20 Great English-Language Films To Help You Discover France

7. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (Frank Oz, 1988)

Dirty Rotten ScoundrelsDirty Rotten Scoundrels

In 1964, a movie called “Bedtime Stories” was revealed to the public. The movie starred Marlon Brando, David Niven and Shirley Jones and everyone expected it to be a huge hit. Sadly it wasn’t. Luckily, in 1988, Frank Oz had the idea of remaking the film, with Michael Caine, Steve Martin and newcomer Glenne Headly in the lead roles.

The film was a surprise hit and it is now viewed as one of the most enduring comedies of all times… as it should be, because the film is very, very funny and gives the viewer the urge to make his/her next vacation on the French Riviera. The plot of the movies involves two hustlers with completely different styles working the French Riviera.

One is an intelligent, sophisticated British con artist, named Lawrence Jamieson (Michael Caine), posing as bankrupt aristocrat in need of money for his people. His target consists of wealthy, gullible and morally suspect women. The other is the loud mouth American Freddy Benson (Steve Martin) who is more like a small time crook rather than a hustler using old tricks that relay on the sympathy card. Still, Lawrence is afraid that Freddy’s inexperienced antics will ruin his “business” so he does everything he can to send him back to America.

The two men become rivals and start a competition involving the coning of a naive American woman. The loser leaves town and the winner gets to stay and enjoy the Riviera’s richness. As one can imagine – this being a comedy – what follows is a string of comedic adventures that will make even the coldest soul laugh out loud.

Another fascinating aspect about this film is the beautiful landscaped in which the two men hustle; the French Riviera looks as stunning as always. The film takes place in the fictional town of Beaumont-Sur-Mer, which is based on numerous small towns along the Cote D’Azur. It was the critics’ opinion that the beautiful Mediterranean landscape is a bonus of the film but just looking at it you can’t help falling in love with it as much as with the film.


8. Henry & June (Philip Kaufman, 1990)

Henry & June

Paris has always been the home for the romantic advocates of freedom of speech, sexual and moral freedom and pretty much everything concerning the liberties of man. It’s no wonder that it has attracted so many expatriates who believe in the ideas listed above; figures such Oscar Wilde, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Igor Stravinsky, Jim Morrison, Milan Kundera, Roman Polanski or Michael Cimino.

It was also the home of infamous American writer Henry Miller. Henry Miller put his life in his work…literally; and oh boy what a life this man had. He one of those persons you either love or hate. In the literature world he is known as the author that introduced open eroticism in books but his novels offer so much more than that. His books offer a valuable insight in the Parisian bohemian world of the 30’s.

The story told, set in Paris 1931, is one of a love triangle between Henry and June Miller and Anais Nin (the author of the book the film is loosely based on). She is in a stable relationship with her husband Hugo, but longs for more out of life. When Nin first meets Henry Miller, he is working on his first novel. Nin is drawn to Miller, his wife June and their bohemian lifestyle. Nin becomes involved in the couple’s tormented relationship, having an affair with Miller and also pursuing June.

Although the term free spirit applies to all three characters jealousy and envy still arises, as they are only human. Behind the trouble love triangle and the artistry of life is the ever fascinating Paris. Its bohemian landscapes make a beautiful canvass for this unorthodox love story.

The cinematography of this film is truly great – it was nominated for an Academy Award. With a lot of skill, it manages to create an almost surreal feeling of Paris in the 1930’s. It was an exciting time and certainly an exciting place. They say the slice of life in bohemian Paris has to be seen to be believed. “Henry & June” provides a perfect opportunity to do just that.


9. Vincent & Theo (Robert Altman, 1990)

Vincent & Theo

The second film about Van Gogh that makes this list is the visually stunning “Vincent & Theo”, originally conceived by its director, Robert Altman, as a four-hour mini-series for BBC. Unlike like Minnelli’s “Lust for Life” it concentrates solely on Van Gogh’s life in Paris and rural France. It also focuses on the painter’s relationship with his brother and offers little screen time for his friendship with Gauguin.

Like “Lust for Life”, this movie puts a huge emphasis on the natural landscapes that inspired Van Gogh’s paintings and life philosophies. However, the imagery of this film is far superior and the sunflower fields shine beyond Van Gogh’s canvass and the cinematic screen. It almost puts the viewer in Van Gogh’s shoes, as he remains in awe over the beauty nature has to offer. You feel like you are watching those fields through his eyes, through his madness.

Beauty is the key word in this film but we must remember that the man behind this is Robert Altman so one can expect some social commentaries as well. The highly intelligent first scene is a perfect example of this. The movie begins in present day – given that the film was made in 1990 this would be late 80’s – where an auction of Van Gogh’s paintings is taking place.

Tens of millions of dollars are been shelled out from the pockets of art collectors, in order to get their hands on an original painting. The image, along with the audio, then fades to 19th century Paris where Vincent Van Gogh is confined in a miserable small basement. We can still hear the auction going on through the audio but the image shows Van Gogh sucking on his paint brush to quench his hunger. Altman is making this powerful statement in regards to the artist’s condition and recognition.


10. French Kiss (Lawrence Kasdan, 1995)

French Kiss

“French Kiss” is a wonderful romantic film continuing the tradition of films whose aim is to make the viewer fall in love with Paris. It features the romantic comedy queen of the 90’s, Meg Ryan, and one of director Lawrence Kasdan’s regulars, Kevin Kline.

The film is about a woman who flies to France to confront her straying fiancé and gets into trouble when the charming crook seated next to her on the plane, uses her to smuggle a stolen diamond necklace. The whole ordeal of the film is caused by the fact that Kate (Meg Ryan) has a fear of flying so she cannot accompany her future husband to Paris on a business trip. W

hen he calls to postpone the wedding revealing that he fell in love with a French woman, Kate takes the next plane to Paris to try and save her future marriage. Seated next to her on the plane is jewel thief Luc (Kevin Kline) who slips a bag of valuables into her pocket.

When in Paris, Luc offers to help Kate find her fiancé but in reality, he just wants his jewels back. It is pretty obvious what happens next in this loveable romantic comedy. The film was shot on location in Paris and Cannes…a perfect setting for a perfect romance.


11. Ronin (John Frankenheimer, 1998)


According to Japanese culture, a “ronin” is a samurai without a master. Because there were unable to defend the life of their master, the samurais were dishonored and they had to make a living as thieves or hired killers; thus becoming “ronins”. This premise is at the heart of this very well-made action film that takes the viewer on a thrilling trip through Paris and Nice. “Ronin” is more than just an action film flirting with genres such as crime, mystery and neo-noir.

The film begins in a bistro in Paris. An I.R.A. operative (Natascha McElhone) meets with ex-special operatives-turned mercenaries Sam (Robert De Niro), Larry (Skipp Sudduth), and Vincent (Jean Reno), and takes them to a warehouse where fellow mercenaries Gregor (Stellan Skarsgard) and Spence (Sean Bean) are waiting. There, she briefs the men on their mission: that they have been hired to attack a heavily armed convoy and steal a large metallic briefcase, the contents of which are not revealed.

As the team prepares, the mysterious woman meets with her ex-IRA handler, Seamus (Jonathan Pryce), who reveals that the Russian mob is bidding for the case and the team must intervene. Things get complicated when Spence is revealed a fraud and Gregor betrays the team. The remaining mercenaries continue their hunt for the mysterious briefcase risking their lives for the only thing they have left in this world: money.

The photography of this film is excellent. Paris and Nice especially, are very well represented by the cinematography of the film. American director John Frankenheimer deliberately used a French cinematographer in order to get the tone and mood of the film just right. Among other things, “Ronin” is notable for a number of realistic car chases, the last being a particularly lengthy one through the streets and tunnels of Paris.

Car work was a specialty of Frankenheimer, a former amateur racing driver. While innovations in digital special effects were beginning to be available, the director elected to film all these sequences live, to obtain the maximum level of authenticity. As for the scenery? Whenever the audience has time to catch their breath, after being exposed to the thrilling action scenes, the landscape is always there to provide a much needed oasis.


12. Chocolat (Lasse Hallstrom, 2000)


This how to plot of “Chocolat” can be described in a nutshell: a woman and her daughter open a chocolate shop in a small French village that shakes up the rigid morality of the community. At first glance, “Chocolat” is a simple film about love and acceptance but the are some hidden meaning that lurk beneath romantic surface of the story. It is a story about temptation, repression and the liberating power of “just letting yourself go”; all told through an amusing fable of chocolate and love.

It all begins in the conservative French village of Lansquenet, where life has not changed much in the last century. It is here that Vianne Rochet (Juliette Binoche) and her daughter open a chocolate shop. The opinions of the locals are mixed. Some embrace Vianne’s arrival some fear and resent the coming of a stranger into their community.

As time passes by Vianne is seen as more than just a shop owner; she is now a trust-worthy adviser for the women (old and young) of the village. Vianne also finds unexpected love in gypsy traveler Roux (Johnny Depp), who encourages her passions and ambitions.

Because the subject of the film is chocolate, the idyllic images of the French countryside are shot to have that fragile chocolate-box prettiness. Most of the film was shot in the region of Burgundy. This region is not so well-known (in the cinema world) as Paris or the French Riviera but it is very spectacular and the fact that it is not so often used in mainstream movies plays to its advantage. The imagery of the village and its surrounding induce a fairytale state and a craving for chocolate and love.


13. The Count of Monte Cristo (Kevin Reynolds, 2002)

THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO, Guy Pearce, Dagmara Dominczyk, 2002, ©Buena Vista Pictures

This is not the most faithful adaptation of Dumas’s “Count of Monte Cristo” but none of the attempts, of bringing the famous novel to the big screen, are. When it comes to great works of literature, such as this, no 2 hour film can do it justice. There is simply too much information and too many subplots to condense in the time-frame of a film. Still, taken on its own, Kevin Reynolds’s film is a well-executed film in terms of action, romance and suspense.

Everyone knows the story of the Count of Monte Cristo: a man, falsely imprisoned by his jealous “friend,” escapes and uses a hidden treasure to exact his revenge. As far as acting goes Jim Caviezel does a decent job as Edmond Dantes, but is Richard Harris, as Abbe Faria, that totally steals the movie. The movie was shot on location and that is a big plus for it. The beautiful shots of Marseille, Chateau D’If and the south region of France provide a background that does justice to this timeless story.