Rainy summer days provide the perfect backdrop to cozy up and indulge in the sultry world of French cinema. In her lovely book Entre Nous: A woman’s Guide to Finding her Inner French Girl, Debra Ollivier suggests a few of her favorites, and I’ve taken the liberté of adding in some of my own. So make like the french women do; pour yourself some vintage wine, slip into something comfortable (but stylish too, of course) and let yourself be whisked away to a world of irresistable romance and intrigue with these classics:
1. Les Mistons (the brats) directed by François Truffaut, 1957. Truffaut was a pioneer of French New Wave, a style of film that celebrates the little details in life, urging us to see beauty in the seemingly mundane. This is a short film about a group of boys who have a crush on a beautiful young woman and their boyish attempts at winning her attention by making mischief for her and her boyfriend.
2. Amelie directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2001. Originally titled The Fabulous Destiny of Amélie Poulain, this popular Romantic comedy is full of whimsy and that same New Wave style of Les Mistons. It follows the childhood and early adulthood of the charming Amelie Poulain, the shy and often misunderstood waitress at a local cafe. When she hears about Princess Diana’s demise, she decides to devote her life to doing good and becomes an undercover match maker and guardian angel. Amidst all her caring for others, Amelie gathers the courage and the friendships that lead her own destiny, too.
3. Babette’s Feast directed by Isak Dinesen, 1987. Though this is a Danish film, I include it here because it tells the story of a renowned Parisian chef who moves to Denmark and becomes a housekeeper in the home of a strict Lutheran family. In a shocking meeting of two very different worlds, Babette is forced to tame her exotic cooking skills in exchange for the simple (and bland) ways of her puritanical employers. The twist is when Babette manages to convince her hosts to let her cook a full blown French meal for them, including “Potage à la Tortue” (turtle soup) and rum cake. Ultimately, both sides learn an unexpected lesson about life and living.
4. Milou en Mai (Fools in May) directed by Louis Malle, 1990. Set against the backdrop of the revolutionary labor strikes of 1968, this film is about a wealthy family who find themselves reunited in the French countryside for a funeral. At first, the relatives argue about the inheritance while tensions flair for the revolution that threatens their bourgeois way of life. But since the whole country is on strike, the cadaver cannot be buried, and they are forced to remain together in the country. The film explores social and interpersonal issues as the family must face the changing times and reevaluate their priorities.
5. La double vie de Véronique (The Double Life of Veronique) directed by Krzysztof Kieślowski, 1991. Some say that each of us has a twin soul in this world, and that can go for both romantic partners and friendships. This film explores twin flame concept and follows two women from different countries who share a mysterious bond that transcends time and space. It reminds us that “if we’re not living with a truly sensual appreciation of everything around us, we’re not really living at all.” (Debra Ollivier)
For more fabulous French cinema, see Time’s 100 best French films.