The history of cinema officially begins in France on December 28, 1895, when the Lumière brothers screen their silent short film ‘‘La sortie de l’usine ” (factory exit) at the Grand Café on Boulevard Des Capucines in Paris. At the dawn of the Seventh Art, another French maverick, Georges Méliès used prodromal and ingenious special effects to create the first fantastic parallel worlds on celluloid. Since then, French cinema has occupied a prestigious place on the international artistic scene, influencing the work of other countries and offering audiences some of the greatest works in the history of cinema. In this article, Eroica recommends 5 French films not to be missed!
The 5 French films not to be missed
- Hatred – Mathieu Kassovitz (1995)
”This is the story of a man who falls from a 50-story building. As he gradually falls from one floor to another, the guy repeats himself to encourage himself: «So far, so good. Up to here, so good. So far, so good.” The problem is not the fall, but the landing”
As first in the ranking among the 5 French films not to be missed, it is impossible not to mention Hate, by Mathieu Kassovitz. On the outskirts of Paris, the winds of revolt are blowing after 16-year-old Abel is beaten up by the police. The youths of the Banlieu take to the streets and fight all night with the police. The Jew Vinz (Vincent Cassel), the North African Said (Said Taghmaoui) and Hubert (Hubert Koundé) are a trio of losers: unemployed, angry and without a future. The vulgar day of the three desperate youngsters begins when Vinz finds a gun lost by a policeman during a fight and decides to use it. A talented twenty-five year old, directed by Mathieu Kassovitz, in splendid black and white and told in a dialect that is not easily translatable. The film pays homage to the best of French and American genre cinema with Vincent Cassel exploding with a majesty and dramatic intensity befitting his talent. Kassovitz observes the banlieue with an adequate distance, worthy of winning the prize for best director at Cannes, and with the courage of one who is not afraid to get his hands dirty, without pushing for identification with the protagonist and, like the Nazi skin that interprets, his face, the danger of a cold detachment of superiority. In the underground context of the metropolitan guerrilla, Vinz, Said and Hubert act as soldiers armed with hatred towards themselves and towards others, poised between the desire for respect and resignation to the immutability of their condition, marked by a hyperdimensional clock, emptied by the insignificance of their speeches and the emptiness of their looks.
- Léon–Luc Besson (1994)
NYC 90s. Stanfield (Gary Oldman) is a ruthless and perverse cop and has a mafia family exterminated out of pure self-interest. Mathilda (Natalie Portman), a 12-year-old girl who escaped the massacre, faces the future with all her innocence and stubbornness. Her encounter with Léon (Jean Reno) is fatal: a taciturn and semi-unknown assassin, she becomes the girl’s protector and the two live in an ambiguous complicity in which everything, including sex, is promised. In a corrupt, ruthless and violent society, the character of Léon, who moves skillfully between the grotesque and the allegorical, eventually becomes the only positive note, driven by the pure love of a girl who wants to imitate a murderer and find it really uncomfortable. Léon is one of the milestones in the history of cinema, challenging the classic conventions of a genre. It’s a mixture of shock and amazement that, once seen, is unforgettable. The film’s success is largely attributed to Besson’s ability to unite seemingly discordant and often criticized genres. Indeed, it has become one of the most beloved French films in the history of cinema for its unusual balance between the violence of action cinema and the sweetness of drama characteristic of French cinema.
- The fabulous world of Amélie – Jean-Pierre Jeunet (2001)
Amélie Poulain (Audrey Tautou) is a beautiful girl who moved from the provincial town where she lives with her doctor father to work as a waitress in a bistro in Montmartre in Paris. The discovery of a forgotten treasure leads the Parisian waitress to question her life and change the history of those around her. Amélie’s fabulous world succeeds in its extraordinary intent of transforming the complex and mysterious emotional journey of the protagonist into a vivid image, highlighting how the life of each individual is determined by many small and seemingly insignificant fragments, and how a single, positive event or negative, could trigger an unexpected chain reaction. At the basis of all this (with the exception of Amélie) there is the fundamental importance of empathy, the only gift that deeply characterizes the human being and is the one that allows you to create a microcosm of joy around you by projecting happiness of one’s own destiny, which backfires at the right moment.
- The Pianist – Roman Polanski (2002)
Winner of the Palme d’Or at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival, directed by Roman Polanski the is based on the autobiographical novel of the same name by Wladyslaw Spielmann (composer). The film projects to us viewers the experiences of a Jewish pianist from the outbreak of World War II and the German invasion of Poland, through the occupation of Warsaw, the creation, life, escape and survival in the ghetto and the liberation from part of the Red Army. Wladyslaw (Adrien Brody) is playing Chopin on a radio recording but is interrupted by news of the Nazi invasion of Poland. The young man witnesses a terrible spiral: his whole family is deported. Despite being one of Polanski’s most harrowing stories, it is considered one of the most important French films, as the director’s ability to portray the film perfectly reflects the events of the Holocaust.
- Breathless – Jean Luc Godard (1960)
”If you don’t love the sea, if you don’t love the mountains, if you don’t love the city… go to hell!”
Breathless (À bout de souffle) from 1960 written and directed by Jean-Luc Godard, is considered one of the French manifesto films of the Nouvelle Vague. Michel Poiccard (Jean Paul Belmondo) is a small-time crook from Marseilles, overbearing and nervous. He steals a sports car, talks to a camera, does a forbidden overtaking and is caught by the police. There he takes out a pistol, kills one of the two policemen and flees towards Paris. On the Champs-Elysées he meets Patricia (Jean Seberg), an American student and aspiring journalist who makes a living selling the Herald Tribune on the street. Their relationship is indecisive, with constant skirmishes, arguments and colorful romances. The feature film debut of Jean-Luc Godard, former critic of the ”Cahiers du Cinéma”, is at the same time an essay on the aesthetics of the nascent Nouvelle Vague, a gesture of love by cinephiles for classic cinema and a fundamental work of the linguistic renewal of the cinema of the sixties. From the montage (whose logical continuity was broken by then glaring violations, such as off-axis joints and chronological omissions in the same scene) to the correctness of the shot (frequent scrutiny of the camera, scenes in which the speaker or his opposite is off-centre with respect to the visual axis), the film carries out a series of cinematographic experiments, generating a sort of continuous estrangement effect through a series of stylistic choices that the director makes to restore randomness and dead times in an expressive function which, apart from contemporary work of the Italian Michelangelo Antonioni, leaves few points of comparison.
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Featured image source: from the movie “Hate” Wikipedia