2015 Blind Spot Series: “My Life to Live”

BLIND SPOT

“My Life to Live”

“Vivre sa vie” or “My Life to Live” is a French New Wave film that also feels distinctly different from some of the more prominent movies of the highly influential movement. Director Jean-Luc Godard released the film in 1962, two years after his groundbreaking debut “Breathless”. Viewers will undoubtedly see similarities between the two films, but “My Life to Live” differentiates itself both in structure, subject, aesthetic, and style. “My Life to Live” undoubtedly attempts to buck common, overused movie trends – something French New Wave films sought to do. At the same time Godard makes “My Life to Live” distinctly its own.

The captivating Anna Karina plays the lead character Nana and she was Godard’s wife at the time. Interstingly, Godard first noticed Karina in a series of Palmolive ads. Godard was preparing for “Breathless”, his feature film debut, and offered Karina a small role in the picture. She turned him down but his persistence led her to be in his next three films and his wife for four years. Their relationship is evident in the movie. Godard’s camera seems enamored by Karina’s face, by her expressions, by her countenance. His concentration on her eyes, the features of her face, the language of her body. Unquestionably much of Godard’s story is told through the lens of his star.

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The film is broken down into twelve chapters each with basic synoptic captions. The first introduces us to Nana who is at a cafe with her husband Paul. We learn that she has just left him and their infant daughter to pursue acting. The revealing scene paints a complex picture of Nana. Adding to that complexity is the intriguing camera work by Godard and long-time cinematographer Raul Coutard. The focus is mostly on the back of the two character’s heads. The camera shifts back and forth while strategically giving us glimpses of their faces often through a mirror’s reflection. It leaves us curious about Nana and unsure how we are to feel about her.

Nana’s acting dream seems unrealistic. We see her working in record shop but apparently she can’t make ends meet. She asks different people to borrow money and one particular scene shows her being forcibly removed from her apartment. Out of a sense of desperation she turns to prostitution. But is it desperation or simple necessity? Nana is never easy to read. She approaches life with an open book mentality yet I always found a cloud of mystery around her. At times she seems impervious to possible consequences of her actions. Other times there is a playful life-loving personality that bubbles out. At other times she feels overwhelmed by her circumstances. Mainly she wants to be able to define her life and she wants to be the one to live it.

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The film’s look into prostitution of the day adds another level of intrigue. We see Nana grow more and more comfortable and content, but at the same time we the audience begin noticing cracks and concerns within her environment. Godard goes to great lengths to educate us on the mentalities, practices, and laws that made up the Paris prostitution scene of early 1960s. It gives us a better perspective even if it sometimes feels a bit dry and procedural. The coolest thing is how the approach to this element draws from the cinĂ©ma vĂ©ritĂ© documentarian style.

“My Life to Life” is a captivating film slowed down only by the occasional lulls – moments when Godard’s experimentation feels like experimentation instead of storytelling or progression. Still, it’s hard not to be drawn in by the portrait Godard paints. And his cinematic model Anna Karina is a mesmerizing expression of energy, wonder, and reality. Surround her with intoxicating style, layers of cultural references, and a grounded story and you have “My Life to Live” – a film that is uniquely its own nestled within the French New Wave.

VERDICT – 4 STARS

4 Stars

THE END

2015 Blind Spot Series – “Au Hasard Balthazar”

Anne Wiazemsky as Marie in Robert Bresson’s AU HASARD BALTHAZA

The brilliant auteur Robert Bresson has been called the father of French cinema. Many of the greats from France’s New Wave movement considered Bresson their chief influence. Other filmmakers from around the world often pointed to Bresson’s work as effecting the shape and form of cinema for generations. He was known for his unconventional style and techniques which found their roots in his own unique philosophies behind the art of cinema.

Bresson had an intriguing filmography and one of his best pictures is his 1966 drama “Au Hasard Balthazar”. His films often focused on lead characters weighed down by or struggling with their circumstances or their inner-self. The conflicts and turmoils they faced often left them physically or emotionally broken. Bresson’s films are not for those looking for a lighthearted affair. They are thought-provoking examinations of humanity that refuse to shy away from our crueler and harsher sides. “Au Hasard Balthazar” is a stirring example of this approach.

The film follows a donkey named Balthazar who encounters a wide assortment of deeply flawed people during his life. We first see him right after birth living on a small rural farm. Over the film’s quick 95 minutes Balthazar changes hands several times . Many of his owners and handlers abuse him often physically but sometimes out of sheer neglect. But Bresson doesn’t take a cheap way out. Balthazar isn’t a miracle animal. He doesn’t speak or come up with clever ways to repay his abusers. No, he’s just a donkey. Simple, innocent, and true to his nature. He knows what donkeys know, feels what donkeys feel, and acts as donkeys act.

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Why is that so important? Because it puts the spotlight on humanity. Balthazar is doing what he should be doing. It’s the people he endures along the way who show their very flawed and sometimes wicked sides. It’s an indictment on the reality of how things are. When speaking on the movie the great filmmaker and one-time critic Jean-Luc Godard called it “the world in an hour and a half”. It’s a sad picture that is sometimes hard to look at. And despite his limitations Balthazar is still intensely sympathetic and able to touch our emotions.

But Bresson doesn’t just follow Balthazar around everywhere. He also tells us the stories of several characters who play roles in the donkey’s life. The main one is Marie (Anne Wiazemsky). She lives on the farm where Balthazar is born and shows love towards him. But in another instance of straying from the conventional, Marie also sits idly by while a group of young thugs led by the slimy Gerard (François Lafarge) beats Balthazar. Marie becomes an emotionless hollow soul, in some ways like Balthazar – a victim of her circumstances. But she loses herself in a much darker place.

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Gerard ends up with Balthazar on a couple of occasions and his cruelty towards the animal is unsettling. Gerard is a thug, a thief, and is shown to possibly be a lot worse. There are parts of his story that didn’t make sense to me, but Gerard’s brand of sadistic evil is felt by man and beast. Balthazar also spends time with a baker, a traveling circus, and a local drunk. We see all of these people through the clearest and most honest eyes possible – Balthazar’s.

Several of Bresson’s signature style choices are clearly seen in the film. Most obvious is his penchant for using non-professional actors in his roles. You will rarely find room for big movie stars in a Bresson movie. The director would hire unknowns and then train them specifically for their part. He didn’t want an ounce of theatrics from his actors and he was known to film a scene over and over until every hint of performance was removed. Even more, Bresson didn’t refer to his performers as actors. He called them “models” and they offered a raw and reserved take unlike what you see in the mainstream. When watching “Au Hasard Balthazar” this can be a challenge especially for those not accustomed to Bresson’s work. The characters can appear cold and indifferent, but that also causes us to look at them in a very unique way.

“Au Hasard Balthazar” can be a difficult film to take in. Its narrative can be a bit challenging but once you connect with Bresson’s greater message everything falls into place. It’s visceral and heartbreaking. At the same time it holds a mirror up to the world we live in. And while this film was made in 1966, the reflection it casts is just as piercing today as it was then. Godard’s description of the film is spot on. Bresson shows us the world. The question becomes how are we going to change it? Even more, can we change it?

VERDICT – 4.5 STARS

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To see my full 2015 Blind Spot Lineup click HERE…

REVIEW: “Play Time”

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“Playtime” may be one of the most difficult movies to categorize or review and it may be a difficult movie for some people to process. French filmmaker Jacques Tati is known for focusing more on people and communities and allowing his stories to be told visually through their interactions. He was much more interested in visual comedy through observation than presenting a structured narrative. With “Playtime” he takes this unique style and amplifies it. But with this film he has a different intention and much bigger expectations that may be hard to appreciate at first glance.

“Playtime” was Tati’s most ambitious project and at the time it was the most expensive movie in French history. It never made its money back at the box office and eventually drove Tati into bankruptcy. Much of the high cost went into the enormous set built by the filmmaker. Money issues made constructing the set drag out almost 4 years. But if you’ve seen the film it’s impossible to not be in awe of what Tati created. His set included an airport, skyscrapers, apartment buildings, office complexes, a downtown area, and several busy city streets. All of it represented the new futuristic Paris that Tati often spoke against in his films.

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This is also a movie intended to fade out Tati’s popular Mr. Hulot character. Tati was growing tired of him and used this as an opportunity to move on to something new. But some believe this is one reason the movie wasn’t as well received by the public as hoped. Mr. Hulot was incredibly popular with audiences and his limited appearances in this picture didn’t sit well with some viewers. But honestly, Mr. Hulot is only a cog in Tati’s big machine. This was never meant to be a Mr. Hulot picture in the same vein as “Mr. Hulot’s Holiday” or “Mon Oncle”.

“Playtime” does incorporate several of Tati’s signature techniques in filmmaking and comedy. The gags often hinge on timing and some of them require careful attention or you just might miss them. There is no meaningful dialogue in the picture. Instead the voices of people are simply part of the important background noise that we hear throughout the film. Sound has often played a significant part in Tati’s films and it’s no different here. Everything from the loud heels clicking on the cold, hard floors to the flatulent noises from the hip office chairs has a distinct and intentional sound.

 

The movie is broken down into sections. It begins in what resembles a hospital but we soon find it’s an airport. It’s here that we are first introduced to some of the film’s reoccurring characters including a tour group of women from the United States and of course Mr. Hulot. From there the movie moves into Tati’s vision of where Paris was heading – a city of long, congested, assembly-line like streets with matching skyscrapers made of steel and glass. The city’s traditional beauty and history is gone replaced by a cold and sterile modernist future. Tati does give us quick looks back at the city’s glory but they are cleverly shown reflections seen in glass doors. The reflections of the Eiffel Tower and of the SacrĂ©-CĹ“ur Basilica on Montmartre hill are visions of a Paris that Tati sees as disappearing in the real world.

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Mr. Hulot is lost in this new world. The second big section of the movie takes place in an office high-rise where Hulot is set to have a meeting. Tati makes the place incredibly impersonal and goes to great lengths to portray the building’s futuristic technology as silly and pointless. There is a great scene that illustrates this right after Hulot enters the office building. He’s met by a little old doorman who sits him down while he calls upstairs. To do so the old fella has to work an overly complex intercom system, all the time grumbling to himself as he carries out his perfunctory, everyday duties. He refuses to let Hulot leave his seat, making him wait and wait until the executive he’s there to meet finally arrives from upstairs. But the executive moves him into an office 10 feet away from where he’s been waiting and has him sit down and wait longer. The doorman, the intercom, and the long wait were for the most part pointless.

Hulot ends up getting lost and he stumbles upon a trade show happening in another part of the building. This is where the next section of the movie takes place. It’s followed by some time spent gazing into an apartment complex before heading to an evening at a nice restaurant. Most of the film’s second half takes place in the restaurant. Hulot ends up inside but we really see very little of him. Instead we’re introduced to the new series of characters including a loud and obnoxious American businessman, a clever doorman, an embarrassed waiter who has ripped his pants, the antsy owner, a drunk, the aforementioned tour group, and a number of other people.

The restaurant sequence is a pretty impressive thing to behold. We watch as the night starts slow but as the crowd increases and several mishaps occur, things liven up. There’s really nothing else to the scene. There isn’t a deeper story angle to latch onto nor is there one central character to follow. It’s pure observation as the camera steps back and moves from one section of the restaurant to another. We simply watch everything as if we were sitting on a stool in the corner of the room. It’s unlike anything I’ve seen. It’s a bold and inventive experiment but it’s also laced with some really funny gags. And it doesn’t stop there. There’s a really good drugstore sequence and some time spent on the congested city streets before zipping us back to the airport.

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You can’t watch “Play Time” and not be impressed with the skill and the craft of Jacques Tati. And while it certainly has some funny moments, it lacks the playfulness of the previous Mr. Hulot films and I have to admit I missed that. The shelving of Hulot is obvious as Tati intentionally loses him in the concrete, glass, and metal world he created. In fact, at times it seems that Tati is rubbing it in our faces by occasionally throwing out men who walk and dress like Hulot but we find out they are not. By shortening the screen time of his beloved character he forces us to look at the bigger picture that he’s painted on his personal canvas. He makes us look beyond what we’re familiar with and what we expect.

There is nothing conventional about “Play Time”. It’s an ambitious project that also has that signature Tati humor. But it’s nothing like the filmmaker’s previous work and that took some adjusting for me. And personally speaking, this film just didn’t resonate with me like his other work. Staying with the movie can be a bit of a challenge and the humor is spread out and more subtle. But the craftsmanship behind this film can’t be questioned and the sheer scope of the undertaking is incredible. There is so much going on throughout this picture and for a movie with no substantial plot or direction that’s a pretty amazing accomplishment.

VERDICT – 4 STARS

REVIEW: “Sarah’s Key”

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Movies depicting the Holocaust and the plight of the Jewish people during the Nazi reign can be some of the most potent and emotional movies to watch. There have been several films that have taken a broader look at the subject while others choose to tell more personal stories. Either way, I remain fascinated at how skilled filmmakers can still remind us of this deep and devastating scar on our world’s history through truly powerful cinema. “Sarah’s Key” is another example of that. This film may not carry the weight of bigger Holocaust pictures, but it tells a stirring and sobering story that I really responded to.

The movie jumps back and forth in time and tells two interconnected stories. The first takes place during the Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup in Paris on July 16th 1942. It was the early morning mass arrest of over 13,000 Jews by French Police in a broader effort to placate the Nazis. The arrested Jews, of which nearly 10,000 were women and children, were taken to internment camps and eventually to Auschwitz for “extermination”. What made this even more despicable was the complicity of the French government and police, something France had failed to publicly own up to until 1995. It’s in this environment that we’re introduced to young Sarah Starzynski.

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I found Sarah’s story to be the most interesting and certainly the most powerful. While playing under the covers of her bed, Sarah (MĂ©lusine Mayance) and her little brother Michel are startled by a loud knocking on the front door. It’s a French policeman there to take them into custody as the roundup begins. Before Michel can be noticed Sarah hides him in a closet and makes him promise not to leave. She locks the door, hides the key in her pocket, and is soon taken away with her parents.

The other story starts in Paris in 2009 when an American journalist named Julia (Kristin Scott-Thomas) and her French husband Bertrand (FrĂ©dĂ©ric Pierrot) inherit an apartment from his grandparents. It turns out the apartment came into the family over 65 years earlier, around the same time as the Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup. Julia had recently wrote a piece on this sad part of French history so naturally she wants to know more about the house’s history.

We are told both of these stories in chunks. Co-writer and director Gilles Paquet-Brenner does a pretty good job of moving back and forth between stories although there are some fairly awkward transitions. And I mentioned that Sarah’s story is easily the more riveting and interesting of the two but that’s not to say Julia’s story is bad. In fact I liked it. But her story is hampered by a few plot points that just don’t work within the context of this film. These are mainly found in the relationship between her and her husband. Julia finds out that she’s pregnant and we learn that she’s had some difficult and failed pregnancies in the past. Bertrand doesn’t want the baby and is perfectly content with their life the way it is. This entire dynamic ends up playing a significant role in Julia’s life and it leads to a nice moment later in the film, but overall it feels underdeveloped and quite honestly insignificant compared to the horror that Sarah and her family are facing.

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But when it comes down to it, I like the way both stories come together. It’s not as surprising or profound as it could have been but I found it to be satisfying. Julia has several good moments as she digs deeper to connect her husband’s family to the Starzynskis. But it’s the strength of Sarah’s story that makes the joining of these two narratives work. I was consumed with watching Sarah’s difficult and heartbreaking life unfold. It’s brilliantly told both visually and through the script and it never shoves too much in your face. It’s respectful and reserved yet it maintains an authentic emotional punch.

A big hunk of the movie’s success is due to some standout performances. Kristen Scott-Thomas is a fine actress and her flawless American accent and fluent French gives Julia a natural believability. She also never overplays her scenes. But even better was MĂ©lusine Mayance as young Sarah. I know we could get into the whole ‘How much of a child performance is acting or directing’ debate, but I thought she was magnificent. Niels Arestrup is another familiar face in the film who’s always good. There’s also two relatively unknowns who are wonderful here. Natasha Mashkevich really caught my attention as Sarah’s mother and Charlotte Poutrel is great in a much smaller role as an older Sarah. In her few scenes we see a beautiful but scarred young woman and it’s clear the events of her past have left a terrible mark.

“Sarah’s Key” is a movie that completely slipped under my radar. During my recent examination of French cinema I stumbled across this picture and I am glad I did. It’s a smart and respectful story whose only fault is that it tries to do too much. With a little more culling this could have been a tighter and more concise picture. But even considering that, this is a very good movie that’s both responsible and deeply moving. It may not be listed among the best overall movies about the Holocaust, but there are parts of this film that I would put up against any other.

VERDICT – 4 STARS

REVIEW: “Mr. Hulot’s Holiday”

Classic Movie SpotlightHULOTMy recent time spent looking at the movies of French filmmaker Jacques Tati has been a true delight. As I’ve made my way through his small but brilliant catalog of films I’ve grown more and more impressed with the ingenious craft at the heart of them. “Mr. Hulot’s Holiday” was the first film featuring Tati’s lovable Monsieur Hulot character and it’s arguably the greatest display of his physical comedic abilities. Tati both starred in and directed this picture and his meticulous approach to filmmaking is seen in every frame from his carefully conceived sight gags to his beautiful work with the camera.

There’s no strict and focused narrative in “Mr. Hulot’s Holiday”. It simply follows Hulot’s vacation at a small French beachside resort. Much like other Tati films, there is a great focus on community here. We’re introduced to a number of fellow vacationers each with their own unique personalities and quirks. There’s no real effort towards character development. Instead they simply become familiar faces who we grow to know through their reappearances. This is one of the characteristics of Tati’s films that I enjoy the most. I love how he develops a community of characters all built around their individual interactions with Mr. Hulot.

Hulot is the picture of gentleness and happiness. With his pipe in mouth and striped socks showing he certainly stands out in the crowd. But it’s his fidgety demeanor and overall clumsiness that makes him so physically awkward, something only rivaled by his social awkwardness which he seems totally unaware of. He simply goes on enjoying life completely impervious to the inconveniences he may be accidentally causing. He annoys several of his fellow vacationers which provides some great laughs for the audience.

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For me the true treat was just watching him interact with this wonderful assortment of people. For example there’s the grumpy and mopey waiter who doesn’t crack a smile for the entire movie. There’s the pretty blonde who gets the attention of nearly every young man at the resort yet she lives in her own uninterested little world. There’s the older couple who just stroll around observing everyone and taking everything in. We get the mischievous children and a handful of animals, both of which Tati loves to incorporate into his films. There are several other great characters and we never really get to know any of them yet they become very familiar to us. They all share the resort, the dining area, and the beach with Mr. Hulot which results in some hysterical moments.

First and foremost Jacques Tati is a physical comedian, a skill that dates back to his early years as a mime. His films often reflect back on the days of Chaplin, Lloyd, and Keeton when the stories were told through the amazing vehicles of expressions, gestures, postures, and athleticism. That’s certainly the case here. The dialogue is scarce and the speaking we do hear from people is mostly unintelligible. Instead the story is made for our eyes and mainly told through the lens of Tati’s camera. His skill is incredible and you can’t take your eyes off what he’s doing on screen. It’s unlike anything we see today.

In many ways “Mr. Hulot’s Holiday” resembles a classic silent film yet there is a steady emphasis on sound. There’s the aforementioned chatter from the characters. Most of the time we have no idea what they’re saying yet they are a delightful ingredient. The spitting and sputtering of Mr. Hulot’s funky automobile almost makes it a character itself. Then there are the little things such as the swinging door to the dining room. Every time someone walks through, it makes this peculiar “fwoom” sound. Tati removes the music and places a heavy emphasis on that unusual sound. It may not sound like much but in the flow of the film it fits perfectly.

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Tati is also a director of timing. So many of his hilarious gags are dependent on precise timing and I can imagine even some of the smallest scenes taking a lot of time and expertise to get right. Take one scene where Hulot is fixing his broken down jalopy on the side of the road. He is underneath his car but with his legs laying out in the road. Another car comes flying through and at just the right time Hulot pulls in his legs as the car barely misses them. He never moves his legs to miss the oncoming car but to just shift positions yet the timing is perfect. Now there could very well be some camera trickery involved but it’s just one example of the many great gags revolving around perfectly timed people or objects.

“Mr. Hulot’s Holiday” was a huge success upon its release and it remains a cherished movie for many today. It’s a perfect display of Jacques Tati’s artistry as both a filmmaker and a comedic actor. It’s a celebration of silent comedy as well as its own unique brand of filmmaking. It also gives us our first introduction to one of the most lovable characters in cinema chock full of his deadpan humor. Just a couple of days ago as I sat in a theater watching a series of comedy trailers that looked neither interesting or funny I thought of this film. I thought of how lazy and formulaic the one-trick-pony comedies of today are. Then I thought of Tati’s creativity, his style, his skill with the camera, his poetic grace. All of these things and more are beautifully wrapped up in “Mr. Hulot’s Holiday”. I sat in that dark theater thinking the same thing I’m thinking now – “Man I wish they still made comedies like this today”!

VERDICT – 5 STARS

5 STARSs

5STAR K&M

5 PHENOMENAL FRENCH LANGUAGE FILMS

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Years ago as I began to grow as a movie fan I opened myself up to foreign cinema. I can’t express how thankful I am for that decision. And while I still don’t see as many foreign language films as I should, over the years foreign cinema has introduced me to some truly great movies. From the far east to the middle east, from South America to Central Europe, there are wonderful filmmakers making movies all over the globe. While I’ve dipped my toes into the films of many different countries, I’ve found French cinema to be one of my favorites. So I thought it would be fun to look at five phenomenal French language films. This is the first Phenomenal 5 dedicated to foreign cinema but it won’t be the last. Now there are many French films that I haven’t seen so it would be silly to call this the definitive list. But there is no denying that these five French movies are nothing short of phenomenal.

MON ONCLE#5 – “MON ONCLE”  Jacques Tati only made six feature-length movies but that’s all it took to establish him as a fantastic filmmaker. “Mon Oncle” is the consummation of Tati’s many talents all wrapped into one delightful creation. The film features Tati’s signature style of visual storytelling and comedy as well as his familiar critiques of materialism, consumerism, and social elitism. But at its heart is a very funny story featuring one of the most lovable characters you’ll find – socially awkward but certainly lovable. Monsieur Hulot’s sweet and friendly demeanor is infectious and he’s always content regardless of his state. But perhaps my favorite thing about this film is the incredible sense of community that Tati is able to capture. Hulot’s working class neighborhood is filled with life, energy, and an assortment of entertaining characters. Those things also perfectly describe “Mon Oncle”.

#4 – “BREATHLESS”BREATHLESS – Acclaimed director Jean-Luc Godard’s first feature-length film was “Breathless” from 1960. Long considered one of the signature movies from the French New Wave, “Breathless” remains to this day a highly influential film. In the movie Godard went to great lengths to buck the traditional trends in filmmaking by using several innovative visual techniques now forever associated with the French New Wave. But “Breathless” isn’t all about style. There’s also a very good story born out of the social climate of 1960 Paris. At first I had a tough time gathering my thoughts on the movie. But after processing the film and looking closer at the story, it has become a true favorite of mine. Jean-Paul Belmondo and the lovely Jean Seberg are fantastic and Godard gives us some of the best street views of Paris. Groundbreaking and highly entertaining.

MR HULOT#3 – “MR. HULOT’S HOLIDAY – I really want there to be variety in every Phenomenal 5 I do, but for this list I couldn’t leave off either if these two Jacques Tati classics, the aforementioned “Mon Oncle” and “Mr. Hulot’s Holiday”. “Mr. Hulot’s Holiday” is my favorite Tati film and one of my favorite comedies of all time. Every ounce of Tati’s creative genius is on display in this film. As a director he has an incredible eye for structuring each scene and capturing each moment. In front of the camera as Mr. Hulot he brings out the comic brilliance of legends such as Keaton, Chaplin, and Lloyd. “Mr. Hulot’s Holiday” is a very visual comedy with a heavy emphasis on sight gags and perfectly timed humor. There are so many great laughs in this simple but hilarious picture and it’s a profound example of how true comedy can be done without the gimmicks and clichĂ©s we often see today.

#2 – “AMELIE”AMELIE – One of the most delightful French films I have ever scene is “Amelie” and delightful is the perfect word for it. It’s the story of a shy and reserved waitress and all of the quirky individuals that make up her everyday life. She’s a lonely soul who tries to overcome it through her playful imagination. The perfectly cast Audrey Tautou is magnificent as Amelie who lives her life in beautifully filmed Montmartre. But there’s also the wonderful assortment of side characters that give this film such life. There’s the mysterious painter neighbor, her wacky cafe coworkers and regular customers, the mean jerk of a grocer. I can go on and on but regardless of who they are, Amelie has a positive impact on their lives. There is so much charm mixed with laugh-out-loud hilarity that permeates this entire picture. Gorgeous cinematography, brilliant writing, and pitch-perfect performances. “Amelie” is a joy.

The 400 Blows (1959)#1 – “THE 400 BLOWS” – Much like “Breathless”, Francois Truffaut’s “The 400 Blows” was a pivotal film in the French New Wave. It’s arguably the most powerful movie about adolescence and it’s an intensely personal film for the acclaimed director. Based on Truffaut’s own childhood, “The 400 Blows” looks at the life of young Antoine in early 1950’s Paris. He’s viewed as a troublemaker by the adults in his life and he finds the streets to be his only refuge. There are several stinging and uncomfortable scenes but all of them lead to the final shot which is one of the most potent in film history. There is such feeling and emotional pop throughout as we see this challenging and often times difficult world through young Antoine’s eyes. There’s also an undeniable technique and style behind the movie’s visual presentation. It’s an amazing expression of Truffaut’s vision and when combined with the brilliant screenplay the result is a glorious piece of cinema history.

So there are my five picks for the most phenomenal films in French cinema. Agree or disagree – please leave you thoughts below. Also be watching throughout the next several days as I review several of these and other French films on the site.