Nothing beats relaxing with a great film while you practice your French! French tutor Carol Beth shares her favorite French movies for students…
Watching movies is a great way to maintain and expand your knowledge of French, and there are quite a few enjoyable French movies out there. The following list covers many of the most well-known films that students should check out.
The list begins with the most “tame” movies and progresses to those that include romantic themes (or scenes) and sometimes violence.
For later films, parents and teachers of younger French students may wish to preview, warn, supervise, obtain guardian permission, or wait until the children or students are mentally and emotionally ready. Ratings are included where possible.
1) Astérix et Obélix contre César (1999)
This film is based on the popular French comic strip starring the two title characters. Astérix is a fierce and clever little Gaulois who – with his big, strong sidekick Obélix and the rest of their village – stands up to the Romans who have taken over the rest of Gaul (France’s old name), and would love to finish off their task by taking over Astérix and Obelix’s village. But, Asterix and Obelix are too clever for that, right?
This film was followed by Astérix & Obélix: Mission Cléopâtre in 2002, Astérix aux Jeux Olympiques in 2008, and Astérix et Obélix: Au service de sa Majesté in 2012. Unlike the comic strip, these four films are all live-action films with real actors. There have also been quite a few cartoon-based movies from the 1967 cartoon Astérix le Gaulois all the way up to the 2014 3-D cartoon Asterix: Le Domaine des dieux. Not all seem to have been rated. As a reference point, Astérix & Obélix: Mission Cléopâtre was rated PG.
2) La Gloire de Mon Pere (My Father’s Glory) (1990)
La Gloire de Mon Pere follows the experiences of a young boy during a vacation outside the city of Provence, in the south of France. The landscape and ways of life depicted in the film are typical of French families at the time of the film; southern French landscape still appears similarly today. La Gloire de Mon Pere also has a sequel, Le Chateau de Ma Mere (My Mother’s Castle) (1990), in which the boy’s family returns to the city for work and school, but continues to visit the same country house on the weekends. Not rated.
3) Les Choristes (2004)
For music and education lovers, Les Choristes is a little like a French Mr. Holland’s Opus. The main character, a teacher, takes a job at a private boys’ school which is ruled with an iron fist by an overly-strict and closed-minded principal. The new teacher develops a more positive relationship with the students with his understanding character and love for music. The impact on all their lives is great, especially for one little boy, who grows up to become the film’s narrator. Rated PG-13.
4) Jean de Florette (1986)
Jean de Florette is based on a novel by Marcel Pagnol, and tells the tragic tale of Jean de Florette – a hunchback with a love for life, determination, and work ethic – who returns to the land he has inherited in Provence with his wife and daughter. Their neighbors, an uncle and his grown nephew, pretend to be friends, but really have an eye on their land. Jean de Florette is followed by a sequel, Manon des Sources (1986), which follows the story of Jean’s daughter, Manon. Manon des Sources follows up on and resolves much of what happened in Jean de Florette. Rated PG and PG-13, respectively.
5) Cyrano de Bergerac (1990)
Cyrano de Bergerac is based on an 1897 French play by Edmond Rostand set in 18th-century Paris. Cyrano is a proud and eloquent soldier with a gift for poetry, but he is not very good-looking and is particularly sensitive about his rather large nose. He falls in love with his cousin, but she has her eye on a handsome but tongue-tied, ineloquent young soldier in Cyrano’s regiment named Christian. Out of his desire to express himself, without disrespecting the cousin he loves, Cyrano initiates a devious plot with Christian. This is a great film for those who love tragic romance that is also somewhat intellectual. Rated PG.
6) La Vie en Rose (2007)
La Vie en Rose recounts the story of Edith Piaf (played by Marion Cotillard). Piaf was a famous 20th-century singer around the time of World War II who, despite difficult and humble beginnings and personal problems throughout her life, captured the French imagination. Rated PG-13.
7) Les Compères (1983)
Les Compères begins with a worried mother who calls two old lovers to help her find, help and bring back home her troubled, runaway son. She independently tells both lovers – neither of which is her husband nor the actual father her son has always known – that they are his father. The boy is thoroughly confused when they find him almost simultaneously with the same claim, but comes to appreciate their humorously opposite personalities. Rated PG.
8) Timbuktu (2014)
Timbuktu follows the story of Kidane, a cattle herder, who lives outside of Timbuktu at a time when religious fundamentalism has become more common. Though his life is at first peaceful, local ruling jihadists soon disrupt his and his family’s lives. Includes Tuareg, Bambara, French, Arabic, and a little English. Rated PG-13.
9) Le Fabuleux Destin D’Amélie Poulain (2001)
Le Fabuleux Destin D’Amélie Poulain was a hit in the US when it first came out, following the life of Amélie as she seeks true love. Amélie is a cute and sweet but mischievous character who puts her crush through quite a search through Paris to find her. Rated R.
10)La Femme Nikita (1990)
Nikita is offered a chance to avoid punishment (life in prison) for past crimes in return for her role as an assassin. After some convincing, she does so – quite successfully – cultivating her feminine charm, discretion, and deadly aim. As she builds her new life, she also finds herself a boyfriend she loves and who loves her. But then a mission goes awry. I do not recommend this film for especially young viewers or for those who are sensitive to romantic or violent scenes. Rated R.
11) The Trois Couleurs Trilogy
The Trois Couleurs trilogy, consisting of Bleu (Blue), Blanc (White), and Rouge (Red) (named for the colors of the French flag), follows the stories of three groups of individuals whose stories are connected by the intersection of their lives. The films’ stories are said to represent liberty, equality, and fraternity – the ideals of the French Revolution. Bleu explores the life of the main character, Julie, as she seeks emotional liberty after the death of her husband and daughter in a car crash. Blanc follows Karol, a recent divorcee, as he seeks equality through revenge. And finally, Rouge explores the relationships between the characters and, at the end, connects the main characters from all three films. All three films are rated R.
12) La Haine (1995)
La Haine examines the tense relationship between a group of poor Parisian immigrant youth and the police, caused in part by their actions and in part by prejudice towards them. The entire film is in black and white. Rated R.
Do you see a film that might fit your tastes? Many of them are available in the foreign films section of local video rental stores or on Amazon. Or, if there’s a French movie you love that didn’t make the list, tell us about it in the comments below!
Carol Beth L. teaches French lessons in San Francisco, CA. She also studied Japanese in high school and college. She has her Masters in French language education from the Sorbonne University in Paris and has been teaching since 2009. Learn more about Carol Beth here!
Photo by Sara Robertson