RR Films: French

Jeanne Moreau has just died at the age of 89. Along with the likes of Simone Signoret, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Alain Delon and Yves Montand, she epitomised Frenchness in films as I grew up: that sophisticated, sexy, lanquid passion, perpetually swathed in Gauloise smoke. When you add in the directors – Truffaut, Goddard, Chabrol, Rohmer and the like – there seemed to exist a very specific French way of being, on film at least.

The RR Songs topic was about songs in French but I’m asking for films steeped in French, not just the language but also the behaviour, attitude and everything else that is recognizably Gallic, berets, onions and striped shirts notwithstanding…. Except that I’m picking one full of berets, moustaches, striped shirts and shrugs: M. Hulot’s Holiday. Jacques Tati’s brilliant timing and physical comedy is timeless and oh, la la, so French:


What French films would you recommend? Do you know any that are de trop enough to be caricature?

21 thoughts on “RR Films: French

  1. First thought is The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Only problem is that i saw it in 3rd year French, the only bit of it i probably actually understood was “Guy, je t’aime”, and it was a musical. So i don’t know if i even liked it or not. I’ll try to think of something better, i loved a lot of French films, but i’m unsure if they fit your rubric of stereotype.

  2. I’ve actually been to St Marc-sur-Mer, which is where Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot was filmed. It is a rather nice, understated sort of place, or, it was back in 1987 when I went there.

    French films that are not only full of recognisably French tropes but which are also caricatures are pretty rare, I think, but one that might fit the bill is Luis Buñuel’s 1972 The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie.

    Another one, which is a musical Whodunnit is the François Ozon film 8 Women, which features a cast of famous French actresses, Danielle Darrieux, Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert, Emmanuelle Béart, Fanny Ardant, Virginie Ledoyen, Ludivine Sagnier, and Firmine Richard as the eponymous eight women.

  3. What French films would I recommend ? Well I could name around 50 without even thinking but if it’s stereotypical French you’re after that’s ‘plus delicate’ ! The complete irrelevance of French wedding vows is often held up as a characteristic of French bourgeois life so the short Renoir film “Partie de Campagne” would illustrate this. It concerns a family out for Sunday lunch near Paris. The restaurant they visit has 2 young men who take a liking to both the wife and daughter (who is engaged) of the family. After the meal the gigolos manage to get the 2 women alone and suggest taking boats down the nearby river. The wife goes off with one and the daughter falls in love with the other. Whether they both make the ultimate sacrifice we never know but the daughter ends up in a loveless marriage and continually thinks back to her one moment of true passion ! It is hardly a caricature though !

    • The complete irrelevance of French wedding vows is often held up as a characteristic of French bourgeois life.
      Ever seen Ozon’s 5×2 (Cinq Fois Deux)? Five episodes of a marriage played in reverse, the first scene (i.e. the end of the relationship) is the couple completing their separation, post-divorce court, by going to bed together. As you do.

  4. One I remember from my yoof is Le Trou, directed by Jacques Becker with a largely amateur cast, set in a prison. Tres Francaise…

  5. This one could go on and on and on.

    Trying to avoid those Jean Pierre Jeunet movies (lovely to look at but they’ve always seemd a little contrived to me…sorry), i would include Betty Blue, Le Samourai and Les Diaboliques. Obviously La Regle du Jeu is up there as one of the greatest (or most important) movies of all time, but maybe the subject-matter and it’s age mean it doesn’t ooze the Frenchness that i think you’re looking for.

    Maybe i could add Bob le Flambeur and Rififi, a couple of noir classics, lovely.

  6. Yes, i think Le Samourai is the more quintessentially French of the two … its achingly cool. I included Les Diaboliques because the characters just seem to exhibit all those traits the original post required. Love them both though.

  7. Godard’s new wave classic Breathless oozes French cool.
    It wasn’t the first film I thought of though. La Haine came to me immediately as being a very different epitome of France than what you are looking for really, but has that raw edginess that offers a different and less romantic view of modern France.

  8. I’m sure I’ve mentioned this one for some other topic but the 2002 film Etre et Avoir was a documentary about a small village school in France which had a surprisingly large degree of success.
    The school was pretty much a one man show and the teacher’s dedication was what won everybody over.
    Sadly, there was a subsequent argument about money when he realised that he had agreed to appear in a small film for a rather small fee and in the end the film-makers had made rather a lot of dosh.
    No stereotypes but you do learn a lot about French rural schooling.


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