The Best French Romantic Movies
If France is known for two things, it is definitely its propensity to adulate love on all its levels and its adoration for cinema. For this reason, France has directed some of the most iconic romances on screen. In this article, I have decided to share with you the best French romantic movies.
France has indeed a long history of love with romanticism, and love for cinema, to the point that the two have become intrinsically linked. Famous Nouvelle Vague (New Wave) director Jean-Luc Godard notoriously said that he believed “that a man and woman who do not like the same films, will eventually divorce”.
Also, before we dive into the subject, if you are curious about all things French and Parisian, some locals are giving free tours to help you experience the French capital like a true Parisian. If you are willing to explore the hidden gems in each of Paris’ iconic neighborhoods and truly feel the city like a local, click here to book yours!
In this top I have decided to include classic romantic French movies, that are known worldwide to be iconic contributions to world cinema, as well as personal favorites, so that you can get an idea of the favorite movies of a Parisian woman. The movies are in no particular order, you can start viewing whatever film sound more appealing to you!
The majority of the movies I quoted are either auteur cinema or cult classics; however I have included one romantic comedy at the end of the article as a bonus! If you are looking for an article for the best French romcoms, let me know, I’ll be happy to write it for you.
Several of these movies were featured in my Top 10 Legendary French films you need to see to understand French people, so if you are interested, check the article out!
So, without further ado, let’s dive together in my list of the top 10 best French romantic movies.
1. The « Before » Trilogy – R. Linklater
The Before Trilogy is definitely amongst my favorite movies of all times. It consists of three movies directed by Richard Linklater (Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before Midnight) and follows the story of a couple during 18 years. The movies star Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy.
What is fascinating about these movies is that they were actually filmed and directed nine years apart from each others. Each movie is set in a European city (with Before Sunset happening in Paris!)
Before Sunrise (1995) tells the story of the meeting of the two lovers; Before Sunset (2004) is about their reunion (and is my personal favorite) ; and finally Before Midnight (2013) shows them during a difficult time of their marriage.
I love these movies for the immaculate attention that was paid to dialogues (Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy were themselves very involved in the process and are credited as screenwriters), and for the realist vision of love they depict. Indeed, while most love stories stop at “they lived happily ever after”, the third movie of the trilogy, Before Midnight, actually shows us what this happily ever after (nine years into marriage) looks like, with its bits of frustration, doubts and tenderness.
You could say this is cheating since I am including three movies in one, but they are definitely worth it. If you are looking for a cheesy and romantic accessible story, check out the first (before sunrise). The second movie (Before Sunset) is my personal favorite, I would advise you to watch only this one if you do not want to watch the three movies. The third one (Before Midnight) is bitter and tender.
2. La Vie d’Adèle – A. Kechiche
Obviously, I had to include this one : La Vie d’Adèle is one of the cult love stories of French cinema, featuring the passionate encounter between two women, played by Adele Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux.
Just like the Before Trilogy I just told you about, La Vie D’Adèle is a fascinating romantic film because it shows everything and not just the romantic parts of a relationship. The movie is indeed composed of three parts: the encounter of the lovers, their life together and then their breakup.
The movie proved incredibly controversial at his release in 2013: it instantly became a classic in France and earned the prestigious Palme D’Or in Cannes (French Academy Awards) even though it stirred up major controversies about the rawness of its sex scenes and the terrible working conditions of the two lead actresses.
3. La Jetée – C. Marker
La Jetée is not the most accessible film in this list, and is not a romantic film either. But I had to include this masterpiece from the French New Wave in this list, because it is one of my favorite movies, and because it tells amongst other plots a very moving romantic story.
The movie is only 30 minutes, and is constituted almost solely of still shots in black and white, with a male voiceover narrating the plot.
This is a breathtaking movie, but not the most casual and accessible of this list.
4. Copie Conforme – Abbas Kiarostami
Abbas Kiarostami is a very well-known Iranian director, but I chose to include his masterpiece Copie Conforme in this list because the movie is part French and features French actress Juliette Binoche. This is somewhat cheating, I know, but I find this romantic movie is too fascinating to be left behind.
The plot is absolutely ambiguous, which makes for the fascinating aspect of the movie: during the whole film, it is never stated clearly whether the two lovers are married and have known each other for years, or are just two strangers who have just met and are caught up in a roleplay.
5. Ma Nuit chez Maud – E. Rohmer
This movie was also featured on my top 10 legendary French films.
Ma nuit chez Maud (My Night at Maud’s) might be on the top 3 of my favorite French new wave movies (alongside two other movies featured in this list below). It was released in 1969 and directed by E. Rohmer (another classic French director).
Ma nuit chez Maud is a movie about chance encounters and good conversations between almost strangers. It is a movie where you see people talk more than people act, and stars incredibly subtle performances by Jean-Louis Trintignant and Françoise Fabian.
This movie is set in France under the snow, and I have to confess it is my favorite movie to watch during the Christmas period. It is not exactly a Christmas movie, but rather a movie set in the melancholic and in-between period set after Christmas and before New Year’s Eve.
6. Portrait de la jeune fille en feu – C. Schiamma
This is a movie that was released this year, and took the breath away of every person who went to see it at the theater.
Portrait de la jeune fille en feu was nominated 10 times for this year’s Césars (French Academy Awards).
It tells the story of two women who fall gradually in love, one having been ordered to paint the other one. This is an incredibly subtle movie, with many layers and details that all loop back together and make sense.
The two main actresses are Noemie Merlant and Adele Haenel (who is one of my favorite French actresses).
This movie is a pure romantic tragedy, very subtle but still sad. It is the story of an impossible love.
7. Monsieur et Madame Adelman – N. Bedos
This one is a refreshing French comedy directed by the famously cynical Nicolas Bedos and staring himself and his partner Doria Tellier.
The movie is once again one that spans over a really long period of time and tells the story of the encounter and life of two lovers who have decided they would not leave each other.
8. Le Mépris – Jean-Luc Godard
I quoted Jean-Luc Godard at the beginning of this article because he is considered one of the most famous French directors and one of the leading figures of the French new wave (nouvelle vague).
Le Mépris (Contempt in English) tells the story of a couple that starts unravelling after a single glance is misinterpreted by both parties.
Of course, it features iconic actress Brigitte Bardot, and is set in a beautiful mansion of the French Riviera.
9. Cyrano de Bergerac – Jean-Paul Rappenau
Initially, Cyrano de Bergerac is a play, written and first directed by Edmond Rostand in 1897. The play was a triumph and to this day, it is the most represented theater play in France. The main character, Cyrano, is a character that is part of the French mythology, to the point that it became a type of character. Indeed, in France it is not unusual to hear someone brave, full of ideals and eccentric be referred to as a “Cyrano”.
When in the 1990’s, rumor started to circulate that the play would be adapted into a film by director Jean-Paul Rappenau, a lot of people thought it would be impossible to find an actor that would successfully take up this ambitious role.
Gerard Depardieu was cast as Cyrano and prove everyone wrong. Cyrano is the story of a free spirit, brave and romantic fighter who falls in love with his cousin Roxane. His prominent nose prevents him from telling her he loves her. Out of good heart, he befriends Christian, who is also in love with Roxane, and decides to help him get her to fall in love with him.
I consider the movie, much like the original play, a masterpiece, full of wit and poetry.
10. Amélie Poulain – Jean-Pierre Jeunet
I have already written several times that if you had to see only one classic French movie before coming to Paris, Amélie would be it. Amélie is a movie about loneliness and trying to find beauty in the little things. It is as much a romantic story involving two lovers that a story about falling in love with the little things that surround ourselves.
It depicts the often romanticized Parisian life of a charming waitress, Amélie played by Audrey Tautou.
Most French people consider it a cliché movie – indeed, in France, almost everybody has seen Amélie. Some people criticize it because they find it depicts a postcard-like life in Montmartre. While I think it is true, it does not take away from the touching aspect of the movie’s fairytale atmosphere.
Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain is also the highest-grossing French speaking movie in America. Its piano musical theme is utterly famous; if you have never heard it, I advise you to click here and discover it.
11. Bonus One: L’Arnacoeur – P. Chaumeil
“Your daughter is dating a bad guy ? Your sister got bogged down in a destructive relationship? There is a radical solution; its name is Alex. His job: professional couple breaker. His method: seduction. His mission: to transform any boyfriend into an ex.”
This one is a recent romcom that features Romain Duris and Vanessa Paradis. It is more of a romcom than a cult romantic movie, but I found it very refreshing when I first saw it a couple of years ago. The plot tells the story of Alex, who is a genius couple breaker. He made it his job, and offers his services to break up couples. However, he has only one condition: he intervenes only if one of the two lovers is unhappy.
One day, he is hired to break up a couple in which the two lovers seem perfectly happy. He cannot refuse the offer because of his crippling debts. Unfortunately, he falls in love with one of the two lovers he has to break up, played by Vanessa Paradis.
This movie is perfect if you are looking for a light and joyous French romantic comedy that is very accessible and funny.
Another very famous romcom that is a French classic of light hearted romantic comedies is Jeux d’Enfants, a comedy featuring Marion Cotillard and Guillaume Canet, two of the most famous French actors nowadays.