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.
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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.