It isn’t hyperbolic to say that French are best at making films. So, can it be hyperbolic to say that they are best at making romantic films? This list has tried to include the best French romantic films of all time, picking 25 out of so many.
There can be hundreds, if we included all classic French romantic films. Just see this list and you’ll feel like it isn’t the list of the best French romantic films, but the best romantic films of all time. Add your favorites in comments.
1. L’Atalante (Jean Vigo, 1934)
Francois Truffaut had written somewhere that he had fallen in love with this film the first time he saw it, and he was just 14 at the time. Highly influential to French New Wave directors, it can be seen on many lists of great films.
Even today, watching this film feels so fresh, romantic, poignant and mesmerizing. Vigo had given almost his full potential to make it since he was ill during the shooting, but he didn’t care, thinking that he had less time. He died at 29 from tuberculosis.
This silent film tells a love story of a newly married couple who ended up fighting, misunderstanding and breaking up the relationship, during their honeymoon.
A barge captain of a boat named L’Atalante marries a village girl who doesn’t know anything about the town, which is the reason that she is so curious of cities, especially Paris. When she goes to Paris alone, she had to face a lot of problems. Both husband and wife realize their mistake and want to reconcile their relationship, which is a very interesting, funny and touching story.
2. Beauty and the Beast (Jean Cocteau, 1946)
If you watch Japanese anime and Jidaigeki films, then you feel like Japan is the best country to give the greatest films that are based on folk/fairy tales. But, you can have the unique French flavor in Cocteau’s masterpiece “Beauty and the Beast”, based on the fairy tale of same name, and it has borrowed elements from other story “La Chatte Blanche” by Marie-Catherine d’Aulnoy.
An extremely ugly and horrific beast falls in love with a beautiful, humble, modest and kind-hearted girl in this fairy tale. Since his love is platonic, he doesn’t kill her. Instead, he is ready to die for her.
You can see the beast’s power of love and many unusual supernatural twists, which are actually usual in fairy tales. Keeping its mystery unwritten, just watch this mysterious and romantic tale. Though, all of you must have seen this famous film.
3. Casque d’Or (Jacques Becker, 1952)
Famous for his prison drama masterpiece “Le Trou”, Becker has actually given us other classics like “Touchez pas au grisbi” and this one, “Casque d’Or”. He is generally great in making heist films, showing the ordinary activities of his characters extraordinarily and very meticulously. Obviously, he was influenced by the criminal event resulting from the real love triangle between a prostitute, Amelie Elie, and the Apache gang leaders, Manda and Leca.
Becker has made some factual changes here. This film shows the interesting love triangle between a beautiful woman, a criminal leader and a humble carpenter. The carpenter and that woman fall for each other, but the criminal, who will do anything to achieve his crush, is the big problem. Thus, the carpenter has to face the sudden knife duel with the criminal.
4. The Earrings of Madame de…. (Max Ophuls, 1953)
Based on the novel by Louis de Vilmorin, this film is one of the most famous French films that can be seen on many lists of the greatest French films. This film will remind you of King Bhartrihari’s fate, which is why he had to leave his kingdom and become a monk.
The whole film revolves around, as the title suggests, the earrings of its female protagonist, Madame (whose surname is uncertain). Due to her fashionable and spendthrift lifestyle, she sells her precious earrings to the jeweler. But those earrings sometimes end up in her husband’s hand, sometimes her lover’s, sometimes her husband’s mistress’s hand as well.
It becomes a big problem, causing Madame to get depressed. What does her husband do when he finds out her secret affair, since he is a very prestigious officer in the army? That is the most interesting thing about this film.
5. Hiroshima mon amour (Alain Resnais, 1959)
Even today, this film seems very modern, impenetrable, mesmerizing, poetic and baffling. The first of Resnais’ two masterpieces in this list, it doesn’t have a particular storyline, but only memories, conversations, and thoughts which are presented in a very poetic style. It is hard to comprehend even after multiple viewings; instead, there is a chance that you’ll be flummoxed even more, due to its impenetrable nature.
The male and female protagonists don’t have names: they are simply called He (Eiji Okada) and She (Emmanuelle Riva). Riva is a French actress in a short relationship with Okada, a Japanese architect. The story simply begins with their mysterious and mesmerizing conversations, which are full of claims, denials, memories, and forgetfulness. Slowly, you will start to find out something about their relationship.
6. Breathless (Jean-Luc Godard, 1960)
This famous film, a pioneer of French New Wave, is generally hailed as a groundbreaking masterpiece of film history, especially in terms of its visual style. Godard, a huge film buff and an influential critic, was heavily influenced by many other great directors, and the influence can be clearly seen in “Breathless”.
For example, he was influenced by Dziga Vertov (“Man With a Movie Camera”) for jump cuts and Nicholas Ray’s movie. But Godard himself has dared to experiment in visual language, which has changed the language of cinema forever, no doubt about that. Even though he was an innovative and creative director in the 1960s, he lost his charm since the 70s and his films became more and more boring and dreadful.
Anyway, this film tells the story of a romantic relationship between a wannabe Humphrey Bogart, who is actually a thief, and an American journalist who resides in Paris, selling the New York Herald Tribune. The male lead is involved in such criminal activities like looting and killing. Then his crush, the female journalist, hears about the truth about him. Then what happens? Watch it and see.
7. Last Year at Marienbad (Alain Resnais, 1961)
This is Resnais’ second film on this list, and it isn’t hyperbolic to claim it as the best romantic film in film history. It is famous for its highly stylized cinematography, immensely poetic and mesmerizing voiceover, mysterious and romantic characters, and impenetrable nature.
Like “Hiroshima mon amour”, it is still very modern and groundbreaking. Resnais has succeeded in achieving a dream-like nature in this famous masterpiece.
In a colossal and magnificent chateau, men and women gather. The film begins with intensely poetic prose in a voiceover (told by its male lead) that is about the beauty of chateau.
Then his prose starts to praise the beauty of its female lead with whom, he claims, he had met last year at Marienbad and they had planned something. But she denies, continuously, since he insists and claims again and again.
The main problem for them is a man who seems to be her lover or husband, or at least someone who controls her. The whole film is shot within the area of that chateau, which is also the most fascinating part.
8. Jules and Jim (Francois Truffaut, 1962)
Based on the novel of same name by Henri-Pierre Roche, it was actually inspired by his own experiences in a love triangle. You can see this famous film on almost all lists about romantic films. “Jules and Jim” is, undoubtedly, an important achievement of French New Wave.
Set before, during and after the Great War, it tells the love triangle between Jules, Jim and their common crush Catherine. Jules is a shy writer from Austria and Jim is a Frenchman; they are both interested in art and the Bohemian lifestyle. They fall in love with the same girl, Catherine, who actually likes to flirt with many men and is a very good player when it comes to love and jealousy. Jules and Catherine go to Austria and get married, but that doesn’t end with them successful and happy.