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Chapter 6  Movies

Watching French-language movies can be part of your learning French. Depending on your level of understanding, you can choose to watch a DVD with English or French subtitles, or no subtitles at all. In the beginning of your learning French, listening to the dialogues while reading the subtitles of a French-language movie and trying to understand what is happening can be both interesting and nerve-racking. Relax, watch the movie again, and each time you will understand a bit more.

Look at the English-language DVDs you already have at home or can rent from a local DVD shop. Some of them may offer French subtitles or French-language dubbing. Turning on these options will give you a chance to improve your French skills without having to buy French-language DVDs.

If you do decide to buy DVDs of French-language movies, then I need to forewarn you of a potential problem. Many French-language movies are produced and distributed by a large company in France called Pathé. Amazon readers’ reviews of movies complain that some Pathé DVDs sold in English-language markets have English subtitles that cannot be turned off. When I checked my own DVD collection I was able to confirm this complaint for Les Choristes and Le dîner de cons. If you want to watch these movies without English subtitles, then you have to buy them from a French-speaking country (try The French-market version of Les Choristes has French subtitles (which can be turned off), but does not have English subtitles. The French-market version of Le dîner de cons has both English and French subtitles which can be turned on and off as you please.

Instead of watching French-language DVDs, another option is to watch French-language television stations. You could ask your satellite or cable television company if they provide French-language stations.

6.1  Children’s Movies

Like children’s books (Section 5.4), children’s movies are very good tools for learning French because of their simple, yet useful language.

Kirikou et la sorcière
This is an animated movie based on an African folk tale. Kirikou—a small, courageous boy—saves his village from the wicked witch. This movie is a delight for children and adults alike.

Être et avoir
This is a documentary which follows a year of ups and downs in the life of a bunch of rural France primary school children, aged 4–10, and their teacher. You will be spellbound by the patience and dedication of this teacher, and you will be unable to resist smiling when the camera turns towards little Jojo. This documentary has a simple, yet touching plot.

Les Choristes
The Chorus, as it was known in English cinemas, is a touching movie with a simple plot. A teacher defies the cruel headmaster and turns a bunch of poor boys into a rather talented chorus.

Il était une fois
There are three collections of this series: Il était une fois … l’homme, Il était une fois … la vie, and Il était une fois … les découvreurs. Each collection is available as a six-DVD box set. These are history lessons presesented in the form of humorous cartoons. The series is still popular 20 years on. You can choose to watch them either in French or English, with or without subtitles.

6.2  Movies for All Ages

Like French music (Chapter 7), French movies have a particular style that sets them apart, and the French are proud of their native talent. France is at third place in movie making, after America and India. France has produced many famous movie stars, for example Jean Gabin, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Jeanne Moreau, Catherine Deneuve, Gérard Depardieu, Jean Réno, Audrey Tautou, and so on.

L’auberge espagnole
This is the story of a French student who goes to Barcelona to study. Students who went abroad on Erasmus exchanges to study might feel nostalgic watching this movie. In England, you might find the DVD under the name Pot Luck.

La Haine
Dealing with themes of violence and hatred, this movie follows the lives of young immigrants living in a Paris ghetto.

District 13
Banlieue 13—under its French name—is a James Bond-style adventure in which an undercover policeman and a vigilante join forces to bring some justice to a Parisian slum. Although, it does not have much of a plot, it has lots of great action and some amazing parkour (free running) scenes. Its sequel, Banlieue 13 Ultimatum, is almost as entertaining as its predecessor.

Le Fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain
This movie, more widely known under its abbreviated title Amélie, tells us to enjoy the small pleasures in life as the main character does. This movie was popular in English cinemas when it first came out in 2001.

Le dîner de cons
A group of arrogant friends regularly have diner parties to which each person must invite somebody who is stupid or eccentric. This farcical movie follows Pierre who invites the biggest idiot of all time, but his idiot guest manages to accidentally ruin Pierre’s life in a series of comic mishaps.

8 Femmes
This murder mystery musical is also a light comedy. The movie is sprinkled with many famous French actresses including Catherine Deneuve and Emmanuelle Béart. You can learn useful vocabulary from the lyrics of this movie’s songs because they deal with relationships. For this reason, you may find it useful to buy the soundtrack too.

La Môme
La vie en rose—under its name in England—came out in 2007. It is based on the tumultuous life of Edith Piaf, the famous French singer.

Jules et Jim
This is the story of a love triangle. The famous French actress Jeanne Moreau plays the main female character. The beautiful song Le Tourbillon de la vie that she sings in this movie contains many verbs, which makes it a useful learning tool.

La cage aux folles
Adapted from a widely successful play, this movie and its sequel, La cage aux folles 2, are top quality French farce, with a lot of humour and adventure about the life of a French gay couple.

6.3  Comedians

When you are able to watch French films without English subtitles, you are definitely more advanced in your French understanding. If you like watching comedians, try your taste for the French ones. In the beginning, watch them with French subtitles for a clearer understanding because they are full of idioms and slang. You will not find the DVD suggestions below with English subtitles.

Jamel Debbouze
He is one of the most popular French comedians at the moment. He is hilarious to both listen and watch. I recommend the live show Jamel 100% Debbouze.

Coluche, famous comedian and actor, died prematurely in a traffic accident in 1986. Reruns of his television and radio shows are still popular today. He is also known for being the founder of Les Restos du Coeur, a charitable organisation, which distributes food packages and hot meals to the homeless.

Louis de Funès
This comedian, now unfortunately dead, starred in many comedy movies. I particularly recommend the series called Le Gendarme of which Le gendarme et les extra-terrestres is a favorite of mine. The adventures of a bunch of policemen as they try to capture extra-terrestrials are full of humour and unexpected twists.

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