Films to watch before your trip to France

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From modern masterpieces to the black and white classics, here are the top 5 must-see movies before you go to France.

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  • Cinema is an integral part of French culture
    © fergregory/123RF
    Cinema is an integral part of French culture
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Home to the pioneers in 'New Wave' cinema such as François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Goddard as well as modern day visionaries such as Mathieu Kassovitz, the French film industry is world renowned. While the Hollywood glitz and glamour can sometimes feel overblown and veer into cliché, French films throughout the years have retained their class and sophistication. Innovative cinematography mixed with clever wit and thought provoking narratives are the defining features earning France's title as the capital of European cinema.

Amélie (Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain)

Released in 2001, Amélie has won multiple awards and is widely regarded as one of the best French movies released in the XXI century. Amélie (Audrey Tatou) is a waitress who is on a mission to make people's lives better. It's a romantic comedy, but also an exercise in magical realism. We are offered glimpses into her mind, which are usually characterized by fairly surreal elements beautifully woven into the film's narrative. Amélie painfully shy which threatens to hold her back when she meets Nino (Mathieu Kassovitz) and gets her own chance at happiness.

Why it's worth the watch

Amélie was filmed in over 80 locations in the French capital which means that you can relive the Amélie experience by wandering the cobbled streets of Montmartre or skipping stones on the Canal St Martin. You can also visit the famous Café de Deux Moulins where most of the filming took place (it even serves crème brulé). Furthermore, Yann Tiersen's film score is outstanding. The typically French accordion waltzes add a playful and witty element while in other scenes the simple piano pieces wonderfully encapsulate the protagonist's yearning and loneliness. Overall, the soundtrack combined rich visuals and sublime cinematography gives the film a timeless appeal and captures the romance and unique charm of Paris.

The Triplets of Belleville (Belleville Rendez-vous)

Madame Souza, an elderly Frenchwoman, is training her son, Champion, to become a professional cyclist. He competes in the Tour de France, but during the race he's kidnapped by mysterious criminals who ship him abroad to work for them. Madame Souza sets out on an adventure to rescue her son and comes across a trio of sisters. The sisters are retired music hall singers from Belleville in Paris. Souza becomes part of their troupe, accompanying their singing on a bicycle wheel, and together they hatch a plan to save Champion.

Why it's worth the watch

When the animated film came out in 2003 not only was it nominated for two Academy Awards, but also received a special screening at the Cannes film festival. More than a straightforward thriller, the film is wonderfully imaginative and even eccentric. There's minimal dialogue and the focus is on the visuals with subtle references to everything from frog eating French clichés to Walt Disney's 101 Dalmatians. Surreal and witty, it's an interesting commentary on our capitalist society.

The Secret of the Grain (Le graine et le mulet)

The story follows Slimane (Habib Boufares), a Tunisian immigrant who was recently made redundant from his job in a shipyard. He embarks on an ambitious project to open a family restaurant on an abandoned boat specializing in his ex-wife's delicious couscous. Slimane, with the help of his daughter Rym (Hafsia Herzi), must navigate the problematic French bureaucracy, raise enough funds and charm snobby businessmen on his mission to make his dream a reality.

Why it's worth the watch

France is not just French people! It's a diverse and rich tapestry of different nationalities that should be celebrated and explored. The film shows the importance of food and communal meals in bringing people together from different walks of life. Watching the love and care going into each meal, by the end we guarantee you'll be feeling pretty hungry. When in France, it might persuade you to go outside of your comfort zone. Instead of heading to one the French bistros, why not swap your Croque-Monsieur for an authentic couscous dish in a local Tunisian or Moroccan restaurant?

The 400 Blows (Les 400 Coups)

Set and filmed in the 1950s, the film follows Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud), a young Parisian boy who regularly gets tangled up with the authorities. Neglected by his parents (Claire Maurier, Albert Remy) and with only one friend, he leads a lonely life. A scheme to run away doesn't go to plan and his life becomes increasingly chaotic. The English translation, 400 blows, doesn't convey the full French meaning of the title, ?les 400 coups' refers to the expression "faire les quatre cents coups", which means "to raise hell".

Why it's worth the watch

François Truffaut's semi-autobiographical film is by far his most successful and well known. You can visit all filming locations in Paris such as in Pigalle, Invalides and the Champ de Mars, which is near the Eiffel Tower, as well as the coastal town of Honfleur in Normandy. It's a fascinating insight into French society during the 1950s and the injustices and mistreatment of juvenile offenders. Widely considered a classic of French cinema, the film is highly esteemed for its innovative and experimental directing and producing. The final scene especially, is iconic. It's a must-see for any Francophile.

Ratatouille

Remy (Patton Oswalt) lives in Paris and dreams of becoming a chef, however there's just one problem - he's a rat. One day he gets separated from his family and finds himself beneath one of Paris' finest restaurants, so he decides to investigate the kitchen and rustle up some culinary delights. However, it is not long before he's discovered...

Why it's worth the watch

Ok, so while this isn't actually a French film, it's set in Paris and it's definitely worth checking out. Created by director of The Incredibles and the writers of Finding Nemo, Ratatouille earns its place among Pixar's best films. The animation is superb, so much so that it won an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. Fast paced and wildly entertaining, there's never a dull moment it this fun family movie. It's uplifting and the moral is clear, that you can do anything if you put your mind to it. But perhaps rats are not an ideal conversation topic when out to dinner at a fancy restaurant.

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Xenia Evans
Posted on 14/08/2017 4 shares
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