The 20 Best French Movies on Netflix

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The 20 Best French Movies on Netflix

Despite not even providing an easy way to navigate to “French Movies” within the “International Movies” genre, Netflix’s offering of French films is small but exceptionally 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 several of the best 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 FilmStruck 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, Lucile Hadžihalilovic, Olivier Assayas and Mia Hansen-Løve are carrying the torch of the French master auteurs, and selections of their work are available from the streaming giant right now. At a time when Netflix is shifting its focus to original series and movies, whoever is curating their French movies has our compliments.

Here are the 20 best French Movies on Netflix:

breatheposter.jpg 20. Breathe
Year: 2014
Director: Mélanie Laurent
Nothing’s more effective at shaking a teen out of their monotonous high school routine than the arrival of a new student. That’s the stuff actress/director Mélanie Laurent’s sophomore film, Breathe, is made of: mystery and allure, with generous dollops of adolescent rivalry, sexual awakening and verbal abuse spooned on top. Think of Breatheas a distant European cousin to the fraught teen movies of Larry Clark as well as Catherine Hardwicke’s Thirteen, stories of imperiled youth, loneliness and volatile sentiment. It’s a film about unrequited love—not necessarily romantic love, but confused, ambiguous love, the kind of love that closely resembles a roller coaster ride and leaves people who feel it wrecked. —Andy Crump


dheepan.jpg 19. Dheepan
Director: Jacques Audiard
Year: 2015
Jacques Audiard’s Palm d’Or-winning drama follows the harrowing journey of three Sri Lankan refugees. A former Tamil Tiger, the man who adopts the identity of “Dheepan” (Antonythasan Jesuthasan), shepherds two complete strangers, a young woman (Kalieaswari Srinivasan) and a preteen girl (Claudine Vinasithamby), passing them as his wife and daughter, respectively, in order to surreptitiously escape their war-torn home. Once they reach Europe, Dheepan gets a job as a super for a public housing block in suburban Paris, thrust once more into a life of war as he must placate and eventually protect (in an explosive moment of sustained, surreal violence) his new family from the drug dealers and gangs thriving in the skeletons of the monolithic buildings in which he replaces light bulbs and cleans up garbage. In some ways, Dheepan is a film at odds with itself, inscrutable sometimes—which isn’t a matter of the film’s failings, but the natural affect of a filmmaker who knows nothing but empathy telling the story of a way of life he can’t ever really understand. Regardless of how one reads it, Dheepan is a film which tries to feel its way as honestly as it can through the nightmarish reality of our refugee crisis. —Dom Sinacola


young-beautiful.jpg 18. Young & Beautiful
Year: 2013
Director: François Ozon
When we first meet Isabelle (Marine Vacth), she doesn’t seem much different than most 16-year-olds. Yes, she’s strikingly beautiful in a bikini, but the adolescent uncertainty and hormonal urges are quite recognizable and universal. Once this French girl loses her virginity to an older German guy, however, her behavior changes in ways that neither we nor anyone close to her could have imagined. Young & Beautiful tracks a year in the life of Isabelle, and filmmaker François Ozon’s strongest creative choice is to never answer precisely what’s going on inside that pretty head of hers. Liberated of her virginity, Isabelle is then seen a few months later, now 17 and entering a hotel room in an outfit only worn by respectable hookers: high heels, too short skirt, a business jacket in the hopes of not calling attention to what she’s really there to do. We’ll eventually get an inkling about how this unlikely transformation took place, but only an inkling, because Ozon and Vacth show but don’t tell in this character piece. It elevates what could be just another ballad-of-a-hooker drama into something far more mysterious. Even at the film’s finale, where the possibility of closure presents itself, Ozon gracefully sidesteps the easy resolution. With her stunning looks and inscrutable manner, Isabelle is the type of gal who will break a lot of hearts. For the audience, she also messes with our mind. —Tim Grierson


yves-s-l.jpg 17. Yves Saint Laurent
Director: Jalil Lespert
Year: 2014
This French biographical drama chronicles the creative rise and personal failings of fashion maven Yves Saint Laurent. Growing up in 1940s French Algeria, eventual icon Yves Henri Donat Mathieu-Saint-Laurent (Pierre Niney) faced bullying and harassment at the hands of his classmates. An outcast as a result of his sexual identity, Laurent retreated into the land of his mother’s magazines, recreating the beauty he saw there. He went on to win an international design competition at the age of 18 and was handpicked by Christian Dior to join his fashion house, where he was forced to take the creative reins of one of the industry’s biggest dynasties upon Dior’s untimely death. Yves Saint Laurent begins here, as the young designer suffers from his first major bipolar episode following his drafting into the French army. The hospital stay results in Laurent’s removal from the Dior regime, an act that changed the course of fashion history forever. With the blessing and help of Saint Laurent’s lifetime partner in both business and the affairs of the heart, Pierre Bergé, director Jalil Lespert takes viewers through the life, love and pain of one of fashion’s biggest names. As viewers watch the YSL house slowly climb to the top of the fashion world through the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, Lespert offers a truly human portrait of its namesake’s struggles with bipolar disorder and artistic perfection. Yves Saint Laurent is a raw, passionate look at one of the world’s most influential men, and his battle to love himself and life as much as his beautiful creations. —Abbey White


staying-vertical-poster_.jpg 16. Staying Vertical
Year: 2016
Director: Alain Guiraudie
For almost 30 years, French director Alain Guiraudie—who’s called post-structuralist George Bataille a big influence—has chipped away at gender and sexual binaries, at the elitist hierarchies of taste and decorum, to delve into what forces conspire to make us human. He can also photograph the fuck out of some pastoral scenery. His latest film, Staying Vertical mounts a mélange of arresting images: full-screen close-ups of female genitalia filmed with almost clinical curiosity, shown in various stages of hairiness to denote the passage of time; full-screen close-ups of a live birth; full-screen close-ups of a man’s genitalia stroked; full-screen close-ups of a pair of male genitalia, mutually fondled—each image a shocking and then fascinating vista of flesh, furrowed symmetrically against Guiraudie’s gorgeous exterior shots. When the film’s main character (Damien Bonnard) presents a comically monolithic boner to literally hump an old man (Christian Bouillette) to death, Guiraudie frames this assisted suicide “climax” in the same way he frames all anatomical showcases or carnal acts in all of his films: gently and concisely, as if gender fluidity is a given and omnivorous sexual hunger a human gift. Not that the graphic nature of his work is anything worth celebrating for its own sake, but Guiraudie is one of few contemporary filmmakers whose sagging, flappy sensuality is absolutely fundamental, hilarious and hypertrophic all at once. —Dom Sinacola


slack-bay.jpg 15. 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 14. 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 13. 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


measure-man.jpg 12. The Measure of a Man
Year: 2015
Director: Stéphane Brizé
The Measure of a Man (La Loi du Marche) never takes its eye off of Thierry (Vincent Lindon). A machinist who was laid off almost two years ago, he is struggling on several fronts: In his 50s, he doesn’t have the technical skills to compete in the modern job market, and he desperately needs to find work to help pay for special education for his teen son (Matthieu Schaller), who has developmental issues. This French drama’s opening scenes are a series of real-time humiliations for Thierry as he looks for a loan, has an unsuccessful interview over Skype and stumbles through dancing lessons with his loving wife (Karine De Mirbeck). There’s nothing romantic about Thierry’s struggling, and filmmaker Stéphane Brizé doesn’t plan on offering phony uplift to make him or us feel any better. The Measure of a Man is a defiantly straightforward, realistic film about the way your psyche gets pummeled once you no longer fit into society. Without a job, the blue-collar Thierry must feel marooned—though he never comes out and says it. He doesn’t need to: As played by Lindon, Thierry is a suffer-silently kind of man, the sort who’s into finding solutions, not sitting around talking about his feelings. Brizé and Lindon don’t go out of their ways to suggest Thierry is heroic or that his misery somehow ennobles him. No, his misery simply makes him miserable, and The Measure of a Man studies how such a person who’s deep into middle age copes with a sense of worthlessness and failure. It’s not heroic, because he’s someone who doesn’t have time for such lofty notions. But it is inspiring. —Tim Grierson


april-extraordinary-world-poster.jpg 11. 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


rust-bone.jpg 10. Rust and Bone
Year: 2012
Director: Jacques Audiard
In its treatment of romantic and familial love as both sweet and savage, Rust and Bone has many of the qualities that critics and audiences love about French film (even as it is reminiscent of movies like Fight Club and Million Dollar Baby, and as bloody as a Tarantino revenge flick). It does not care if it moves too quickly, or if it does not commit to one genre, or if it is too unbelievable for words. It only cares to tell a great story and to tell it beautifully, seemingly without pause or hesitation, and even as it mimics the mosaic image we see throughout—a collection of beautiful moments pieced together—in the end, Rust and Bone is finally and absolutely a love story, a father/son story, a story of triumph. With standout performances from Matthias Schoenaerts, Marion Cotillard (whose various transformations bring on many of the film’s amazing twists and turns) and the entire supporting cast, Rust and Bone is a phenomenal piece of filmmaking. —Shannon M. Houston


diving-bell-butterfly.jpg 9. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Year: 2007
Director: Julian Schnabel
In 1995, French journalist Jean-Dominique Bauby suffered a horrific stroke that left his entire body paralyzed in what doctors call the “locked-in syndrome.” In a remarkable testament to the human spirit, Bauby was able to dictate a 132-page memoir by blinking his left eye. Incredibly, ace-auteur Julian Schnabel adapted that memoir into a breathtaking, lyrical, haunting film, as much his creation as Bauby’s (played in the film by Mathieu Amalric). (Kudos to the Academy for recognizing Schnabel’s brilliance with a Best Director nomination.) The Diving Bell is not only a testament to the human spirit, but to the power of cinema as well. —Jeremy Medina


blue-warmest.jpg 8. 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 7. 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


raw-movie-poster.jpg 6. Raw
Year: 2016
Director: Julia Ducournou
If you’re the proud owner of a twisted sense of humor, you might tell your friends that Julia Ducournau’s Raw is a “coming of age movie” in a bid to trick them into seeing it. Yes, the film’s protagonist, naive incoming college student Justine (Garance Marillier), comes of age over the course of its running time; she parties, she breaks out of her shell, and she learns about who she really is as a person on the verge of adulthood. But most kids who come of age in the movies don’t realize that they’ve spent their lives unwittingly suppressing an innate, nigh-insatiable need to consume raw meat. “Hey,” you’re thinking, “that’s the name of the movie!” You’re right! It is! Allow Ducournau her cheekiness. More than a wink and nod to the picture’s visceral particulars, Raw is an open concession to the harrowing quality of Justine’s grim blossoming. Nasty as the film gets, and it does indeed get nasty, the harshest sensations Ducournau articulates here tend to be the ones we can’t detect by merely looking: Fear of feminine sexuality, family legacies, popularity politics, and uncertainty of self govern Raw’s horrors as much as exposed and bloody flesh. It’s a gorefest that offers no apologies and plenty more to chew on than its effects. —Andy Crump


girlhood.jpg 5. Girlhood
Year: 2014
Director: Céline Sciamma
The closeness of girl friendships are oft-remarked on, and they are beautifully articulated in this impressionistic French film. Kajida Toure stars as a teen coming of age in the Parisian banlieue, where feminine but hyper-tough girls rule the roost—and know there’s strength in numbers. They shoplift their bodycon dresses and have street scraps with other girl gangs, but are still slut-shamed and dominated by the local boys. Celine Sciamma lenses her unknown actors with gorgeously diffused blue filters, and captures the way they dance, revel in their physical intimacy, and fiercely defend one another. It’s a truthful and compelling portrait of female solidarity. —Christina Newland


things-to-come.jpg 4. Things to Come
Year: 2016
Director: Mia Hansen-Løve
In French director Mia Hansen-Løve’s films, nothing lasts. Life’s irritating fleetingness dominates the proceedings, and her latest, Things to Come, takes this theme to its logical conclusion, looking at the travails of an older woman (Isabelle Huppert) who watches one element of her life after another get stripped away. The film’s power is its recognition that, no matter how hard life gets, though, it just keeps going. (In fact, that’s what makes existence oddly beautiful.) Huppert is marvelous in the role: Between this performance and the one in the far spikier Elle, she’s made a compelling case for Actress of the Year, blending vulnerability and defiance in inspiring ways. —Tim Grierson


clouds-of-sils-maria.jpg 3. 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


mustang.jpg 2. Mustang
Year: 2016
Director: Deniz Gamze Ergüven
Imagine the unimaginable: One moment you’re out enjoying a beautiful, sunny day with your friends and your sisters, and the next, your grandmother is slapping you silly for having inappropriate contact with boys. Everything else snowballs from there: You’re whisked off to the doctor for a virginity test, your personal possessions are shut up in a cupboard (along with the telephones), the doors are kept locked and contractors come to reinforce the house you live in with your family, turning it into an improvised prison-cum-wife factory for you and your untamed siblings. Such is the stuff of Mustang, the debut film of Turkish-French filmmaker Deniz Gamze Ergüven, her neorealist chronicle of femininity bound against its will to draconian gender politics. From start to finish, the film crackles with gelid fury, though Ergüven doesn’t tip the outrage scale into histrionics, because she doesn’t need to. We can sense exactly how pissed off she is behind the lens. —Andy Crump


evolution-2015-poster.jpg 1. Evolution
Director: Lucile Hadžihalilovic
Year: 2015
Hadžihalilovic’s gorgeous enigma is anything and everything: creature feature, allegory, sci-fi headfuck, Lynchian homage, feminist masterpiece, 80 minutes of unmitigated gut-sensation—it is an experience unto itself, refusing to explain whatever it is it’s doing so long as the viewer understands whatever that may be on some sort of subcutaneous level. In it, prepubescent boy Nicolas (Max Brebant) finds a corpse underwater, a starfish seemingly blooming from its bellybutton. Which would be strange were the boy not living on a fatherless island of eyebrow-less mothers who every night put their young sons to bed with a squid-ink-like mixture they call “medicine.” This is the norm, until Nicolas’s boy-like curiosity begins to reveal a world of maturity he’s incapable of grasping, discovering one night what the mothers do once their so-called “sons” have fallen asleep. From there, Evolution eviscerates notions of motherhood, masculinity and the inexplicable gray area between, simultaneously evoking anxiety and awe as it presents one unshakeable, dreadful image after another. —Dom Sinacola

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