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Eight great French films to watch over the holidays

With a lot of restrictions still in place this is likely to be a fairly quiet festive season for most people - but a great opportunity to curl up on the sofa and enjoy a film. Here are our recommendations of our favourite recent French films.

Eight great French films to watch over the holidays
Cinemas are closed over the Christmas holidays in France. Photo: AFP

À voix haute (Speak Up)

What do you get if you follow a group of teens in France’s most deprived département, Seine-Saint-Denis, for six weeks of debating training followed by a prestigious competition? The result, which is extraordinary, is found in this documentary, directed by Ladj Ly (the director of Les Misérables, 2019) and Stéphane de Freitas.

Beautifully shot and edited, Speak Up gives a rare and raw insight into the lives of a part of France's youth that not only often seen, growing up under the burden of economic hardship, but also the stigma of being from Seine-Saint-Denis, a Parisian banlieue infamous for its relatively high rates of crime, poverty and social problems. Mostly, though, this film is about the magic of words and what can happen young people get a real chance to thrive.

It’s from 2017, but it’s back on Netflix in France now.

 

Une fille facile (An Easy Girl)

A 16-year-old girl in Cannes, south of France, goes through a radical life change when her older cousin pops over to visit from Paris.

Her cousin, a Champagne-drinking, seductive 22-year-old with large hoop earrings and lots of makeup who “does not believe in love”, shows her a different way to live her life. It's an intimate portrait of young women and how growing up can be both painful and liberating, contrasted with the calm, beautiful landscapes of southern France.

 

 

Police (Night Shift)

It's fair to say that French police haven't had the best press this year, but this drama is a more sympathetic look at the challenges that police officers face, without attempting to gloss over the structural and systemic problems in the force.

It tells the story of three police officers who are given the job of escorting a failed asylum seeker to the airport for his repatriation flight. The film frequently replays scenes to show a different character's point of view and doesn't shy away from showing some of the grim challenges that police face and the effect it has on them. It stars the excellent Omar Sy, who is rapidly becoming a big star in France.

Stars Virginie Efira, Omar Sy and Grégory Gadebois.

 

Un pays qui se tient sage (A country that stays silent)

David Dufresne's documentary about police brutality in France came out just a few months before the country embarked on a loud, polarised debate about the topic.

The film is particularly pertinent because it's nearly solely based on amateur videos, most of which were shot during the 'yellow vest' protests. Dufresne has himself been an outspoken critic of the draft security bill that could ban such images in the future.

EXPLAINED: The new French law that restricts photos and videos of police officers

 

But the most interesting thing about this documentary is its form, which is centred around the choice to create dialogue in a time dominated by short Twitter-outbursts. The result is compelling, with a few unexpected moments of breakthrough.

 

Une Sirène à Paris (Mermaid in Paris)

A struggling nightclub musician finds a mermaid washed up on the banks of the Seine, so naturally takes her home to nurse her back to health.

This film has that very French combination of realistic storytelling interspersed with flashes of magic and fantasy – so while the ethereal mermaid hovers between life and death the musician has an argument with the receptionist at the hospital about whether his carte vitale will be accepted. Romantic, charming and weird, it's a perfect holiday watch.

Stars Tchéky Karyo, Rossy de Palma.

 

Jumbo 

Objectophilia is the technical name for what afflicts Jeanne, the main character of this film.

The shy and troubled young woman takes a job at a fairground and forms a romantic and then sexual attraction to one of the fairground rides, the titular Jumbo.

For a film with a fairly strange subject, the film is actually quite down-to-earth as it shows Jeanne's struggles with her eccentric mother and her difficulty in connecting with the world around her. The scenes between Jeanne and Jumbo are beautifully and imaginatively shot and surprisingly tender.

Stars Noémie Merlant and Emmanuelle Bercot.

 

Grégory (Who killed little Grégory)

This is actually a 5-part Netflix documentary, rather than a film, but it's a fascinating look at a case that has haunted France for more than 30 years – the unsolved murder of four-year-old Grégory Villemin.

The very through documentary looks at the crime itself, but also what happened afterwards – several bungled police investigations, the appalling behaviour of certain sections of the media, the poisoning of community and family relations and finally another murder.

It's not exactly light-hearted, but it's certainly gripping and an excellent example of what the multi-part documentary format can achieve when done right.

 

Santa & Cie (Christmas & Co)

Anyone looking for an actual Christmas movie could turn to Santa & Cie, a clever comedy from 2017, directed by French comedian Alain Chabat, who also plays the main character, a slightly grumpy (and very French) Santa.

To save his elves (lutains), Santa embarks on a perilous journey over a thunderstorm stricken sky, which forces him to order his reindeer to make an emergency landing on “that big red toy over there” – the Parisian landmark Moulin Rouge. It’s a heartwarming and funny film that incorporates a lot of wordplay in the dialogues, which means watching it with French subtitles is perfect for foreigners who want to improve their vocabulary. 

Stars Alain Chabat and Audrey Tautou.

 
These films are all available on either Netflix or French cinema club Lost in Frenchlation's online film portal – the first is free, after that it's a subscription service
 

Member comments

  1. Omar Sy rapidly becoming a big star? Where have you been the past few years? Since the brilliant Intouchables he has been the number one box office star in France!

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FILM

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.

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