary, she goes out of her way to arrange the mess of the lives of others.
RAYMOND: But she, the mess of his life, who will take care of it?

Bonus : The movie is set in Montmartre, one of Paris’s most charming districts.

2- L’Auberge Espagnole (“Pot Luck”), directed by Cédric Klapisch (2002)

Level : Intermediate

French student and typical Millennial Xavier (Romain Duris) takes advantage of the Erasmus program to spend one year in Barcelona. New roommates and chance encounters will mark his life in unexpected ways.

We get to know Xavier better, through his inner discourse :

“Quand on arrive dans une ville, on voit des rues en perspective, des suites de bâtiments vides de sens. Tout est inconnu, vierge. Voilà, plus tard on aura habité cette ville, on aura marché dans ses rues, on aura été au bout des perspectives, on aura connu ses bâtiments, on y aura vécu des histoires avec des gens. Quand on aura vécu dans cette ville, cette rue on l’aura pris dix, vingt, mille fois. Au bout d’un moment, tout ça vous appartient parce qu’on y a vécu.”

When we arrive in a city, we see streets in perspective, row of buildings empty of meaning. Everything is unknown, virgin. Here we are, we will have lived in this city, we will have walked in its streets, we will have been at the end of the perspectives, we will have known its buildings, we will have lived stories with people. When we have lived in this city, this street will have taken ten, twenty, thousand times. After a while, all of this belongs to you because you lived there.

3- L’Ecume des Jours (“Mood Indigo”), directed by Michel Gondry (2013)

Level : Intermediate

Indie director Michel Gondry delivers a poetic adaptation of Boris Vian’s novel.

Colin (Romain Duris) and Chloe (Audrey Tautou)’s idylle turns sour when a lotus seed starts to grow in Chloe’s lungs.

“Si on rate ce moment, on essaie celui d’après ; et si on échoue, on recommence l’instant suivant, on a toute la vie pour réussir… ”

If we fail at this time, we try another, and if we fail, we start all over again, we have all our life to succeed.

4. Our Favorite French Dramas

While drama doesn’t necessarily mean tragic, these classic movies slip on the dark side.

1- 8 Femmes (“8 Women”), directed by François Ozon (2002)

Level : Intermediate

Eight women of the same family are trapped during a storm, and start suspecting each other when they discover the murder of the family’s patriarch.

This dark musical stars eight of the most prominent French actresses : Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert, Emmanuelle Béart, Fanny Ardant, Virginie Ledoyen, Marie Darrieux, Ludivine Sagnier, and Firmine Richard. Each of them gets a musical moment, but the most perceptive one is certainly Marie Darrieux’s final :

“Il n’y a pas d’amour heureux.”

There is no happy love.

2- Les Intouchables (“Untouchables”), directed by Olivier Nakache (2011)

Level : Intermediate

Suicidal, disabled Philippe (François Cluzet) finds a new appreciation for life when he hires Driss (Omar Sy) as his personal nurse.

PHILIPPE, as Driss shaves him : Un petit coup sec, ça me soulagerait.
DRISS : Je vois que c’est la grande forme, ça me fait plaisir !

PHILIPPE, as Driss shaves him: A quick tap, it would relieve me.
DRISS: I see that you’re in great shape, it makes me happy!

3- La Haine, directed by Mathieu Kassovitz (1995)

Level : Intermediate

The fate of three friends (among which is Vincent Cassel) takes a turn for the worst when one of them finds a policeman’s gun.

“C’est l’histoire d’un homme qui tombe d’un immeuble de cinquante étages. Le mec, au fur et à mesure de sa chute, il se répète sans cesse pour se rassurer : jusqu’ici tout va bien, jusqu’ici tout va bien, jusqu’ici tout va bien…
Mais l’important, c’est pas la chute. C’est l’atterrissage.”

It’s the story of a man falling from a fifty-story building. The guy, as he falls, he repeats constantly to reassure himself: so far so good, so far so good, so far so good …
But the important thing is not the fall. It’s the landing.

5. Bonus — La Belle et La Bête

A “story old as time” and a Disney classic, The Beauty and the Beast has been remade several times in the past few years. One French version stars Vincent Cassel and Léa Seydoux in the titular roles. Disney’s live movie revolves around Emma Watson.

But the French’s favorite version will always remain the one directed by Jean Cocteau himself. Get over the release date (1946) and discover a surrealistic masterpiece !

6. Conclusion

After you’ve gone through this list, feel free to come back for more! FrenchPod101 helps you improve your French through pop culture. From movies and TV shows to everyday expressions and the latest slang, FrenchPod101 makes the language come alive for you. Enjoy this opportunity to learn while having fun, and invite your friends to French movie night!

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