19 Best Movies to Watch From La Région Île-de-France

Staff & contributors
A Prophet, or Un Prophete, is an unconventional French film that combines prison drama with the Goodfellas-styled narrative of the rise to criminal power. Shot by the inimitable French director Jacques Audiard, A Prophet is a future classic from the get-go, taking age-old cliches and turning them on their heads. It's not often that a film leaves us giddy with enthusiasm and constantly thinking back to it, but A Prophet is so intense, you won't be able to let it go. Incredible acting, especially by then-newcomer Tahar Rahim, fantastic pacing, a great narrative arc with a brutal and uncompromising take on morality, self-realization, and life on the fringes of society. There are only two, quote unquote, action sequences in this movie and they are as brutal and realistic as they are unexpected. Look past the subtitles, do yourself a favor and watch this film.

Genre: Crime, Drama

Actor: Adel Bencherif, Antoine Basler, Farid Larbi, Foued Nassah, Frédéric Graziani, Gilles Cohen, Guillaume Verdier, Hichem Yacoubi, Jean-Emmanuel Pagni, Jean-Philippe Ricci, Karim Leklou, Leila Bekhti, Mohamed Makhtoumi, Mourad Frarema, Nathanaël Maïni, Niels Arestrup, Pierre Leccia, Reda Kateb, Serge Onteniente, Slimane Dazi, Tahar Rahim

Director: Jacques Audiard

Rating: R

Co-directed and narrated by legendary German director Wim Wenders in collaboration with Salgado's son, Juliano, this unique film tells Sebastião Salgado's life story from his childhood in Northern Brazil, his early career as an economist, and how he shifted towards photography to become a world-renowned photojournalist. Shot in stunning black and white by Juliano Salgado and Hugo Barbier, The Salt of the Earth is a mesmerizing exhibition of one man's lifelong dedication to capture the suffering of humanity and of nature. Most famously, the nightmarish images of the teeming workers of Serra Pelada, a Brazilian mountain gold mine. While creating these images raises some ethical questions that Salgado was confronted with throughout his career, it is an utterly enthralling experience, upsetting at times in its frank display of war, death, and devastation. Ultimately, however, Salgado's elegance and kindness pull us back in and what we see is truth, awareness, and beauty.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, Lélia Wanick Salgado, Régis Muller, Sebastião Salgado, Wim Wenders

Director: Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, Wim Wenders

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: Adama Diallo Tamba, Alain Payen, Aurelia Petit, Charlotte Clamens, Guslagie Malanda, Kayije Kagame, Louise Lemoine Torrès, Roald Iamonte, Robert Cantarella, Salimata Kamate, Seyna Kane, Thomas De Pourquery, Valérie Dréville, Xavier Maly

Director: Alice Diop

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

Many films have tried to decipher the indecipherable bond between mothers and daughters. Lady Bird, Everything Everywhere All at Once, and Turning Red, to name a few, center on this particular relationship, which to outsiders may seem strange at best and dysfunctional at worst. How can mothers yell at their daughters one second and coddle them the next? How can daughters treat mothers like their best friend and enemy all at once? 

One of the best films to explore this complexity is Petite Maman, a fantasy-like film that brings together mother and daughter in a unique situation, forcing them both to regard the other in otherwise impossible ways. It succeeds where others haven’t precisely because it accepts that this relationship is beyond dissecting, and the only way to honor it is in the poignant, poetic, and otherworldly way that it does. It’s a quiet film that manages to say a lot, not least of which is that it’s okay to feel and love and hurt as much as one does.

Genre: Drama, Family, Fantasy

Actor: Joséphine Sanz, Margot Abascal, Nina Meurisse, Stéphane Varupenne

Director: Céline Sciamma

It's heartbreaking to realize that Happening, a film set in 1960s France tracking a young woman's journey to dangerously and desperately terminating her pregnancy, is still very much relevant and relatable to this day. Around the world, abortion is still inaccessible, if not completely illegal, and women still struggle to lay full claim to their bodies. A lot of girls grow up with pregnancy statistics meant to instill fear, but Happening brings all that to brilliant life in intimate and unrestrained detail. The fears and wants of our protagonist Anne (played precisely by Anamaria Vartolomei) are palpable throughout. Nothing is held back in this film, and if you find yourself sick in parts, then it has achieved its goal of realistically conveying what it's like to stay alive in a society that fails to recognize your needs. 

 

Genre: Drama, History

Actor: Alice de Lencquesaing, Anamaria Vartolomei, Anna Mouglalis, Cyril Metzger, Édouard Sulpice, Fabrizio Rongione, Francois Loriquet, Isabelle Mazin, Julien Frison, Kacey Mottet Klein, Leïla Muse, Leonor Oberson, Louise Chevillotte, Louise Orry-Diquéro, Luàna Bajrami, Madeleine Baudot, Pio Marmaï, Sandrine Bonnaire

Director: Audrey Diwan

Rating: R

Georgian dance has cut-throat competition: the art form is dying even within Gerogia, and to make it, dancers compete to join the one duo that represents the country. The chance finally comes and the spot opens up, igniting the hopes of performers from around the country. Mervan is one of them, a young dancer from a poor background who takes food from his restaurant job to feed his family. His main competition is a newcomer, Irakli, who also comes from a difficult background and hopes to secure the spot to provide for his ill father.

When their lives hang on them competing against one another, Mervan and Irakli fall for each other.

And Then We Danced is full of incredible dance sequences that add to the beauty of the romance at its center; but it's also a heartbreaking exploration of unfulfilled ambition.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Aleko Begalishvili, Ana Javakishvili, Bachi Valishvili, Giorgi Tsereteli, Mate Khidasheli, Ninutsa Gabisonia, Tamar Bukhnikashvili

Director: Levan Akin

Rating: 12

This bittersweet film about a father and a daughter marks one of the more tender spots in Claire Denis’ brilliant filmography. Frequent collaborator Alex Descas plays Lionel (the father), while Mati Diop, now a director in her own right, plays Josephine (the daughter.) The film captures the two at a crossroads, with their closely-knit relationship tested as Josephine grows closer to her boyfriend, and Lionel must face the possibility of finally letting her go.

A melancholy lingers in the air as we learn more about their lives and the small community of neighbors and coworkers in their orbit. Meanwhile, the film's climax holds a mesmerizing sequence set to the Commodores’ Nightshift, which has to rank as one of the best needle drops in cinema from a director who already has an all-timer under her belt. (see. Beau Travail)

Genre: Drama

Actor: Adèle Ado, Alex Descas, Djédjé Apali, Ériq Ebouaney, Grégoire Colin, Ingrid Caven, Jean-Christophe Folly, Mati Diop, Nicole Dogué

Director: Claire Denis

Rating: Unrated

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 medium of cinema has been used as a tool for revolution, but so too was it complicit in genocide. That was true of the Khmer Rouge regime, as the remaining footage of the time came entirely from the state, to be used in re-education programs and propaganda to hide the difficult realities caused by the administration. In response, three decades later, documentarian Rithy Panh reclaims the medium, juxtaposing archival footage of Pol Pot’s programs and Cambodia before, with clay figurines formed from his memories. It’s a grim recollection, but The Missing Picture takes back cinema to keep a collective memory that must be preserved.

Genre: Animation, Documentary

Actor: Jean-Baptiste Phou, Randal Douc

Director: Rithy Panh

This unique romance is set during a time when a man would be sent the painting of the woman he was to marry before the wedding could take place. Héloïse, secluded with her mother and a maid on a remote island, doesn't approve of her upcoming wedding and refuses to be painted. Her mother sends for a new painter, Marianne, to try to paint her without her noticing. Marianne has to take on this near-impossible task when she starts having feelings for Héloïse. This makes for a riveting romance where Marianne has to choose between her heart and her art while keeping a huge secret from her love interest.

Genre: Drama, History, Romance

Actor: Adèle Haenel, Adèle Haenel, Armande Boulanger, Christel Baras, Clément Bouyssou, Clément Bouyssou, Guy Delamarche, Luàna Bajrami, Luàna Bajrami, Michèle Clément, Noémie Merlant, Noémie Merlant, Valeria Golino

Director: Céline Sciamma, Céline Sciamma

Rating: R

If you’ve ever seen a movie by kings of social realism Ken Loach or the Dardenne brothers, you’ll recognize the cinematic tradition The Measure of a Man is coming from, but if you haven’t, don’t fear. The filmmaking here isn’t complicated, academic, or laden with references — in fact, the opposite is true. Stylistically pared back, the intensely modern and human story at the movie’s center expands to fill the frame so we have nowhere else to look.

With a disabled son to provide for, middle-aged Thierry (Vincent Lindon) desperately searches for a job, undergoing several state-required indignities — such as practice interview sessions in which fellow jobseekers critique everything from his body language to his tone of voice — just for a shot at being able to pay his bills. So many scenes and conversations here are palpably laden with the anxieties of real life, both economic and personal. And yet, for all the dehumanization and desperation clouding its edges, Measure of a Man isn’t a hopeless movie. We’re reminded by happy scenes at home just how rich Thierry’s life is, unemployed or not — but it's perhaps his moral compass, which begins to twitch when he takes a security job with an unscrupulous corporate employer, that’s most heartening of all.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Christophe Rossignon, Karine de Mirbeck, Mathieu Schaller, Soufiane Guerrab, Vincent Lindon, Xavier Mathieu, Yves Ory

Director: Stéphane Brizé

Ernest is an old bear and Celestine a young mouse; he lives above ground, while she lives underground. Their kinds fear one another, and borders are set in place so that they never intermingle, but despite all the odds, Ernest and Celestine form a bond—they share one similarity, after all, which is that they’re both outcasts. 

Ernest & Celestine is a classic buddy tale of outsiders finding their place in the world. The story and its messages of acceptance and equality are already charming and weighty on their own, but the hand-drawn and watercolored animation gives the film an extra rush of nostalgia and delight. Beautifully made and surprisingly relevant, it's a children’s film for all ages. It makes sense that it was nominated for Best Animation in the 86th Academy Awards (what doesn't is it losing to Frozen).  

An English dub is available on most streaming platforms, but we highly recommend watching it in French, how it’s originally meant to be heard.

Genre: Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Drama, Family

Actor: Adeline Chetail, Anne-Marie Loop, Brigitte Virtudes, Colleen O'Shaughnessey, Dominique Maurin, Emmanuel LeMire, Féodor Atkine, Forest Whitaker, Jacques Ciron, Jennifer Fauveau, Lambert Wilson, Lauren Bacall, Léonard Louf, Mackenzie Foy, Maxime Bailleul, Michel Elias, Nathalie Homs, Patrice Dozier, Patrice Melennec, Paul Giamatti, Pauline Brunner, Perrette Pradier, Pierre Baton, Spike Spencer, Vincent Grass

Director: Benjamin Renner, Stéphane Aubier, Vincent Patar

Rating: PG

Taking place almost entirely in a single classroom, the two-hour-plus runtime of this French drama breezes past thanks to its sheer unrelenting energy. You’d be forgiven for assuming The Class is a documentary, so fly-on-the-wall is the filming and so naturalistic the dialogue, much of which was improvised from loose guidelines.

Unlike so many cinematic teachers, Monsieur Marin (played by co-screenwriter François Bégaudeau) doesn’t pull off any educational miracles with his class of backchatting 15-year-olds at an inner-city Paris school. Although the French literature teacher does make some inroads with disaffected kids like Souleymane (Franck Keïta), what really boosts The Class’ grade is its refusal to valorize its central figure. There are no rousing Dead Poets Society-style scenes here — in fact, the film builds from free-flowing lively debates to a tense climax that stems directly from a grave faux pas committed by none other than the teacher himself. Crucially, though, The Class is evenhanded in its treatment of its characters, recognizing both how complex each of these kids is underneath the blunt assessments contained on their report cards and how difficult and thankless the role of a teacher is.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Damien Gomes, Esmeralda Ouertani, Farida Ouchani, François Bégaudeau, Louise Grinberg, Rabah Nait Oufella, Valérie Benguigui

Director: Laurent Cantet

This Oscar-nominated French movie is set in Montfermeil, the Paris suburb where Victor Hugo wrote Les Misérables but which today is a rough neighborhood.

Inspired by instances of police violence that happened in 2008, the movie follows a squad of police officers who try to keep the neighborhood under control. Their methods, or lack thereof, inevitably cause things to explode. This is a thriller with a message, one which sometimes feels forced; but the payoff at the end will make you forget all of that.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller

Actor: Al-Hassan Ly, Alexis Manenti, Almamy Kanoute, Bonnie Duvauchelle, Damien Bonnard, Djebril Zonga, Djibril Zonga, Issa Perica, Jaihson Lopez, Jeanne Balibar, Ly Lan Chapiron, Marine Sainsily, Nizar Ben Fatma, Romain Gavras, Sofia Lesaffre, Steve Tientcheu

Director: Ladj Ly

Rating: R