Film blog: Are these the 10 funniest French comedies of all time?

French films have a reputation as rather serious, even intellectual, but in fact the French love a good laugh and have produced some great comedies. Elizabeth Lanier selects 10 of the best . . .

Film blog: Are these the 10 funniest French comedies of all time?
Louis de Funès, Terry Thomas and André Bourvil, stars of La Grande Vadrouille. Photo: AFP

1.  Le Prénom (What's in a Name, 2012)

Vincent and his pregnant wife Anna are invited to dinner by his sister Elisabeth and her husband Pierre. When he announces that his future son will be named Adolphe, Elisabeth and Pierre are horrified, and old arguments and rivalries are rehashed alongside new revelations about each character, resulting in a night of chaos. Similar in style to the classic Diner des Cons (The Dinner Game), in which the comedy comes from arguments, taboos, and wit, while the viewer is on the edge of their seat in hilarious discomfort.



2. Le Grand Blond Avec une Chaussure Noire (The Tall Blond Man with One Black Shoe, 1972)

Francois Perrin, an unsuspecting violinist, is chosen at random to be a pawn in a rivalry between two men in the French secret service. As one agent believes Perrin to be a superspy, he puts him through more and more adventures to find out what Perrin knows, only for Perrin to escape unscathed through pure luck each time. Mayhem ensues from Perrin’s affair with his best friend’s wife, the rivalry between the two agents, and the ever-alluring presence of a femme fatale. 

3. La Grande Vadrouille (Don’t Look Now… We’re Being Shot At! 1966)

For over forty years, La Grande Vadrouille was the most successful movie in France, and remains in the top five today.

Set in World War II France, it tells the story of two British Royal Air Force crewmen who have been shot down over occupied Paris and are hidden by a house painter and the conductor of the Opéra Nationale. La Grande Vadrouille irreverently pokes fun at the British, the French and the Nazis, and it set up the genre of World War II farces, particularly as until this time, the war had been the subject of drama, not comedy.

The iconic duo of de Funès and Bourvil make this film a classic for any French person.

4. Les Visiteurs (The Visitors, 1993)

Godefroy, a twelfth-century knight, asks a wizard to take him back in time to before he accidentally killed his beloved fiancée’s father, but instead he’s transported to the year 1993.

He enlists the help of his descendant Beatrice, who looks exactly like his fiancée, to get back to his own time. While he’s in the twentieth century, he attempts to get used to modernity, and hilarity ensues. This movie is the second farce on this list, meaning that it’s a ridiculous, slapstick comedy that will have you giggling at the clownish characters.

5. OSS 117: Le Caire, nid d’espions (OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies, 2006)

Jean Dujardin, star of The Artist (2011), plays a narrow-minded and rather stupid French spy in this parody of the spy genre. 

OSS 117 is sent to investigate the disappearance of another OSS agent with whom he shares a past. He gets involved in a tangle involving Soviets, the French, British, Egyptians, and even some Nazis, all while juggling two romantic interests.

It’s a continuation of the OSS 117 film series from the 1950s and 1960s, although these were played straight, not for laughs.


6. La Vérité si je Mens!  (Would I Lie to you? 1997) 

Eddie is rescued from con men by a Jewish police officer, who mistakes him for “one of our own,” and he secures a job in the Parisian Garment District.

The French Jewish culture opens up to Eddie, a Gentile who must pretend to be Jewish even though he is completely ignorant of Jewish culture and customs, and soon falls in love with his boss’s daughter. Each character is a real person, not just a caricature, so the humor isn’t from making fun of a Jewish community, but laughing with them about both themselves and outsiders. In many ways it’s a descendant of the 1973 classic Les Aventures de Rabbi Jacobs, and is a heartwarming and truly hilarious film. 

7. Le Nom des Gens (The Names of Love, 2010)

Bahia Benmahmoud takes the phrase “make love, not war” literally, as she seduces right-wing men in order to convince them of the merits of the liberal cause.

It works wonderfully, until she meets the boring bird-flu expert  Arthur Martin. While it’s a romantic comedy, it is also about “Frenchness,” as Bahia’s and Arthur’s families come from polar opposite backgrounds and attempt to reconcile what it means to be French. From the unconventional cinematography to a shocking nude scene, and the hilarious interactions between such different people, this movie is unexpected and fresh.

8. La Vie est un Long Fleuve Tranquille (Life is a Long Quiet River, 1988)

“Two households, unalike in dignity” – this movie depicts two French families, one very rich, the other very poor.

They seem to have nothing in common, but 12 years ago, a doctor’s jilted mistress/nurse switched their newborns. When this is revealed to the families, the poor child goes to live with the rich family, telling his parents he thinks he can make money off of them. The idea that everyone can fall to the lowest common denominator, and the darker humor makes this movie unforgettable.

9. Tout ce Qui Brille (All That Glitters, 2010) 

Lila and Emy dream of penetrating the upper echelon of French society, and manage to do so by lying their way in.

They sneak their way into a nightclub and meet a rich, glamorous couple who offer them a ride home. Lila gives them the address of a much nicer building, and befriends the couple and snags a boyfriend, leaving Ely feeling left out. It’s less of a narrative movie than several snapshots of Lila’s and Ely’s lives, and the mounting lies that Lila tells, that get her into ridiculous situations.

10. Nos Jours Heureux  (Those Happy Days, 2006)

This nostalgic movie shows one summer in 1992, when Vincent must run a summer camp for the first time.

It depicts the relationship between campers and their counselors, and recalls the mood of a summer camp that many of us can relate to; figuring out friendships, romances, dancing, and fighting. The eccentricity of the characters results in dynamic conversations and hilarity. Not to mention, Intouchables’s Omar Sy makes his debut in this film.

Elizabeth Lanier works for Lost in Frenchlation, a Paris-based cinema club that screens French films with English subtitles. The club's next event on Friday, July 19th, has a comedy theme, with a screening of new Jean Dujardin comedy Le Daim, preceded by a stand-up comedy night (in English). For more details, click here.


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French films with English subtitles to watch in November

As days get shorter and temperatures drop, November is a great month to enjoy a warm and comforting moment at the cinema. Here’s a round up of the French movies with English subtitles to see in Paris this month.

Cinema in France
Photo: Loic Venance/AFP

The cinema group Lost in Frenchlation runs regular screenings of French films in the capital, with English subtitles to help non-native speakers follow the action. The club kicks off every screening with drinks at the cinema’s bar one hour before the movie, so it’s also a fun way to meet people if you’re new to Paris.

These are the events they have coming up in November.

Friday, November 5th

Boîte Noire – What happened on board the Dubai-Paris flight before it crashed in the Alps? In this thriller Matthieu, a young and talented black box analyst played by Pierre Niney (star of Yves Saint-Laurent among other movies) is determined to solve the reason behind this deadly crash, no matter the costs. 

The screening will take place at the Club de l’étoile cinema at 8pm. But you can arrive early for drinks at the bar from 7pm. 

Tickets are €10 full price, €8 for students and all other concessions, and can be reserved here.

Sunday, November 14th

Tralala – In the mood for music? This new delightful French musical brings you into the life of Tralala (played by Mathieu Amalric), a 48 years old, homeless and worn-out street singer, who one day gets mistaken for someone else. Tralala sees an opportunity to get a better life by taking on a new personality. He now has a brother, nephews, ex-girlfriends, and maybe even a daughter. But where is the lie? Where is the truth? And who is he, deep down?

The night will start with drinks from 6pm followed by the screening at 7pm at the Luminor Hôtel de Ville cinema. There is also a two-hour cinema-themed walk where you’ll be taken on a “musicals movie tour” in the heart of Paris, which begins at 4pm.

Tickets cost €10, or €8 for students and concessions, and can be found here. Tickets for the walking tour cost €20 and must be reserved online here.

Thursday, November 18th

Illusions Perdues – Based on the great novel series by Honoré de Balzac between 1837 and 1843, this historical drama captures the writer Lucien’s life and dilemmas who dreams about a great career of writing and moves to the city to get a job at a newspaper. As a young poet entering the field of journalism, he is constantly challenged by his desire to write dramatic and eye-catching stories for the press. But are they all true?

The evening will kick off with drinks at L’Entrepôt cinema bar at 7pm, followed by the movie screening at 8pm. Tickets are available online here, and cost €8.50 full price; €7 for students and all other concessions.

Sunday, November 21st

Eiffel – Having just finished working on the Statue of Liberty, Gustave Eiffel (played by Romain Duris) is tasked with creating a spectacular monument for the 1889 Universal Exposition in Paris. It’s ultimately his love story with Adrienne Bourgès (Emma Mackey) that will inspire him to come up with the idea for the Eiffel Tower.

After a first screening last month, Lost in Frenchlation is organising a new one at the Luminor Hôtel de Ville cinema, with pre-screening drinks at the cinema bar. 

Tickets cost €10, or €8 for students and concessions, and can be found here

Thursday, November 25th

Les Héroïques – Michel is a former junkie and overgrown child who only dreams of motorbikes and of hanging out with his 17-year-old son Léo and his friends. But at 50 years old, he now has to handle the baby he just had with his ex, and try not to make the same mistakes he has done in the past. 

The film will be followed by a Q&A with the director Maxime Roy who will discuss his very first feature. 

Tickets cost €10, or €8 for students and concessions, and can be found here.

Full details of Lost in Frenchlation’s events can be found on their website or Facebook page. In France, a health pass is required in order to go to the cinema.