- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 29, 2012

Oh, the discreet charm of the bourgeoisie. France’s most famous actor, Gerard Depardieu, has caused quite a stir in his homeland over paying taxes. Mr. Depardieu, who celebrates his 64th birthday on Dec 27, has decided to escape the impending tax hikes of French President Francois Hollande by moving to a small town in Belgium. Mr. Hollande’s Socialist government has infuriated the ultra-rich in France by proposing a 75 percent marginal tax rate on incomes above $1.3 million. But why worry about taxes when we have some great French films to watch, many starring the brilliant Mr. Depardieu. Here is The List’s top 15 best French films.

  • 15. “Amelie” (2001) - Audrey Tatou is a shy barmaid who discovers an aptitude for busybody happiness when she rescues a box of childhood treasures from a hiding place in her apartment by chance and then decides to return them, anonymously, to the owner. The soundtrack is also excellent.
  • 14. “Cache” (2005) - Talk-show host Georges (Daniel Auteuil) suddenly sees his life with wife Anne (Juliet Binoche) and 12-year-old son Pierrot (Lester Makedonsky) seriously disrupted by the arrival of sinister surveillance tapes taken of their home. The videos are accompanied by violent, child-like drawings and followed by mysterious phone calls.
  • 13. “La Femme Nikita” (1990) - A chilling and poignant crime thriller. Nikita (Annie Parillaud) is the only female member of a gang that comes to grief while trying to rob a pharmacy. Condemned to death for murdering a policeman, she is offered a chance at survival she can’t refuse: recruited to work as an assassin for the French government.
  • 12. “Skirt Day” (2009) - Isabelle Adjani is a teacher in a tough public school who finds herself at an emotional breaking point dealing with unmotivated and violent students. This thought-provoking film is a powerful indictment of political correctness in France’s public school system. Ms. Adjani won the 2009 Cesar Award (France’s Oscar) for her performance.
  • 11. “The Bride Wore Black” (1968) - Broken-hearted Julie Kohler is prevented from suicide by her mother. She leaves town on a mission of revenge. She’s out to track down, charm and kill five men who she believes are responsible for the death of her husband on their wedding day. This is great revenge film
  • 10. “Eyes Without a Face” (1960) - Horror at its worst, this is a frightening spellbinding film that you can’t shake out of your mind. A plastic surgeon named Dr. Genessier [Pierre Brasseur], steals the face of another young woman, not a willing donor, to save the ravaged looks of his daughter secluded in the villa that adjoins his suburban clinic. The doctor fears the transplant may fail, like earlier attempts. His fears are justified.
  • 9. “The Double Life of Veronique” (1991) - Frightening and haunting, this film will leave you thinking. Musically inclined look-alikes with heart conditions cross paths for only a moment when the French Veronique happens to be in Krakow at the same time as the Polish Veronika. Irene Jacob won the best actress prize at the Cannes Festival for portraying the twinned heroines.
  • 8. “Beauty and the Beast” (1946) - A young girl (Josette Day) takes her father’s place at the mansion of a terrible beast (Jean Marais). Jean Cocteau’s surreal and magical dreamy cinematography will captivate you.
  • 7. “The 400 Blows (1959) - A mischievous teenager, whose home life is modeled on director Francois Truffaut’s own childhood, is constantly in trouble at school and finds little relief at home. His mother is distant, while his kind stepfather thinks military academy might be the solution to the boy’s restlessness. This film is often seen as a founding text of the French new wave.
  • 6. “La Balance” (1982) - An police-thriller film that gives a fascinating look into the underworld of Paris. Nathalie Baye, who plays a steel-hard prostitute devoted to her gangster-boyfriend, won a Cesar, the equivalent of an American Oscar, for her role. American Bob Swaim also won a Cesar for directing the film.
  • 5. “Diva” (1981) - Visually striking, with an intricate plot, this stylish film, follows a Parisian postman named Jules (Frederic Andrei) as he goes on the run to avoid two groups of men after him for two different recordings he holds in his possession. The soundtrack is amazing.
  • 4. “The Return of Martin Guerre” (1982) - Gerard Depardieu and the lovely Nathalie Baye star in this superlative and touching film of imposture and marital devotion. The American 1993 remake, “Sommersby,” with Richard Gere and Jodie Foster wasn’t too bad either.
  • 3. “The Artist”(2011) - A gripping, if melodramatic, tale that twins the riches-to-rags story of silent film icon George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) and the rags-to-riches story of starlet Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo). The film won the Oscar for best Picture.
  • 2. “Jean de Florette” (1986) - Set in the 1920s, Gerard Depardieu, plays a hunchback, who inherits a farm in Provence but suffers a water problem. Little does he know that a spring on his land has been blocked off by jealous enemies played by Yves Montand and Daniel Auteuil. The film did much to promote the region of Provence as a tourist destination.
  • 1. “Manon of the Spring” (1986) - This was the sequel to “Jean de Florette,” and it was even better. It’s 10 years later, and the beautiful Emmanuelle Beart, a shy shepherdess, plots vengeance, against the peasant Daniel Auteuil and greedy landowner, Yves Montand, who are both excellent in their roles. Almost a perfect film.

Special mentions:  “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie,” “Jules and Jim,” “Stolen Kisses,” “Diabolique,” Grand Illusion,” “Bon Voyage” and “Breathless.”

Compiled by John Haydon
Sources: IMDb, The Washington Times, Associated Press and Wikipedia.