11 Best Movies to Watch From Les Films du Fleuve

Staff & contributors
Revealing the gaps in the social safety net, I, Daniel Blake, is a tale centered around a blue collar worker navigating the welfare system in England. At a time where class and social mobility could not be more politically salient, this film calls into question the notion of the “citizen” and exposes the inaccessibility to the social protections in which one presumes entitlement. At the forefront of this, is a heart-warming parable of paternal companionship between Daniel (played by Dave Johns) and a single mother – Katie – (played by Hayley Squires) who is wading through similar terrain. The acting in the film is unfathomably raw which cultivates the deepest source of gut wrenching compassion. Ken Loach has created a film that exposes the true power of empathy, leaving you feeling helplessly human.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Briana Shann, Dan Li, Dave Johns, Dave Turner, David Murray, Dylan McKiernan, Hayley Squires, Kate Rutter, Kema Sikazwe, Ken Loach, Li Dan, Malcolm Shields, Mickey Hutton, Micky McGregor, Natalie Ann Jamieson, Rob Kirtley, Sammy T. Dobson, Sharon Percy, Shaun Prendergast, Stephen Clegg, Steven Richens, Viktoria Kay

Director: Ken Loach

Rating: R

The British social-critical director of I, Daniel Blake and The Wind That Shakes the Barley, Ken Loach, delivers another scathing indictment of our economic system, the slashing of worker protection, and the gig economy. While these are indeed the themes of this affecting drama, Loach always makes it about the people. In this case, a struggling family man who tries to turn his life around by working in package delivery. Gig economy workers are usually freelancers who own their trucks and are made fully responsible for packages until they reach their respective recipients. From peeing in a bottle to save time to seamless monitoring by an overlord hand-held device, Sorry We Missed You manages to capture the indignity and gives you an intimate introduction to the human cost of having everything delivered to your doorstep at a moment's notice. Thanks to Loach's use of amateur actors, it has a raw and real feel to it without being melodramatic. Sorry We Missed You makes sure that the habitually unseen take center stage.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Charlie Richmond, Debbie Honeywood, Katie Proctor, Kris Hitchen, Maxie Peters, Rhys Mcgowan, Rhys Stone, Ross Brewster, Sheila Dunkerley, Stephen Clegg, Vicky Hall

Director: Ken Loach

Rating: 0, 12

The Kid With A Bike is a deceptively simple title for a film this stirring. At 12 years old, Cyril (Thomas Doret) has been abandoned to social care by his father (Jérémie Renier) — but what’s really heart-wrenching is that he’s in denial about the finality of their separation. Cyril’s muscles are seemingly always coiled, ready to spring him away from his carers and onto the next bus that’ll take him to his disinterested dad, who has secretly moved away to “start anew.” It’s only through the random force of Cyril’s few words — like the moment he asks the first stranger to show him some kindness (Samantha, played by Cécile de France) if she’ll foster him on the weekends — that we get to sense the depth of his desperation, because neither the film nor Doret is showy in that regard.

The film pulls off transcendency because of these restrained performances and its unfussy realism. In the quietness of the storytelling, emotion hits unexpectedly — and deeply. The everyday tragedy and miraculous hope of Cyril’s life are set off by some enormously moving orchestral Beethoven, the very grandeur of which underscores the effect of the humanist filmmaking: affirming the inherent preciousness of his troubled, oft-rejected child.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Baptiste Sornin, Cécile de France, Fabrizio Rongione, Jérémie Renier, Myriem Akheddiou, Olivier Gourmet, Samuel De Rijk, Thomas Doret

Director: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne

The Dardenne brothers deliver one of their characteristic tests of empathy with this social realist tale centered around an apparently irredeemable soul. Bruno (Jérémie Renier) and his girlfriend Sonia (Déborah François) are childish teenagers who have just welcomed their first baby, a boy named Jimmy. But the fact that he’s now a father and jointly responsible for a new life doesn’t seem to register with Bruno, a small-time criminal whose thoughts don’t extend beyond his next job and what he’ll buy with the takings.

Sickeningly, Jimmy’s birth gives the vacant-headed, impulsive Bruno an idea for a quick buck: he’ll use the black market to sell the baby to a family hoping to adopt. This awful act sets in motion a frantic set of events as Sonia’s horrified reaction signals to Bruno that he might have gone too far this time. Strikingly, though, we’re never sure if Bruno is experiencing a moment of genuine reflection — perhaps the first of his life — even up to the film’s dam-break of a final scene. The ghastliness of Bruno’s actions makes this a challenging watch, but the Dardenne brothers’ restraint and resolute refusal to moralize about their easily condemnable protagonist open it up to being a compelling reflective exercise on the limits of redemption.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Bernard Marbaix, Déborah François, Fabrizio Rongione, François Olivier, Jérémie Renier, Jérémie Segard, Mireille Bailly, Olivier Gourmet, Stéphane Bissot

Director: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne

This is the type of movie I completely fell in love with but cannot articulate exactly why. Maybe it's the mixture of beauty and pain portrayed, maybe it's the intricate sounds and beautiful imagery, maybe it's the story, maybe it's all of the above. A woman is hit with sudden disability after an accident and calls on an unlikely companion, a night club bouncer by the name of Ali. Together they explore her new predicament and its implications, while forming a special bond. This is a movie that will call upon your internal strength, while portraying how us humans can become strong together. Most of all it provides an immensely powerful, ultimately simple story that is both touching and will stay with you for a very long time. Directed by Jacques Audiard (A Prophet).

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Armand Verdure, Bouli Lanners, Celine Sallette, Corinne Masiero, Fabien Baïardi, Françoise Michaud, Irina Coito, Jean-Michel Correia, Marion Cotillard, Matthias Schoenaerts, Mourad Frarema, Yannick Choirat

Director: Jacques Audiard

Rating: 15, R

This is a star-packed movie about two brother assassins played by John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix, and starring Jake Gyllenhaal. You might have read the book of the same name, and it is always hard to make a great film out of a great book but the brilliant director of A Prophet Jacques Audiard has done it (again). He is aided by a superb darkly comic script and fantastic acting from the entire cast. Audiard is French, but his take on the American Western is filled with epic violence but also witty dialogue, brotherly love, and male camaraderie.

Genre: Adventure, Comedy, Drama, Western

Actor: Aidan O'Hare, Aldo Maland, Allison Tolman, Andrew Litvack, Carol Kane, Creed Bratton, David Gasman, Diego Llano, Duncan Lacroix, Eric Colvin, Frédéric Siuen, Hugo Dillon, Ian Reddington, Jake Gyllenhaal, Jean-Marc Bellu, Joaquin Phoenix, Jochen Hägele, Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson, John C. Reilly, Kelda Holmes, Lenuta Bala, Lexie Benbow-Hart, Nick Cornwall, Patrice Cossonneau, Philip Rosch, Raymond Waring, Rebecca Root, Richard Brake, Riz Ahmed, Rutger Hauer, Sean Duggan, Theo Exarchopoulos, Trevor Allan Davies

Director: Jacques Audiard

Rating: R

Renowned British director Ken Loach’s signature traits are present in The Old Oak: simple, humanistic, and unapologetically hopeful. But this time, we see things unfold through the eyes of Turner’s TJ and Ebla Mari’s Yara, whose endearing friendship anchors the film. They prove that seemingly conflicting things can coexist, like workers’ and immigrants’ rights, local and newcomer needs, old and new ideals. Loach hones in on his characters’ rich and specific lives so that his message doesn’t come across like an advocacy poster, but a richly woven tapestry filled with beautiful and complex meanings. Because it tackles heavy themes, The Old Oak might sound like it’d be heavy to watch, but as in most of the director’s work, you’ll no sooner be uplifted by an outpouring of hope and love.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Chris McGlade, Claire Rodgerson, Col Tait, Dave Turner, Debbie Honeywood, Ebla Mari, Lorenzo McGovern Zaini, Neil Leiper, Rhys Mcgowan, Rob Kirtley, Trevor Fox

Director: Ken Loach

Graduation is a Romanian movie from the director of the Palme d’Or winner 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (also number 15 in the BBC’s 100 Greatest Films of the 21st Century.) Romeo is a 49-year-old doctor in the city of Cluj-Napoca. He is immensely proud and dedicated to his daughter, Eliza, who gets awarded a scholarship to go to Cambridge provided that she does well in her last high-school exam. The day before this exam, Elisa is sexually assaulted outside her school, and her wrist is broken. The event haunts the family and jeopardizes Elisa’s chances of succeeding in her exam. Romeo, still determined to ensure his daughter’s success, vows to do anything to not let the assault ruin his daughter’s future. Graduation is about this father and daughter duo as they go against a corrupt but quickly changing Romanian system.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Adrian Titieni, Adrian Văncică, Claudia Susanu, Claudiu Dumitru, Constantin Cojocaru, Emanuel Pârvu, Gelu Colceag, Gheorghe Ifrim, Ioachim Ciobanu, Kim Ciobanu, Lia Bugnar, Liliana Mocanu, Malina Manovici, Maria Dragus, Maria-Victoria Dragus, Petre Ciubotaru, Rares Andrici, Robert Emanuel, Tudor Smoleanu, Valeriu Andriuță, Vlad Ivanov

Director: Cristian Mungiu

Rating: R

This movie originally caught my eye for all the attention it got at the Cannes festival, but I assure you, all of the hype is more than warranted. Two Days, One Night takes you on an emotional journey with Sandra, recovering from depression and ready to get back to work, when she discovers that her co-workers, having to choose between receiving a bonus and Sandra keeping her job, hold her fate in their hands. And thus, barely convinced herself and with her husband as her only support, she sets out on an unlikely mission to convince the people to vote against the bonus so that she still has a salary. This movie will strike a chord for anyone who has encountered depression or even simply tried to understand the abstract concept that it is. Marion Cotillard flawlessly portrays through Sandra the desperate struggle of having to put up a fight despite the utter hopelessness that she finds herself drowning in. At strife with herself, watching her try even though every cell in her body has given up, is gut-wrenching and awe-inspiring at the same time. Before long Sandra's fight on the lay-off and on her own hopelessness seem to blur together. Whether she wins, is what keeps you hooked to the very end.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Alain Eloy, Baptiste Sornin, Batiste Sornin, Ben Hamidou, Catherine Salée, Christelle Cornil, Christelle Delbrouck, Fabrizio Rongione, Laurent Caron, Marion Cotillard, Morgan Marinne, Myriem Akeddiou, Myriem Akheddiou, Olivier Gourmet, Philippe Jeusette, Pili Groyne, Simon Caudry, Tom Adjibi, Yohan Zimmer

Director: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne

Rating: PG-13

The Promise has all the trappings of a sleazy crime drama, but there's a sense of innocence buried underneath all the dirt that helps set it apart. Even as Igor helps his father do the shadiest things to exploit the illegal immigrants under their care, you can see the boy slowly wake up to the realization that life can't just be a series of transactions, rewards, and punishments. As writers and directors, the Dardenne brothers present Igor's coming of age with frankness and without pretension—even when a hint of the mystical begins to compel him to tell the truth. It might not seem all that complex at first, but the details that make up this world are fully immersive from start to finish.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Frédéric Bodson, Jean-Michel Balthazar, Jérémie Renier, Norbert Rutili, Olivier Gourmet, Sophia Leboutte

Director: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne

In modern day Europe, demonic possession seems to be a thing of the past, something most likely to be attributed to mental illness, and something that can be dealt with through modern medicine, not exorcism. Still, exorcisms are conducted in certain areas in the continent, and some instances don’t go the way they should. Inspired on the real life Tanacu exorcism, Beyond the Hills doesn’t depict the event through a horror or melodramatic lens– instead the film is stoic, naturalistic, with long single takes that linger uncomfortably and repetitively. As Alina pleads to Voichița to help her, to choose her and their bond, Voichița grapples with wanting the modern yet isolating freedom she knows Alina has found elsewhere, while still wanting the refuge religious tradition has granted her, but also has made her dependent on. It does take a while to reach its conclusion, but Beyond the Hills is a deeply unsettling and striking movie to watch.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Adrian Acuta, Alina Berzunteanu, Călin Chirilă, Cătălina Harabagiu, Cosmina Stratan, Cristina Flutur, Cristina Mihailescu, Dana Tapalagă, Dionisie Vitcu, Doru Ana, Gheorghe Ifrim, Gina Tandura, Ion Sapdaru, Katia Pascariu, Liliana Mocanu, Luminita Gheorghiu, Nora Covali, Tania Popa, Teodor Corban, Valeriu Andriuță

Director: Cristian Mungiu