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Top 10 French Film Essentials

Top Ten French Films


In diversity and accomplishment, the output of French filmmakers rivals that of any country. Here is a list of ten landmark French films that should not be missed by any serious film fan.

1. The 400 Blows

Francois Truffaut's first film is a sweet and engaging portrait of a troubled adolescence, and a landmark of the New Wave. Truffaut and his star Jean-Pierre Leaud collaborated on three more features and a short about the main character, Antoine Doinel.

2. Band of Outsiders

Another classic of the French New Wave, Jean-Luc Godard's Band of Outsiders is an irresistible combination of the young filmmaker's attack on traditional filmmaking and an eminently watchable joy.

3. The Rules of the Game

Criterion Collection
Often cited as one of the greatest films ever made, Jean Renoir's La Regle du Jeu is every bit as witty, elegant, and effective as it was in 1939. An immensely influential work of art.

4. The Wages of Fear

Criterion Collection
Yves Montant plays a man driving nitroglycerin across a treacherous mountain road in this hair-raising thriller by Henri-Georges Clouzot.
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5. Au Hasard Balthazar

Criterion Collection
Robert Bresson's heartbreaking tale of a donkey and a rebellious girl is a wonder of visual storytelling. A sublime cinematic experience that should not be missed.

6. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

Every line in Jacques Demy's impossibly romantic, candy-colored love story is sung, but don't let that turn you off. I've seen serious musical haters reduced to tears before this film was over. With the young Catherine Deneuve and Nino Castelnuovo.

7. Beauty and the Beast

Criterion Collection
Poet and filmmaker Jean Cocteau directed this loveliest of adaptations of the classic story in 1946, and it has lost nothing of its lyrical power. With Jean Marais and Josette Day.
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8. The Passion of Joan of Arc

Criterion Collection
The oldest film on this list, Carl Theodor Dreyer's La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc (1928), about the suffering of the French martyr, is also the only silent movie. Pauline Kael suspected that in the title role, Renee Maria Falconetti gave the "finest performance ever recorded on film," and who am I to argue?
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9. Pauline at the Beach

Eric Rohmer's third installment in his "Comedies and Proverbs" series is a delicious riff on love, sex, and the pains of growing up.
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10. Children of Paradise

Criterion Collection
With a script by Jacques Prévert, Marcel Carné directs the gripping story of Garance (Arletty), an actress in 1820s Paris, and the four men who love her--a mime, an actor, a thief, and a duke. Released in 1945, Children of Paradise is a triumph of filmmaking under the occupation.
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