Ask just about any immigrant, expatriate, or learner of a second language how they improved their conversational skills and they’ll frequently give you the same answer: television and movies. Mila Kunis has cited The Price Is Right as her first English teacher, and everyone knows that the Muppets of Sesame Street have helped thousands of immigrants to the US learn their ABC’s. I’ve tried to do the same for my French language skills by watching as many French movies (and Hollywood movies dubbed into French) as possible with my host family, and I’ve certainly noticed a difference in my comprehension level.
So without further ado, here’s a list of some wonderful French movies I’ve enjoyed watching so far, and my incredibly non-expert advice for viewing them in your own home.
Amélie: Easily Translates to English Subtitles
The classic film starring Audrey Tautou as a quirky, well-meaning young French woman is a favorite of amateur French speakers everywhere. This movie was hugely popular in France and the US, and continues to be the benchmark for the modern French film industry. Warning: Amélie isn’t full of action or even a very direct plot. If you want to be on the edge of your seat with suspense, don’t watch this movie. It’s best appreciated on a lazy weekend morning with a large mug of tea in hand.
Cyrano de Bergerac: Easily Translates to English Subtitles
Before French institution Gérard Depardieu began relieving himself in public places, he was nominated for an Oscar for this 1990 reproduction of a play written by Edmond Rostand. Cyrano de Bergerac, an unfortunate looking but brilliant poet and swordsman, endures the woes of unrequited love in 19th century Paris. Great jokes, some pretty fun swordfights, and, of course, a classic love story. It doesn’t matter what language you speak-everybody loves a good romantic comedy.
Intouchables: Easily Translates to English Subtitles or Dubbing
I was required to write a paper on this blockbuster hit a few weeks ago, and I finally got around to watching it this weekend [cue drums]. A rich quadriplegic and his ex-con caretaker form an unlikely friendship in this feel-good comedy based on a true story. While some would say that the movie is neither realistic nor culturally sensitive, it’s still an enjoyable story. There’s lots of slang, so it’s great for students who want to improve their conversational French, but it moves fast enough to need French subtitles if you really want to follow closely.
Un Couple Épatant: Best with English or French Subtitles for French Students
Put your thinking caps on, everyone! Un Couple Épatant is the second of a trilogy of movies that build on each other in a strange six-degrees-of-separation sort of organization. Loose ends from the first installment are tied up in the second and third and vice versa, so it’s necessary to watch all three to gain any appreciation at all, but it’s well worth the extra effort. The cool thing, though, is that the order in which you watch the trilogy doesn’t matter much, because all three cover the same plot, just from the viewpoints of different characters. Trippy, but interesting and original. Watch this one with French subtitles if you can; it’s not too difficult to follow along if you pay attention. If you’re not a Francophone, I imagine it’d still be doable in English!
Paris, Je T’aime: Best with English or French subtitles for French students
I first saw this movie in high school, and it’s just as good several years later. Like Un Couple, this film is made of various puzzle pieces that are jumbled together to form an anthology of sorts. Each short story is directed and produced by a different cast and crew, then pieced together in the end to give an an original look into French culture and how one lovely city can unify countless people of differing backgrounds. Very American-friendly, the movie features several Hollywood actors and some English speaking sections. Watch it with English subtitles and you’ll be fine.
Bienvenue Chez les Ch’tis: Best with French Subtitles for French Students
A postal worker is forced to leave his wife and son in the South of France when he gets relocated to Bergues, a tiny town in the Northeast. Having heard the stereotypes of Northerners, Philippe dreads moving to “The Sticks”, but soon grows to love the different culture. Hilarious, heartwarming, and oddly poignant for this Southerner who’s frequently been subjected to regional stereotypes. Most of the jokes in this movie are based on slang, accents, and puns, so it was very difficult for me to watch without French subtitles. I haven’t seen the English-subtitled version, but I can only hope it manages to capture the humor of the original. One of my new favorites!
8 Femmes: Best with French Subtitles or for Native Speakers
This kitschy mystery features an ensemble cast of eight well-known actresses in the middle of a Clue-esque whodunit. This movie is unrealistic, over-the-top, and fabulous. Each of the women performs various covers of classic French pop music throughout the plot, which only adds to its endearing quirkiness. (Those who know me personally know that I could never make a movie list without including at least one musical.) I’d recommend this one most for people who can read French subtitles; there are several musical numbers that simply can’t be dubbed.
I hope this post encourages you to broaden your movie collection and venture into the world of foreign films! It’s been a wonderful help to my language abilities, but watching these movies has also helped me gain a greater appreciation for the subtleties of the French culture. So what are you waiting for? Pick a movie and press play-Bon Spectacle!
*All images for this post were found on Google.*