1. Peau d’Âne (Once Upon a Time) by Jacques Demy, 1970
A musical fairy tale, starring Catherine Deneuve (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg) who is at her most beautiful in this film, and Jean Marais (Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast). Peau d’Âne is about a widowed king who insists that his second wife be as beautiful as his first.
As with all good fairytales, the film has its dark side… incest being its main theme. Yet somehow, it still manages to maintain its charm through its genius artistic design, use of colour, and memorable songs. You will either hate it or love it, but you won’t be able to get the haunting main theme song (from the great film score composer Michel Legrand) out of your head.
2. La Boum (Ready for Love) by Claude Pinoteau, 1980
A drama/teen flick about 13-year-old Vic who is trying to fit in at her new school, but is roadblocked by her parents who won’t let her go to the « boum » (big party). With some help from her grandma, she manages to get there anyway and meets the love of her life, Matthieu…
The film captures the mood of teenage love while avoiding the sentimentality that takes over in American films with similar story lines. Its honesty and depiction of first love, friendship, and family troubles make it something that everyone can relate to. It’s a « classic » for those who grew up in the eighties, and equally loved by people from all generations.
3. L’Arnacoeur (Heartbreaker) by Pascal Chaumeil, 2010
A romantic comedy starring Romain Duris (The Beat That My Heart Skipped) who runs a business designed to break up relationships. The immoral firm is hired to break up the wedding of a rich client’s daughter (Vanessa Paradis), a strong-minded businesswoman about to marry a charming English man (Andrew Lincoln).
Look out for the darkly funny and brilliant prologue at the beginning of the film which sets the story’s tone, as well as the Dirty Dancing scene which is another must-see. It’s the kind of thing Hollywood loves to copy but never manages to do with the required French lightness and elegance.
4. 20 ans d’écart (It Boy) by David Moreau, 2013
Another romantic comedy about an under-40 fashionista (Virginie Efira) who falls for an appealing yet clumsy student (Pierre Niney). Despite the 20-year age difference (as suggested by the French title), the chemistry between them is perfect. The movie is filled with hilarious scenes about the mismatches in all kinds of life experiences (especially the scene of the couple’s first, quite awkward sexual encounter) and plays to the French stereotype that cougars are both sexy and cool.
5. 3 coeurs (3 hearts) by Benoît Jacquot, 2014
A drama about how a tax inspector (Benoît Poelvoorde), his new bride (Chiara Mastroianni) and her sister (Charlotte Gainsbourg) become caught up in a love triangle (a not-so-uncommon experience in France… according to another stereotype).
Featuring amazing performances from the actors, it’s a strong film about love, passion, and chance. This sentimental thriller’s cruelness and tenderness will pull you in two directions at once, making it a movie that needs to be on your list of things to watch.