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7 of the best French films of the past year

The Local France
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7 of the best French films of the past year
A César sculpture is displayed prior to the start of the 35th Cesars French film awards ceremony in Paris. (Photo by PATRICK KOVARIK / AFP)

France's César awards - the 'French Oscars' - will be held on Friday. Here's our pick of some of the best films up for the awards this year (plus one that was inexplicably not nominated).

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The César award ceremony - the French equivalent to the Oscars or the BAFTAs - will be held at the Olympia in Paris and broadcast on Canal+ at 8.45pm on Friday, February 23rd.

It's the standard awards ceremony format - all the biggest names in cinema, a red carpet and some fancy frocks, lachrymose speeches and probably a minor controversy. 

If that doesn't sound like your kind of thing, The Local has some suggestions for the award-nominated films to watch. 

Le Règne Animal (The Animal Kingdom)

The winner in terms of nominations (12) is Le Règne Animal, a 'creature thriller' with a few interesting twists.

French cinema grandee Romain Duris (L'Auberge Espagnole, Heartbreaker) stars as a man whose wife has been diagnosed with a new and terrifying illness that causes humans to gradually turn into animals.

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He finds himself in a rural community that is divided between people who support the government line of keeping the 'creatures' locked up until a cure can be found and those who argue that society as a whole must find a way to live in peace with the human/animal hybrids affected by the illness.

The film provides enough pace to keep viewers interested while it grapples with the more existential question of what really separates humans from animals. The script was written pre-Covid, but the scenes of masked medics taking suffers away have a definite resonance for post-pandemic audiences.

 

Anatomie d'une chute (Anatomy of a fall)

You've probably already heard of Anatomy of a Fall, directed by Justine Triet, who became the third female director to win the Palme d'Or at Cannes. It has been nominated for numerous international awards, including the Oscar for Best Picture. It even won the Golden Globe for Best Screenplay. 

As for the Césars, the film came in second-place for the total number of nominations (11). 

Justine Triet's courtroom drama is bilingual, switching between French and English, as is the couple at the centre of the story. At its heart, Anatomy of a Fall is a courtroom drama that tries to untangle whether the female main character is responsible for her husband's unexpected death. 

For foreigners in France, it is a fascinating look into the French legal system, as well as the inner-workings and challenges that come with being in a multi-cultural relationship, especially one where neither party is speaking their mother tongue.

There is a special screening of this film with English subtitles on Sunday March 10th in Paris via the cinema club Lost in Frenchlation

 

Little Girl Blue

In French despite its English-language title, this Franco-Belgian production is an intensely personal project for director Mona Achache as she tries to unravel the mystery of her mother's suicide.

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Achche appears in the film as herself, but as part of her research she has the actress Marion Cotillard play the character of her mother. The film is therefore a mixture of drama, documentary and archive footage that creates an extremely unusual but undoubtedly powerful piece of cinema.

 

Yannick

Nominated for two Césars, including Best Actor, Yannick is a dark comedy about a disgruntled car park attendant who goes to great lengths to take enough time off work to enjoy a night at the theatre. He is unpleasantly surprised by the performance on the stage, and decides to take the entire production hostage, demanding better entertainment. 

It includes some famous cast members, like the French comedian Blanche Gardin, and it was directed by Quentin Dupieux, who is known for having an unconventional approach to comedy.

For example, a recent film of his, Le Daim (Deerskin) stars Jean Dujardin as a man who spends his life savings and turns to a life of crime just because he is obsessed with his fringed deerskin jacket. It's safe to say he is not everyone's cup of tea, but even non-Dupieux fans can enjoy Yannick and all of its zinging one-liners. 

 

 

READ MORE: Readers recommend: The best French comedy films and TV series

Je verrai toujours vos visages (All your faces)

Nominated for nine Césars, All your faces takes a look at how restorative justice would really work in practice, bringing victims face-to-face with perpetrators.

France has been offering certain restorative justice measures since 2014, namely to victims of robbery and rape who are given the ability to meet and speak with the offenders in supervised, controlled environments.

The film tries to get at the complexity of crime and restorative justice generally, as it follows both victims and perpetrators.

If you are a fan of the French spy series The Bureau, the actor who played Henri Duflot, Jean-Pierre Darroussin, plays 'Michel' in All your faces.

 

Le Procès Goldman (The Goldman Case)

Nominated for eight Césars, the Goldman Case tells the story of the real-life second trial of Pierre Goldman, a French Jewish left-wing activist who was convicted of several robberies and suspected of killing two pharmacists during another armed robbery.

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The film gives a semi-historical, semi-fictional account of the 1976 case. The film's aim is to "illustrate the passions, convulsions and divides" in French society in the 1970s, but its themes of injustice, anti-Semitism and racism will definitely resonate with modern audiences too. 

 

And one more . . .

We're not doubting the wisdom of the César judges, but there was one film that we were surprised not to see among the nominations and that is the powerful drama Bâtiment 5, from Oscar-nominated French director Ladj Ly. 

Telling the story of a young woman who takes up the fight for decent housing on behalf of her community in the Paris suburbs and the local mayor thrust into an explosive situation by the sudden death of his predecessor, the film has a lot to say about race, class and what it means to be French in the 21st century and has a dramatic climax that is hard to forget.

 

How can I watch them?

As is standard with awards ceremonies, most of these films are no longer in cinemas. 

A good place to start is the Arte Boutique where films can be rented or bought as downloads without having to sign up for a streaming service. The French pay-TV channel Canal Plus also offers a similar service via Canal VOD. Depending on your location you may be able to see some of the above on Apple TV, YouTube, or Amazon.

The Paris-based cinema club Lost in Frenchlation - which screens French films with English subtitles - is showing Anatomy of a Fall on March 10th. You can check out their full programme here

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