There are lots of perks that come with learning French.
But the absolute best one might be your newfound ability to access French cinema.
The French language features front and center in timeless classics and modern sensations alike.
The more you learn French, the more incredible French movies you can enjoy.
Let me help you get ahead of the game, though—you actually don’t need to wait around until you are nearly fluent to try watching French movies.
Watching movies is a fun, easy and highly effective way to learn French. Studies have shown that watching films is an excellent way to learn a new language because it exposes you to authentic elements of the language that you would not see otherwise, while learning from a textbook or formal course alone.
Not to mention, watching movies is a cornerstone of the immersion method, as it surrounds you with an authentic sampling of the language, culture and society. For a moment, you are transported to a world where French is necessary to understand what is going on.
So, watching movies is a great way to learn French, get introduced to the cultures of French-speaking countries and have some fun while you’re at it!
Can Watching Movies Actually Improve Your French?
The answer is of course… if done properly!
Watching French films can expand your knowledge of French vocabulary, improve your pronunciation and introduce you to new accents and slang words—all through giving you loads of exposure to how the language is really used.
As with any language acquisition method, one must do his or her part to make it a success! In the case of watching films in French, one must be engaged with the film and try to understand what they are hearing rather than try to follow the story through the film’s images and actions alone. The visual cues are just a nice bonus to aid in comprehension.
Likewise, one should consider his or her language level before selecting a French film. Obviously, watching a children’s film will be easier than watching an adult film with a more complex set of vocabulary. If you are a complete beginner, you should not worry about starting slow. Make your first movie night full of charming movies for French-speaking kids, and you will be able to ease right in.
For the purpose of this article, I have put together a list of films that best portrays the diversity and excitement of French cinema as a whole and that anyone can enjoy and appreciate.
If you are a beginner, you may consider checking out films better suited for beginners or adding subtitles the first couple of times you watch one of the following films.
But subtitles are not necessarily just for beginners! In fact, whether or not they hurt or help depends largely on you. For example, watching a film several times with French subtitles and then without any subtitles can greatly improve both your French pronunciation and spelling.
On the other hand, watching a film just once without any subtitles could keep you from learning how to read and pronounce the French words. Watching with French subtitles and focusing too much on reading will take away from your listening practice. Furthermore, listening with subtitles in your native language may distract you from learning French altogether, as you might find yourself relying solely on the subtitles.
If these choices are taken into account carefully, then the benefits to learning French through watching movies are endless!
And let’s not forget the added bonus that watching these films will expand your knowledge of French-speaking cultures through cinema. Cinema is undoubtedly one of the most complex and artistic French industries, and one which is at the heart of French culture.
So, grab some popcorn and enjoy some of the best films French cinema has to offer! You’re long overdue for a French movie night, and we’ve got the perfect lineup for you.
Learn French Tonight by Watching 6 Wonderfully Weird Movies
Looking for even more great French films to watch? Check out the following video, available on FluentU’s French YouTube channel, that covers eight romantic French films for learning French. Visit the channel to learn French with additional videos that break down cool movie trailers and scenes.
If you prefer to watch the clip above with bilingual subtitles, you can also check out the video on the FluentU website.
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Film #1: “Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain”
Find it on: Netflix | Amazon (check availability)
Perhaps one of the most iconic French films ever made, “Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain” (Amélie) has come to represent the quirky, offbeat sense of humor in French cinema that the world so admires.
Starring famous actress Audrey Tautou, the film follows the life of young Amélie, a waitress living in Paris who enjoys observing people and helping them find happiness. Her own journey to happiness is filled with a slew of strange occurrences and encounters with misfits like herself.
Making its debut in 2001, the film has won countless awards, including BAFTA’s Best Original Screenplay and César Awards for Best French Film of the Year, Best Director and Best Music Written for a Film.
If you’ve already seen it ten times, watch it again.
One peculiar benefit to watching this film a number of times is that it will give you a better sense of French humor. You’ll learn how to pace your French speech more naturally and time your jokes properly, all by watching natives do it on-screen!
Film #2: “Maman est chez le coiffeur”
Find it on: Amazon (check availability)
Unlike the whimsical world of Amélie, “Maman est chez le coiffeur” (Mommy Is at the Hairdresser’s) is a drama that documents the ways in which a young girl and her family cope with the mother’s departure throughout the duration of the summer of 1966. Filmed in Canada and released in 2008, Marianne Fortier, who plays young Élise, won Best Actress from the Vancouver Film Critics Circle for this role.
Not altogether lacking in humor, the film tackles a serious subject with plenty of strange comic relief, in typical French film fashion.
This will perhaps prove slightly easier to follow than a traditional French comedy. The film’s slower pace and pauses between dialogue will allow you to really take your time in comprehending the French which you are hearing.
This film is sure to resonate with anyone, young or old, and is not only beautifully shot but also features a top-notch soundtrack!
Film #3: “Bon Cop, Bad Cop”
Find it on: Amazon (check availability) | iTunes
If you are looking for an extremely unique film that could not be more different from the above film styles, check out “Bon Cop, Bad Cop” (Good Cop, Bad Cop), a dark comedy-thriller that follows the relationship between two Canadian detectives forced to work together to solve a murder case.
Created in 2006 and starring Patrick Huard and Colm Feore, this film will have you rolling on the floor with its dark humor (in fact, it won many Canadian film awards for comedy in 2007).
The film not only outlines the real-life relationship between the French-speaking population in Québec and the rest of English-speaking Canada, but it will also introduce you to a whole new type of French, filled with its own unique vocabulary and pronunciation: le français québécois.
This film should not be overlooked, as it will be unlike any other one you will watch in French—and it is one of the few films to give a nod to the French-speaking part of the world in Canada.
Film #4: “8 Femmes”
Find it on: Netflix | iTunes
Released in 2002, “8 Femmes” (8 Women) is a French musical which tells the story of eight women trapped in a house by a winter’s storm with the body of a murdered man.
With each of the women seeming to have a bigger motive for murder than the next, they must question each other to learn the truth in this murder mystery spoof.
A thriller-turned-comedy, this film features a slew of talented female leads including Fanny Ardant, Virginie Ledoyen, Ludivine Sagnier and Emmanuelle Béart.
Being a truly one-of-a-kind mystery-comedy-musical, the film won many awards including Top Foreign Film from the USA National Board of Review and Best Foreign Language Film from the Chicago Film Critics Association of Awards.
“8 Femmes” will improve your French vocabulary and pronunciation through both film and song, as you follow the story through a myriad of strange and catchy musical numbers.
Film #5: “Le Dîner de Cons”
Find it on: Archives.org | Amazon (check availability)
“Le Dîner de Cons” (The Dinner Game), released in 1998, is a well-known comedy about a group of well-to-do men who arrange a dinner—to which they each must bring an unsuspecting “fool.”
The film received enormous critical and public acclaim, as well as the César Award for Best Screenplay.
A comedy with an overall touching message, this film has seen many remakes, including the famous “Dinner for Schmucks” starring Steve Carell and Paul Rudd.
The film offers its own unique set of French vocabulary for you to learn (including some business words) and this original version of the story is a must-see for anyone looking to brush up on French and have a good laugh at the same time!
Film #6: “Divines”
Find it on: Netflix | iTunes
For a brand new film released in August of 2016, “Divines” is sure to be a life-changing film for everyone. Winning the Caméra d’Or Award for Best Foreign Language Film, this movie will take you into a part of Paris you never knew before.
“Divines” gives viewers a glimpse into the complicated lives of those living in Paris’s ghettos by following the struggles of young Dounia and her best friend, Maimouna.
The film will take you on a roller coaster of emotion as you watch what it is like for people trying to break the confines of poverty in an environment full of prejudice and hardship.
Given the subject matter, French learners are sure to be introduced to new vocabulary, including a lot of French slang. Viewers will also experience accents perhaps slightly different than those of standard Parisian French.
If you are anything like me, you will be addicted to French cinema after watching just one or two of the above choices! If so, you are in luck, as there are plenty of amazing French films out there and you should not stop with this list!
What better way to learn French than by cozying up in front of a great movie?
Camille Turner is an experienced freelance writer and ESL teacher.
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