Five French Films for Bastille Day

July 14th is Bastille Day, the equivalent of Independence Day in the United States. French films are known for their cinematic quality – as well as their strangeness to American audiences, often lacking the Hollywood-mandated happy endings.

This Bastille Day, here are five movies you should consider watching to get into the l’esprit.



5. Le Diner de Cons, 1998 (The Dinner Game)

Remade as the Dinner for Schmucks in America, this comedy tells the story of Pierre Brochant, who attends a weekly business dinner in which he and his colleagues each invite a “weirdo” to dinner to see who can bring in the “champion idiot.” The strategy backfires, and though less ‘direct’ than the American version, Diner de Cons is a classic in its own right.


Credit: Wikimedia Commons

4. Paris, je t’aime (2006) (Paris, I Love You)

This movie is a collection of short films regarding Paris created by various famous and international directors. Not all of the segments are great, but some truly shine, such as the hilarious Bastille, about an older man who re-falls in love with his dying wife. Other standouts include the Coen brothers’ take on the travails of the American tourist in Tuileries, starring Steve Buscemi, and Tom Tykwer’s Fauberg St. Denis, about a blind man in love with a woman played by Natalie Portman. Eclectic and powerful, the film offers a panoramic glimpse of Paris and all of its associations.

The film went on to inspire New York, I Love You and even Rio, Eu Te Amo.


Credit: Wikimedia Commons

3. Le Dernier Metro, 1980 (The Last Metro)

Set in Nazi-occupied Paris, Le Dernier Metro is one of acclaimed director Francois Truffaut’s finest works. Starring Gerard Depardieu, the film chronicles the struggle of Marion Steiner (Catherine Devenue) in maintaining her theater company and protecting her Jewish husband, Lucas Steiner. Classic French filmmaking – worth a look.


Credit: Wikimedia Commons

2. Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amelie Poulain, 2001, (Amelie)

Quirky, energetic, and now a cult classic, Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s film catapulted Audrey Tautou to international stardom with one of the most iconic roles in cinema. Postmodern narration with Vonnegut sensibility adorns this beautifully-shot film, which breaks the third wall, zeroes in on Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party and the death of Princess of Diana, andinspires the Travelocity gnome advertising campaign. Highly influential, like a cinematic confection, Amelie is the most successful French film to ever be released in America.


Credit: Wikimedia Commons

1. Jean de Florette and Manon de Sources, 1986, (Jean of Florette and Manon of the Spring)

Jean de Florette and Manon de Sources are kind of the French cinematic equivalent of the first two Godfather films, in that they are so highly regarded. Based on Marcel Pagnol’s epic novel, Manon de Sources, the two films chronicle the pastoral life in Provence – and the battle over water in the dry region. In Jean de Florette, Town patriarch “Le Papet” (Yves Montand) and his nephew Ugolin (Daniel Auteuil) conspire to conceal the freshwater spring from their neighbor, the out-of-towner, the titular Jean de Florette (Gerard Depardieu). In the sequel, Jean’s daughter, Manon, takes center stage. Epic, tragic, and filmed on location, this two-part film is of superb quality – though, I have to say, I prefer the first one. Both are worth the watch.

If you have any other French film recommendations, be sure to let us know in the comments below. Till then, Vive la France!


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