The Top 5 French Movies of 2008

The Top 5 French Movies of 2008

As 2008 draws to a close, it’s time to look back at the best French films of the past year.


Bienvenue Chez les Ch’tis (Welcome to the Sticks)
Dany Boon
Philippe (Kad Merad) is the manager of a post office in the sunny south of France. When he tries to cheat his way into a coveted position by the Mediterranean, where his wife longs to live, the attempt backfires—instead he is transferred to the north of France, for him a frigid, rainy version of hell. After a rough start, Philippe comes to enjoy the warmth, humor and language of the northern “Ch’tis”, so called because of their distinctive dialect. Popular comic actor Dany Boon—himself a proud “Ch’ti”—adapted for the screen his stand-up routine about the glories and grossness of France’s northern region and its inhabitants. This hilarious little gem was a runaway hit last spring. It has since become the most successful French film of all time, while concurrently drawing sharp criticism for its clichéd depiction of le Nord.


Entre les Murs (The Class)
Laurent Cantet
This remarkable film with a documentary feel relates a year in the life of a fictional school class in a multicultural district of Paris. The camera never leaves the school (the French title means “within the walls”) as we observe the evolving relationships between the teacher and his African, Arab and Asian students, who constantly question his authority and the reasons they are there. Cantet’s intelligent film brings viewers an original perspective on the social divergences in modern society. It is based on the bestselling autobiographical novel by schoolteacher François Bégaudeau, who plays himself in the movie. Students are played by nonprofessional actors, real students in the school where the film was shot. Entre les Murs received the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, marking the first time in 21 years that a French entry took the top honor.


Un Conte de Noël (A Christmas Tale)
Arnaud Desplechin
One of the most celebrated contemporary French filmmakers, Arnaud Desplechin, delighted audiences again this year with Un Conte de Noël. In this emotional family drama infused with black humor, the Vuillard family gets together for Christmas, but sickness, grief, secrets and guilt haunt the holiday reunion. Gathered around the magnificent Catherine Deneuve, as the matriarch of this dysfunctional family, are Desplechin regulars and fans’ favorites Mathieu Amalric and Emmanuelle Devos, along with some of France’s best actors: Chiara Mastroianni, Hippolyte Girardot and Melvil Poupaud. (This one is not for everyone, though, and those who don’t like it find it insupportable and not in the least funny.)


Mesrine: L’Instinct de Mort/ L’Ennemi Public No. 1 (Public Enemy Number One, parts 1 and 2)
Jean-François Richet
Jacques Mesrine was a 1970s gangster and a legendary figure in popular culture, as well as France’s Public Enemy Number One. This big-budget, two-part biopic directed by Jean-François Richet—back from Hollywood, where he directed Assault on Precinct 13 in 2005—is based on Mesrine’s autobiography, written just before his escape from prison. Vincent Cassel plays the tormented gangster, who became a reverse kind of martyr when he was shot down in cold blood by the police in 1979. Gérard Depardieu, Cécile de France, Mathieu Amalric and Ludivine Sagnier, to name only a few, join the top-notch cast of these two action-packed psychological thrillers, among the most eagerly anticipated French film projects in recent years.


Cédric Klapisch
Pierre, a dancer in a nightclub (played by director Klapisch’s alter ego, Romain Duris), is diagnosed with a heart condition that might prove fatal. Pierre is forced to stop dancing, reduced to the role of spectator at other people’s lives while awaiting surgery that might save him or kill him. His sister (Juliette Binoche) tries to help keep up his spirits, while she herself is struggling to find meaning in her life. The stories of other characters intertwine in this intimate and moving ensemble film with an all-star cast—Albert Dupontel, François Cluzet, Fabrice Luchini, Karin Viard and Mélanie Laurent in addition to Duris and Binoche.


Box Office Successes:
Astérix aux Jeux Olympiques (Asterix at the Olympic Games) Thomas Langmann, Frédéric Forestier. Comedy.
Disco Fabien Onteniente. Comedy.
Enfin Veuve (A Widow at Last) Isabelle Mergault. Comedy.
Faubourg 36 (Paris 36) Christophe Barratier. Drama.

Critically Acclaimed:
J’ai Toujours Rêvé d’Etre un Gangster (I Always Wanted to Be a Gangster) SamuelBenchetrit. Comedy/drama.
Il y a Longtemps Que Je T’Aime (I’ve Loved You So Long) Philippe Claudel. Drama.
L’Heure d’Eté (Summer Hours) Olivier Assayas. Drama.

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Originally published in the December 2008 issue of France Today

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