French Toast

A few months back, I wrote a little bit about list obsessions and the never-ending stream of choices we have, as movie-watchers. I’ve currently developed an obsession of my own, partially list-related. One of my favorite articles each year is the annual 50 Greatest French Films of All-Time list that I write the week of Bastille Day. It’s less than a month away, and now I’m cramming furiously like some college kid at midnight the night before an exam. In the past 3 weeks, I’ve seen 14 French films because I want to be as comprehensive as possible. And I am having so much fun doing it, even if my brain is slowly turning to French toast.

The Films de France list inspired me to finally- FINALLY- check The Red Balloon off of my list of unseen French classics.

Each year when I make the list, I try to conclude with a list of popular French films that I haven’t seen. First of all, it gives me a nice checklist of homework for the next year before updating the list. Second, it works as a preemptive “I haven’t seen that movie yet” when commenters ask why their favorite French film didn’t make the list. In the past year, in addition to my own homework, I’ve discovered two lists that will help me along the way. The first is the indispensable Films de France Top 100. It’s such a good list that they didn’t stop at 100. They kept going to 102. There aren’t enough superlatives for this list. It’s extremely diverse, including many silent films and obscure, hard-to-find titles. The folks who created that list did a lot of homework. And while I’ve done well with the list, having seen 64 of the 102, there’s room to grow. That leaves 38 more for me to see. Of the 64 that I’ve seen, they all deserve the plaudits and inclusion in a French top 100. There aren’t many that they’ve excluded that I would include myself.

The other list… well, I’m not sure what to make of it. It’s from The Times, and the original source isn’t even available anymore. Commenters on the icheckmovies version of the list destroy this list, rightly pointing out that it’s missing a LOT of great cinema. The list also fixates a lot on recent cinema, with far too many films coming from the past 30 years or so. But here’s the rub. I want my list to be as comprehensive as possible. If I’m going to make the list and make it the best possible, I need to see those recent films to accurately determine if they’re worthy. I’m skeptical, and the few recent films that I’ve seen from their list don’t give me much hope, but it’s all about due diligence.

Abel Gance’s J’Accuse (1919): one fewer silent French film to check off of the list.

As I’ve been feverishly tackling all of these films, there’s really no end in sight. The next 21 selections in my Netflix queue are French films. From July 14th through the 29th, a local university is having a French film festival, and I plan on seeing at least eight films on the big screen. I’ve only just scratched the surface with French filmmaking luminaries like Claude Chabrol, Agnes Varda, Eric Rohmer, and Max Ophüls. My exposure to French silent films is almost exclusively limited to the films of Abel Gance.

Once all of the smoke clears, there’s still the problem of subjectivity. Just because I say that Gance’s Napoléon (1927) is the best French film ever made doesn’t make it true. No matter how much I try to be objective, all of these films are gauged through my own personal prism. I’m quick to point out and I can’t emphasize it enough- I am no authority on this. I’m just a Francophile schmuck who’s very passionate about movies, French movies in particular.

It’s a good thing I’m enjoying this so much. Without that level of enjoyment, I would’ve burned out a week ago.

As a quick reference guide, here’s what I’ve seen since June 1: J’Accuse (1919); The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964); Le Boucher (1970); The Red Balloon (1956); I Stand Alone (1998); Au Bonheur Des Dames (1930); A Nos Amours (1983); The City of Lost Children (1995); Bande a Part (1964); Ma Nuit Chez Maud (1969); Jean de Florette (1986); Manon des Sources (1986); Look at Me (2005); Time Out (2001)


Filed under French Film, Movies

16 responses to “French Toast

  1. But Napoleon IS the best French film ever made. 😉

    A few fantastic and highly recommended French film titles I’m not sure if you’ve seen. Correct me if you have:
    2 or 3 Things I Know About Her (1966)
    Code Unknown (2000) – my third favourite film of all time
    Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975)
    La Belle Noiseuse (1991)
    A Grin Without a Cat (1977) – my favourite documentary of all time

    I’d say all of those (particularly Code Unknown and Jeanne Dielman) are essential before compiling your list. All five films are among my top favourite movies.

    • You’re dead right on all of those- I haven’t seen them, and they’re great recommendations. I do have La Belle Noiseuse in my Netflix queue.

      • Then try and tackle that before you do your list. I realize three of the films I listed (including La Belle Noiseuse) are quite lengthy, but that only adds to their effect. La Belle Noiseuse is fantastic; slow pace but incredible third act.

  2. The Rules of the Game by Renoir is the best French film of all time. Sorry but I have to do some Renoir praise!
    As I see, you’ve been treating yourself to great films my friend! Rohmer is one of my favorites! I highly recommend to complete, if you haven’t, the Six Moral Tales.

    • Ha… for what it’s worth, Michael, the Films de France list agrees with you. I feel like a weirdo for saying it, but I prefer Grand Illusion because it came with a social statement- the anti-war message on the eve of WWII.

      At this point from Rohmer, I’ve done La Nuit Chez Maud and La Collectionneuse. One of the films showing at the film festival next month is Le Rayon Vert, which I hadn’t originally planned on seeing but I will now. I was really impressed with Ma Nuit Chez Maud.

  3. Rich

    So have you ever been to France? Sounds to me like you should one day.

    • Five years ago, I visited Europe, and France was one of several stops. I went to the Alsace-Lorraine provinces. That’s where a lot of my family comes from. I’d love to go back, and I feel bad that I haven’t been to Paris, Versailles, Marseille, Normandy, or a ton of other places.

  4. Phil

    I think it’s great that you have a specific genre specialty. I’ve been trying to see a wide range and as you know, it’s impossible to cover everything. I’m curious to hear what you thought of the movies you watched this month. I have trouble appreciating French films in general, but I love some of those films in your list.
    And go to Paris… it is amazing. Nothing in the US really compares to it.

    • Trust me, I’d love to go to Paris… first. And then a bunch of other places in France next. I could probably spend a few years bumping around France like some college student post-graduation, and it’d live up to all of my expectations.

      You raise a really interesting question re: trouble appreciating French films. Do you find that other nationalities, or just film styles in general, fit you really well? Is there something about French films that turns you off? I only ask because for as much as French film fits me like a glove, Italian film makes me struggle. And both countries have many, many films for someone to latch onto. What I mean is, I can understand how certain styles and nationalities (with their own styles) can equally attract someone or turn them off.

  5. Vladdy

    For silents, Netflix has a nice set of three films by Jacques Feyder that are really good. Also, Menilmontant (Kirsanoff, 1926) is a must. And it’s only 30 minutes long! It was Pauline Kael’s favorite film, and one of mine. (Netflix has it on Kino’s Avant-Garde set, but you can find it online easily.)

  6. The Red Balloon,The City of Lost Children,Ma Nuit Chez Maud are all favorites of mine,my problem is I did not see enough French films after 1980s.

    • Let’s see… post-1980s, there’s La Haine; all of the Gaspar Noé films; Jeunet’s films; A Christmas Tale; Time Out was very solid; Man Bites Dog… and I’m not sure what else that I’ve seen. The 1990 Cyrano de Bergerac gets rave reviews although I haven’t seen it yet.

  7. Pingback: Too Many Movies, Too Little Time |

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