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15 French Movies That Will Change Your Life
These groundbreaking French films will surprise you with their depth of perception into the human psyche. They also have really cool posters. See the posters, read film reviews.

We believe French students can improve their language abilities by watching these French films for learners. Teachers can also use these as a classroom aid, because these are probably the best movies to learn French by, in or out of the classroom. In fact, Franchophiles at any stage of French learning who hope to improve their pronunciation, pick up some slang and learn everyday phrases before boarding the plane to France will find a great resource in these films, which do a good job of surveying France's rich cinematic tradition.

After all, even American directors happily find cause to send their characters to Paris. But setting is only half the story for French movies. France's community life and literary canon based on complex emotions and nuance has created a society ready to step onto the big screen-and French films fulfill that promise. Add a demanding and diverse exploration of cinematography, and its no surprise French movies have enjoyed such influence around the world. So, get influenced! Read our French movie reviews below, click here to find out how begin streaming French films on your home computer, and choose a film to watch tonight!

Le samouraï (The Samurai)

A 1967 thriller, this film defies the genre's conventions with its sense of inevitability. Languorous shots of the protagonist at rest are interspersed with deftly executed action sequences. Unlike most films focusing on hit men, Melville uses star Alain Delon to underscore his hero's vulnerability-even as he hands out life and death. While no samurai appear in the film, Melville is clearly indebted to Kurosawa and others, borrowing from those films' visual sensibility and setting of existential wilderness.

L'amour en fuite (Love on the Run)

Despite criticism of the film's "clip show" structure, it is a poignant and fitting end to the Antoine Doinel saga. Doinel earns our sympathy as a child in The 400 Blows and loses it as he passes through adulthood (and three intervening movies); here he is given an affectionate farewell. Some viewers who watched the character (played over thirty years by the same actor) grow up on screen were disappointed by the matter-of-fact way Doinel departs, but very few would recommend against watching it.

Le locataire (The Tenant)

Roman Polanski stars and directs in a film that fuses the psychoanalytic depth of his earlier Repulsion with the gothic dread and disorientation of The Ninth Gate. In a story that will ring familiar to fans of the fantastic, Polanski plays a harried minor bureaucrat ill at ease among his more bohemian friends. Carefully built anxiety gives way to a terrifying ending as the mysticism of the past and the paranoia of the present drive him to a terrible fate.

La Femme Nikita

This career-making film from Luc Besson hardly needs an introduction. His combination of character quirks and badass leading ladies has had considerable influence over the last 20 years of action movies. It's worth revisiting the source, however, as Anne Parillaud's anguished depiction of Nikita could be a master class for young actresses looking for how to fuse cocktail dress sensitivity with combat boot toughness.

Le salaire de la peur (The Wages of Fear)

Henri-Georges Clouzot writes and directs this suspenseful 1953 film. Set in South America, Clouzot explores homegrown themes surrounding life and death and the plight of the workingman. For men trapped as wage slaves in a town that could stand in for purgatory, an assignment that requires both animal bravery and precision driving is the only way out. The job? Transporting nitro-glycerin over treacherous mountain terrain. Features a classic performance from the extremely prolific Charles Vanel.

Le fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain (Amélie)

Don't let the whimsy throw you! This dramatic comedy has gravitas to spare. Amélie leaves a cryptic set of clues for her would-be lover to uncover. As he follows her breadcrumbs on a winding tour of Paris their connection hangs on a thread. Attenuated to life's smallest pleasures and triumphs, Amélie spends half her life in a fantasy world-but must eventually decide whether to live in the real world. Rendered with lovingly lyrical visuals from director Jean-Pierre Jeunet.

Les diaboliques (The fiends)

Another feature from Clouzot, but in this suspenseful psychological thriller he's traded the wide-open wilds of South America for a stifling boarding school run by a pettily sadistic headmaster. The mysteries intensify and double back on each other with twists and nail-biting sequences that will keep audiences guessing till the very end. You could call it a missing Hitchcock film, but that would do a disservice to Clouzot's tightly wound vision of guilt gone wild.

Un chien andalou (An Andalusian Dog)

With its thematic overtones of sexuality and religiosity and its loosely constructed, violent plot, this early work from Luis Buñuel has inspired unpacking from film students and imitation from directors since it first shocked audiences around the world. Full of arresting images sequenced in an alternative logic that continues to invite speculation and debate, Un chien andalou is an excellent introduction to Buñuel's films. Consider it a litmus test-if you like it, dig deeper.

Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles

Chantal Akerman, who in her early career was heavily influenced by Buñuel, brings a visual artist's eye to her depiction of the drudgery of modern urban life. Taking her cue from the regulated time of the industrial world, Akerman follows one woman's life through days and weeks that run together. While the metaphors for the deadening effects of commerce on inner life may be slightly heavy handed, excellent performances and storyboarding make this one you can't miss.

Ne le dis à personne (Tell No One)

A haunting tale of grief made manifest, Tell No One enjoyed wide critical acclaim following its release in 2006. The combination of high-minded mystery and close reading of character made established actor Guillaume Canet a director to watch. A doctor who retreats into his work to cope with the loss of his wife to a violent murder had old wounds reopened when he receives an impossible e-mail-creating new questions.

Belle de jour (Beauty of the Day)

Luis Buñuel's unique visual sensibility and skill for sideways narrative are masterfully employed in this career highpoint. Carefully interweaving past and present, reality and fantasy, Buñuel explores the back alleys of a mind that has driven a new bride to form a secret life as a prostitute who specializes in the rougher customers. Catherine Deneuve doles out ingénue sexually open seductress in equal measure, in a complex performance that reveals and obscures exactly as the script demands.

La cage aux folles (Birds of a Feather)

Put aside memories of the 1996 Robin Williams film The Birdcage. Compared to the American version, the energy stays somewhere around the roof beams, but the characters have a weight many found lacking in the remake. In an inversion of most out-of-the closet tales, a father who has spent years living openly gay with his partner has his life turned upside down when its time to meet his future in-laws.


Displaying the keen ability for rendering alien but oddly familiar worlds that would later help make Jean-Pierre Jeunet a household name, Delicatessen uses a post-apocalyptic world to evoke powerful questions about our own. A gruesome mystery intertwines with a story of star-crossed love. A closely felt feel for his imaginary world lends authenticity to the characters' choices, deepening the danger at the center of the story-screenplay by Gilles Adrien (City of Lost Children).

Ascenseur pour l'échafaud (Elevator to the Gallows)

While Louis Malle's 1958 tale of the almost-perfect murder has endured accusations of style over substance, what a style it is! With a soundtrack by Miles Davis adding slink and suspense to a three-thread story that winds through a fateful series of events driven by lust. As the story comes to a head, viewers are left with an effect that to many has seemed under-invested in what came before. As a mood piece it's a must-see.

Trois couleurs: Rouge

The final film in Krzysztof Kieslowski's triptych was also the last he made. Bringing a Polish immigrant's eye to French society, Rouge again carefully attaches social issues to lived in characters. Along with its treatment of privacy and voyeurism, unexpected love and cynicism, Rouge rewards viewers of the entire triptych with cameos from actors from the earlier two films. Critically heralded, Trois couleurs as a series is a magnificent, unwitting swan song from Kieslowski.

Here is a collection of our favorite vintage movie posters:

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