Monday, May 28, 2012

The Favorite French Films of a French Film Hater

No country has put out quite as many tedious films as the French.  If you are looking for a movie of boring people having long, uninteresting conversations, check out Godard’s Breathless or Rohmer’s Pauline at the Beach.  If you want a tedious film that goes nowhere, try Lelouch’s A Man and a Woman or Truffaut’s Shoot the Piano Player.  If you want a comedy that isn’t remotely funny, try anything by Jacque Tati.

For years I found myself facing a seemingly inexhaustible supply of “classic” French films that ranged from painfully tedious (La Jette, Weekend) to rather dull (Rules of the Game, Umbrellas of Cherbourg).

For a long time my response to any mention of French films was to say “I hate French films,” but that’s not really true.  While the vast majority I’ve seen are pretty awful, there are a few that are actually amazingly good.  Even though they’re French!  So for any other French-film haters out there, here are a few movies that, in spite of their country of origin, are genuinely entertaining.

French Films I Love

Wages of Fear
After seeing so many bland, talky French movies, I was shocked to discover Wages of Fear, a gritty, suspenseful film with very little conversation and a lot of edge-of-your-seat moments.  Not just a good French movie, but an awesome one. My IMDB review.

The Tall Blonde Man with One Black Shoe
This movie and its sequel (The Return of the Tall Blonde etc....) are witty slapstick movies that have the feel of the Pink Panther series with the stupidest parts removed.  Incredibly clever and funny, these movies prove that the French are actually capable of being shamelessly silly.

City of the Lost Children
Intense, bizarre, surreal, visually stunning, this movie, from the folks who made Delicatessen (another pretty entertaining French film), is almost the opposite in every way of the typical French movie.  It’s hard to believe these guys are French at all.

Hiroshima Mon Amour
One of the greatest films ever made, this classic of the French New Wave is a brilliant example of cinematic art.  While I like many of the movies on this list because they seem very un-French to me, this is definitely a French film, with long conversations and not much in the way of story.  It just happens to be an amazing, ephemeral movie that redefined the boundaries of cinema and is a must-see for anyone who loves film.  It is the best work of director Alain Resnais, but really, everything I’ve seen by him was well worth watching (but I can’t add them to this list, because honestly I don’t remember which ones I’ve seen or whether I loved them a just found them intriguing. I only know I haven’t seen anything of his I didn’t like).  The guy was brilliant and one-of-a-kind, and I find it odd that I hear his name far less in discussions of French filmmakers than I do Godard’s. My IMDB review.

Des nouvelles du bon Dieu
I saw this movie on a local PBS station, and sadly I have never seen the first half hour.  What I did see was a brilliant black comedy about a bunch of people who decide that life is not real and that they are characters in a book.  They eventually go on a search for their author.  I would so love to see the beginning of this film, but it’s pretty much impossible to find anywhere.

This was directed by one of the co-directors of City of the Lost Children, but it is a very different kind of movie, sweet and romantic.  But it is just as wonderfully quirky and imaginative as COTLC. It’s also one of those movies that just makes you happy. My IMDB review.

The Artist

A silent film called “The Artist” sounds like something you’d expect to be arty and dull, but instead this best-picture Oscar winner  is a giddy love letter to the silent movie era, a movie that unironically gives us a heroine with moxie and a human-saving canine, but that also plays with our expectations of silent films.  My IMDB review.

French Films I Like

I wouldn’t want to give the impression that I hate all French movies except a handful that are absolutely brilliant.  There are some that I just like.  

The Passion of Joan of Arc
A silent movie that  a film teacher told me had both made and ruined its lead actress, who was so hugely successful in the role that no one could accept her in any other.  Wikipedia, on the other hand, suggests that she found filming this so grueling that she had just had it with film.

Kaena: The Prophecy
A cartoon about creatures living in a big tree, or something.  I barely remember this, but I recall really liking it, and I know I was impressed by the animation.  I recall it getting reviews that I felt were unjustly critical.

Fantastic Planet
This wildly imaginative movie has an interesting story involving humanoids kept as pets by giants, but is most memorable for remarkable creatures and plants doing strange things.  My IMDB review.

La Belle et la Bete
This visually striking filming of Beauty and the Beast has some wonderfully surreal moments, with a castle that is alive in weird and wonderful ways.  

I don’t love this bizarre dark comedy as much as some people do, but I do appreciate its grim quirkiness.