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Image / Editorial

Looking for a different watch during lockdown? Try these 5 French films


by Jennifer McShane
19th Nov 2020
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For a different sort of a watch if you need a Netflix break


French cinema has a decades-old reputation for being some of the most sophisticated, elegant and groundbreaking of filmmaking from all over the world, and that reputation is not at all close to being tarnished in 2019. The last decade alone has seen many French films win the Cannes Film Festival’s prestigious Palme d’Or. If you have yet to venture into French cinema, start with these, and you’ll never look back.

The Diving Bell And The Butterfly

Julian Schnabel’s profound and sublimely affecting biopic of Jean-Dominique Bauby is a must-watch. Mathieu Amalric plays the title role of the former Elle magazine editor who was struck down by locked-in syndrome; paralysed from the neck down and only able to communicate with blinks from his left eye.

This film is based on the remarkable book of the same name, which Bauby wrote soon after the tragic event happened, painstakingly dictating it a letter at a time using nothing but blinks. The director seamlessly weaves us through the events from Bauby’s perspective with striking visuals, an incredible score and acting of the highest calibre throughout the movie. The film received four Academy Award nominations, and we guarantee you won’t get through it without shedding quite a few tears.

Leaving

Kristin Scott Thomas’ career in French cinema remains vastly underrated and it’s why two of her finest performances are included in this list. The first is her performance in Leaving as Suzanne, who returns to work 15 years after devoting her life to her husband Samuel and their two children. She is happy enough if a little bored by their middle-class lifestyle and her life is thrown into turmoil when she comes into contact with Ivan, a builder and the two begin an affair that has consequences for all involved. You’ll never see the ending coming. It’s a beautifully melancholy film.

Amour

Amour is director Michael Haneke’s impeccable study of the decline of an elderly woman, Anne (played by Emmanuelle Riva), and the desperate efforts of her husband, Georges (played by Jean-Louis Trintignant) to keep things together as her condition worsens. This is far from what you would term feel-good cinema but is a deeply moving insight into the complexities of a loving relationship transcending through time.

This is a slow-mover but the film is held together by the suburb leading performances of its two actors. The final scene is utterly heart wrenching and will stay with you for hours after. It deservedly won the Palm d’ Or and received five Academy Award nominations.

I’ve Loved You So Long

Kristin Scott Thomas gives a career-defining performance in this moving, devastating mystery drama about a woman who is released back into society after spending 15 years in prison. The how and why is slowly revealed over the course of the film, and Thomas is utterly perfect in the lead role. We won’t spoil anything; you simply have to watch it. To this day, it remains beggars belief as to why Thomas was not given an Oscar for what is her finest performance.

Rust And Bone

This is an underrated, remarkable and raw film centring on the affliction of Stephanie, played superbly by Marion Cotillard. We won’t share the details of this affliction here, but things escalate as she begins to fall in love with the moody Ali, played by Matthias Schoenaerts as the two forms an unlikely bond in the most trying of circumstances. The film is unflinching, moving and tender at the unlikeliest of times. It’s another must-see. It is also my favourite female depiction of disability on-screen.


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