french christmas movies

9 French Christmas Movies You Don’t Want to Miss

Maybe it’s the bracing winter air.

Maybe it’s all those colorful decorations.

Or maybe you’ve had one too many gingerbread men.

Whether you love Christmas or dread it, you have to admit that this time of year just feels different.

You might find yourself wondering if you’re about to do something unexpected.

You know, like traveling into outer space, climbing Mount Everest, learning French…

Hmm, maybe go with that last one?

Whether you’re already in the process of picking up the language, contemplating re-starting after a prolonged break or just an unassuming Francophile poking around for a culture buzz, let’s face facts:

There’s a reason why you’re here, reading this.

You’re not really looking for a Christmas present for your French-crazy cousin Lucy.

(Or if you are, you’re a great cousin!)

Let this be the year you commit.

Or if you’re already committed, the year you really go for it!

Why This Christmas Is the Perfect Time to Learn French with Movies

Get a head start on your New Year’s resolution (of finally learning French)

New Year’s is approaching fast, and you need an exciting goal to keep you motivated through the bleakness that hits come January. Movies aren’t just a good way to learn a language, they’re a reliable indoor activity for winter and a core part of French (and to an extent, larger Francophone) culture. They can help you get off to a great start and into a healthy, fulfilling relationship with the language.

Take advantage of time off work or school to buckle down and get ahead

For many, the holidays are a time to relax and spend time with loved ones, but they’re also a convenient break in everyday routine.

If you’re off from work or school, it’s the perfect time to start building up a French knowledge base (or re-familiarizing yourself with the language if you’ve let it lapse) and experimenting with a learning routine.

Even if you don’t have a break in your schedule—heck, even if you’re working on Christmas Day (yay, overtime!) or don’t celebrate it—the end of the year is still a logical time for self-reflection and setting off in new directions.

Lessen holiday stress by watching movies about it (in French!)

If you suffer from holiday stress, watching people freak out in French movies about Christmas will remind you that you’re not alone, while at the same time making the experience seem more distant (if you’re not actually in a French-speaking country).

Grab some you-time during family get-togethers by saying you need to practice your French (subtitle-free)

If you’re still feeling stressed out, or if you’re just yearning to escape getting grilled by extended family on the latest details of your life, you can slip away from non-French-speakers by putting on a French movie without subtitles. Of course, if subtitles are part of your learning plan, you can turn them back on after everyone leaves.

Christmas itself is a cross-cultural reference point you can use to gain footing in the language

But enough with the non-social behavior! Let’s think about what connects us. No matter where you are while you’re reading this, and whether or not you celebrate Christmas yourself, you’re likely highly aware of Christmas season culture.

For French learners, this means an opportunity to build up vocabulary in familiar areas, to observe differences and similarities in tradition, and maybe even to feel a little more at home with Francophone language and culture. So let’s get comfortable!

The Gift of Fluency: 9 Movies for Every French Learner’s Christmas List

1. “8 femmes” (“8 Women”)

french christmas movies

Director: François Ozon
Year: 2002
Find it on: Amazon (check availability), Netflix

What it is: a murder mystery, a black comedy, a musical, potentially offensive to your relatives, a love letter to several leading ladies of French cinema.

What it isn’t: appropriate for younger children, to be taken too seriously.

Summary: During a Christmas get-together, the man of the family is found dead with a knife in his back. An Agatha Christie-esque mystery unfolds among the eight women in the house, who set about analyzing each other to try to determine who the killer is. In the process, they take turns breaking into song and we learn a little more about each of them.

Beginner’s Learning Guide

If you’re a beginner, you can benefit from “8 femmes” by trying to catch single words and shorter lines of dialogue. In general, the dialogue tends to be clear, even when shouted, although the speed changes frequently depending on who’s talking or what’s going on.

Because there are a lot of dramatic moments in this movie, it’s a good time to concentrate on catching some short, expressive phrases that are widely applicable.

Here are a few that come up:

Ça suffit ! — That’s enough!

Qu’est-ce qui se passe ? — What’s going on?

C’est pas vrai ! — It’s not true!

C’est grave ? — Is it serious?

Many of the songs in the movie contain grammar constructions that will be way over a beginner’s head, but there are a couple notable exceptions to watch out for.

The first of these is “Mon amour, mon ami” (My love, my friend), which is sung by the two youngest members of the household. The two verses of the song—which are double-decker-sandwiched in between three instances of the chorus—get a little complex, but the chorus itself is very simple with only slight variations.

Here’s a quick preview:

Toi, mon amour, mon ami (You, my love, my friend)

Quand je rêve, c’est de toi (When I dream, it’s of you)

mon amour, mon ami (my love, my friend)

It’s in the present tense, repetitive and easy to get stuck in your head.

The second song to look out for is “Pour ne pas vivre seul” (So as not to live alone), which is sung by the housekeeper, Chanel. If you’re a beginner, you probably still won’t understand all of it, but the entire song is very short and generally simple, also in the present tense.

The actress who plays Chanel, Firmine Richard, is from Guadeloupe and has an accent that may catch your attention as being different from “standard” French, which is great because it’s good to start listening to different accents early on.

This song is also great for getting used to on (one/we/they) being used in the general sense. The song is a list of things that people (represented as on, or “we” in the English subtitles) do in order to not feel alone. If you’re feeling confident enough, you can try writing down a list of all the things the song says “we” do to not live alone.

Intermediate/Advanced Learning Guide

This movie is convenient for customized learning because the film is split up logically into songs and key scenes that you can easily navigate from the DVD menu (at least on the Universal DVD).

Intermediate learners can use this movie to get comfortable with verbs that take être (to be) as the helping/auxiliary verb in the passé composé (compound past).

After all, this whole plot situation is DR. & MRS. VANDERTRAMPing all over the place. If you don’t know, that’s an acronym to help learners remember the verbs that take être. In fact, these verbs are often grouped into another mnemonic device known as la maison d’être (the house of être). 

“8 femmes” takes place in a physical house, and since there are all kinds of accusations and discussions about comings and goings during the night, you can imagine how this quickly covers verbs like sortir (to go out, leave), monter (to go up), descendre (to go down) and so on. If you’re rusty, you can take this BuzzFeed quiz to refresh.

Advanced learners can use this film to work on their general listening skills by trying dictation and translation exercises with the songs and spoken content.

One good opportunity is when Pierrette, the victim’s sister, reads a letter out loud. Try transcribing a short part, then translate it into English and check your version against the subtitles.

2. “Un conte de Noël” (“A Christmas Tale”)

french christmas movies

Director: Arnaud Desplechin
Year: 2008
Find it on: Amazon (check availability), Netflix

What it is: an offbeat but highly ambitious Christmas family film with both comic and dramatic moments.

What it isn’t: short.

Summary: A family split apart by a woman who has refused to acknowledge her brother’s existence for years is thrown back together when the matriarch, Junot, finds she needs a bone-marrow transplant. The search for a donor becomes tangled up with old resentments, tense relationships and (of course) Christmas.

Beginner’s Learning Guide

As with most movies, a lot of the French in this movie will be too advanced for beginners to understand, but it features a long running time with a lot of different speakers (including a couple of totally adorable kids), so it’s good for getting in listening practice regardless.

A good exercise you can do with this one is to practice getting down all your French family vocabulary. Take note of any family-related words you hear, especially those that describe people’s relationships to each other, such as mère (mother),  fils (son) or neveu (nephew). Try to figure out what everyone’s relationship to each other is and write short sentences explaining these relationships.

Here’s a freebie:

Junot est la mère d’Henri. (Junot is Henri’s mother.)

Also pay attention to relationship words people actually use when talking to each other (and how they refer to third parties). For example, tonton is a babyish way of saying oncle (uncle).

Intermediate/Advanced Learning Guide

If you’re far along enough that you’ve gotten to the passé simple (past simple), you can pay attention to how it’s used along with the imparfait (imperfect) in the intro of this movie, which explains the family history in a storybook format.

The movie continues with a playful sense of artifice that isolates portions of audio, such as narration or a scene in which Henri, the estranged brother, is shown reciting a letter out loud that he wrote to his sister. Isolated monologues like these are just generally great for doing dictation exercises (even if you only get part of them).

This movie is also good for picking up bits of medical vocabulary, and between this one and the next film, you could learn some vocab for talking about or doing math in French, too (if you happen to be into that kind of thing).

3. “Ma nuit chez Maud” (“My Night at Maud’s”)

french christmas movies

Director: Éric Rohmer
Year: 1969
Find it on: Netflix (This can also be purchased from Amazon, but the most recent version is part of a 6-DVD box set from the Criterion Collection.)

What it is: a notable French New Wave film; a quiet, reflective, black-and-white movie with a lot of dialogue that might remind you of being a freshman in college; a great film to put on if you’re in a busy household with small children who you’re trying to escape for some quiet time (because there’s nothing too objectionable but they’ll have absolutely no interest in it).

What it isn’t: a movie to put on if you’re in the mood for an action thriller.

Summary: Jean-Louis, a self-described Catholic who dabbles in mathematics and philosophy, runs into an old friend, Vidal, who he invites to attend Christmas Eve mass with him. They later visit a friend of Vidal’s, Maud, at her apartment. A discussion ensues surrounding love, marriage, religion and philosophy, and an attraction seems to grow between Jean-Louis and Maud as the night moves on.

Beginner’s Learning Guide

Since this movie involves a lot of terminology surrounding philosophy and religion, it’s good for trying to pick out new pronunciations of words that are already somewhat familiar to you from English.

For example, chrétien (Christian), athée (atheist) and philosophie (philosophy, referred to simply as philo at least once).

You can also make a game of spotting the different uses of tu/vous (informal singular/formal singular or plural “you”). For example, when Jean-Louis and Vidal first run into each other, they immediately say tu to each other, because they’re friends from many years ago. Vidal and Maud are on familiar terms, too. But when Vidal introduces Maud to Jean-Louis, they both say vous in the conversation that follows.

Intermediate/Advanced Learning Guide

Rohmer’s movies are like little isolated structures you can get stuck into. Pet vocabulary often gets repeated, building meaning, and this is great for picking up new words.

For example, the word verglas comes up several times. This word refers to ice in the specific sense of a sheet of (black) ice that you might encounter on a road in winter (it has nothing to do with what’s floating in your glass of Perrier). At first it’s just part of a casual conversation (albeit with a slight sense of foreboding), but it becomes more significant later on.

This movie also contains an opportunity to hear The Lord’s Prayer in French.

Whatever your feelings about religion may be, there’s a good chance that you’ve heard this in English somewhere at some point in your life (even if only in other movies), so it’s a good reference point. You may also find it interesting to note—if you don’t know already—that in prayer, it’s appropriate to tutoyer (say “tu” to) God.

4. “Mon oncle Antoine” (“My Uncle Antoine”)

french christmas movies

Director: Claude Jutra
Year: 1971
Findit on: Amazon (check availability)Netflix

What it is: considered one of Canada’s best films, an understated but multifaceted coming-of-age story, a great resource for exploring Quebec French.

What it isn’t: a feel-good Hollywood comedy, appropriate for young kids.

Summary: A teenage boy in a Quebec mining town, whose uncle owns the local general store and undertaking business, begins to comprehend the major realities of adult life. An interwoven subplot involving a miner who, fed up with his English-speaking boss, leaves his family temporarily to work elsewhere, meets up with the main storyline in an unexpected way.

Beginner’s Learning Guide

The nice thing about this film is that the dialogue is somewhat spread out. There’s quite a bit of it, but it’s not just non-stop talking, and a lot of what’s going on can be guessed from context.

One thing beginners can do here is to focus on learning Christmas vocabulary by paying attention to the various decorations and holiday items mentioned, such as des cadeaux (gifts), la crèche (the crèche/Nativity scene), le sapin (the Christmas tree), des cloches (bells) and des jouets (toys).

There’s an extended scene in the general store in which characters are decorating the front window, and there’s even a moment when one of them lists off several decorations in quick succession.

If you’re still working on French numbers, you also can perk up your ears during one humorous scene in which a shop employee, awkwardly half-flirting with his boss’s wife, begins reciting figures out loud and distracts her from her own work.

Intermediate/Advanced Learning Guide

If you’ve been learning French for a while but haven’t gotten into any linguistic or cultural elements of Quebec French, here’s a good resource to start.

The extended scene in the store is also a good place for more advanced learners to both listen to the dialect and work on general listening.

There’s one scene in which the main character’s aunt sings an old folk song of which you can find many different versions online.

Many of them use older spellings and language, and you may not find any that match up perfectly with the way the song is sung in the movie, but comparing them can be interesting and good for your language skills.

5. “Les Parapluies de Cherbourg” (“The Umbrellas of Cherbourg”)

french christmas movies

Director: Jacques Demy
Year: 1964
Find it on: Amazon (check availability), Netflix

What it is: almost a cheat because most of the movie does not take place on Christmas (but a major scene takes place on Christmas Eve), still very festive, another musical with Catherine Deneuve in it and therefore fair game for just about any list of French movies (Christmas-based or otherwise).

What it isn’t: for you if you hate singing and pretty colors.

Summary: A young couple in love who plan to marry are separated by the Algerian war and, through other twists of fate and circumstance, wind up marrying different people.

Beginner’s Learning Guide

When I say this is a musical, you might think I mean that it’s broken up into segments of dialogue and song like “8 femmes.” In fact, it’s a film in which everyone simply sings instead of talking. The dialogue has a kind of rhythm and occasionally rhymes, but doesn’t follow any clear pattern.

This might sound annoying, and if you’re in the wrong kind of mood, it probably is. However, it can actually be really good for learning at the beginner level because the shorter lines—everything from “Merci” (Thank you) to “C‘est toi ?” (Is that you?)—are frequently drawn out more than usual, which gives you the chance to catch the simple stuff and build up your vocabulary.

Also, listening for rhymes can help you remember pronunciations by pairing them. Hear fille (girl/daughter) rhymed with famille (family) once, and you may remember how to say both better than if you’d only heard them separately.

Intermediate/Advanced Learning Guide

Whatever stage you’re at in your French-learning journey, you may have had varying degrees of success listening to audio material in the background. This is a good one to try doing that with, because even if you’re at a lower-intermediate level, you may still be able to catch a lot of the sung dialogue in this film.

The sung words can almost provide their own moment-by-moment context, as the characters discuss everyday situations like making plans, passing time and obligations.

Try watching the movie once, with or without subtitles, and then try playing it later while you’re doing something else low-pressure in French (like browsing newspaper articles online). As the words aren’t actually arranged into complete songs, you may find that separate lines stand out and worm their way into your consciousness more easily.

6. “Le Père Noël est une ordure” (“Santa Claus Is a Stinker”)

french christmas movies

Director: Jean-Marie Poiré
Year: 1982
Find it on: (check availability — Region 2 only

What it is: a beloved Christmas cult classic that has way more questionable material than anything you ever saw in “A Christmas Story.”

What it isn’t: family-friendly (though really, this depends entirely on your family).

Summary: Two people working for a suicide hotline over the holidays find their space and peace of mind disturbed by the comings and goings of a varied bunch of characters. Hilarity (and vulgarity) ensues.

Beginner’s Learning Guide

As a beginner, you can take advantage of this movie by trying to keep up with various characters’ tics and habits, as well as repeating jokes.

For example, Pierre, one of the main characters who works at the hotline, has a very distinctive way of saying “C’est cela” (That’s right). This has become a sort of inside joke among people who have seen the movie.

Since it’s already more common in spoken French to hear “C’est ça” than “C’est cela,” the way he uses the phrase as a verbal crutch really sticks out and makes him sound both uptight and like he’s not really listening to people.

Intermediate/Advanced Learning Guide

This is a great movie for more advanced learners to practice their listening and expand their cultural knowledge at the same time.

The thing is, there are those movies that are good for cultural learning because they show an important point in a nation’s history, or maybe an insight into how “real people” actually live. This is not that (hopefully), but it is an incredibly quotable movie that has made its way into the French consciousness.

There’s even a quiz you can take at TF1 to test your knowledge of the movie (if it wasn’t already clear, just be warned that there’s some incredibly vulgar content here).

If you really want to get silly, check out this mashup of the film and the first Avengers movie on YouTube.

7. “L’assassinat du Père Noël” (“Who Killed Santa Claus?”)

french christmas movies

Director: Christian Jaque
Year: 1941
Find it on: (check availability) — Region 2 only

What it is: a film that was made under the German occupation of France during WWII, a murder mystery, a truly interesting glimpse of French culture (the more serious kind), literally titled “The Murder of Santa Claus.”

What it isn’t: in Technicolor.

Summary: A globe-painter in a French town dresses up as Santa Claus to make rounds on Christmas Eve. In the meantime, his romantic-minded daughter Catherine is lovestruck, the object of her affections being a baron who has returned to the area recently. Later that night, a man dressed as Santa Claus is found dead and panic ensues.

Beginner’s Learning Guide

Despite this being a very old film, the sound quality is pretty good and it’s surprisingly easy to understand at least some of the characters.

For example, the baron, who is shown interacting with others in a more removed, formal way (at least toward the beginning of the film) and throwing around booming commands like “Asseyez-vous” (Sit down), is very easy to follow.

Some of the conversations between kids, including those featuring a bedridden young boy named Christian, also use fairly clear and simple language.

In general, the creepier or more helpless a character is supposed to be at any given moment, the slower their speech is and the easier they are to understand. Adjust your attention accordingly.

Intermediate/Advanced Learning Guide

With dramatic musical cues, expressive dialogue and a plot that proceeds in a linear (if not expected) manner, this is a great film for learning from context and rewatching.

A lot of the dialogue takes place between just two characters, or smaller groups of characters in otherwise silent rooms, which makes for a comfortable learning atmosphere.

This movie is based on a book by Pierre Véry, which you can check out as a supplement if you’re interested.

8. “Dans Paris” (“Inside Paris”)

french christmas movies

Director: Christophe Honoré
Year: 2006
Find it on: Netflix

What it is: a weird, playful take on the typical Christmas family drama, my personal favorite on this list.

What it isn’t: something to watch with your five-year-old nephew, unless you want to end up explaining a few things to him and his parents (sexual situations, swearing, nudity, Art with a capital A).

Summary: Paul’s relationship with his girlfriend is in a downward spiral, and he’s stuck in a downward spiral of his own. He moves back home with his divorced father and college-aged brother Jonathan, both of whom try to cheer him up over the Christmas holiday.

Beginner’s Learning Guide

First piece of advice: Just sit tight for the first 20-odd minutes of this movie, most of which depict Paul’s deteriorating relationship with Anna and his own unexplained depression.

This part of the film involves a lot of abstract, florid speech. One device that you can use to anchor yourself, however, is listening for different uses of the verb aimer (to love).

There’s even a scene that involves a linguistic equivalent of the famous exchanges between Leia and Han Solo in “Star Wars” (albeit in a totally different context):

Paul: Je t’aime. (I love you.)

Anna: Je sais. (I know.)

Simple enough, right?

Once Paul is home for Christmas and the family dialogues start, you may still have a hard time hearing the three leading men, who are largely of the gruff, mumbly variety. Try listening for one- and two-word exclamations and interjections. They all tend to be clearer when they’re yelling at each other.

Just for example, Jonathan lets loose at his father early on with a string of expressions that all express the same general sentiment, including Lâche-moi ! (Leave me alone!) and Dégage ! (Get out of here!).

Intermediate/Advanced Learning Guide

For learners who are a bit farther along, the more challenging aspects of the dialogue in this movie can be good practice as long as you don’t let it shake your confidence.

Here are a few ways to keep your spirits up:

  • Les femmes (the women). The women in this movie are just easier to understand. There’s Anna, there’s an old girlfriend of Jonathan’s played by Alice Butaud (the character’s name is also Alice) and there’s the brothers’ mother, who shows up for a visit.
  • “Avant la Haine” (Before the hatred). In addition to having fewer women than “8 Femmes,” this movie also has fewer songs—but it’s still got one, a duet between Paul and Anna sung over the telephone. If you have trouble understanding any part of it, there’s now a much clearer version available featuring Alex Beaupain (the songwriter) and Camélia Jordana. The video is also directed by Christophe Honoré.
  • “Loulou.” Toward the end of the film, there’s a part where Paul reads a children’s book out loud to Jonathan for old times’ sake. It’s another one of those framed audio moments that helps break things up. The book is “Loulou” by Grégoire Solotareff, and you can check it out on Goodreads.

9. “Le Père Noël a les yeux bleus” (“Santa Claus Has Blue Eyes”)

french christmas movies

Director: Jean Eustache
Year: 1966
Find it on: Good luck (but check out the link above)!

What it is: a shorter, more obscure film starring Jean-Pierre Léaud of Antoine Doinel fame.

What it isn’t: big budget.

Summary: A guy who has little luck with girls or money takes a job working as Santa Claus during the holiday season and finds that while in costume, it’s much easier for him to woo women. However, this doesn’t exactly solve all his problems.

Beginner’s Learning Guide

As a beginner, don’t give yourself too much grief for not being able to understand a good portion of the dialogue and the narration in this film right off.

Because of Léaud’s crisp, clipped way of speaking, it might seem like he should be easier to understand, but his narrative bits use several different tenses and are spoken pretty quickly.

Listen for those moments when the dialogue slows down and you can catch simple conversational phrases like “Ça va ? On y va ?” (“How’s it going? Shall we?”). There are actually quite a few of these—you just have to be patient.

Intermediate/Advanced Learning Guide

If you’re a more advanced learner, on the other hand, the contrast between dialogue and narration in this film makes for a manageable chunk of learning material.

Try to pick out parts of the narration that interest you and write them down, paying special attention to verb tenses and how they’re being used together. The imparfait is employed quite a bit in these parts to convey a general state of things.

Again, Léaud’s character does speak very quickly sometimes, but the way he talks is fairly consistent. If you give yourself the time to re-listen to parts you miss, you’ll probably do much better the second time around.

So if you find yourself with some time to spare over the holidays, don’t just let it slip away. Take advantage of it.

Curl up with one of the above movies, get comfortable and get a head start on next year’s French!

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