27 Best Movies to Watch From France 3 Cinéma

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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, Nicolas Le Riche, Niels Arestrup, Olatz Lopez Garmendia, Patrick Chesnais, Talina Boyaci, Zinedine Soualem

Director: Julian Schnabel

Rating: PG-13

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

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

Autobiographical in nature, 120 BPM is French screenwriter Robin Campillo's first feature film. It revolves around the Parisian chapter of the AIDS advocacy group ACT UP, which Campillo was a member of in the early 1990s, and the love between Nathan, the group's newest member, who is HIV negative, and Sean, one of its founding and more radical members, who is positive and suffers the consequences of contracting AIDS. Using fake blood and spectacular direct action, ACT UP advocated more and better research of treatment, prevention, and awareness. This was at a time when many, implicitly or explicitly, viewed AIDS as a gay disease, even as a punishment for the gay community's propensity to pleasure and partying. The latter is reflected by the film's title, 120 bpm being the average number of beats per minute of a house track. Arnaud Rebotini's original score echoes the ecstasy-driven house music hedonism of the time with some effective original cuts, albeit with a melancholic streak. Because, for all the love, friendship, and emotion of the ACT UP crew that BPM so passionately portrays, anger and sadness pervade the lives of these young people as the lack of effective treatment threatens to claim the lives of their loved ones.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Adèle Haenel, Aloïse Sauvage, Antoine Reinartz, Arnaud Valois, Caroline Piette, Catherine Vinatier, Coralie Russier, Emmanuel Ménard, Félix Maritaud, François Rabette, Marco Horanieh, Naëlle Dariya, Nahuel Pérez Biscayart, Pascal Tantot, Saadia Bentaïeb, Sabrina Aliane, Samuel Churin, Simon Guélat, Théophile Ray, Yves Heck

Director: Robin Campillo

Rating: Not Rated

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

My Life as a Zucchini (or Courgette in Europe) is unlike any kids' movie you'll see in America. It isn't afraid to be honest about children's feelings, no matter how dark or sad, nor is it afraid to be frank about things like intimacy and abuse. It understands that kids need these kinds of narratives too, and sometimes they need to hear them without being pandered to. 

There is an openness to it that makes it comforting to adults as well. Lines like “Sometimes, we cry because we’re happy," are so deceptively simple and tender that they'll catch you off guard. Couple this seemingly endless reserve of empathy with adorable, almost melancholic stop-motion animation and you get a film that will have you floored for days, regardless of your age.

Genre: Animation, Comedy, Drama, Family, Romance

Actor: Michel Vuillermoz, Monica Budde, Natacha Koutchoumov, Paulin Jaccoud

Director: Claude Barras

Rating: PG-13

With his final film, octogenarian master filmmaker Robert Bresson found the violent, chilling truth in that old cliché, “money is the root of all evil.” L’Argent extends the simplicity of its title (literally, “Money”) into the fabric of the film, using an extremely bare style to track the devastating domino effect that a childish ruse has on one man’s life. When a shopkeeper realizes two schoolboys swindled him out of 500 francs with a counterfeit note, he decides to pass the problem on by paying delivery man Yvon (Christian Patey) with the false note. But when Yvon tries to pay for his lunch with the money, the police are called and his life unravels.

This is just the start of L’Argent’s clinical exploration of the meanness and littleness of man’s greedy spirit. Yvon’s downfall is chronicled with matter-of-fact coldness: everything onscreen is minimal, from the precise cinematography and frugal editing to the non-professional actors’ expressionlessness. This detached style encourages us to absorb all the bitter emotion of the story, which feels — in such an economical format as this — like a moral tale as old as time, but no less cutting.

Genre: Crime, Drama

Actor: Caroline Lang, Christian Patey, Michel Briguet, Sylvie Van Den Elsen, Vincent Risterucci

Director: Robert Bresson

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, Julien Frison, Kacey Mottet Klein, Leïla Muse, Louise Chevillotte, Louise Orry-Diquéro, Luàna Bajrami, Pio Marmaï, Sandrine Bonnaire

Director: Audrey Diwan

Rating: R

Other People’s Children wrestles with some very tricky life experiences: bonding with a partner’s child in the agonizing knowledge that that attachment is entirely contingent on the fate of your romantic relationship; being a woman of a certain age and wanting a child but becoming keenly aware of the ticking of your body clock. For all the sharp points of pain the movie zones in on, though, there is remarkable cheerfulness in it, too. Writer-director Rebecca Zlotowski captures a wide spectrum of mood here, fusing lighthearted laughs and swooning romance with bitter disappointments and grief in a way that feels organic to life itself. The buoyant moments don’t undermine the sincere, intelligent consideration given to Rachel’s (Virginie Efira) perspective as a woman navigating a situation for which there are no real rules, and vice versa — because the film considers her as a whole from the outset. Neither reducing Rachel to her childlessness nor ignoring its emotional impact on her, this is a deeply empathetic movie that never questions the completeness of its protagonist’s life.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Anne Berest, Antonia Buresi, Callie Ferreira-Goncalves, Chiara Mastroianni, Fadila Belkebla, Frederick Wiseman, Guillaume Verdier, Henri-Noël Tabary, Marlène Saldana, Mireille Perrier, Roman Kolinka, Roschdy Zem, Sébastien Pouderoux, Véréna Paravel, Victor Lefebvre, Virginie Efira, Yamée Couture

Director: Rebecca Zlotowski

Rating: NR

This is a hilarious political comedy starring the ever-great Steve Buscemi. Set in the last days before Stalin's death and the chaos that followed, it portrays the lack of trust and the random assassinations that characterized the Stalinist Soviet Union. Think of it as Veep meets Sacha Baron Cohen's The Dictator. Although to be fair, its dark comedy props are very different from the comedy that comes out today: where there are jokes they're really smart, but what's actually funny is the atmosphere and absurd situations that end up developing.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, History

Actor: Adam Ewan, Adam Shaw, Adrian McLoughlin, Alla Binieieva, Andrea Riseborough, Andrey Korzhenevskiy, Andy Gathergood, Cara Horgan, Dan Mersh, Daniel Booroff, Daniel Chapple, Daniel Fearn, Daniel Smith, Daniel Tatarsky, Daniel Tuite, Dave Wong, David Crow, Dermot Crowley, Diana Quick, Elaine Caxton, Ellen Evans, Emilio Iannucci, Eva Sayer, Ewan Bailey, George Potts, Gerald Lepkowski, Henry Helm, James Barriscale, Jason Isaacs, Jeffrey Tambor, Jeremy Limb, Jonathan Aris, Jonny Phillips, June Watson, Justin Edwards, Karl Johnson, Leeroy Murray, Luke D'Silva, Michael Ballard, Michael Palin, Nicholas Sidi, Nicholas Woodeson, Oleg Drach, Olga Kurylenko, Paddy Considine, Paul Chahidi, Paul Ready, Paul Whitehouse, Phil Deguara, Richard Brake, Ricky Gabriellini, Roger Ashton-Griffiths, Rupert Friend, Sebastian Anton, Sheng-Chien Tsai, Simon Russell Beale, Steve Buscemi, Sylvestra Le Touzel, Tim Steed, Tom Brooke, Yulya Muhrygina

Director: Armando Iannucci

Rating: R

Krzysztof Kieślowski’s trilogy reflects both the colors and the values of the French republic: liberté, égalité, fraternité. In Trois couleurs : Blanc (Three Colors: White), Kieślowski explores not only the theme of equality, but also the ramifications of defining and “achieving” equality as a European ideal.

After failing to consummate their marriage, Dominique (the ever-bewitching Julie Delpy) divorces Karol (Zbigniew Zamachowski), leaving him broke and humiliated. Karol plots to exact revenge on his ex-wife, becoming richer and cruller in the process. 

Although this is often regarded as the weakest of the trilogy, White is worth a watch not just for completionists. Kieślowski interrogates what it means to be equal in sex and socioeconomic class—and if when we strive to move upward in society, whether we are really debasing our basic humanity and humility.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Mystery

Actor: Aleksander Bardini, Andrzej Precigs, Barbara Dziekan, Bartłomiej Topa, Bozena Szymanska, Cezary Harasimowicz, Cezary Pazura, Florence Pernel, Francis Coffinet, Grażyna Szapołowska, Grzegorz Warchoł, Janusz Gajos, Jerzy Nowak, Jerzy Stuhr, Jerzy Trela, Julie Delpy, Juliette Binoche, Marzena Trybała, Philippe Morier-Genoud, Piotr Machalica, Piotr Zelt, Teresa Budzisz-Krzyżanowska, Wanda Wróblewska, Zbigniew Zamachowski, Zdzisław Rychter

Director: Krzysztof Kieślowski

Summer Hours centers on three siblings tasked with sorting the valuable pieces their mother left behind. Frédéric (Charles Berling), the eldest, has different ideas about inheritance than his overseas siblings. Will their beloved house stay or go? Will the art? The furniture? Can they afford to keep all these for sentimental reasons or would it be wiser to sell them? They go back and forth on these questions, rarely agreeing but always keeping in mind the life these seemingly inanimate objects occupy, as well as the memories they evoke, which are beyond priceless.  

Summer Hours resists melodrama, opting instead for the simple power of restraint—of unspoken words and charged glances. And the result is a quietly affecting movie that basks in the details to paint a wonderful, overall picture of home and family.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Family

Actor: Alice de Lencquesaing, Charles Berling, Dominique Reymond, Edith Scob, Émile Berling, Eric Elmosnino, Gilles Arbona, Isabelle Sadoyan, Jean-Baptiste Malartre, Jérémie Renier, Juliette Binoche, Kyle Eastwood, Sara Martins, Valérie Bonneton

Director: Olivier Assayas

Rating: Not Rated

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

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