French cinema is perceived as unapproachable and elitist by many non-native speakers. Yet these films often prove more popular in the French box office then big American blockbusters.
For instance, the best selling film of all time in French cinemas was The Titanic with 20 758 887 viewers, closely followed by comedy about the North of France, Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis, with 20 329 376 spectators.
In fact, according to Allocine, 11 out of the top 20 are French, including Le Grand Bleu and Les Visiteurs. These sit comfortably alongside nine huge international offerings like Harry Potter and The Lion King.
Most strikingly, these popular French films are nearly all comedies on a par with their Anglophone counterparts in terms of laughs. Far from the stuffy and intellectual image French cinema connotes.
So what films should a dubious newbie try?
L’auberge espagnol by Cedric Klapisch is one of the most loved comedies by the younger generation. Following the misadventures of Erasmus student Xavier (Romain Duris) on a year abroad in Spain, it paints an entertaining picture of cultural differences. Sequel Les Poupees Russes is just as good.
Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amelie Poulain is no doubt the most popular French film with the Brits, but even if you’ve seen it before, give it another watch for Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s quirky and beautiful depiction of Paris and Amelie’s strange world set to music by Yann Tiersen.
Le Premier Jour du reste de ta Vie by was one of my favourite releases of the last few years. Remi Bezancon’ s moving film is both comedy and tragedy; it explores one family’s difficult relationships as the three children grow into adults. The film definitely has the feel-good factor but will leave you reaching for the tissues.
Persepolis is based on the graphic novels by Marjane Satrapi; the Oscar nominated black and white cartoon follows her trials and tribulations growing up in Iran during the Islamic revolution and the conflicts between Western society and her own country’s values.
What films do you recommend?