Newsflash: Four of the top ten foreign films of 2018 are French!

While American superheroes battle evil at the box office, thought-provoking films of social commentary and the lives of real people are playing on silver screens everywhere.

True, they are subtitled: unless you speak fluent French, it would be difficult to follow the rapid-fire dialogue and the sardonic twists of phrases.

Still, you will find nary a special effect, nor much CGI – computer generated imagery in French language films.

There is one extraordinary costume among those four French films mentioned above, but then, race car drivers do wear a lot of protective gear.

That was a spoiler!

With no masks and capes to hide behind, and no Lycra tights to display taut musculature, French actors really have only one choice: to act.

If we were discussing American cinema, we might quip Who was that masked man?, a reference to Batman.

As we are discussing French cinema, we'd like to know: who are your French favourites of the big screen?

From Simone Signoret to Vincent Cassel; from Jacques Audiard to Jean Pierre Jeunet: let us tell you about ours!

Or click here to find out why cinema is a national obsession in France.

The Scandalous Ones

For some reason, it always seems that women get embroiled in scandal more so than do men.

Whether over political views, activism or amour, these three women have used their clout to make headlines that had nothing to do with their acting.

Catherine Deneuve

The daughter of stage and voice actress Renée-Jeanne Simonot, Ms. Deneuve is known for her many film roles as well as her liberal political views.

She made her film debut at the tender age of 14 years, but did not gain recognition until her breakout role in 1964, when she took the lead role in The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.

Although prolific in her acting career, This hard-working actress also has her own fashion line, designing eyeglasses, shoes and jewellery.

You would think she would be too busy to excite any scandal, wouldn't you?

Ms. Deneuve most recently made headlines with an open letter she signed, that stated men should have the right to steal kisses or touch a knee without fear of prosecution.

The missive came at the height of the Hollywood #MeToo movement, and was not well-received.

A few days later she backtracked, clarifying her position.

Brigitte Bardot

At the height of her career, she was the very essence of sex kittenry, posed provocatively on poster advertising for the Jean Luc Godard film Les Mepris.

In fact, her bouffant hair and pouty lips were plastered everywhere, at every opportunity; her appearance received more praise than any of her performances.

Ten years later, she mysteriously retired from screen, stage and studio, having recorded over 60 songs during her short career, and made 47 films. Today, she is wholly focused on activism.

And, it seems, hatred and disdain!

No fewer than five times has she been prosecuted for inciting racial and religious hatred, at one time being charged the highest fine ever imposed in France for that crime.

She gave a clue to her irascible temperament when she refused the Legion of Honour award, in 1987.

Apparently, she's not mellowed since then!

Marion Cotillard

This is an actress who had no problems accepting France's highest civilian award. In 2016, Ms. Cotillard was bestowed the very honour Ms. Bardot had refused.

Besides that distinction, this French actress is the proud recipient of a Bafta, a Golden Globe, two Césars and a Lumière Award.

What she did to earn them is phenomenal: to date, her films have brought in more than three billion dollars at the box office.

Clearly, she is a draw; a magnetic force that few can resist.

After all, how many women could pull off such a realistic performance in La Vie en Rose as Ms. Cotillard did in portraying Edith Piaf, the most famous French singer?

It is that attraction the tabloids speculated on that sounded the death knell for Brad Pitt's marriage. When they filmed Allied together, there was a rumoured romance...

But that is not the only reason why she is on our scandal list.

One of her more dramatic moves on the activism front was caging herself in front of the Louvre to demand the release of 30 GreenPeace workers, whereby she staunchly proclaimed herself a climate defender.

These three remarkable French actresses, so talented in their portrayal of Everyman – Everywoman?, seem to make more use of their social position than merely being eye candy and winning awards.

Even if they do so outrageously!

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Presenting the elegant Mlle. Darrieux
The incomparable Ms. Darrieux, pictured here at 91 years young Source: Wikipedia Credit: Studio Harcourt

The Sirens

Before we go on, a trivia question: Roger Vadim had a love affair with two of our scandalous sirens. Which ones?

The three Dames of French film just discussed no doubt qualify as screen sirens; it is only the extremity of their misdeeds that put them on the scandals list.

Now we feature three women of haunting beauty and staggering skill at immersing themselves so completely into their roles that, for the time of filming, they actually become their character.

Audrey Tautou

Amelie, perhaps one of the best known French movies worldwide, earned Audrey Tautou international acclaim as the irrepressibly curious, sunnily optimistic title character.

With only a handful of roles beneath her belt before landing the lead in that project, naturally she scored countless awards – as did the film.

Since then, she has diversified her stock: comedies, dramas, intrigue, The Da Vinci Code...

Although she has made English language films in the past, she firmly insists that she is a French actress, and will continue to work in France.

Juliette Binoche

She nursed The English Patient and brought Chocolat to Johnny Depp, and somehow, she finds the time to participate in organisations such as Reporters Without Borders.

Often referred to in the press as La Binoche, she has had no issue starring in both English and French production films during her 35 year career.

And it looks like there is no stopping her!

Isabelle Huppert

The Piano Teacher lead actress has been touted as one of the most accomplished in the world today.

And for good reason!

With a career spanning nearly 50 years, this Parisian has had the opportunity to emote to the widest range of the human experience: tragedy and despair; comedy and compulsion – all with command and precision.

For all of that, she has most recently been compared to Isabelle Adjani who, in that film critic's opinion, goes far deeper into agony and passion than this established luminary.

Honourable Mention: Danielle Darrieux

In spite of trying to keep the numbers balanced, casting our vote for 3 scandals, 3 sirens and 3 of the best actor type, this list would not be complete without mention of the phenomenal Danielle.

Her career spanned a record 80 years; she was still accepting juicy roles as late as 2010 – at the ripe young age of 97.

Oh, if we could all be so gifted!

Mr. Delon was certainly an attractive man!
This 1962 head shot makes it easy to understand why Alain Delon was a heartthrob! Source: Wikipedia Credit: Stefan Kragujevic

What About Actors?

It seems easier to critique actresses because, quite frankly, there is more information about them.

By contrast, actors who behave badly are generally not reported on, at least not to the extent that their female counterparts are.

Our first actor is a bit of a rebel, though...

Gerard Depardieu

There is a question of whether we should consider Monsieur Depardieu on the list of French actors, as he stated in 2012 that he would give up his French passport, and currently resides in Belgium.

Nevertheless, he has made important contributions to French cinema, having starred in The Last Metro, and Jean de Florette – which made him an international star.

In fact, he is considered the most prolific character actors of all time, having made more than 170 films since 1966.

His flair for comedy virtually guaranteed him a role in all four Asterix movies, but he has also been known to star in the occasional thriller.

He also indulges in the occasional romantic comedy, as seen in Cyrano de Bergerac, for which he won the Best Actor award at the Cannes French film festival.

His popularity has virtually eclipsed his bad boy persona: drink driving, serial womanising and, of all things, voiding his bladder in a bottle on a plane!

Alain Delon

This veteran French actor became one of French movies' greatest sex symbols of the 1960s.

Discovered in Cannes by an American talent scout, he was offered his first contract, contingent upon his learning English.

He resisted the lure of Hollywood after meeting famed French film director Yves Allegret, who cast him in his debut film.

Once engaged to Romy Schneider – they met on a movie set, he too has enjoyed his share of romantic relationships and legal troubles.

No, the Markovic Affair was not a fictional account of intrigue...

Initially associated with the New Wave, this film festival favourite is best known for Breathless – one of his earliest roles.

A star of innumerable commercial films, he scorned intellectual ventures, preferring action to nudity.

Whether a Very Long Engagement – pun intended, or a promising ascension, actors and actresses in France thrill French audiences, and those worldwide.

The reading of subtitles aside, there is no one genre that defines the quintessential French film, only excellence as portrayed by talented French people on the silver screen.

Do you have your own list of the best French films? Is it similar to this one?

If you enjoyed this article, why not learn more about the history of French cinema?

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A vagabond traveler whose first love is the written word, I advocate for continuous learning, cycling, and the joy only a beloved pet can bring. There is plenty else I am passionate about, but those three should do it, for now.