Classic French Movies to Help you Learn the Language
If you’ve tried to improve your French, no doubt you’ve gone through the classic methods of language learning: audio lessons, textbooks and written exercises. But one thing none of these will teach you is to listen to completely natural, normal French conversation at top speed. This means that no matter how good you thought your French was before you jumped on that plane to Paris, your ears are still not trained to the quickness and rhythm of the language. When you arrive, your listening skills are immediately put to the test as you order that coveted first croissant or café crème.
But never fear, there is hope. All you need is Netflix or streaming (although we’re not condoning anything illegal) to get your ears ready for French. That’s right – one of the best ways to improve the language is by watching movies. Unlike the news or television shows, which jump from subject to subject and don’t last more than hour, a movie is two hours of listening fun, and you’ll most likely understand what’s going on based on the action on the screen – even if you don’t know what the characters are saying. We recommend watching these movies without subtitles – depending on your level of French – to see what your ear can pick up on its own. But if you really must, subtitles are great for verifying what different words mean.
Here are some classic French films that will teach you a bit about the culture as you “bath yourself in the language,” as the French say.
Directed by Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet
This post-apocalyptic black comedy is set in an apartment building in an unknown time period in France, where the eclectic cast of characters learn to live together and occasionally come to eat a delicacy at the landlord’s place. The film is so deliciously odd that you might have to watch it twice, and vegetarians will especially appreciate it – just take our word for it.
Cyrano de Bergerac (1990)
Directed by Jean Paul Rappeneau
Ok, I know what you’re thinking – “I totally watched that movie in high school French class.” Yea, so did I. But you simply can’t have a French film listing without including at least one movie starring Gerard Depardieu. This classic tale has been done over and over in cinema and theater, but one added benefit of watching this version is the subtitles – written almost entirely in verse – by Anthony Burgess (the author of Clockwork Orange).
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg – Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (1964)
Directed by Jacques Demy
This classic musical comedy is a favorite for many a French person, starring film icon Catherine Deneuve. The film, set in Normandy during the Algerian war, is your classic romantic film about love lost, love found and unrequited love. The entire film is performed in recitative dialogue, which will add a little flavor to your language learning. Even if you don’t understand bits, the dancing and Technicolor will keep you enchanted.
The Soft Skin – La Peau Douce (1964)
Directed by Francois Truffaut
If there’s one topic French cinema seems to feature more than any other, it’s adultery. For this reason, you could turn away from this film in disgust – but don’t. Jean Desailly is spot-on in his interpretation of a married man torn in two directions and the subtlety in which the actors portray their characters keep the film from feeling cliché. A few surprisingly modern moments will make you forget you’re watching a film from the 1960s.
Coming to Paris this winter? Don’t spend all your time at the cinema. Ride along on a Segway tour with us!
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