Three fantastiques French films

In honour of the French who celebrated La Bastille on July 14th, here are three fantastiques French films from three different decades that all have a certain panache, flair and je ne sais quoi. And more importantly, they do NOT feature Christophe Lambert. Or Jerry Lewis.


By Fred Zinnemann
With Edward Fox, Michael Londsdale

Kids, if you want to see what a classic, old-fashioned thriller looked like back then, how the police ran international manhunts before computers, cellular phones and cross-referencing databases, how silence can actually be an added value to a film, and how intelligent, meticulous, nail-biting moviemaking existed before holographic face masks, laser watches and CGI technology, then this realistic — though fictitious — story of a hitman nicknamed the Jackal who plots to assassinate French president Charles de Gaulle is, as they say in France, un incontournable. Sure, technically, this Fred Zinnemann film is not French, but it takes place in 1960s France (where everyone speaks with a British accent, for some reason.) In this layered game of le chat et la souris where the government deploys painstaking efforts to track down the elusive assassin before it’s too late, you will be riveted every step of the way. And please don’t bother with the American remake called “The Jackal”, which could easily be retitled “Bruce Willis in Wigs.” The fact that Zinnemann fought tooth and nail to make sure they couldn’t use the same title as his movie says it all. So voilà.

DIVA (1981)

By Jean-Jacques Beineix
With Frédéric Andréi, Wilhelmenia Wiggins Fernandez, Richard Bohringer

Rarely has a French film spawned a whole genre of movies and influenced young directors like Jean-Jacques Beineix’s “Diva”. Polished, clever, borderline philosophical, and mesmerizing with its haunting music, sublime cinematography and stylish sets, this film about a young mailman who gets caught up in a bizarre intrigue involving French gangsters, the Chinese mafia and an opera singer will entertain you from beginning to end. And remarkably, even after 40 years, the movie still looks every bit as fresh and lustrous as it did when it first came out in 1981. No surprise, it went on to win four Cesars, the equivalent of the French Oscars.


By Francis Weber
With Jacques Villeret, Thierry Lhermitte

A solid comedy makes you laugh, we all know that — and this film with Jacques Villeret as the bumbling fool who gets invited to supper as part of a cruel contest delivers enormously on that front. Et comment. But when a comedy really heightens its game, when it transcends the laugh-out-loud comical and is also able to move you, well, as they say in French, c’est vraiment top. Villeret is simply remarkable, playing the imbecile with acute hilarity and astounding vulnerability, which is no surprise since prior to the film, he had more than 600 performances under his belt, playing the same role at Le Théâtre des Variétés in Paris, in the original play written by director Francis Weber. The film was a gigantic hit in 1998 and became the second-highest grossing movie in France after “Titanic”, so this is definitely a dinner you will not want to skip. And once again, please don’t bother with the American remake “Dinner of Schmucks.” It doesn’t even deserve a seat at the same table as the original.

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