Posted March 17, 2012 by Greg Evans in Features
 
 

European Wonders – France


Over the next few weeks Filmjuice is going to be taking a look at the masters of European cinema. In the coming weeks we’ll be giving a Top Ten of a select few countries who have influenced, inspired and captured the imaginations of cinema-goers the world over. Highlighting the best of the French, Greg Evans, gives details of the essential top 10 films from French cinema.

Over the next few weeks Filmjuice is
going to be taking a look at the masters of European cinema. In the coming weeks we’ll be giving a
Top Ten of a select few countries who have influenced, inspired and captured
the imaginations of cinema-goers the world over. Highlighting the best of the French, Greg Evans, gives
details of the essential top 10 films from French cinema.

France, seemingly
forever, has been one of the countries at the forefront of the arts. From its
artists, musicians, thinkers and architects, the French have given the world a
whole host of wonders for us to admire. Its output in cinema is no different.

In fact, it may be one of the first
ever countries to produce a film and it is quite possibly its strongest medium.
Furthermore, they are still producing fantastic films that are often ahead of
the game (The Artist anyone?).

10. La Voyage Dans La Lune (A Trip to
the Moon)

Made in 1902, La Voyage Dans La Lune is
credited as being the first ever feature film to be released. We’ll use the term
‘feature’ lightly, as running in at just under 15 minutes this is hardly an
epic. Yet, this black and white silent film, tells a fantastic and wonderfully
simple story. A group of entrepreneurial explorers want to visit the moon, so
they build a spacecraft and do just that. When they arrive, they discover a
bizarre and fascinating world and they encounter its less than friendly
inhabitants. Despite being 120 years old the story and hand built scenery still
holds up today and would be a treat to anyone of any age. Its director Georges
Melies
was recently immortalised in Martin Scorsese’s Hugo. To see
Melies classic restored and presented on the big screen was a heart felt moment
for any cinematic purist.

9. Amelie
Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s
Amelie
is arguably the most famous French film ever released. Beloved by many, the
charming tale of Amelie Poulain captured the hearts of people all around the
world. In short Amelie decides to help the people that she knows and along the
way winds up falling in love. This sweet and eccentric film earned five
nominations from the Oscars and catapulted Audrey Tatou into the
mainstream mindset of cinemagoers. Now 11 years old, Amelie continues to win
new audiences and its romance, affection and uniqueness hasn’t diminished
whatsoever.

8. A Prophet
Often cited as ‘Scarface meets The
Godfather’, A Prophet goes far beyond either of those films. The film
follows a young Arab prisoner, who despite adversity becomes a mafia kingpin.
Highlighting the turmoil of immigrants in France, plus the horrors of prison, A
Prophet doesn’t pull any punches and is as violent as it is avant garde. A
refreshing gangster film that has an emphasis on morality rather than wealth
and status. Tahar Rahim is superb as the protagonist but Niels
Arestup
steals the show. His portrayal of Corsican mob boss, Cesar Luciani,
is one of the most terrifying film villains ever.

7. Beau Travail
A widely underrated and overlooked film
Beau Travail, looks at the lives of France’s foreign legionaries whilst
station in Africa. Not a war film (hardly any action takes place) but more of a
look at how boring and inconspicuous the life of a soldier can be. Largely void
of dialogue, we instead gaze into the memory of Officer Galoup as he recounts
his days as a serviceman. A challenging watch that demands the audience’s
attention, but the payoff is worth it for the last scene, for which it is best
remembered. A lone Galoup, played by veteran French actor Denis Lavant,
dances to 1990’s dance classic ‘Rhythm of the Night’ in an empty nightclub. It
is as absurd as it is beautiful. Its a perfect end to the film and earned
Claire Denis the status of a fantastic film maker.

6. Cache (Hidden)

It would be wrong to make a list of
French films and not have a film featuring Juliet Binoche.
Although Hidden may not be her best role (see No.1) it by no means makes it
less of an effecting film. Perhaps out of all the films on this list Hidden
will stay with you the longest. Quickly into the film we learn that TV
presenter Georges Laurent and his family are being videotaped by an unknown
stalker. Quite what this person wants from the family is a mystery but Laurent
has his suspicions to who it must be. Without revealing too much of the plot, Michael
Haneke’s
film is believed to be a comment on France’s ongoing conflicts
with its Algerian population. Stoic shots are frequent throughout the film but
one particularly violent scene will leave you shocked to the core. Hidden’s
conclusion is a puzzling as it is thought provoking.

5. Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Diving Bell and the Butterfly is one of
the best films to come out of anywhere in the past 10 years. It tells the sad
but true story of former Elle editor Jean-Dominique Bauby. Seemingly at
the top of his profession, Bauby is inexplicably struck down by the
awful locked-in syndrome. It leaves his entire body paralysed apart from
his left eye. In an unprecedented way Bauby manages to devise a
communication system by blinking and manages to write his memoirs with
the help of assistants. Largely told through first person perspective, we hear
Bauby’s thoughts and emotions throughout and learn to love him as an
intelligent and witty man. A beautifully poetic film that is both traumatic as
it is inspiring. It teaches all of us that despite overwhelming odds you
can achieve anything.

4. The 400 Blows
Often cited as the most important and
overall greatest French film ever made, Francois Truffaut’s The
400 Blows inspired a cacophony of directors and is helmed as the first film of
French New Wave. Set in 1950’s Paris, 12 year old Antoine Doinel is a complex and misunderstood child. Constantly
neglected by his parents and overlooked at school. Striving for more in life,
Antoine runs away from home and school but unfortunately his desires turn to
crime and eventually he winds up in a juvenile prison. Critically acclaimed and
lauded by everyone from Akira Kurowsawa to Satyajit Ray as their
favourite film, The 400 Blows influence can be seen over decades of cinema.
Originally released in 1959, it still remains one of the most successful films
France has ever produced.

3. Pierrot Le Fou
Jean-Luc Godard
is
a master of all things French. Cool, intelligent, pompous, artistic,
pretentious and witty, his films feature all this plus more. Controversially,
Pierrot Le Fou probably isn’t his best film. Many would cite Alphaville, Weekend and of course Breathless
as being the best of the maestros output, yet Pierrot Le Fou is the most fun
you can have without being bowled over by arrogance. It follows the shambolic
and chaotic couple Ferdinand and Marianne as they escape across France whilst
pursued by gangsters. Muchin the same vain as Badlands or Bonnie and
Clyde
, the pair go on an unwanted crime spree, with slapstick overtones
throughout. Completely bonkers and thoroughly enjoyable, Pierrot Le Fou is
Godard’s most accessible film. Everything that was cool and stylish about the
1960’s can be seen here.

2. La Haine
When La Haine was released in 1995 it
captured the raw and gritty essence of an unsettling time in France. Filmed
during the Parisian youth riots of the 90’s and just two years after the police
shooting of a teenage suspect, La Haine became the voice of a disillusioned
generation. This black and white film starring Vincent Cassel tells of
the day in the life of three very different friends as they venture out of the
housing projects after another intense riot. It is as creative as it is
explicit and features some of the best cinematography of the 90’s. The
brilliant soundtrack by Assassin only adds to what is a true modern
masterpiece. The uncompromising and direct attack on social divides still
resonates today. The films director Mathieu Kassovitz, never scaled
these heights again and bizarrely went onto direct stuff like Gothika and Babylon A.D!
As La Haine’s taglines says ‘Hatred breeds hatred’.


1. Three Colours: Red
The conclusion to one of the greatest
trilogies in all cinema, Three Colours: Red is one of, if not the defining
French film. Three Colours: Blue is often seen as the better film due to
Juliet Binoche‘s award winning
performance, but overall Red is the best of the Three Colours Trilogy. Focusing
on the unlikely friendship between aspiring model Valentine Dusot (Irene
Jacob)
and retired Judge, Joseph Kern (Jean-Louis Trintignant).
After accidentally running over the Judge’s dog, Valentine learns that the Judge
has been spying on his neighbours and listening to their phone calls. Initially
denouncing him, Valentine changes her mind as she begins to pity the old man.
As their friendship grows their conversations encompass everything from love to
sorrow and from the law to rationality. Both Jacob and Trintignant are on
blistering form and deliver career-defining performances. But it is perhaps
Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski who is at the very top of his game here. Every shot and every scene has been so intricately
composed, whether it be through colour,
placement or even the simplest things such as movement, Kieslowski makes you
believe that you are watching a true masterpiece, and
you are. To highlight everything that Three Colours: Red covers would be a lengthy
list, but rest assured every relevance to humanity
is here. A truly magnificent achievement, not just for France but for any
country.


Greg Evans