67 Best French Films Movies to Watch

Staff & contributors
A wealthy paraplegic needs a new caretaker. His choice is surprising -- an ex-con down on his luck. Both of their lives are changed forever. Based on a true story, it is funny, touching, and very surprising.  It will have you rolling on the floor laughing one minute and reaching for your hankie the next. Intouchables is one of those perfect movies, that will easily and instantly make anyone's all-time top 10 list.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Absa Diatou Toure, Alba Gaïa Kraghede Bellugi, Alba Gaïa Bellugi, Anne Le Ny, Antoine Laurent, Audrey Fleurot, Benjamin Baroche, Camila Samara, Caroline Bourg, Christian Ameri, Clotilde Mollet, Cyril Mendy, Dominique Daguier, Dorothée Brière, Elliot Latil, Émilie Caen, François Bureloup, François Caron, François Cluzet, Grégoire Oestermann, Hedi Bouchenafa, Ian Fenelon, Jean-François Cayrey, Jérôme Pauwels, Joséphine de Meaux, Joséphine de Meaux, Marie-Laure Descoureaux, Michel Winogradoff, Nicky Marbot, Omar Sy, Philippe Pozzo di Borgo, Pierre-Laurent Barneron, Renaud Barse, Salimata Kamate, Sylvain Lazard, Thomas Solivérès, Yun-Ping He

Director: Eric Toledano, Olivier Nakache

Rating: R

It’s a testament to Agnès Varda’s remarkable ability to glean so much raw beauty and truth from the world that this autobiographical documentary is such a rewarding watch, even for people unfamiliar with her. The Beaches finds the pioneering director in reflective mode as she looks back at her work and life, but her artistic impulses are by no means stagnant: she approaches the past with the same — if not more of the — generous candor and youthful spirit that colored her career.

It’s also a testament to Varda’s inimitable artistic touch that she turns a usually-bleak subject — mortality — into something this life-affirming. The Beaches was made when she was 81, aware of her own ticking clock and still nursing the decades-long loss of so many loved ones (chiefly, husband Jacques Demy). Just as her grief-stricken reflections don’t overwhelm the film with sadness, the whimsical impulses she indulges here — like constructing a beach on the street in front of her office — don’t blunt the sharpness of her candor. The overall effect is bittersweet and profoundly inspiring: as with the mirrors she places in front of the tide in the film's first scene, she’s showing us it’s possible to face the inescapable with a twinkle in your eye.

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Actor: Agnès Varda, Gérard Depardieu, Harrison Ford, Jane Birkin, Mathieu Demy, Robert De Niro, Rosalie Varda

Director: Agnès Varda

In both documentaries and films, adoptees meeting their biological parents for the first time is an event often painted in a sweet light. Never mind the child’s mixed feelings about it or the tragic reality that caused the split in the first place—it’s a reunion between family members, so it must be unequivocally special. In Return to Seoul, director Davy Chou doesn’t just debunk that myth, he subverts it by making the adoptee, Freddie, as unapologetically complex and emotionally enigmatic as possible. She resists affection but wallows in loneliness. She craves reinvention but stays in the same place for years. She’s in constant motion while being absolutely stuck in life. In other words, she’s a realistic embodiment of a person struggling to find some semblance of home. Chou displays an intimate understanding of the foreign experience, and he couples it with captivating cinematography, a rousing soundtrack, and fantastic performances across the board to make a daring, inventive, and thoroughly exciting film. 

Genre: Drama

Actor: Guka Han, Heo Jin, Hur Jin, Kim Dong-seok, Kim Sun-young, Louis-Do de Lencquesaing, Oh Gwang-rok, Oh Kwang-rok, Yoann Zimmer

Director: Davy Chou

Rating: R

With cardboard houses, sugar winters, and broccoli trees, No Dogs or Italians Allowed at first seems lighthearted, playful, and not too serious. Alain Ughetto casts himself asking his grandmother Cesira about his family, but we only see his hands moving and interacting with the characters as if he was crafting clay model miniatures. However, the whimsical approach sugarcoats the very tragedies that struck his family– from the multiple wars to the discrimination they’ve faced as immigrants– with excellent animation and puppetry that feels much more lifelike than 3D CGI. In telling his family’s story, Ughetto also retells 20th century European history, reframing the worldwide events and movements through a personal perspective.

Genre: Animation, Drama

Actor: Alain Ughetto, Ariane Ascaride, Bruno Fontaine, Christophe Gatto, Diego Giuliani, Laura Devoti, Stefano Paganini

Director: Alain Ughetto

This gorgeous documentary opens on the snowy fields of its rural French setting, but the single classroom it spends much of its time in couldn’t be warmer or more inviting. That comforting atmosphere — which the film imbibes, too — is all thanks to the kindness and patience of Monsieur Lopez, the man responsible for the education of all of the village’s kids (up to age 11). Chronicling the final year of his career before retirement, this doc shares the instinctive empathy its chief subject has for his pupils and, accordingly, shoots them quite simply, trusting that the high drama of their little lives is enough to sustain the film.

And it is: from the cheeky antics of happy-go-lucky four-year-old Jojo to the crippling anxiety of older kids grappling with parental illness and the terrifying move to middle school, we’re plunged deep into a full spectrum of raw emotion. Inspiringly, Monsieur Lopez doesn’t just teach the kids maths and spelling — he also gently coaches them in off-syllabus skills, like talking about feelings and reconciling differences (even turning a fraught relationship between two boys into loyal friendship by the end of the year). There’s so much to learn from him and his perpetually wonderstruck kids here.

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Director: Nicolas Philibert

A Good Movie to Watch features almost every work of Asghar Farhadi for the sole reason that his films, although highly acclaimed and brilliant, are criminally under-watched. As always, Farhadi offers complex, compelling, and contemporary drama and piercing insight into human relationships and emotions. Expect the twists, subtleties, and emotional limbo that you're probably familiar with from A Separation or About Elly. That said, The Past is a bit different, because, for one, it focuses on romantic relationships, and, secondly, it plays in the far more permissive world of a Parisian suburb –⁠ and not in theocratic Teheran. Independent of its location, The Past's key subject is the universally human phenomenon of having to deal with the choices made in the past. In addition to Farhadi's intricate directing and the sensitive script, it is imperative to mention the powerful performances by Ali Mosaffa, Tahar Rahim, and, above all, Bérénice Bejo. An unforgettable experience.

Genre: Drama, Mystery

Actor: Ali Mosaffa, Babak Karimi, Bérénice Bejo, Eléonora Marino, Elyes Aguis, Jeanne Jestin, Pauline Burlet, Sabrina Ouazani, Tahar Rahim, Valéria Cavalli

Director: Asghar Farhadi

Rating: PG-13

Directed by celebrated artist-turned-filmmaker Julian Schnabel, who won an award in Cannes for it, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is the true story of the Parisian journalist and fashion editor Jean-Dominique Bauby (Mathieu Amalric), who suffered a devastating stroke at the age of 43. Paralyzed almost completely by what is termed locked-in syndrome, his left eye was the only part of his body that he was still able to move. In a Herculean effort, Bauby learned to blink in an alphabet code that eventually enabled him to communicate. The film alternates between Bauby's interaction with his visitors and caretakers (including painstakingly dictating his memoir, the titular Le Scaphandre et le Papillon) and dream-like fantasies and memories of his life prior to paralysis. The title alludes to this juxtaposition: the diving bell representing his final state of isolation, akin to a deep-sea diver under a bell, and the butterfly as a symbol for his blinking eye and the freedom he has in his mind, dreams, and imagination. Shot from Bauby's perspective, we see what he sees. Be it his divorced but loyal wife and his family visiting him, or his old father, played by Max von Sydow, which is probably the scene in this fascinating movie that will make you lose it and weep like the rest of us.

Genre: Drama, History

Actor: Agathe de La Fontaine, Anne Alvaro, Anne Consigny, Emma de Caunes, Emmanuelle Seigner, Fiorella Campanella, Françoise Lebrun, Gérard Watkins, Isaach De Bankolé, Jean-Philippe Écoffey, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre, Lenny Kravitz, Marie-Josée Croze, Marina Hands, Mathieu Amalric, Max von Sydow, Michael Wincott, Nicolas Le Riche, Niels Arestrup, Olatz Lopez Garmendia, Patrick Chesnais, Talina Boyaci, Zinedine Soualem

Director: Julian Schnabel

Rating: PG-13

Nothing about Saint Omer is easy. A female Senegalese migrant (Guslagie Malanga) is put to trial for committing infanticide, but throughout the film, it becomes clear how much of a victim she is too, of an uncaring and deeply prejudiced society. “What drove her to madness?” Her attorney asks at one point. We’re not sure. We're not necessarily asked to side with her, nor answer the many hard-hitting questions brought up in the film, but we sit with the uneasiness of it all and, in that silence, confront our ideas about motherhood, womanhood, personhood. 

This confusion is what makes the film so compelling. Despite the court’s best efforts, Laurence isn’t meant to be understood. She’s meant to be an example of the ever-ambiguous, forever-complicated, always-hurt person. It’s human nature after all to be this complex and messed up. The film shows us that the best that we can do in situations like this is to listen, understand, and as our protagonist Rama (Kayije Kagame) does, make peace with the noise. 

Genre: Crime, Drama

Actor: Aurelia Petit, Guslagie Malanda, Kayije Kagame, Louise Lemoine Torrès, Salimata Kamate, Thomas De Pourquery, Valérie Dréville, Xavier Maly

Director: Alice Diop

In a world where mortality has been overcome, people watch in awe as the as the 118-year-old Nemo Nobody, the last mortal on Earth, nears his end. He is interviewed about his life, recounting it at three points in time: as a 9-year-old after his parents divorced, when he first fell in love at 15, and as an adult at 34. The three stories seemingly contradict each other. Utilizing non-linear cinematography, Belgian director Jaco Van Dormael presents each of these branching pathways as a version of what could have been. The result is a complex, entangled narrative. That and the movie's ensemble cast, featuring Jared Leto, Sarah Polley, and Diane Kruger, have turned Mr. Nobody into a cult classic. The soundtrack, featuring several of the beautifully restrained music by Eric Satie, is also considered a masterpiece. While it is surely not for everybody, this is trippy, intimate, and existential sci-fi at its best.

Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Mystery, Romance, Science Fiction

Actor: Aaron Landt, Alice van Dormael, Allan Corduner, Andrew Simms, Audrey Giacomini, Ben Mansfield, Carlo Mestroni, Catherine Demaiffe, Christelle Cornil, Christophe Beaucarne, Clare Stone, Daniel Brochu, Daniel Mays, David Kennedy, David Schaal, Diane Kruger, Dominique Warnier, Harold Manning, Harry Cleven, Hugo Harold-Harrison, Jack Proudlove, Jan Hammenecker, Jared Leto, Jenna Wheeler-Hughes, John Churchill, Juliette Van Dormael, Juno Temple, Laura Brumagne, Laurent Capelluto, Leni Parker, Linh Dan Pham, Lola Pauwels, Manfred Andrae, Marc Zinga, Marie-Ève Beauregard, Martin Swabey, Natasha Little, Nicholas Beveney, Noa De Costanzo, Olivier Bony, Pascal Duquenne, Philippe Godeau, Philippe Lévy, Pierre Chaves, Renaud Alcalde, Rhys Ifans, Roline Skehan, Sandrine Laroche, Sarah Gravel, Sarah Polley, Serge Larivière, Stéphane Taillasson, Sylvie Olivé, Tanya Trombetta, Tedd Dillon, Thomas Byrne, Toby Regbo, Vincent Dupont, Virginie Bordes, Vito DeFilippo

Director: Jaco Van Dormael

Rating: R

Winner of a Camera d'Or, the debutant's prize at the Cannes Film Festival, Director Houda Benyamina's first feature film is fast-paced and full of energy. Deep in the impoverished suburbs of Paris, the infamous banlieues, it tells the story of Dounia (played by Oulaya Amamra), a mouthy teenager who is not content with what society is prepared to hand out to her. She's angry; she wants more. And so, together with her best friend Maimouna (Déborah Lukumuena), she decides to finally make some cash as a runner for a drug dealer. While there's obviously some feminism in there somewhere, that's not at the heart of what this film is about. It's about the economic reality in a world of poverty and about two friends and their desire for freedom—no matter what the cost. An exhilarating and thought-provoking debut helped along by Amamra's amazing acting.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Bass Dhem, Déborah Lukumuena, Farid Larbi, Houda Benyamina, Jisca Kalvanda, Kevin Mischel, Majdouline Idrissi, Oulaya Amamra, Yasin Houicha

Director: Houda Benyamina, Uda Benyamina

Rating: N/A, Not Rated

More simply called La Vie d'Adèle in its native language, this French coming-of-age movie was hugely successful when it came out and was probably one of the most talked-about films of the time. On the one hand, the usual puritans came to the fore, criticizing the lengthy and graphic sex scenes. On the other hand, Julie Maroh, who wrote the source material that inspired the script, denounced Franco-Tunisian filmmaker Abdellatif Kechiche for directing with his d*ck, if you don't mind me saying so, while also being an on-set tyrant. Whatever you make of this in hindsight, the only way to know is to watch this powerfully acted drama about the titular Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos), and her infatuation with Emma, a free-spirited girl with blue hair, played by Léa Seydoux. The film beautifully and realistically portrays Adele's evolution from a teenage high-school girl to a grown, confident woman. As their relationship matures, so does Adèle, and she slowly begins to outgrow her sexual and philosophical mentor. Whatever your final verdict on the controversial sex scene, Blue Is the Warmest Color is without doubt an outstanding film as are the performances from Exarchopoulos and Séydoux.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Adèle Exarchopoulos, Alain Duclos, Alika Del Sol, Alma Jodorowsky, Anne Loiret, Aurélien Recoing, Aurelie Lemanceau, Aurélien Recoing, Baya Rehaz, Benjamin Siksou, Benoît Pilot, Benoît Pilot, Bouraouïa Marzouk, Camille Rutherford, Catherine Salée, Catherine Salée, Éric Paul, Fanny Maurin, Halima Slimani, Jérémie Laheurte, Jérémie Laheurte, Judith Hoersch, Justine Nissart, Karim Saidi, Klaim Nivaux, Léa Seydoux, Maelys Cabezon, Maud Wyler, Mona Walravens, Quentin Médrinal, Salim Kechiouche, Samir Bella, Sandor Funtek

Director: Abdellatif Kechiche

Rating: NC-17

Written and directed by the filmmaker Sylvain Chomet, this 2003 French film is, in the strictest sense, an animated comedy film. It's the one that introduced Chomet's name to an international audience. Triplets' visual style, however, it is unlike anything you have ever seen. Focusing on ugliness and imperfection, the characters are deliciously exaggerated, while the animation steers clear of the naturalist hyperrealism, cutesiness, or porcelain perfection of other animated movies. That doesn't mean it's not incredibly detailed. Without much of a dialogue, it tells the story of a young orphan boy, who loves to watch the vivacious jazz of the The Triplets of Belleville trio, and grows up to become a Tour de France racer. He gets kidnapped by sinister characters (the French mafia?) and the beloved jazz trio of his childhood and others come to his rescue. While this film is not for the causal movie watcher, it is a fiercely original piece of hand-drawn animation and a strange, surreal experience.

Genre: Animation, Comedy, Drama, Family

Actor: Beatrice Bonifassi, Betty Bonifassi, Charles Linton, Jean-Claude Donda, Lina Boudreau, Michel Robin, Michèle Caucheteux, Suzy Falk

Director: Sylvain Chomet

Rating: PG-13

Éric Rohmer’s The Green Ray is the kind of film that you come away from being more honest with yourself. That effect is thanks to the contagious directness of its protagonist: Delphine (Marie Rivière), a newly single young French woman whose summer vacation plans have just been unceremoniously upturned after the friend she was going away with takes off with a man instead. Now at a loose end, the indecisive Delphine meanders between her home in Paris and several gorgeous holiday spots, but that old saying — “wherever you go, there you are” — proves true. Neither the beaches of Cherbourg and Biarritz nor the lofty beauty of an Alps resort can soothe her restlessness or give her what she’s looking for, probably because she doesn’t quite know what that is herself.

Delphine’s is an achingly familiar search for anyone who’s ever felt like they’ve drifted off of life’s path, but blessedly, the conversation-driven Green Ray doesn’t leave us wallowing in that despair. That’s partly thanks to its final moments — which rank among cinema’s most stunning — but mostly because Rivière, who improvised much of her incisive dialogue, puts into words things that so many have felt but few would admit. In that sense, The Green Ray feels as much like a miracle as its last shot does.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Béatrice Romand, Carita Holmström, María Luisa García, Marie Rivière, Rosette, Vincent Gauthier

Director: Éric Rohmer

Persepolis is the true story of Marjane Satrapi, the writer and illustrator whose graphic novels of the same name the film is adapted from. It details in vivid animation the trials of growing up in war-torn Iran, but also, crucially, the joys of being raised by a loving family and the significance of forming one’s own ideals and identity. In between revolving dictatorships and tightening restrictions, Marjane comes into her own and discovers what it means to live a meaningful life.

It’s a testament to Satrapi’s many talents that Persepolis never feels too flat or cynical given its 2D style and bleak backdrop. The drawings impressively morph with Marjane’s every thought, as if the ink itself were alive, and her wit persistently comes through in sharp observations and dialogues. Equally impressive is the film’s commitment to portraying war and conflict in a nuanced manner. In an autobiographical tale that is about Marjane’s coming of age as much as it is about her country’s survival, it’s never been more true that the personal is political.

Genre: Animation, Drama, History, War

Actor: Arié Elmaleh, Catherine Deneuve, Chiara Mastroianni, Danielle Darrieux, François Jerosme, Gabrielle Lopes Benites, Mathias Mlekuz, Simon Abkarian, Sophie Arthuys, Tilly Mandelbrot

Director: Marjane Satrapi, Vincent Paronnaud

Rating: PG-13

This bittersweet little documentary about a Parisian newsstand will change the way you look at a kiosk forever: they’ll no longer seem like transitory stops on the way to somewhere, but a destination themselves. Director Alexandra Pianelli, whose family has run this particular newsstand for four generations, shoots from inside the tiny cabin, from where she and her mother dispense newspapers, magazines, directions, and friendly conversation with anyone who stops by.

Anyone who’s seen Agnès Varda’s Daguerréotypes — her fond portrait of the traditional shopkeepers of Rue Daguerre, the street she lived on — will recognize the same warmth and humane curiosity in The Kiosk, which documents a quickly fading way of life and the community that clings to it. As Pianelli movingly shows us, the kiosk is an invaluable fixture in the lives of an assortment of locals: regular customers (particularly elderly ones, who perhaps visit more for the company than the magazines), a big-hearted homeless man, and fellow vendors like Islam, a Bangladeshi asylum-seeker and fruit-seller who uses the kiosk to hide his merchandise so that French police don’t confiscate it. The decline of printed material that the film documents isn’t just a threat to the family business, then, but the very concept of a truly joined-up society itself.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Aliénor de Nervaux, Damien Fourmeau, Gérard Jacq, Marcel Cierniak, Marie-Laurence Fay

Director: Alexandra Pianelli