MFCH Guide: Best French Films

by ally redmond
french movies posters

Indulge a glass of vin or a hot cup of cocoa or tea, and curl up with a classic French film as the nights draw in. It is an excellent way to immerse yourself in French culture — and perhaps an opportunity to brush up on your language skills, too! 


Below find our selection of our best French films.

Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (1964)

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The Parapluies de Cherbourg (“The Umbrellas of Cherbourg”) is a charming musical masterpiece that was a sensation when it was released back in 1964. French icon Catherine Deneuve plays Geneviève, a young woman who works at a boutique selling umbrellas, who falls for a charismatic man named Guy. Their romance is halted when he’s drafted to serve in the Algerian War, and drama ensues from thereon.

Belle du Jour (1967)

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Another cult French film that stars Catherine Deneuve — revered for its plot as well as its sophisticated and timeless fashion (Yves Saint Laurent played a pivotal role in costume design) — is Belle du Jour (“Beauty of the Day”). The racy yet elegant film centers on bored housewife Séverine’s dissatisfaction with her marriage, which culminates in spending afternoons working in a brothel. 

Le Mépris (1963) 

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Featuring Brigitte Bardot and written and directed by one of the most legendary French directors of all time, Jean-Luc Godard, Le Mépris (“Contempt”) is an outstanding classic French film. A triumph of compelling cinematography, this melancholic film is about a failed playwright (Michel Piccoli) who earns the contempt of his wife (Brigitte Bardot) when he starts to work with a corrupt American producer.

La Piscine (1969) 

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A visual thrill of a film that takes place during a long, balmy summer on the mesmerizing Côte d’Azur, it is a heady, Italian-French psychological thriller featuring famous French actors Alain Delon and Jane Birkin. La Piscine (“The Swimming Pool”) tells the story of a journalist’s boyfriend who allows her former lover to drown. Chaos and drama unfolds amid the beauty that surrounds them at every turn.

Au Revoir les Enfants (1987) 

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Au Revoir Les Enfants (“Goodbye, Children”) is a heartbreaking, quasi-autobiographical tale based on director Louis Malle’s childhood at a boarding school in Nazi-occupied France in 1944. An absolute must-see, watch this cult French film with tissues at the ready.

Bienvenue Chez les Ch’tis (2008)

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A stone-cold classic, this is the highest-grossing film of all time at the French box office. A lighthearted film that can be enjoyed by the entire family, Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis (“Welcome to the Sticks”) is a comedy about a postman’s assignment to the North of France.

Le Dîner des Cons (1998)

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Directed by Francis Verber, the comedy Le Dîner des Cons (“The Dinner Game”) is a riot of a film about the efforts of a group of wealthy and judgmental businessmen. Each week, they hold both a dinner and contest to see which of them can invite the biggest idiot.

La Belle et la Bête (1946) 

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We all know the Disney film, but have you ever seen this French art house masterpiece released in 1946? La Belle et la Bête (“The Beauty and the Beast”) — directed by the renowned poet and filmmaker Jean Cocteau — is a complete cinematic wonder, providing a twist on the traditional children’s story.

Les Choristes (2004) 

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Both a musical and drama, this enchanting, multi-award-winning film Les Choristes (“The Chorus”) is set in 1948, with its central plot revolving around an aimless young boy at a French boarding school named Pierre. That is, until a music teacher, Clément, arrives and starts a choir.

Le Scaphandre et le Papillon (2004)

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This highly acclaimed film is a deeply moving biographical epic based on the life of Jean-Dominique Bauby. Le Scaphandre et le Papillon (“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”) tells the story of Bauby — who was the Editor-in-Chief of Elle magazine — after he suffers a devastating stroke at age 43, tragically leaving him almost completely paralyzed.

The Artist (2011) 

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This delightful Oscar-winning movie is a touching cult French film, complete with a charming musical soundtrack. Black-and-white, silent and set in the 1920s, the plot focuses on an aging, married film idol (played by Jean Dujardin) who falls for an ingénue named Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo). 

Les Enfants du Paradis (1945)

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An old-fashioned French movie that is the epitome of romance set in the Parisian theatrical world of the 1840s. Released to widespread critical acclaim and exquisitely produced, Les Enfants du Paradis (“Children of Paradise”) is often considered to be one of the best French films of all time.

Les Intouchables (2012) 

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An uplifting comedy that is the second highest-grossing film in France (after Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis) Les Intouchables (“The Intouchables”) is a modern French film well-worth seeing. It is a feel-good movie depicting an unlikely friendship between a wealthy, quadriplegic aristocrat and a young, troubled live-in caretaker. 

Jules et Jim (1962) 

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Directed, produced and written by the man who largely characterized the French New Wave movement, François Truffaut, Jules et Jim (Jules and Jim) is an astounding French film that is one of the finest ever made. It charts the story of an enigmatic young woman, Catherine and her relationship with two men over the course of 20 years.

Amour (2012)

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Amour is a heart-wrenching masterpiece directed by Michael Haneke that is a rumination on life and death that will linger long in your memory after viewing. It tells the story of an elderly, retired French couple who face one of the biggest challenges of their lives when the wife, Anne (played by Emmanuelle Riva), suffers a stroke. 

Les Quatre Cent Coups (1959) 

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The directorial debut of François Truffaut, Les Quatre Cent Coups (“The 400 Blows”) is a haunting and seminal French film. The plot focuses on a neglected, 13-year-old Parisian boy who is constantly in trouble at school and ends up turning to a life of petty crime.

Le Père Noël est une Ordure (1982)

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Regarded as a French Christmas classic, Le Père Noël est une Ordure (“Santa Claus is a Stinker”) is a beloved comedy that’s perfect for the holiday season. The festive film is a 1982 farce that centers on the headquarters of a social services hotline, who is dealing with a despondent Santa Claus from a department store, on Christmas Eve.

Les Visiteurs (1993) 

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If you are looking for a fun fantasy film to watch, then Les Visiteurs (“The Visitors”) is the perfect movie for you. A tale about a 12th-century knight and his squire who find themselves suddenly transported in time to the end of the 20th century and are utterly flummoxed by modern society.

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