Chances are you've seen The Artist and Amélie, but here are ten other cinematic experiences from the land of Truffaut and Godard, all made this millennium, that are well worth your time.
Mesrine: Killer Instinct & Public Enemy #1 (2008)
Outrageously entertaining two-part thriller about the life and crimes of real-life French gangster Jacques Mesrine, directed by Jean-François Richet and played with constant menace by Vincent Cassel, both of whom won a César Award (French Oscar) for their involvement.
Entre Les Murs - The Class (2008)
François Bégaudeau, an ex-teacher, wrote and starred in this kitchen sink drama set entirely in a lycée in the 20th arrondissement of Paris. Directed by Laurent Cantet, ‘The Class' covers a school year, focusing on a group of ethnically-diverse and troubled pupils, and the teacher who tries to guide them through French literature. It's an equally bleak, funny, and honest slice of life which won the Palme d'Or at Cannes.
Etre et Avoir - To Be and To Have – (2002)
A slow, quiet documentary about a tiny school in a small rural village in Puy-de-Dôme, central France. Hardly the classic recipe for an international success, but the calm dedication of teacher Georges Lopez, the cosy agrarian setting, and the spontaneous sweetness of the young kids gives this film a timeless feel. ‘To Be and to Have' is a victory for the simple joys of childhood and should be prescribed by doctors to treat the blues.
Les Intouchables (2011)
This buddy movie about aimless, North African Driss, who becomes the carer and friend of super-rich, quadriplegic Philippe, is far from high art. Its treatment of race and disability got both praise and scorn. However, it struck a chord with French audiences, who paid to see it in their droves, and was voted the “cultural event of 2011.” Omar Sy (as Driss) made history by becoming the first black man ever to win the César Award for Best Actor.
This notorious horror movie comes with a health warning. If you have a faint heart or a weak stomach, stay away. ‘Martyrs' has the female friendship of ‘Heavenly Creatures,' mixed with the gore of ‘Hostel' and the creepiness of Roman Polanski's ‘The Apartment.' But what appears on the surface to be just an ultra-violent and gruesome revenge fantasy gone wrong, is actually a deeply-moving parable about guilt, friendship, and the human condition. Only in France.
Les Choristes - The Chorus (2004)
A world-famous French conductor returns home after years of success abroad, to attend his mother's funeral. A meeting with an old friend, and the production of their former school-teacher's diary, leads to a heart-warming, music-filled reminiscence about childhood. ‘The Chorus' was nominated for two Oscars, and the soundtrack went to Number 1 in the French album charts.
One of the best crime/police procedural movies in recent years, Polisse follows the men and women of the Paris police department's Child Protection Unit. Separating immigrant families, interviewing abused toddlers (and their abusers) – it's far from a walk in the park. But the excellent ensemble cast, including rapper Joeystarr and writer-director Maiwenn, ooze so much hard work, black humour and flawed idealism, that it feels like the good guys are winning.
Bienvenue Chez Les Ch'tis (2008)
This is a comedy caper about a dissatisfied postman forced into exile to the much-maligned “sticks” of the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region, with its supposedly backwards locals, the “Ch'tis.” It holds the record for highest box office take in French history, and made writer and co-star Dany Boon a folk hero in his native northern France.
Un Prophète - A Prophet (2009)
Tahar Rahim exploded on to the screen and gained comparisons to a young De Niro with this performance as an illiterate petty criminal who is taken under the wing (and the iron fist) of a Corsican mob boss in a French prison. When he connects with the Muslim community in jail, things get complicated and a tight, suspenseful crime thriller ensues. ‘A Prophet' was nominated for an Oscar, won a BAFTA, and won nine César awards in France.
Directed by Austrian Michael Haneke but with a French cast and French dialogue. This devastatingly beautiful and simple story of the daily struggles of an elderly couple after Anne (Emmanuele Riva) suffers a stroke, won the Palme d'Or and Oscar for Best Foreign Film. 86-year-old Riva almost made history by winning the Best Actress Oscar, but co-star Jean-Louis Trintignant deserves equal plaudits as her devoted husband. Watch it, but only with a shoulder to cry on.
An original version of this story was first published in 2013.