The best French films of the 21st century remind us why France is still as important to cinema as light itself.
Cinema has been one of the truly international phenomena of the past millennium, but France – more than any other nation – has always been one of the most essential beacons of media. From the pioneering era of the Lumière brothers, to the revolutionary New Wave which broadened our understanding of the potential of cinema, to the country’s recent defense of the theatrical experience, France has always pushed films forward while reminding us of this that we love about them in the first place. No country has done more to help propel cinema into the 20th century, and no country has done more to help maintain its integrity and potential in the 21st century.
From sultry thrillers to mind-blowing 3D experiences and one of the most heart-wrenching and honest love stories ever told, these are the 25 best French films of the 21st century.
Note: To be eligible for our list, a film had to be predominantly French-language and at least partially funded by French. With one exception, all of the movies on this list are also together In France also.
25. “La Sapienza” (2014)
The premise of “La Sapience” (“La Sapienza”) could easily provide fodder for a cliché indie drama: A estranged couple travel to the countryside in a desperate attempt to boost morale, bond with a pair of teenage boys in difficulty and by helping them solve their problems, regains a sense of renewed hope. Gag. But in the hands of Franco-American filmmaker Eugène Green (“The Portuguese Nun”), whose films blend discreet narration and literary themes, “The Sapience” is anything but familiar. Instead, the writer-director creates a work that is both weighted by scientific research and an undercurrent of poignant like nothing else. The title refers to a definition of wisdom dating back centuries and applied in the works of 17th-century Baroque Roman architect Francesco Borromini, whose work becomes as much a character in the film as the intellectuals at its center. Green’s fusion of past and present results in a powerful blend of intellectual and emotional experiences that is also a disarming tongue-in-cheek comedy. Gorgeous at fault, this is the rare case of a brain tale that manages to assert life in the process. —EK
24. “The man in the train” (2002)
From 1989 to 2002, Patrice Leconte was one of the most electric and alluring (and underrated) filmmakers in the world. Her career-defining streak of success may have peaked with 1999’s singularly romantic “Girl on the Bridge”, but it ultimately peaked with “The Man on the Train.” The wise and all in all wonderful story of a chance encounter between a retired teacher (the great Jean Rochefort) and an aging bank robber on the verge of a big score (the French icon Johnny Hallyday), “The train man “wouldn’t prove to be Leconte’s last film, but it looks like he could have been – he’s possessed by the same melancholy spirit that has defined so many big farewells from cinema. The friendship that develops between these two grizzled men is sweet but never sentimental, and the brotherly bond they share over a single weekend is as memorable as any love story. – FROM
23. “Of Gods and Men” (2010)
From its very first scenes, “Des dieux et des hommes” inhabits the sacred life of its monastic subjects. The eight monks residing in a seemingly picturesque mountain community in North Africa perform the movements of their daily prayers, the ritual hymns resounding monotonously in their sacred chambers. Providing medical assistance and spiritual guidance to their Muslim neighbors, they inhabit a peaceful world, but the peace is short-lived. The monks see their harmonious existence suddenly disrupted by bloodthirsty Islamic fundamentalists, and so begins the riddle at the heart of the film. Loosely based on the mysterious assassination of seven French monks in Algeria in 1996, Xavier Beauvois’ discreet fifth feature film takes liberties with this widely scrutinized incident, but its simplistic environment exists out of time. Ignore the precise religious context and this presents itself perfectly as a restrained look at personal convictions in the face of certain death. Whenever a monk contemplates his fate, Beauvois involves a deeper process that takes place beneath the surface. By keeping their eventual fate off camera, it conveys the powerful idea that the full extent of tragedy is unknowable, and it keeps the film relevant to this day. —EK
22. “Swimming pool” (2003)
François Ozon’s sensual black is rich in atmosphere and ambiguity. The story of British novelist Sarah Morton (Charlotte Rampling) venturing into the countryside to overcome her writer’s block, “Swimming Pool” seems simple enough… at first glance. Sarah then arrives at her publisher’s lavish mansion and receives a frightening surprise: her alleged daughter (Ludivine Sagnier) shows up and launches a series of sexual excursions on the property, forcing the writer into a voyeuristic scenario she doesn’t know about. ‘was not waiting. Over time, however, she becomes both drawn to Julie’s sexual adventures and fascinated by the mystery that surrounds them, so much so that the older woman considers using the experience to generate the creative spark that she was looking. The sensual plot continues to thicken, turning into a violent third act that further complicates Sarah’s quest for the ultimate pot. As spectators, we can discover the solution to his troubles, and the film opens to an interpretation in this direction. Is everything we see here real – or just an extension of Sarah’s desire to conjure up a superbly engaging thriller? This question remains unanswered, but there is no doubt that Ozon offers exactly that. —EK
21. “Petit Quinquin” (2014)
Bruno Dumont is one of the most daring and provocative filmmakers working in France today, but nothing he has done has distilled the scope of his work more than this three-hour miniseries, which premiered as a feature film production at Cannes and screened that way. in the United States And indeed, it’s a complete work of pure vision: a comedic tale of clumsy police investigators in a small town and the various rural characters they meet along the way. Less “Twin Peaks” than Inspector Clouseau, the mystery at the center of the film matters less than how the exhausted police captain (Bernard Pruvost) constantly tries to process the disparate clues that come his way. It starts with the murder of a woman stuffed inside a cow and gets more and more bizarre from there, but Dumont’s elegant and patient approach to the narrative results in a complicated world filled with desperation and despair. of aimless rebellion. The titular Quiquin, a farm-raised teenager with nothing but contempt for the law, has nothing to do with the murder except he’s mostly ambivalent about it, much like everything else in his. dull environment. The Captain becomes the only character who seems to really care about justice, and while he may be incompetent, he’s the best they’ve got. All of Dumont’s films involve imperfect characters trying to make the most of their dismal settings; “Li’L Quinquin” elevates this motif to an epic level with masterful results. —EK