French Films

Leo Rassieur

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French film has a unique quality to it that you won’t find anywhere else. The birthplace of the modern movie, France is home to many talented directors and cinematographers. Below is a close look at three of the best films France has to offer — a tragedy, a romance and a comedy, in that order.

Amour

Amour (Love), released in 2012, tells the story of Georges and Anne, an elderly couple retired from teaching music, as they struggle to cope with the inevitability of death.

After a stroke paralyzes the right side of Anne’s body, their daughter considers moving her to a nursing home. Anne, however, has Georges promise not to leave her side and send her away. As Anne’s health degrades further, their relationship is forced to extremes as Anne ponders whether life is worth living. Georges takes on the role of a frustrated caretaker, both sad to see his wife losing control of her body and angry that she is a burden to him.

The film never tries to be a tearjerker, nor does it forecast to the audience its most tragic moments. Instead, the transparency with which the plight of Anne and Georges is delivered helps convey the cruel truth in their story. The film’s ending, however, is ambiguous enough to offer hope in light of the movie’s heavy content. “Amour” is a film which will surprise you with how far it goes in its exploration of love and death and what it means to care for another human being. It never fails to be heart-wrenching in examining how far love will push someone to go, but it does so with the simplicity to let the audience think and learn for themselves.

Amélie

This 2001 French movie is often described as a romantic comedy, but that is not all the movie achieves in its 123 minutes.

Amélie, also known by its French title Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain (The Fabulous Destiny of Amélie Poulain), depicts the journey of a young woman living in Paris. Amélie struggles with loneliness but soon finds herself on a journey to arrange people’s lives around her. Despite succeeding at creating happiness for others through her vivid imagination and creativity, she struggles to overcome her loneliness and timidness. The film’s central storyline sees Amélie seek out a lover through a series of mysteries and puzzles.

But the movie is not about her. Rather, it focuses on the relationships she has with a cast of complex and loveable characters and how each of them bestows her with the wisdom to progress. The cinematography throughout is stunning, as is the soundtrack. What American movies do not quite grasp is “Amélie’s” honest depiction of life and romance. Although fantasy often makes its way into scenes (at one point, a ceramic lamp comes to life to turn itself off in front of a defeated Amélie), the movie is never too dramatic so as to sever the audience’s connection to the characters onscreen. The result is a stunning combination of romance, comedy, and intrigue that will be sure to touch your heart.

Mon Oncle

Released in 1958, Mon Oncle (My Uncle) was the first color film by filmmaker Jacques Tati. As such, it doesn’t rely on punchlines for comedic effect; Tati elects to use visual comedy and a deep soundtrack to convey his jokes.

Main character Monsieur Hulot, the uncle referenced by the film’s title, finds his world colliding with that of his sister and her husband, Madame and Monsieur Arpel. While he enjoys living in the old and hearty section of Paris, they reside in the suburbs in an absurdly designed house made more to impress guests with geometric architecture and modern design than to comfort. M. Hulot finds delight in helping his nephew Gérard escape from a life of structure and routine and travels with him to neighborhoods of character and vibrance. Gérard’s parents, however, want Hulot to adopt their lifestyle of suburban stature and conformity.

The film pokes fun at the ridiculousness of the Arpels’ lifestyle: they aim to fulfill the roles of businessman and trophy wife perfectly. While Hulot is unemployed and lacks in wealth, Gérard is happier spending time with his eccentric uncle than his lifeless parents. This commentary eludes to a deeper message not often present in American comedies of today — that the obsession with image and consumerism dulls us to the joy life has to offer. The film trusts the audience to be smart enough to enjoy its intelligent humor and encourages viewers to live life the way that brings the most joy, regardless of one’s wealth or status.

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