Movies are a teacher’s best friend. Not only do they occupy antsy students’ attention on afternoons in June, but for foreign language teachers, they’re a fantastic way to expose your students to language and culture in a fun, immersive way. In the United States, we often forget about the various film industries that churn out movies reflecting the national cultures of countries all over the world. One such nation, France, has a long-established film tradition that has produced some of the world’s most acclaimed films.
Due to cultural differences between France and The United States, some of the best French films to come out over the years have may not be appropriate for your students (depending on your students and where you teach). If you’re interested in using film to teach your students about French culture (or Francophone West African/Caribbean culture), here’s a list of 25 French movies appropriate for students:
1. Monsieur Ibrahim et les Fleurs du Coran (2002)
In a street called Blue in a very poor neighborhood in Paris, Monsieur Ibrahim is an old Muslim Turkish owner of a small market. He becomes a friend of the teenager Jewish Moises, tenderly nicknamed Momo, who lives with his father in a small apartment on the other side of the street. Monsieur Ibrahim gives paternal love and teaches the knowledge of the Qur’an to the boy, receiving in return love and respect.
2. Kirikou et la Sorcière (1998)
In a little village somewhere in Africa, a boy named Kirikou is born. But he’s not a normal boy because he knows what he wants very well. Also, he already can speak and walk. His mother tells him how an evil sorceress has dried up their spring and devoured all males of the village except one. Hence, little Kirikou decides, he will accompany the last warrior to the sorceress. Due to his intrepidity, he may be the last hope of the village.
3. OSS 117, Le Caire, nid d’espions (2006)
An homage to classic spy films. It’s 1955 and after a fellow agent and close friend disappears, secret agent Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath, a.k.a. OSS 117, is ordered to take his place at the head of a poultry firm in Cairo. This is to be his cover while he is busy investigating, foiling Nazi holdouts, quelling a fundamentalist rebellion, and bedding local beauties.
4. Les Choristes (2004)
In 1949 Monsieur Clement, an assistant teacher, comes to a school for “difficult” boys. The School is run by a hard-minded principal. The motto of the school being “Action – ReAction”. This method obviously isn’t working, as there are a lot of problems and problem children. Monsieur Clement tries to reach his boys and build trust and true order through music.
5. Le Gloire de mon Père (1990)
A young boy’s life in turn-of-the-century France. Marcel, witnesses the success of his teacher father, as well as the success of his arrogant Uncle Jules. Marcel and family spend their summer vacation in a cottage in Provence, and Marcel befriends a local boy who teaches him the secrets of the hills in Provence.
6. Cyrano de Bergerac (1990)
A dashing officer of the guard and romantic poet, Cyrano de Bergerac is in love with his cousin Roxane without her knowing. His one curse in his life, he feels, is his large nose and although it may have been a forming influence in his rapier-sharp wit, he believes that Roxane will reject him. He resorts to writing letters to her on behalf of one of his cadets, Christian, who is also in love with Roxane but just doesn’t know how to tell her. She falls for the poetic charm of the letters but believes that they were written by Christian.
7. Le Petit Nicolas (2009)
Nicolas has a happy existence, parents who love him, a great group of friends with whom he has great fun, and all he wants is that nothing changes. However, one day, he overhears a conversation that leads him to believe that his life might change forever, his mother is pregnant! He panics and envisions the worst.
8. La Grande Vadrouille (1966)
An RAF Bomber is shot down over Paris by the Germans. Its crew (Terry Thomas as a flight captain) land there by parachute. With the help of some French civilians (Louis De Funès in the role of a conductor and Bourvil as a house painter) they try to escape over the demarcation line into the southern part of France, still not occupied by the Germans.
9. Les Aventures Extraordinaires d’Adèle Blanc-Sec (2010)
Desperate to cure her near catatonic sister, intrepid authoress Adèle Blanc-Sec braves ancient Egyptian tombs and modern Egyptian lowlife to locate a mummified doctor and get him back to Paris. Her hope is that oddball Professor Espérandieu will then use his unusual powers to bring the doctor back to life so he, in turn, can use his centuries-old skills on the unfortunate sister. In Paris, however, Espérandieu is already causing mayhem, having brought to life what was a safe museum egg but is now a very active pterodactyl. Paris 1911 may not be the healthiest place to be.
10. Diabolique (1955)
The wife and mistress of a sadistic boarding school headmaster plot to kill him. They drown him in the bathtub and dump the body in the school’s filthy swimming pool… but when the pool is drained, the body has disappeared – and subsequent reported sightings of the headmaster slowly drive his ‘killers’ (and the audience) up the wall with almost unbearable suspense…
11. Yamakasi (2001)
Gravity or Police, these guys don’t believe in any law. Idolised by the youth of Paris as much as they’re hated by the police, they are the Yamakasis, modern samurais. With acrobatic skillfulness and adrenaline pumping belief in their own immortality, they throw themselves out from incredible heights and jump from roof to roof. Locked doors and “No Trespassing”-signs become irresistible challenges. But one day, whilst mimicking one of the Yamakasi’s more dangerous stunts, a young fan gets injured. Only one operation can save the boy, an operation that his family can’t afford.
12. Le Samurai (1967)
Hitman Jef Costello is a perfectionist who always carefully plans his murders and who never gets caught. One night, however, after killing a night-club owner, he’s seen by witnesses. His efforts to provide himself with an alibi fail and more and more he gets driven into a corner.
13. Le Tableau (2011)
A château, flowering gardens, a threatening forest, here is what, for mysterious reasons, a Painter has left incomplete. Three kinds of characters live in this painting: the Toupins, who are entirely painted, the Pafinis, who lack a few colors, and the Reufs, who are only sketches. Considering themselves superior, the Toupins take over power, chase the Pafinis from the château, and enslave the Reufs. Convinced that only the Painter can restore harmony by finishing the painting, Ramo, Lola, and Plume decided to go looking for him. Throughout the adventure, questions will follow one after the other: What has become of the Painter? Why did he abandon them? Why did he begin destroying some of his paintings? Will they one day know the Painter’s secret?
14. Le Chef (2012)
A veteran chef faces off against his restaurant group’s new CEO, who wants to the establishment to lose a star from its rating in order to bring in a younger chef who specializes in molecular gastronomy.
15. La Guerre des Boutons (2011)
In the countryside of France, two groups of boys from the rural villages of Longeverne and Velran are in constant war against each other. Their war is a tradition that passes from father to son and without a motive but the rivalry between the peasants. During the Second World War, the Longeverne boys are led by the intelligent William Lebrac, who has been the backer of his family since his father died, while the Velrans are led by the wicked Aztec. The boys are frequently fighting with their wooden swords, throwing rotten fruits or building traps in the woods expecting to remove the buttons from the enemies’ clothes. But Lebrac is coming of age and he has a crush on the girl Lanterne while his teacher Merlin offers the chance for him to have a better study in another village.
16. The Rabbi’s Cat (2011)
Algiers, 1920s. Rabbi Sfar has more than one problem. His beautiful daughter Zlabya is becoming a teenager and above all, his parrot-killing cat has just started talking. The delivery of a box from Russia further complicates things when a painter is discovered inside, more dead than alive. He is on a quest for a hidden tribe and its mythical city in Africa. Convinced that the city exists, he sets off on an incredible adventure, taking with him the Rabbi, his cat, a wise old Arab Sheikh and an eccentric Russian millionaire.
17. Au Revoir Les Enfants (1987)
In 1944, upper-class boy Julien Quentin and his brother François travel to Catholic boarding school in the countryside after vacations. Julien is a leader and good student and when the new student Jean Bonnet arrives in the school, they have friction in their relationship. However, Julien learns to respect Jean and discovers that he is Jewish and the priests are hiding him from the Nazis. They become best friends and Julien keeps the secret. When the priest Jean discovers that the servant Joseph is stealing supplies from the school to sell on the black market, he fires the youth. Sooner the Gestapo arrives at school to investigate the students and the priests that run and work in the boarding school.
18. Astérix et Obélix contre César (1999)
The well-known little village from the Asterix and Obelix-comic books is in trouble: It is the last place not controlled by Rome. When Tax collector Claudius Incorruptus does not get his money from the villagers, Julius Caesar himself comes to the place to see what’s so special about their resistance. A special magic potion, prepared by the village’s druid, gives incredible power to those who drink it. And Obelix, who fell into the pot as a child has been invincible ever since. With the help of Tullius Destructivus, an intrigeur, the Romans try to get Obelix and the druid into their hands in order to wipe the little village off the map, when the last portion of its stock has been used up. But each individual also has some plans of his own…
19. Jean de Florette (1986)
In a rural French village, an old man and his only remaining relative cast their covetous eyes on an adjoining vacant property. They need its spring water for growing their flowers, so are dismayed to hear the man who has inherited it is moving in. They block up the spring and watch as their new neighbour tries to keep his crops watered from wells far afield through the hot summer. Though they see his desperate efforts are breaking his health and his wife and daughter’s hearts they think only of getting the water.
20. La Vie en Rose (2007)
An un-chronological look at the life of the Little Sparrow, Édith Piaf (1915-1963). Her mother is an alcoholic street singer, her father a circus performer, her paternal grandmother a madam. During childhood she lives with each of them. At 20, she’s a street singer discovered by a club owner who’s soon murdered, coached by a musician who brings her to concert halls, and then quickly famous. Constant companions are alcohol and heartache. The tragedies of her love affair with Marcel Cerdan and the death of her only child belie the words of one of her signature songs, “Non, je ne regrette rien.” The back and forth nature of the narrative suggests the patterns of memory and association.
21. Un Monstre à Paris (2011)
Paris, 1910. Emile, a shy movie projectionist, and Raoul, a colorful inventor, find themselves embarked on the hunt for a monster terrorizing citizens. They join forces with Lucille, the big-hearted star of the Rare Bird cabaret, an eccentric scientist, and his irascible monkey to save the monster, who turns out to be an oversized but harmless flea, from the city’s ruthlessly ambitious police chief.
22. Les Contes de la Nuit (2011)
Tales of the Night weaves together six exotic fables each unfolding in a unique locale, from Tibet to medieval Europe, to the Land of the Dead. From the imagination of internationally renowned animator Michel Ocelot.
23. Azur et Asmar (2006)
Once upon a time, there were two children nursed by the same woman. Azur, a blonde, blue-eyed son of a noblewoman and Asmar, the dark skinned and dark-eyed child of the nurse. As kids, they fought and loved each other as brothers do. As grown ups, they mercilessly become rivals in the quest years later, when Azur is being haunted by memories of the legendary Djinn-fairy, and takes it upon himself to journey all the way to Asmar’s homeland to seek it out. Now reunited, he finds that she has since become a successful merchant, while Asmar is now a member of the royal guard. However, Asmar also longs to find the Djinn-fairy, and only one of the two youths can be successful in their quest.
24. Une vie de Chat (2010)
Dino is a cat that leads a double life. By day, he lives with Zoe, a little girl whose mother, Jeanne, is a police officer. By night, he works with Nico, a burglar with a big heart. Zoe has plunged herself into silence following her father’s murder at the hands of gangster Costa. One day, Dino the cat brings Zoe a very valuable bracelet. Lucas, Jeanne’s second-in-command, notices this bracelet is part of a jewelry collection that has been stolen. One night, Zoe decides to follow Dino. On the way, she overhears some gangsters and discovers that her nanny is part of the gangsters’ team.
25. Ernest et Célestine (2012)
There is a world where the Bears live above ground in their cities and the rodents live below in their underground ones in mutual fear and hate. However, Celestine, an apprentice mouse dentist, finds at least momentary common cause with Ernest, a poor street Bear musician, that gets them rejected from both their respective worlds. In spite of this misfortune, the exiles find a growing friendship between themselves as their respective talents flower because of it. Despite this, their quietly profound challenge to the founding prejudices of their worlds cannot be ignored as the authorities track them down. When that happens, Ernest and Celestine must stand up for their love in the face of such bigotry and achieve the impossible.
What films do you show to your students? Let us know in the comments section below!