8 Movies Like Pierrot le Fou (1965)

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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

French director Mia Hansen-Løve is a master at gently capturing the full bittersweetness of life, and that’s no more evident than in One Fine Morning. Léa Seydoux gives a quietly powerful performance as Sandra, a mother-of-one who is grappling with the slow, devastating decline of her philosophy professor father at the hands of a neurodegenerative disease. As she deals with the crushing trauma of watching her father deteriorate — and the logistical stress of getting him the care he needs — life grants her an oasis through a chance meeting with an old acquaintance (Clément, played by Melvil Poupaud). Despite Clément being married, the two are hurled into a passionate romance, one that re-ignites something in Sandra she thought she’d lost forever.

What’s so remarkable about One Fine Morning is its gentle empathy: Hansen-Løve appreciates that, in the context of Sandra’s life, her affair with Clément is something life-affirming and vital, worthy of sensitive consideration rather than easy judgment or melodrama. What’s more, One Fine Morning extends that thoughtful attention to the other people around Sandra, with digressions that recognize the fullness and complexity of their lives, too. This is a film that overflows with compassion and curiosity for everyone in its frame, and one that has a contagiously heart-expanding effect on its audiences. 

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Elsa Guedj, Fejria Deliba, Léa Seydoux, Masha Kondakova, Melvil Poupaud, Nicole Garcia, Pascal Greggory, Sarah Le Picard

Director: Mia Hansen-Løve

The sunniest installment of Éric Rohmer’s Tales of the Four Seasons series is a sly, slow burn of a character study. Everything looks sensuously beautiful in the honey-toned French sunshine, except for the ugly egotism of Gaspard (Melvil Poupaud), the full extent of which is gradually revealed over the film’s runtime to amusing — if maddening — effect.

A brooding twenty-something, Gaspard has the traumatic task of having to decide between three beautiful and brilliant young women while vacationing alone on the French coast one summer. He dithers and delays his choice, each woman appealing to a different insecurity of his — but, as frustrating and plainly calculating as he is, you can’t help but be charmed by Gaspard. That’s partly because of Poupaud’s natural charisma, but also because Rohmer grants Gaspard as many searingly honest moments as he does deceitful ones. These come through Rohmer’s hallmark naturalistic walking and talking scenes (a big influence on the films of Richard Linklater), coastal rambles that produce conversations of startling, timeless candor. That inimitable blend of breeziness and frankness is never better matched in the director’s films than by the summer setting of this one, the sharp truths going down a lot smoother in the gorgeous sunlight.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Aimé Lefèvre, Amanda Langlet, Aurelia Nolin, Gwenaëlle Simon, Melvil Poupaud

Director: Éric Rohmer

You might expect a movie about the Irish struggle for independence from the British Empire during the 1920s to be a sweeping historical epic a la Braveheart, but The Wind That Shakes The Barley is instead a heartbreaking miniature portrait of the human impact that the brutal occupation has on the residents of a small County Cork village. Cillian Murphy is superb as Damien O’Donovan, a young medical student who is about to up sticks for London when he witnesses first-hand the savagery of British forces on his neighbors. Galvanized into action, he joins the local branch of the IRA, which is led by his brother Teddy (Pádraic Delaney).

What makes The Wind That Shakes The Barley so potent isn’t just its depiction of the fierce local rebellion that Damien and his comrades wage against the British forces — it’s also its gutting exploration of the cyclical war that began to rage amongst the freedom fighters once the British left. As Damien puts it, “It's easy to know what you're against, quite another to know what you're for” — a dilemma that wedges the two brothers apart to bitter ends.

Genre: Drama, War

Actor: Aidan O'Hare, Alex Dee, Anthony Mark Streeter, Antony Byrne, Bill Hurst, Cillian Murphy, Colin Parry, Damien Kearney, Denis Conway, Frank Bourke, Frank O'Sullivan, Gerard Kearney, Keith Dunphy, Liam Cunningham, Mark Wakeling, Martin Lucey, Mary Murphy, Myles Horgan, Neil Alan Taylor, Noel O'Donovan, Orla Fitzgerald, Pádraic Delaney, Roger Allam, Sabrina Barry, Scott Peden, Sean McGinley, Shane Casey, Siobhan McSweeney, Tom Charnock, William Ruane

Director: Ken Loach

Even before Agnès Varda pivoted to documentary filmmaking, she was a pioneer of French cinema. Her film Sans toit ni loi (Vagabond) is one of her most harrowing dramas. 

Varda’s sensibilities as a burgeoning documentarian are apparent as the film opens on the corpse of a woman lying dead in a snow-covered ditch. Through flashbacks, we trace the titular vagabond’s steps to uncover how she ended up alone and dead. The camera follows its subject from a safe distance, as if tracking a wild animal. Alongside the woman, we hitchhike across the French countryside, encountering hostile men, treacherous winter weather, and occasional glimpses of hope, connection, and familiarity. Vagabond succeeds at portraying a complicated woman—Varda understood that women, above all else, are people, with dark interiors, difficult choices, and uncertain impulses. 

Genre: Drama

Actor: Agnès Varda, Macha Méril, Sandrine Bonnaire, Stéphane Freiss, Yolande Moreau

Director: Agnès Varda

Rating: Not Rated

This is the most practical romantic movie I have seen though many would disagree with its ending. It's a triangular love story that trades cashable means of storytelling with a much more sensible approach. After a failed relationship, Leonard Kraditor (Joaquin Phoenix) returns to live with his parents only to find himself torn again between an exciting neighbor and a woman his parents set him up with. Phoenix delivers an impeccable performance as it goes without saying but Gwyneth Paltrow and Vinessa Shaw really steal the show as the two love interests. They both deliver honest and very interesting portrayals. All in all, Two Lovers is a complex and very well-acted film that goes as far as examining the notion of love, and what we look for in people, through seemingly a simple story.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Anne Joyce, Bianca Giancoli, Bob Ari, Carmen M. Herlihy, Craig Walker, David Cale, David Ross, Don Hewitt Jr., Elias Koteas, Elliot Villar, Geronimo Frias, Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Isabella Rossellini, Jeanine Serralles, Joaquin Phoenix, John Ortiz, Julie Budd, Mari Koda, Marion McCorry, Mark Vincent, Moni Moshonov, Nick Gillie, RJ Konner, Saidah Arrika Ekulona, Samantha Ivers, Shiran Nicholson, Uzimann, Vinessa Shaw

Director: James Gray

Rating: R

Vivian Maier was a French-American photographer whose art, like many of the greats, only gained widespread success after her death. Most of her life was spent working as a maid for families in Chicago. Her masterpieces were only introduced to the world when the director of this documentary purchased a box of her negatives. This movie is about him trying to put together the pieces and retrace her life by interviewing the people that knew her. Right from the beginning of this documentary her photos will have you in awe. They gave me chills and made me feel exactly what I needed to feel to understand each photo. Cue Vivian’s unexpected dark side along with really messed up backstory, I was completely absorbed. Interviews, along with Vivian’s own photos and home videos show the complexity and mystery of the artist.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Daniel Arnaud, John Maloof, Mary Ellen Mark, Phil Donahue, Sarah Matthews-Ludington, Simon Amede, Tim Roth, Vivian Maier

Director: Charlie Siskel, John Maloof

Rating: Not Rated

In the West, South Korean film is largely defined by the ingenious (oft violent) bombast of directors like Park Chan-wook (Oldboy) and Bong Joon-ho (Parasite), but there is a quieter tradition championed by director Hong Sang-soo that is just as imaginative and worthy of your time. This fascinating film serves as a perfect entry point to a director whose filmography is full of similar riches.

A film director arrives in town to deliver a lecture, and having some time to kill, ends up sharing a day with a stranger. This simple set-up recalling Before Sunrise leads down a charming and quietly romantic route that would be delightful on its own, but Right Now, Wrong Then is about much more than just a chance encounter. It’s a film more concerned with how little moments here and there can change everything, and how much our lives are governed as much by chance and timing as the choices we make.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Choi Hwa-jeong, Gi Ju-bong, Go A-sung, Go Ah-sung, Jae-yeong Jeong, Ju-bong Gi, Jung Jae-young, Ki Joo-bong, Kim Min-hee, Ko A-sung, Ko Asung, Min-hee Kim, Seo Young-hwa, Youn Yuh-jung, Yu Jun-sang, Yuh-jung Youn

Director: Hong Sang-soo, Sang-soo Hong