The 10 Best French Movies on Netflix

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The 10 Best French Movies on Netflix

There’s no easy way to navigate to “French Movies” within Netflix’s “International Movies” genre. And Netflix’s offering of French films has continued to shrink, though it remains strong. While you won’t find the French impressionist cinema of the 1930s or the French New Wave of the ’60s and ’70s, you will find some of the better French movies of the 21st century.

So if you’re looking for Jean-Luc Godard, Jacques Rivette or Eric Rohmer, you might want to check out services like The Criterion Channel or Sundance Now. But if you want to discover what’s happening in French cinema right now, from timely political tales to avant garde experiments, Netflix is a surprisingly good resource. Directors like Arnaud Desplechin, Olivier Assayas and Bertrand Bonello are carrying the torch of the French master auteurs, and selections of their work are available from the streaming giant right now, though we’ve recently had to cut this list down from 20 to 10.

Here are the 10 best French Movies on Netflix:

west-coast.jpg 10. West Coast
Year: 2016
Director: Benjamin Weill
In this one hour and 20-minute film, a band of French teens—Delete, King Kong, Flé O, and Copkiller—obsessed with West Coast American rap culture set out on a journey to retrieve a dangerous lost (originally stolen) item. As is often the case, this journey shows the deep friendship of four boys navigating their own identities while trying to impress the girls of their dreams. Their trip takes them outside of their small French town, via hitchhiking, a bike, and a stolen car. Epic water gun battles ensue and internet relationships are brought to light, all while these four boys travel western France to find a way out of the tangled web they’ve woven for themselves. —Grace Williamson


lolo.jpg 9. Lolo
Year: 2017
Director: Julie Delpy
Ever eaten a Wispa, that aerated chocolate confection of British design? No? Well, sit down for Julie Delpy’s Lolo and you’ll get more or less the right idea: sweet and breezy, light to the palette, and yet dotted with quiet high notes that exponentially alter your sensations for the better as you consume it. Lolo, like a tasty candy bar, does not require any heavy lifting to enjoy—though it is subversive in its own way. If the film came from anywhere but France, and perhaps anyone but Delpy, a single glimpse at a poster or at the trailer would set expectations in stone, and in stone they would remain. From the outside, it looks an awful lot like any other inoffensive romantic comedy. Hell, that’s what it looks like from the inside, too. But looks are often deceiving. Just take Lolo’s title character, played by Vincent Lacoste, who first strikes an impression through his unassuming and angelic good looks. Eloi, Lolo to his mother Violette (Delpy), cuts a lamb-y figure, but beneath his harmless veneer lies the soul of an imp. Violette, a fashion industry workaholic returned home from a much-needed spa retreat in Biarritz, has recently found herself a new beau, Jean-René (Dany Boon), an IT nerd who happens to be moving to Paris for a new job. The relationship comes as much a shock to her as to her bestie, Ariane (Karin Viard), and especially to Eloi. Look closely when Violette introduces the two men in her life to one another. If you’ve got a good eye, you can see the gears begin to turn in Eloi’s jealous lizard brain. Eloi, we quickly learn, wants Violette’s love all to himself, and he will stop at literally nothing short of straight-up murder to send poor, unsuspecting Jean-René packing. Fortunately, Lolo isn’t too dark to bear. It’s great fun, even as, or perhaps especially as, the prank war between Eloi and Jean-René grows far out of bounds. As Jean-René and Eloi come to slapstick blows, you may start to wonder why she doesn’t just pack up her life and whisk herself away from them both. But the insanity is all part of Lolo’s comic philosophy: If itching powder is a timeless gag, then so should be the image of two grown men beating the shit out of each other with umbrellas. —Andy Crump


slack-bay.jpg 8. Slack Bay
Year: 2017
Director: Bruno Dumont
Bruno Dumont’s Slack Bay cribs shamelessly from his 2014 movie-cum-television serial Lil’ Quinquin, a murder mystery set against a bucolic backdrop and swaddled with aggressive irreverence. Slack Bay gives no damns about such things as tonal continuity, or decorum, or logic. It doesn’t care about being coherent or making immediate sense. The film rewards viewers willing to scratch their heads. And the longer you scratch your head the more the film clicks, which isn’t to say that it ceases to be utterly frigging strange, but rather that at a point your brain naturally adapts to Dumont’s artfully bizarre wavelength. His story normalizes, but it never becomes normal, and that’s a good thing. For all of its relentless weirdness and its unabashed idiosyncrasies, Slack Bay is a work of urgency, the kind of film that wraps its knuckles about your shirt collar and refuses to relinquish its grip until it’s assured of your full, undivided, thoroughly intimidated attentions. Movies like it don’t come along often, and when they do, they deserve to be embraced. It’s a macabre delight, loaded with deliciously overbearing performances from its stacked cast. Fabrice Luchini and Valeria Bruni Tedeschi play André and Isabelle Van Peteghem,, the patriarch and matriarch of the wealthy, thoroughly oblivious family on holiday along the shores of northern France, where they encounter the Brufort clan, lower class folks in the business of ferrying people across the bay of the title, and in the habit of selectively eating their clientele. Just enjoy the fruits of Dumont’s mercilessly twisted vision. —Andy Crump


he-even-has-your-eyes.jpg 7. He Even Has Your Eyes
Year: 2017
Director: Lucien Jean-Baptiste
Few films have been able to capture the inherent absurdity at the core of racism, but He Even Has Your Eyes achieves just this, all while providing an entertaining look at young coupledom and those early, terrifying stages of motherhood. From director Lucien Jean-Baptiste (who co-stars in the movie), the French-language comedy centers on a young black couple in Paris who decide to adopt a blue-eyed, blonde-haired, very white baby boy. Transracial adoption has been an acceptable aspect of society for so long, and it’s fascinating how, well, absurd things get when the adoptive parents are not white. Jean-Baptiste plays Paul Aloka, but the film is carried by Aïssa Maïga’s performance as his wife, Salimata. Both must navigate a meddling, racist adoption agent and the shock, awe and disappointment of their family members as they venture into parenthood for the first time—and yet, somehow the film never feels heavy or depressing, despite the seriousness of the topics. Unlike many other similar works concerned with race and racism, He Even Has Your Eyes is written in a way that doesn’t attempt to overly explain the black characters’ perspective, or (thank heavens) center any of the white characters either. Some of the cultural humor specific to Sali’s Senegalese family will only be funny to those of us who grew up in fear of our mothers hearing us suck our teeth. But like all stories concerned with a specific narrative and spoken with a distinctive voice, the film has a universal quality that makes it a heartwarming delight from beginning to end. —Shannon M. Houston


my-golden-days.jpg 6. My Golden Days
Year: 2016
Director: Arnaud Desplechin
We can run from the past, hide from the past or forget the past, but we can’t help but be defined by the past. Our histories inevitably shape us into the people we become, and often in ways we can’t predict. That’s the stuff of Arnaud Desplechin’s My Golden Days, a film that’s as scattered and sprawling as a life lived from boyhood to unintact manhood. Twenty years ago, Desplechin released his third film, My Sex Life… or How I Got into an Argument, a coming-of-age drama of sorts where coming of age is deferred for its protagonist, Paul Dédalus. My Golden Days is a prequel to that picture, though if you are unacquainted with mid-’90s French cinema, fear not: My Golden Days plays even if you don’t know Paul from Adam. More necessary is the quality of patience, to say nothing of undivided attention. My Golden Days is a deliberate movie spun from caprice. We leap from the present to the past, back to the present, and then to another point in the past further along from where we last left it. My Golden Days is all about the connections, big or small, between yesterday and today. It’s a film where Paul’s adolescent travails as a student, as a lover, and as the oldest child of an unstable home link back to his current situation as a man adrift in his own life. (It’s also a film that gets to be a spy thriller, a grim family drama, and a teen rom-com.) Reflecting on life inevitably leads a person down twisting, unforeseeable paths. Desplechin captures that sensation with deft, chaotic skill. His film may be fundamentally messy, but there’s real beauty in his contemplative clutter. —Andy Crump


april-extraordinary-world-poster.jpg 5. April and the Extraordinary World
Year: 2015
Directors: Christian Desmares, Franck Ekinci
Keeping real life global history straight in narratives that leapfrog across decades and centuries is tough enough—making sense of alternate history when it’s articulated at breakneck speed throughout multiple eras of European cultural advancement is just downright strenuous. Think of April and the Extraordinary World as an intense workout for your brain, during which the film shapes a surrogate Earth in the span of mere minutes and fires off salvos of detail, visual and aural alike, in the pursuit of recalibrating the past. The inattentive and unimaginative need not apply. Good news for diligent viewing types, though: April and the Extraordinary World is pretty great, a compact exercise in world building without handholding that rewards a patient, observant audience. If you can keep pace with the film’s plot deployment, you’ll be in for a wonderful ride littered with talking cats, fabulous steampunk backdrops, rollercoaster excitement and terrific characters, all drawn through the fundamental beauty of cel animation. April and the Extraordinary World reminds us of the aesthetic value of traditional animation and the necessity of human ingenuity, all without treating its audience like idiots. —Andy Crump


blue-warmest.jpg 4. Blue is the Warmest Color
Year: 2013
Director: Abdellatif Kechiche
Three-hour movies usually are the terrain of Westerns, period epics or sweeping, tragic romances. They don’t tend to be intimate character pieces, but Blue Is the Warmest Color (La Vie D’Adèle Chapitres 1 et 2) more than justifies its length. A beautiful, wise, erotic, devastating love story, this tale of a young lesbian couple’s beginning, middle and possible end utilizes its running time to give us a full sense of two individuals growing together and apart over the course of years. It hurts like real life, yet leaves you enraptured by its power. —Tim Grierson


nocturama-poster.jpg 3. Nocturama
Year: 2016
Director: Bertrand Bonello
Nocturama trusts its audience—more, even, than its audience may want to be trusted. Throughout, director Betrand Bonello folds timelines, indulges in flashbacks and replays moments from different perspectives, rarely with any warning but hardly without precision or consistency, investigating the comparatively small world of his film from every angle while implying that a much bigger, much more complicated world exists outside of its admittedly limited view. Bonello’s tact offers no explanations; his story follows a gaggle of beautiful Parisian teens, seemingly representing a broad swath of life, participating in a terrorist act, from planning through meticulous execution, and then, in the aftermath of the explosions, to the high-end department store where the teens hide out to watch the City respond. Bonello never allows these kids a monologue or conversation or anecdote to explain why they’ve gone to such extremes—their political understanding is about as sophisticated as that of a college student who’s only recently discovered Noam Chomsky, and even these beliefs they mumble to one another without much dedication. Instead, Nocturama is all surface, all watching: the faces of these innocents as they silently go about their terror, the tension that arises from knowing there is so much obscured behind those faces but also seeing so much so clearly in those faces, and then knowing that we will never know. Because these teens seem fine, even existentially so. They seem middle class, comfortable, unburdened by the wiles of puberty, free to do what they want, be with whom they want, say what they want—and only in the department store, amongst designer clothes and expensive, pointless home goods, do they yearn for more, potentially blowing up Paris not to protest anything, but to beg to be a part of the elite who define it. This is terrorism not against capitalism, but for it. Bonello trusts his audience to know the difference. —Dom Sinacola


clouds-of-sils-maria.jpg 2. Clouds of Sils Maria
Year: 2015
Director: Olivier Assayas
Clouds of Sils Maria is a lyrical catch-all for the many half-notions that accompany getting older—especially if you’re a celebrity. Decay, loss of memory, insecurity, arrogance: Assayas boils these monolithic themes down to a near-pyrrhic partnership between an aging French actress (Juliette Binoche) and her American assistant (Kristen Stewart), following their commingling of generations (and cultural heritages) as they traipse through one fiction after another. With a younger figure of stardom flitting throughout the mix—Chloe Grace Moretz as the undoubtedly talented but disastrous representative of the Internet Age—playing the foil to Binoche’s ideas of relevance, the film rarely adheres to a consistent structure or confident reality. Instead, the core of Clouds of Sils Maria is a single feeling, encompassed within a single image. In the titular clouds, which are only observable at certain times, under certain conditions, there is the intuition that there is so much else in this world to see. And the film aches with this sentiment, that no matter what we accomplish, we will always miss out on something equally worth accomplishing: some other part to play, some other life to live. Such, Assayas claims, is the bitter sweetness of life. —Dom Sinacola


personal-shopper-poster.jpg 1. Personal Shopper
Director: Olivier Assayas
The pieces don’t all fit in Personal Shopper, but that’s much of the fun of writer-director Olivier Assayas’s enigmatic tale of Maureen (Kristen Stewart, a wonderfully unfathomable presence), who may be in contact with her dead twin brother. Or maybe she’s being stalked by an unseen assailant. Or maybe it’s both. To attempt to explain the direction Personal Shopper takes is merely to regurgitate plot points that don’t sound like they belong in the same film. But Assayas is working on a deeper, more metaphorical level, abandoning strict narrative cause-and-effect logic to give us fragments of Maureen’s life refracted through conflicting experiences. Nothing happens in this film as a direct result of what came before, which explains why a sudden appearance of suggestive, potentially dangerous text messages could be interpreted as a literal threat, or as some strange cosmic manifestation of other, subtler anxieties. Personal Shopper encourages a sense of play, moving from moody ghost story to tense thriller to (out of the blue) erotic character study. But that genre-hopping (not to mention the movie’s willfully inscrutable design) is Assayas’s way of bringing a lighthearted approach to serious questions about grieving and disillusionment. The juxtaposition isn’t jarring or glib—if anything, Personal Shopper is all the more entrancing because it won’t sit still, never letting us be comfortable in its shifting narrative. —Tim Grierson

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