French Cinema - an appreciation

Discussion in 'Visual Arts' started by Blencathra, Oct 20, 2008.

  1. Blencathra

    Blencathra New Member Thread Starter

    Being a huge fan of French cinema I thought it might be interesting to have a discussion on the subject.

    Before kicking off, these are just my personal perceptions and preferences, not de facto and I don't expect or desire agreement - just discussion and perhaps some recommendations. My feelings regarding what Hollywood has become are not meant to be confrontational - just honest.

    I'll opine that France has stood almost alone, in the last 20 years, in making films that have great integrity and an ability to convey atmosphere, something which for me Hollywood has all but lost. The use of music by French film-makers being a prime example of their art. I find that Hollywood uses music excessively, with little thought to atmosphere or content. It's inclusion in films is often with a mind to post release marketing and merchandising, rather than to enhance the project The French film industry use music propitiously - the right piece at the right time and the use of silence wherever possible. It is my belief that atmosphere is better obtained by ambient sounds and often (but not exclusively) spoilt by the use of music - an opinion that is certainly not shared by Hollywood and often not by film fans.

    I own the following French films on DVD

    Alphaville, Une Etrange Aventure de Lemmy Caution - Criterion Special Edition
    Amants Du Pont-Neuf, Les (aka The Lovers on the Bridge)
    Amelie (aka Le Fabuleux Destin D'Amélie Poulain)
    Armée Des Ombres, L' (aka Army In The Shadows)
    Bandera, La
    Bob Le Flambeur
    Bon Voyage
    Bossu, Le
    Breathless (aka "A Bout De Souffle")
    Bride Wore Black, The (aka La Mariee Etait En Noir)
    Brotherhood Of The Wolf (aka Le Pacte Des Loups)
    Cercle Rouge, Le (aka The Red Circle) - Criterion Special Edition
    City of Lost Children (Dubbed version) (aka La Cité des Enfants Perdus)
    Clockmaker, The (aka L' Horloger de Saint-Paul)
    Confidentially Yours (aka Vivement Dimanche!) (aka Finally Sunday)
    Corbeau, Le (aka The Raven)
    Crimson Rivers 2:Angels Of The Apocalypse (aka Rivières Pourpres II, Les Anges de L'Apocalypse)
    Crimson Rivers, The - Special Edition (aka Rivières Pourpres, Les)
    Crying Freeman (dubious inclusion - given it's English Languauge - and I have to say - it is DIRE)
    Death In A French Garden (aka Péril en la Demeure)
    Diabolique, Les - Criterion Special Edition
    Doulos, Le (Wide Screen)
    Egouts Du Paradis, Les
    Empire of the Wolves (aka L' Empire des Loups)
    Espions, Les
    Femme Nikita, La
    Flic, Un (aka Dirty Money)
    Girl From Paris, The (aka Une Hirondelle a Fait le Printemps)
    Girl On The Bridge, The (aka La Fille sur le Pont)
    Grande Illusion, La - Criterion Special Edition
    Happenstance ( aka Le Battement d'ailes du Papillon)
    He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not (aka À la Folie... Pas du Tout)
    Homme Du Train, L'
    Horseman on the Roof, The (aka Le Hussard Sur le Toit)
    Jean de Florette
    Lady And The Duke (aka L' Anglaise et le Duc)
    Laissez-Passer (aka Safe Conduct)
    Last Metro, The (aka Le Dernier Metro)
    Lift to the Scaffold (aka Ascenseur Pour L'Echafaud / aka Elevator to the Gallows)
    Lucie Aubrac
    Ma Vie Est Un Enfer (aka My Life Is Hell)
    Man Escaped, A (aka Un Condamné à Mort S'est Echappé)
    Manon de Sources (aka Manon Of The Spring)
    My Father's Glory (aka La Gloire De Mon Pere)
    My Mother's Castle (aka La Chateau De Ma Mere)
    Olivier, Olivier
    Paltoquet, Le [1986]
    Pepe Le Moko - Criterion Special Edition
    Place Vendome
    Professionnel, Le (aka The Professional)
    Pura Formalita, Una (aka A Pure Formality)
    Quai Des Orfevres (aka Jenny Lamour) - Criterion Special Edition
    Reine Margot, La (aka Queen Margot)
    Revenge of the Musketeers (aka La Fille de d'Artagnan)
    Rififi - Criterion Special Edition (aka Du Rififi Chez Les Hommes)
    Samouraï, Le - Criterion Special Edition
    Sorrow And The Pity, The (aka Le Chagrin et la Pitié)
    Sunday In The Country (aka Un Dimanche à la Campagne)
    Trois Couleurs: Blanc (aka "Three Colours: White")
    Trois Couleurs: Bleu (aka "Three Colours: Blue")
    Trois Couleurs: Rouge (aka "Three Colours: Red")
    Trou, Le (aka The Hole) - Criterion Special Edition
    Vallee, La (aka "The Valley - Obscured By Clouds")
    Very Long Engagement, A (aka Un Long Dimanche De Fiancailles)
    Veuve De Saint-Pierre, La (aka "The Widow of Saint-Pierre")
    Visiteurs, Les
    Wages Of Fear, The (aka "La Salaire De La Peur") - Criterion Special Edition

    Please cite any films/directors that you feel worthy of mention. Also, discussions with regard to stlye and atmosphere would be interesting, given my thoughts/misgivings mentioned above.
    ando here likes this.
  2. Blencathra

    Blencathra New Member Thread Starter

    For the uninitiated and as a postscript to my initial post, here are a few of the stand-out films in my collection with a very brief synopsis. Remember, these are my favourites - NOT necessarily what I, or others, may consider to be the BEST French films.

    Amelie - Quirky, charming, funny, romantic (usually a quality I would avoid like the plague) and GREEN.

    Armée Des Ombres, L' (aka Army in the Shadows) - Understated film about the Resistance - heroic.and at times brutal – especially in their dealings with a traitor.

    Bossu, Le
    - Swashbuckling romp along the lines of the Three Musketeers

    Brotherhood of the Wolf (aka Le Pacte Des Loups) - Odd amalgam of mystery and martial arts set in France of 1765 - yet it all works. Visually stunning with a great soundtrack

    Cercle Rouge, Le (aka The Red Circle) - Jewellery heist – another stunning example of French cinema at it’s best,

    Death in A French Garden (aka Péril en la Demeure) - Elaborate mystery surrounding a music teacher, his affair with a pupil's mother and a hit-man. The most original use of scene transposition and great music - Schubert and Granados.

    Delicatessen - Post apocalyptic black comedy, where a local grocer feeds the inhabitants of an apartment building on meat - but where does it come from? Bizarre but great fun. Another very GREEN film.

    Diabolique, Les -Wife and mistress of a sadistic school-teacher plot to kill him. They drown him in the bathtub and dump the body in the school's swimming pool... but when the pool is drained, the body has disappeared! What follows is really creepy and suspenseful. A classic.

    Diva - Stylish film about a motorcycle delivery rider's obsession with an opera singer, a tape mix-up, and an ingenious escape from the two groups of pursuers - features Catalani's" La Wally"

    Doulos, Le - Gangster flick about betrayal and revenge

    Flic, Un (aka Dirty Money)
    - Hitchcockian bank heist

    Grande Illusion, La - WW1 prison camp drama – rightly considered one of the gems of French cinema.

    Jean de Florette – Naïve city boy moves to the country to what he thinks is a pastoral idyll. Watch your neighbours!

    L'Appartement - Passion, coincidences and plot twists

    Lucie Aubrac - Another French resistance film - this time with regard to what lengths a wife will go to to affect her husband's release from the Gestapo

    Man Escaped, A (aka Un Condamné à Mort S'est Echappé) - Another man imprisoned by the Gestapo - intriguing escape plans afoot again

    Manon de Sources (aka Manon Of The Spring) - Daughter of Jean de Florette dishes out her revenge on the village that brought her father's life to a premature end

    My Father's Glory (aka La Gloire De Mon Pere) - Funny, nostalgic and charming - seen from the eyes of two brothers and the friends they make at their holiday home, set in the dry heat of the Provence

    My Mother's Castle (aka La Chateau De Ma Mere) - Sequel to the above. A short cut through a private estate and the eccentric people they meet on their journeys

    Olivier, Olivier
    - Boy goes missing and turns up years later. Is it really him?

    Pepe Le Moko - Gangster flic set in the Algiers Kasbah and the cops attempts to capture the anti-hero.

    Rififi (aka Du Rififi Chez Les Hommes) - Fabulous safe-cracking drama with a fantastic robbery section, lasting the best part of half an hour, set in complete silence

    Samouraï, Le - Stylish drama about an emotionless hitman whose life is put in danger when his latest hit is witnessed and he is arrested

    Trou, Le (aka The Hole) - Fabulous prison break drama - ingenuity personified

    Wages Of Fear, The (aka "La Salaire De La Peur") - Stunning drama about a bunch of losers hired to transport lorry loads of nitro-glycerine over a treacherous mountain pass
    Rubberpigg likes this.
  3. Matthew B.

    Matthew B. Scream Quietly

    Tokyo, Japan
    Just curious — don't you like Godard? I'm surprised not to see anything of his on your list beyond Alphaville.
  4. monewe

    monewe Forum Resident

    My favourite French film of all time is La Grande Vadrouille with Bouvril and Louis De Funes.

    The only copy I can get is in french but even not understanding the language it is hilarious.

    Apparently it topped the french box office for having the most viewers up until 2008.
  5. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your Host Your Host

    When I was in Paris for a month in 1987 I remember sitting in my room on the Left Banke and a Jean-Paul Belmondo film came on and my first thought was "Oh, they are showing an old French movie on TV!"

    Uh, duh, I was in France, dummy...

    Just shows how little that happened (happens) in the USA..
  6. Blencathra

    Blencathra New Member Thread Starter

    You missed "À bout de souffle". "Alphaville" was one of my few mistakes - I cannot stand it - it's weirder than David Lynch's "Eraserhead". I tend not to follow directors as a whole - I am attracted to particular films - with a few notable exceptions. I have liked everything so far by Henri-Georges Clouzot, Jean-Pierre Melville and Jean-Pierre Jeunet.
  7. Blencathra

    Blencathra New Member Thread Starter

    You don't miss much Steve:righton:
  8. Solaris

    Solaris a bullet in flight

    New Orleans, LA
    Three Colors: Blue and Un Coeur en Hiver are two of my favorite films. I'm dying to see Agnes Varda's Cleo From 5 to 7, just haven't gotten around to it, but I'm a huge fan of French cinema. I think Blue is one of the most beautiful color films ever made in any language. There's something about a good depressing French film on a Sunday afternoon that hits the spot for me.

    I agree about Alphaville, though. I just don't get that film.
  9. John B Good

    John B Good Forum Hall Of Fame

    NS, Canada
    Not a 'student', but I loved Jean de Florette and Manon.

    Also loved Tantie Daniell, if that is the correct title, and watch Les Parapluies de Cherbourg most years.
  10. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your Host Your Host

    I did miss the subtitles though...:)
  11. Blencathra

    Blencathra New Member Thread Starter

    I'm afraid to say I would too - being a monoglot myself.
  12. I'd also recommend "Hiroshima Mon Amour" and "Last Year at Marienbad by Alain Resnais. He's still active having just completed a film. Private Fears in Public Places is also quite good.

    As far as Godard--I'd also recommend "Weekend" and "Every Man for HImself".
  13. Matthew B.

    Matthew B. Scream Quietly

    Tokyo, Japan
    Whoops, didn't see Breathless there. Did you like that one? I do follow directors, and Godard (along with Melville) is one my favourites. You could give Bande à part a try — it's pretty eccentric for a heist film, but not as radically experimental as much of his later work.

    For people new to Godard, I'll give two pieces of advice: (a) Watch two or three of his films before giving up on him. They vary wildly in style and content. The first Godard I saw was Contempt, which left me cold, and thank God I didn't stop there. (Come to that, I didn't like Alphaville all that much the first time I saw it, and these days I think it's a masterpiece. Still don't like Contempt.) (b) Start with his earlier work. From 1968 on he's almost a different guy.

    France has produced oceans of great cinema, but right now I'll just plug a couple of films that don't get much attention.

    Les Vampires — Okay, a six-hour serial from the 1910s might not sound that appealing, but it's amazingly fun. Louis Feuillade matches a ludicrous plot about a fiendish gang of master criminals to realistic, atmospheric photography on the streets of WWI France. I'd especially recommend this to anyone who likes early Fritz Lang thrillers, or surrealist art such as René Magritte.

    Les Amants du Pont-Neuf, idiotically retitled The Lovers on the Bridge — A Leos Carax film with Juliette Binoche, Denis Lavant, and some of the most spectacular sequences ever filmed. Alas, those sequences cost money, and distributors outside France weren't willing to pay the mind-numbing sums demanded by the sales agents. (The downbeat love story didn't make it an easier sell.) Eventually it sneaked into a handful of theatres and hit home video, but still very few people have seen it. Too bad.
  14. monewe

    monewe Forum Resident

    Just looked at the list at the top of the thread again and saw Reine Margot. Fabulous film.
  15. Solaris

    Solaris a bullet in flight

    New Orleans, LA
    I have often said that Resnais' Je T'aime, Je T'aime, an intriguing time travel/love story which is only currently available as a grainy bootleg, is the obvious forerunner of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, though I find the latter to be a more engaging film. Still, the Resnais film is worth checking out, if you can find it.

    I saw this years ago, it was very good. I wouldn't mind seeing it again. And as one of the few surviving French serials, it's essential for film buffs, period.

    I'd never heard of this but it sounds really interesting. The out of print US "special edition" DVD on amazon is $179 though! The UK DVD, still in print, is under £10. And this is why I have a region 2 player.
  16. johnnyyen

    johnnyyen Forum Resident

    Good to see Le Trou on there. I've got that on DVD. I remember seeing it many years ago on the BBC on a Saturday afternoon, something which would never happen now. I like many on your list, and I agree with you on L'Armee des Sombres, a fine film. I got the DVD free after I renewed my subscription for a film magazine and was well pleased. And Rififi and Bob Le Flambeur are excellent thrillers. Have you watched anything else by Renoir apart from La Grande Illusion? I liked La Bete Humaine and La Regle de Jeu.
  17. LeftOfTheDial

    LeftOfTheDial Active Member

    rhode island
    jean ****ing renoir is one of the best ever. along with truffaut. brilliant.
  18. Blencathra

    Blencathra New Member Thread Starter

    Doesn't look like I have. The things is, it's hard to get to see foreign films nowadays. BBC2 and Channel 4 often used to show them but that doesn't seem to be their policy now. Most of the flms I have watched and bought recently have been pot luck.
  19. Solaris

    Solaris a bullet in flight

    New Orleans, LA
    I noticed you hadn't mentioned Cocteau's Orphic Trilogy. I've unfortunately only ever seen the middle film, Orpheus, a modern retelling of the myth, but I remember being taken by the visual poetry of the film.

    Over the summer I watched Angel-a, directed by Luc Besson, and while I can't say I completely loved the film, it's shot in beautiful, razor sharp black and white around Paris, mostly in the morning light, which adds to the dreamy quality.
    ando here likes this.
  20. Idler

    Idler Active Member

    Sydney Australia
    I would add Les Enfants du Paradis in any list of great French films ( a film that has the dubious further honour of being the inspiration for Leo Sayer's clown persona early in his career - as confirmed by the man himself on a local radio interview!).
  21. william shears

    william shears Active Member

    new zealand
    No love for Les Quatre Cents Coup? In my books one of the greatest of all time.
    Jules et Jim?
  22. dreamwhip

    dreamwhip New Member

    Delaware, USA

  23. ChrisM

    ChrisM Reclusive Enabler

    SW Ontario, Canada
    A lot of great films mentioned so far. I just picked up a copy of Diva on DVD when I was in England a couple weeks ago.

    One of my favorite current French directors is Francois Ozon. I have a number of his films on DVD - Swimming Pool, 8 Femmes, 5 x 2, Water Drops on Burning Rocks.

    One recent film that I really like is Luc Besson's Angel-A. The film was done in black & white and is visually to Paris what Woody Allen's Manhattan is to New York.

  24. dreamwhip

    dreamwhip New Member

    Delaware, USA
    Les Enfants du Paradis, it's a long old epic, quite a classic.
  25. johnnyyen

    johnnyyen Forum Resident


    Have you tried renting DVDs online? Lovefilm and Amazon are good rental sites with a fine selection of foreign films.

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