This past Monday, francophiles and French citizens celebrated Bastille Day. And since gossiping about President Sarkozy and his wife is no way to celebrate the holiday — and Film Forum is no longer featuring its wonderful series on Godard — here are a few suggestions for some French films worth renting.
The Rules of the Game (1939):
Directed by Jean Renoir, the son of the Impressionist painter Pierre-Auguste and a man regarded as one of the greatest directors of all time, the film is an incendiary satire of the self-absorption within France’s bourgeoisie on the eve of World War II. The film only slowly reaches the point at which the viewer sees that the nation’s elite are feuding with each other over sex while their country faces imminent war. The movie was so powerful that a man set fire to a newspaper at its premiere in an attempt to burn down the theater, while the French government (and later the occupying Nazi regime) banned the film. The Rules of the Game survived and remains both a cinematic achievement ad well as a relevant social critique.
Jean-Luc Godard’s first feature film heralded the French New Wave, in which French cinephiles who had spent years theorizing about the films of directors like Welles and Hitchcock began testing their theories and beliefs in practice, and in doing so, shook the world of cinema. Breathless, which tells the story of a man who considers himself a film noir hero, breaks the traditional laws of directing with jump cuts, natural lighting, and an nontraditional use of music. Even if film theory is not your idea of entertainment, Breathless is still a fun film that will open your eyes to how movies work.
Starring Audrey Tautou in her most famous role, Amelie is a very fun and very French experience. The film centers on Amelie Polain, a young waitress in Montmartre who is trying to find meaning in her life. Eventually, she finds that small actions can make other people incredibly happy — though locating her own means of happiness continues to elude her. With beautiful colors and shot in a style that feels joyous and free, plus an amazing performance by Tautou, Amelie is a great summer film that will make you wish you decided to go to study abroad after all.
— Brandon Hammer