Though most of the world associates filmmaking with Hollywood, the French have done just as much to advance the art form as their American counterparts.
In fact, the French were some of the first to see filmmaking’s full potential, implementing features like fuller narratives and early special effects.
If you’re looking for a crash course in all things French film but can’t afford a plane ticket, you’ve come to the right place.
Here are 10 of the most influential French films that every Francophile should check out.
1. The 400 Blows
Few filmmakers are as influential as Francois Truffaut, the legendary writer and director who introduced audiences to the French New Wave movement.
It’s said that Truffaut loved Hollywood films but yearned to make something more honest and appealing to the everyday viewer.
The result is 400 Blows, the first film in his revolutionary four-film series involving a young troublemaker named Antoine.
Though The 400 Blows isn’t the fastest or most exciting film in the world, that’s very much by design. It’s as much an experiment as a narrative.
The film, more so than Truffaut’s future films, sees the director toying with new techniques such as longer shots (pay close attention to the film’s final moments), more realistic dialogue, and a more honest approach to storytelling.
Simply put, The 400 Blows isn’t only one of best French films of all times — it’s one of the best films period.
Amelie may be one of the more accessible introductions to French film, but that isn’t a bad thing. On the contrary, Amelie is one of the most widely-recognized French films outside of the sphere of movie buffs.
And for an excellent reason, at that.
Amelie’s color scheme is a fantastic counterpart to its portrayal of a young woman in love. As you watch the film, note the contrasts between the characters’ emotions and their clothing.
Even the film’s poster, which portrays the titular character with her signature smirk, makes great use of color.
France is a country renowned for its great, world-class cuisine. But what happens when the menu becomes a little more…human?
The film revolves around a young veterinary student on her own for the first time. As she explores her newfound freedom, she discovers a terrible secret — she has a taste for human flesh.
While it may sound cheesier than any B-movie America would put out, we recommend giving Raw a chance.
Though it’s very much a horror film, beneath the surface lurks a superb drama about the perils of growing up, and there’s a lot of thematic depth for viewers to explore.
Though the similarities may not be overt, Raw and Perseopolis share a great deal in common, particularly in their messaging.
While the characters in this animated feature don’t cannibalize one another, Persepolis’ is another beautifully-crafted feature outlining the struggles of a young woman tossed into a new culture.
Based on the graphic novel of the same name, Persepolis’ art style and direction are among the best in the industry.
5. The Red Balloon
For those looking to explore French cityscapes, The Red Balloon is the perfect film for you.
Clocking in at a little over 35 minutes, this experimental short revolves around a young boy’s journey across his hometown alongside a sentient balloon.
Okay, so it’s a little strange, to say the least. But still, it’s worth checking out for the scenery alone.
When most people think of France, they think of love and passion. So it’s a little surprising that the country has delivered some of this generation’s best movies to see for horror aficionados.
But as shocking and even appalling as some of these films are, none compare to Pascal Laugier’s masochistic masterpiece, Martyrs.
The less you know about Martyrs the better, so we’ll be careful not to spoil anything.
Just know that the ending may very well change how you look at the world around you.
7. High Tension
Aside from Martyrs, High Tension is undoubtedly the most influential of all recent French horror films. In fact, this exercise in gratuity is so brutal that it helped spawn its own genre, New French Extremity.
High Tension is a fantastic amalgamation of all the subgenre has to offer. Though it’s as gritty and visceral as they come, it’s filmed so beautifully that certain frames look like paintings.
Quality versions of the film can be hard to find, however, so view here to see how you can find it online.
8. The Intouchables
Trading in buckets of blood for buckets of tears, the next film on our list is a heartwarming tale of friendship and triumph.
When quadriplegic Philippe comes to the realization that he can no longer manage life on his own, he embarks on a journey to find the perfect caretaker.
What he gets is Driss, a strong yet troubled young man who is more than happy to challenge Philippe’s selfish ways of thinking.
What results is a fantastic buddy comedy equal parts hilarious and touching.
9. A Trip to the Moon
Alright, so this film doesn’t feature much (if any) French scenery at all. Yet it’s still well worth watching, as it’s one of the most important films of all time.
Released in 1902, George Melies’ A Trip to the Moon is a silent film about astronomers trying to, you guessed it, get to the moon.
If you’re looking to expand your appreciation of film, Melies’ opus is a great start. You’ll get a glimpse into early set design as well as some of the world’s first special effects.
10. Antoine and Colette
Bookending our list of the best French films is Truffaut’s followup to The 400 Blows, Antoine and Colette.
Filmed several years after Blows, Antoine and Colette is a direct sequel, with young Antoine (portrayed by actor Jean-Pierre L?aud once again) attempting to put his childish ways behind him in pursuit of a college education.
However, he stumbles once he comes across the beautiful young Colette and finds himself in love for the first time.
Like Truffaut’s other works, Antoine and Colette features some of the best storytelling put on celluloid. We recommend a double feature of 400 Blows followed by its direct sequel to get the full effect of Truffaut’s vision.
Every Film Lover Needs to See These French Films
Next time you find yourself pining for Paris, be sure to check out these French films. Whether you’re in the mood for something heartwarming, triumphant, or terrifying, you’ll have no trouble finding a film that suits your tastes.
Interested in learning more about your favorite movies? Get in touch with any questions and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible.