20 Best French Movies on Amazon Prime

20 Best French Movies on Amazon Prime

July 20, 2024

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As the birthplace of the art of filmmaking, France and its rich cinematic history have arguably influenced film industries around the world more than any other. So it shouldn’t be surprising to discover the names of French producers and production companies in the credits of all kinds of international releases. A great place to see this in practice is on Amazon Prime—one of the biggest streaming services in the world, with an impressively wide range of films on its roster from a huge number of sources. Through the lesser-known but highly-rated films listed below, you can see how the French film industry not only puts its own spin on things, but also tries to support smaller films in need of a signal boost.

1. Incendies (2011)

best

9.9

Country

Canada, France

Director

Denis Villeneuve

Actors

Abdelghafour Elaaziz, Ahmad Massad, Allen Altman, Baraka Rahmani

Moods

Discussion-sparking, Dramatic, Slow

This French-Canadian slow-burner, written and directed by Denis Villeneuve, will pull you in with one of the best movie beginnings of all time – and its outstanding ending will leave you shaken. To fulfill their mother’s last wish after her sudden death in Montreal, the two twins Jeanne and Simon must travel separately to an unnamed Middle-Eastern country (with strong resemblances to civil-war-torn Lebanon) to deliver letters to close relatives they never knew they had.

The twins’ quest into a dark and staggering family history makes them experience themselves and the violence of war like they had never imagined. Their ordeal is interrupted by a series of flashbacks telling the story of their mother, Nawal Marwan, before leading them to uncover a deeply disturbing secret. Based on Wajdi Mouawad’s 2003 play of the same name, this melodramatic war thriller takes a poetic and poignant look at how families are shaped by atrocities – even long the after wars that produced them have ended.

2. A Separation (2011)

best

9.7

Country

Australia, France, Iran

Director

Asghar Farhadi

Actors

Ali-Asghar Shahbazi, Babak Karimi, Bahareh Riahi, Kimia Hosseini

Moods

Challenging, Discussion-sparking, Emotional

Not one but two Oscars as well as a Golden Globe are among this movie’s never-ending list of accolades. It was the first Iranian film ever to get an Oscar and the first non-English film ever nominated for Best Screenplay. Originally titled The Separation of Nader from Simin in Persian, it homes in on the dissolving relationship of a middle-class couple from Teheran – and the unintended consequences of tragic events.

However, this film is so intense, well-acted, and well-written, it defies categorization. To be sure, the movie does offer a painful look at a deteriorating marriage. It’s also timely, dealing with the politics of theocracy, economic underdevelopment, and social alienation. It presents tense moral dilemmas without pointing a finger. If you’re curious to learn about the humans of Iran and, by cultural extension, the humans of the Middle East beyond the scope of global politics, A Separation is also for you.

But please don’t call it world cinema, because this is no Slumdog Millionaire. Above all, it is a searing portrayal of human conflict, relationships, and morals. It is an almost perfect depiction of how many bad people are simply good people running out of options.

3. Cold War (2018)

best

9.2

Country

France, Poland, UK

Director

Paweł Pawlikowski

Actors

Adam Ferency, Adam Szyszkowski, Adam Woronowicz, Agata Kulesza

Moods

Depressing, Romantic, Tear-jerker

While barely 90 minutes long, Cold War is epic in scope and a modern testament to what cinema can be. Whether we are feasting our eyes on the decaying post-war landscape of Poland, the patinated streets of East Berlin, or the delicate magic of a historic Paris, Cold War offers its viewers meticulously staged black-and-white beauty, conceived by Polish wunderkind director Paweł Pawlikowski and his trusted cinematographer Łukasz Ża. Winner of a slew of prestigious awards, this is a film made for the silver screen, so we recommend leaving your iPhone on the table and getting your hands on the biggest screen you can muster for watching this. The plot is essentially about the obsessive attraction between musician Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) and the young singer Zula (Joanna Kulig), who is recruited as the newest member of the former’s state-sponsored folk music band. Cold War follows their impossible love for fourteen years and across many European countries on each side of the Iron Curtain. It is a statement on how far artists go for their art, especially when they become constrained not only by dictatorship but also love. A poetic, sexy, and gorgeous movie without a wasted moment. A work of art.

4. The Salesman (2016)

best

9.1

Country

France, Iran

Director

Asghar Farhadi

Actors

Babak Karimi, Ehteram Boroumand, Emad Emami, Erfan Barzin

Moods

Dramatic, Thought-provoking, Thrilling

Echoing Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesmen, Oscar-winning writer-director Asghar Farhadi (A Separation, About Elly) tells the story of a loving middle-class couple who live in Tehran, Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti), who are forced to move out of their apartment. After arriving at their new place, violence erupts, upending their life and straining their previously happy relationship. Farhadi does what he does best here, delivering simmering tension, complex realism, and unaltered emotion. Originally titled Forushande, every scene of The Salesman is a privileged look for Western viewers into Iran’s collective consciousness. And even with all that aside, the film still stands out as an extraordinary drama with a tense plot and outstanding performances across the board. Another incredible addition to Farhadi’s first-class filmography.

5. Transit (2018)

best

8.8

Country

France, Germany

Director

Christian Petzold

Actors

Àlex Brendemühl, Antoine Oppenheim, Barbara Auer, Emilie de Preissac

Moods

Discussion-sparking, Dramatic, Emotional

Transit is based on a WWII novel — though you wouldn’t be able to tell from first glance. While the characters talk of German fascists occupying France, anachronistic details (like modern technology and clothing) suggest we haven’t gone back in time at all. Director Christian Petzold isn’t trying to confuse us: by blurring the backdrop, he’s making the terror and the desperation of the story more immediate — removing the distance that might have prevented us from really feeling what happens.

The uncanny historical echo effect works as intended, because the parallels Transit subtly draws between the past and today are horribly clear. What’s more, the movie’s intentionally ambiguous framing suffuses the plot with an otherworldly sense of mystery, a quality that gradually intensifies as Georg (Franz Rogowski) desperately searches for a one-way ticket out of hellish bureaucratic limbo before he finds himself waylaid by that most mysterious emotion of all: love. Unshakably haunting and undeniably poignant, this is a movie that will live under your skin.

6. And Then We Danced (2020)

best

8.6

Country

France, Georgia, Sweden

Director

Levan Akin

Actors

Aleko Begalishvili, Ana Javakishvili, Bachi Valishvili, Giorgi Tsereteli

Moods

Feel-Good, Heart-warming, Romantic

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.

7. A Hero (2021)

8.6

Country

France, Iran

Director

Asghar Farhadi

Actors

Ali Reza Jahandideh, Amir Jadidi, Ehsan Goodarzi, Farrokh Nourbakht

Moods

Slice-of-Life, Suspenseful, Thought-provoking

Celebrated Iranian director Asghar Farhadi’s latest movie is about Rahim, a man who is in jail because he was unable to repay a debt. He gets a temporary release from prison, and with a big smile on his face, he leaves his confinement with a plan not to come back.

His secret girlfriend hands him a pack of gold coins, which they plan to sell to repay the creditor. But, as is custom with Farhadi’s movies, the center of the story is a moral dilemma that comes from one of the characters trying to be a good person. The gold coins are not Rahim’s or his girlfriend’s, but it’s life-changing for both of them. 

Selected as Iran’s official submission to the Oscars. 

8. Papicha (2019)

best

8.3

Country

Algeria, Belgium, France

Director

Female director, Mounia Meddour

Actors

Ahmed Benaissa, Aida Guechoud, Amira Hilda Douaouda, Khaled Benaissa

Moods

Challenging, Discussion-sparking, Emotional

Set against the backdrop of the Algerian Civil War in the 1990s, the film follows Nedjma, a young fashion student, as she navigates the challenges of pursuing her dreams while living under strict societal and religious constraints. Gripping and emotionally charged, the film paints a vivid picture of the oppressive climate and the courageous women who refuse to be silenced. The performances are outstanding, particularly Lyna Khoudri’s portrayal of Nedjma, who brings a compelling blend of vulnerability and determination to her character. Director Mounia Meddour’s storytelling is powerful and thought-provoking, shining a light on the resilience of women in the face of adversity and the importance of artistic expression as a form of resistance. 

9. I’m Not There (2007)

best

8.3

Country

Canada, France, Germany

Director

Todd Haynes

Actors

Al Vandecruys, Alison Folland, Andrew Shaver, Andrew Simms

Moods

A-list actors, Challenging, Character-driven

I’m Not There is an unusual biopic in that it never refers to its subject, Bob Dylan, by name. Instead, Todd Haynes’ portrait of the singer mimics his constant reinvention by casting six separate actors to play as many reincarnations of the same soul. It’s an ingenious spin on a usually stale genre, one that liberates the film from the humdrum restrictions of a literal retelling of Dylan’s life.

If there’s anyone who warrants such an inventive approach to biography, it’s Dylan, whose public and private personas are so numerous that it’s only by angling six different mirrors at him that Haynes can hope to catch some of his essence. Impressionistic editing toggles freely between these vignettes, each visually distinct: from the 11-year-old Woody Guthrie-obsessive (Marcus Carl Franklin) and the black-and-white Super 16mm-shot poet (Ben Whishaw) to the aging cowboy outlaw (Richard Gere), all by way of Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, and Cate Blanchett’s incarnations. To be sure, this is a somewhat challenging film, reflecting, in places, the enigmatic surrealism of Dylan’s lyrics and his refusal to be pinned down to one thing. But, as Blanchett’s embodiment says, “Mystery is a traditional fact,” and that’s no more true than of Dylan, making Haynes’ film a fascinatingly fitting spiritual biopic.

10. Barbara (2012)

best

8.3

Country

France, Germany

Director

Christian Petzold

Actors

Alicia von Rittberg, Christina Hecke, Christoph Krix, Claudia Geisler-Bading

Moods

Discussion-sparking, Gripping, Suspenseful

Barbara (Petzold regular Nina Hoss) has fallen from grace, at least by the standards of 1980s Germany. A renowned doctor at a prestigious East Berlin hospital, she has been demoted to a paediatrician at a tiny town on the Baltic coast: a punishment for daring to try and leave the DDR. The Stasi spy on her, threaten her, and on occasion, abuse her. But Barbara does not give up in her attempts to establish a better life for herself, if only she could cross the sea and dock in Denmark. With such a politically-conscious premise, Christian Petzold’s sixth film became a hit on the European scene and transformed his relatively modest career into something more transnational. Even if Barbara feels very local—the way in which Germany’s divide conditions every movement and gesture of its characters—the tropes of a spy thriller come to the fore and make a legible, rewarding viewing out of something one may deem too particular. The film owes a lot to its lead, Hoss, who has become a staple of Petzold’s career, with her stoicism and towering presence as Barbara – a symbol of obstructed mobility.

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