Top 5 French Movies of 2013

Top 5 French Movies of 2013

Love to the Last

Amour (“Love“, Michael Haneke)

Put Michael Haneke behind the camera, then place acting icons Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva in front of it with a script about euthanasia that’s both moving and morally provocative, and you have drama gold. Trintignant and Riva play retired music teachers – cultured and devoted individuals whose daily routines make them seem formidable – who are struggling to come to terms with a sudden health crisis. The fondness and devotion displayed as their long marriage reaches its final stretch is heartbreaking and uplifting in equal measure.

Ageing and death in film have rarely been looked so squarely in the eye – Haneke is perhaps the safest pair of hands currently working in world cinema – and the performances herein are truly memorable. Amour sneaks into our pick of 2013 even though it came out in France in 2012.

Into the Blue

La vie d’Adèle (“Blue is the Warmest Colour“, Abdellatif Kechiche)

This superb film– a surprise winner at Cannes in 2013– has caused controversy for several reasons. Some viewers and critics balked at the strong sexual content during this tale of teenage lesbian love. Then there was the director’s purportedly extreme and intense methods, which led the two leads to claim that they would never work with him again – Kechiche even threatened to pull the film over the furore. Then there’s the length – at three hours it’s immersive and intentionally ponderous.

And yet it is one of the great French films of recent years. A tale about teenagers for adults that is a compelling, intimate study of love. The hook is the extraordinary performance of Adèle Exarchopoulos as the younger of the girls, whose world is blown apart when she meets her wordly-wise love match. Watch every glance, grimace and smile in awe.

Just Your Imagination

Dans la Maison (“In the House“, François Ozon)

Ozon’s clever psychological drama sees an unconventional school teacher (the peerless Fabrice Luchini) slowly drawn into the increasingly odd imagination of one of his pupils, a gifted 16-year-old whose literature project sees him writing about his creepy, conniving entry into a classmate’s family life.

The director is on top form here, toying with narrative structures, shoe-horning in a slew of literary references, using ‘unreliable narrators’ and confusing us with funny tricks, such as mise-en-abîmes (plays within a play). It’s all very brainy but no less engaging for it, thanks to affecting acting and a gripping plot.

As for Kristin Scott-Thomas – who is seemingly the busiest actress around but not always one with an eye for a script– she finally plays a part worthy of her considerable talents, in the shape of the teacher’s wife, whose own interest in the young boy’s school project eventually reveals misgivings about her own stagnant life.

Everybody’s Hertz

La Maison de la Radio (“The House of Radio”, Nicolas Philibert)

In the interests of eclecticism, and also to wave the flag for public broadcasting in France, we include this latest offering from the director of fly-on-the-wall opinion-dividers Être et Avoir (about rural education) and Nenette (about a primate in a zoo).

On the surface, a documentary looking behind the scenes at a French radio station should perhaps be marked ‘Intellos-only’, but as the director dips in and out of lifts, meeting rooms and recording studios to eavesdrop on an array of passionate creative types, including committed news hounds, musicians and voice-over artists, you will soon feel real admiration for those who fill the airwaves.

Passion En Plein Air

L’Inconnu du Lac (“Stranger by the Lake“, Alain Guiraudie)

This mesmeric, eerily voyeuristic tale of infatuation, deceit and murder at a male ‘cruising’ pick-up spot beside an idyllic lake in the South of France is another of the year’s most compelling films that doesn’t shy away from explicit sexual content – this time, its depiction may perhaps err on the side of excess.

During a long, hot summer the easy-going Franck (Pierre de Ladonchamps) chats to the various oddballs and strutters hanging around waiting for liaisons, and finds himself drawn – against his better judgement – to the mysterious and possibly deranged Michel. The latter is played by Christophe Paou, a Tom Selleck lookalike who easily qualifies as our most sinister baddie of the year.

With the only soundtrack coming from the wind’s whispers, rustling leaves, water splashes and chirruping birds, at first the film coolly unpicks the mundanity and strangely formal protocols of these odd, open-air sexual engagements. However, it takes on a noir-ish, more gruesome edge as a shocking event tests Franck’s uneasy allegiance to the beguiling Michel.

And here’s one more to watch:

Casse-Tête Chinois (“Chinese Puzzle“, Cédric Klapisch)

Originally published in the February-March 2014 issue of France Today



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