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© Amélie 2001

Top 5 French Films to Celebrate Bastille Day With

14 July 2019 | Jack Salvadori

Today, cinema is everywhere. In the 21st century every country has its own film industry, from the CGI-based Hollywood, to the resourceless mobile phone films of Nigeria. Yet, there’s a nation which has a unique bond with the Seventh Art. France and cinema have always been closely related: one hundred and twenty-three years ago, Cinema was officially born in a café in Paris, and whilst in the first, legendary public projection all the audience ran away as a train was approaching the screen, it didn’t take long for the public to return to their seats. So, for French Independence Day, we've compiled a list of the Top 5 most innovative, influential, powerful and simply beautiful French films, spanning through the entire history of cinema. If you haven’t watched them yet, it’s certainly time to catch up, and discover the heart of the French artistic cinematic culture.

Le Voyage dans la Lune (Trip to the Moon) - Georges Méliès, 1902
Regarded as one of the most influential films in history, this early motion picture is crafted by Georges Méliès’ magic style. The Lumiere Brothers may have invented cinema, but Méliès transformed it into an art, developing it from a technical exhibition novelty to an eternal source of storytelling. The film is a homage to the unknown, depicting a fantastic journey of a group of astronomers who, after jumping on a rocket, land on the moon and face its inhabitants. At a time in which the moon was still a great mystery, the hand-coloured film managed to fascinate audiences worldwide, and became the first science fiction film in the history of cinema.

This film is a must for everybody, from children to movie lovers, and its restored version can now be seen in its entirety on YouTube.


Image Credit: Vashti Harrison via Twitter

Mon Oncle (My Uncle) – Jacques Tati, 1958
Who said that films must follow a narrative storyline, with characters, dialogues, problems and resolutions? Certainly not Jacques Tati, who believes the very opposite. The cinematic anarchist respects the viewer’s freedom, offering visual pleasure wherever they desire among the constraints of the film frame. In Tati’s first color film, the stars are the décor and the staging, and dialogues are never the center of the attention: sounds obey their own logic, far from the usual rules of cinematic soundtracks. The plot centers on the director’s iconic character Monsier Hulot, as he faces ordinary situations transformed into comedic sketches by his never-ending clumsiness. He has to deal with a new job as well as spending time with his young nephew, but his greatest obstacle seems to be the excessive modernism which characterized postwar France, with its obsession with American consumerism and useless technology. Mon Oncle is an astonishing beautiful visual piece of cinema, which simultaneously presents some very touchingly tender moments, through which Tati teaches us to embrace life with more joy and poetry, and to pay attention to the little things.

The film, which won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, is now available on Amazon.


Image Credit: Billi Shears via Twitter

Bande à part (Band of Outsiders) – Jean-Luc Godard, 1964
In the beginning of the 1960s, the of cinema faced a rebirth, which, as always, occurred in France. A group of young Parisian film critics, led by François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard, gave birth to the internationally influential movement of New Waves, or Nouvelle Vague in their homeland. In an attempt to regenerate cinema, these revolutionary Cinephiles - tired and disillusioned by a classic cinema deprived of innovation - embraced the cameras and began their cinematic careers as auteurs. There are many masterpieces released during the Nouvelle Vague, but a Bande à Part perfectly embodies the young, playful mood of 1960s France. The plot follows the lightheartedness of a happy trio of friends planning to commit a robbery, without taking themselves too seriously because, hey, it’s just a movie! They wonder around the streets of Paris, running through the Louvre and dancing in cafès, as the director redefines the idea of motion picture, with the elongated, intrusive camera movements and his unique discontinuous editing. Starring the fabulous Anna Karina, Bande a part is painted with Godard’s mise-en-scéne, becoming an example of the self-reflexive modernistic trend that, at that time, was developing all around Europe.
 
Today, it is possible to buy this cool masterpiece on Amazon:


Image Credit: Qué Pasa Oaxaca‏ via Twitter
 
Le fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain (Amélie) – Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2001
The best way to describe Amélie would be sunshine able to make you happy in a rainy day. This film is the apotheosis of everything French, a love letter to Paris, a fantastic fable so touching that can actually change your approach to the small pleasures in life, which really do make a difference. The protagonist, Amélie - who enjoys relateable everyday activities such as cracking créme brulée with a teaspoon - is a do-gooder, helping anyone she meets to achieve their small goals. Summarizing the plot would really not be enough to express the feeling of this film, as you really need its colorful images, the director’s mise-en-scéne and Audrey Tatou’s smile to get a full sense of this ode to the pursuit of happiness.
 
This delightful candy can be enjoyed on Amazon.


Image Credit: Movie Chronicles via Twitter
 
The Artist - Michel Hazanavicius, 2011
Today, it surely is an unusual choice to make a black & white film; even more rare if the film is silent too! Yet, Michel Hazanavicious reminded the world that an amazing story does not need any color, and that music can be even more powerful than words. In fact, The Artist is enriched by the beauty of its black & white silhouettes, and dances on the romantic notes of its soundtrack without breaking this spell with unnecessary speech. The film pays homage to the golden age of Hollywood, not only through the way it’s presented, but also by its plot: the fallout of a star, refusing to join the “talkies” and being replaced with younger actors. The bittersweet fairy tale is thus very self-reflexively about cinema itself, and through its intense, dream-like love story between its main protagonists, it shines a nostalgic light upon the love for the Seventh Art. Alternating funny scenes with deeply touching moments, “The Artist” is pure poetry, and a must-see for anyone who needs a happy ending.
 
The Artist is available to rent on Amazon.


Image Credit: filmography via Twitter
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