Five Great French Films: a Primer

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Auguste and Louis Lumière are widely considered to be the first filmmakers in history. Per respect to technicalities, they are credited as the the inventors of the Moving Picture.

Public Domain Image

Moreover, the 1895 showing of L’Arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat in Paris is considered by many as the official birth of cinematography.

The Lumière group of artists dominated the market until and partially through the First World War. Their films played around the world; traveling to Brussels (the first place a film was played outside Paris on the Galleries Saint-Hubert on 1 March 1896), Bombay, London, Montreal, New York City and Buenos Aires. Lumiere films were advertised on the streets of Bucharest in Romania.

In an effort to pay homage to these legends. I’ve compiled a list of my five favorite films of French Cinema.

  1. Le Jour Se Lève (1939)

The Day Rises, or Daybreak, broke every early mold. The plot begins with a flashback, a murder committed by François (played Jean Gabin). Then, the film elaborately explains the circumstances leading up to the moment cutting in and out of time. Director Marcel Carné collaborated with writer/poet Jacques Prévert in the style of French Poetic Realism.

2. La Grande Illusion (1937)

Jean Renoir’s The Grand Illusion is among the greatest films about the First World War. The story follows french military officers who are prisoners of war; the men shed their identities in the style of humanists.

3. L’armée des Ombres (1969)

Jean-Pierre Melville’s Army of the Shadows is the ultimate in bad-ass-ery. The camera follows a small group of fighters in the French Resistance as they move underground, work with the Allied forces, kill informers, and evade capture and execution by Nazi occupation.

4. La Haine (1995)

Hate from Mathieu Kassovitz is my personal favorite. It’s raw, provocative, ugly, and explores the darker side of Paris.

5. Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959)

Hiroshima My Love, from director Alain Resnais, is filmed within an intimate conversation between a French-Japanese couple. The two discuss memory and forgetfulness. Its an intensively powerful look at how couples fight, nuclear war, and interracial relationships.

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