Awesome French Movies
2 Nov 2013
The Bicycle Thief (Ladri Di Biciclette)

Director: Vittorio De Sica (1948, French, 93 mins)

Reviews: RottenTomatoes (98%), IMDB (8.4), Wikipedia, Amazon, Roger Ebert.

Similar movies: city life, crime, family.

Summary: A poignant movie of a father and son who search for a stolen bicycle. The setting is depression days in Italy, soon after World War II. Realistic, entertaining and sad.

The Bicycle Thief has been a favorite of critics for several decades, showing up in many 'top movies' lists. See List of Films Considered the Best (Wikipedia).


A Man Escaped (Un condamné à mort s'est échappé ou Le vent souffle où il veut)

Director: Robert Bresson (1956, French, 99 mins)

Reviews: RottenTomatoes (100%), IMDB (8.1), Wikipedia, Amazon, Roger Ebert.

Similar movies: suspense.

Summary: Yet to write.


Le Samouraï

Director: Jean-Pierre Melville (1967, French, 101 mins)

Reviews: RottenTomatoes (100%), IMDB (8.1), Amazon, Roger Ebert.

Similar movies: crime, suspense.

Summary: Yet to write.



Director: Costa-Gavras (1969, French, 127 mins)

Reviews: RottenTomatoes (93%), IMDB (8.1), Amazon, Roger Ebert.

Similar movies: .

Summary: Yet to write.


Three Colors: Red (Trois Couleurs: Rouge)

Director: Krzysztof Kieslowski (1994, French, 99 mins)

Reviews: RottenTomatoes (100%), IMDB (8.1), Amazon, Roger Ebert.

Watch online: Hulu, YouTube.

Similar movies: old age.

Summary: Beautiful movie. I first saw the movie around 2006 and loved it. In 2013, I watched it again, paid attention to the dialogues and loved it even more.

The story revolves around a retired judge and a young model. The judge views the world with apathy. He has little interest in anything around him. After repeated exposure to dregs of society, he is experienced and insightful.. but cynical and empty. In his twilight years, he spies on telephone conversations of people in his neighborhood, playing God sometimes. In contrast, Valentin is young, innocent and emotionally strong. She believes in goodness. She exudes empathy and affection through her actions. A chance event brings her in touch with the judge. Slowly, their friendship blossoms.

The storyline is somewhat mystical. It interweaves the past and the present. The judge predicts what will happen to Valentin and his predictions do start coming true.

Over the last seven years, I have heard tragic life stories of over a hundred individuals in first person. So I could understand the mindset of the cynical, retired judge. I have also met people like Valentin who bring joy to our lives through their innocence and positivity! The movie is worth watching for Valentin, who is absolutely charming. Very pretty too! She reminds me of birds, trees, fresh fruit, the laughter of little kids and tiny aeroplanes playing hide and seek in the skies :) I could replay the movie over and over to see Valentin ... just like hiking again and again, to be one with nature.

In a way, the movie is like Bhuvan Shome (1969, Mrinal Sen) in which a grump, 50-year old man (Utpal Dutt) comes in touch with a young woman in a village. Their friendship transforms the old man, making him livelier and warmer to people around him.


Kirikou And The Sorceress (Kirikou Et La Sorcière)

Director: Michel Ocelot (1998, French, 74 mins)

Reviews: RottenTomatoes (96%), IMDB (7.5), Wikipedia, Amazon.

Watch online: YouTube.

Similar movies: anime, joyful.

Summary: Lovely, award-winning movie which is listed in BFI list of 50 films to see by the age of 14.

An infant named Kirikou fights Karaba the Sorceress who eats anybody who stands up to her. He is creative, fearless and adventurous. He is also compassionate.

Very early in the movie, Kirikou is keen to know why Karaba is mean and evil! Villagers around him actually don't know! So he undertakes a journey to meet a wise man, his own grandfather, who lives on the other side of the mountain. From the wise man, he learns that the sorceress is actually in pain, which is why she's mean and evil to everybody. Why and what will relieve her? Kirikou asks for a talisman. The wise man tells him that talismans are useless against the sorceress - the child must use his innocence and his intelligence, which are more powerful than any magic in this world! :)

The above dialogues reminded me of Heng Sure's 800-mile "three steps and a bow" journey in 1977. When he ordained as a monk, he decided to walk from Los Angeles to Ukiah in silence, by taking three steps at a time, then bow to the ground. His master told him, 'You will need a companion and a protector.' A few months later, Heng Ch'au emerged. He was skilled in martial arts. Just before the duo embarked on their journey, the master instructed them, "No dazzling martial arts moves or surefire weapons. Walking into a world troubled by rage, violence and turmoil, your protection shall be the Four Hearts: Kindness, Compassion, Joy, Equanimity. If you use these, you shall find them inexhaustible." Their journey took them 2 years and 6 months. They went through rough neighborhoods, hoodlums and unkind people but they were unharmed, without using any martial arts skills.

The first scene in Kirikou and the Sorceress is impressive: an infant named Kirikou talks through the womb, brings himself to life earlier than his due date, cuts off the umbilical cord and jumps into a bowl of water to cleanse himself. He playfully asks where is father is. His mom replies, "he went to fight Karaba the Sorceress who ate him." What about his father's brothers? "They went to fight Karaba the Sorceress who ate them." What about his mother's brothers? "They went to fight Karaba the Sorceress, who ate them." Except one.. who is presently on his way to fight the sorceress. Kirikou whizzes through to meet him and face the sorceress!

The movie is different from regular movies for kids in that neither men nor women never wear any tops, as was the norm in pre-colonial Africa. Kirikou himself doesn't wear anything throughout the movie. He's an infant.


An Affair of Love (Une Liaison Pornographique)

Director: Frédéric Fonteyne (1999, French, 80 mins)

Reviews: RottenTomatoes (86%), IMDB (7.0), Amazon, Roger Ebert.

Similar movies: depressing.

Summary: Yet to write.


The Closet (Le Placard)

Director: Francis Veber (2001, French, 84 mins)

Reviews: RottenTomatoes (86%), IMDB (7.1), Wikipedia, Amazon.

Similar movies: comedy.

Summary: A feel-good, light hearted French comedy. Nicely done!


Amélie (Le fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain)

Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet (2001, French, 122 mins)

Reviews: RottenTomatoes (90%), IMDB (8.5), Wikipedia, Amazon, Roger Ebert.

Watch online: NetFlix.

Similar movies: joyful, romance.

Summary: An adorable movie, one of my favorites.

Plot: A shy waitress spreads joy into others' lives with random, anonymous acts of kindness. Occasionally, she's mischievous too! She runs into a guy who is equally good hearted and equally quirky. Amelie is intrigued. She engages with the boy but maintains her distance, concealing her identity. At the same time, she keeps setting up elaborate trails peppered with clues leading him to her.

On the whole, the movie is artistic and joyful. Not a single dull moment. I chuckled so many times! Nominated for five oscars (didn't win any) - writing, art direction, cinematography, sound and best film. Character development, humor, storyline, dialogues and music are awesome. But above all, there is a touch of artistry that is unique to this movie that makes it special. For a brief moment, the nightlamp takes human form. Semetimes, characters in photos talk to each other. In one scene, Amélie turns into water! I sensed a touch of Miyazaki in these brief moments.

Amélie brought me much relief from the negative after effects of two movies by Bergman that I saw recently: Wild Strawberries (1957, Swedish) and The Seventh Seal (1957, Swedish). Both are awesome movies on old age and death. But Bergman's approach is depressing. Wild Strawberries haunted me for two weeks. I'm thankful to directors who make movies like Amélie to help us dispel ghosts created by Bergman's movies.


The Diving Bell and The Butterfly (Le Scaphandre et le Papillon)

Director: Julian Schnabel (2007, French, 112 mins)

Reviews: RottenTomatoes (93%), IMDB (8.1), Wikipedia, Amazon, Roger Ebert.

Similar movies: biopic, illness, true story.

Summary: An artistic, sentimental movie that won a bunch of awards at various film festivals. The movie is a true life story of Elle editor-in-chief Jean-Dominique Bauby who suffered a stroke at age 43. He woke up 20 days later, only to discover that he was facing a condition called the 'locked in syndrome'. Jean-Do's mind was fully functional but he could not move his body except his left eyelid. A speech therapist devised a system of communication. She would speak French letters in decreasing order of frequency. The corresponding English letters are E, T, A, O, N, S, H, R, D, L, ... Jean-Do would blink an eye when the correct letter was spoken. Through this communication technique, Jean-Do dictated a 131-page book titled The Diving Bell and The Butterfly: A Memoir of Life in Death (131 pages, 1998). Remarkable! Isn't it?

Jean-Do's book is a first person narrative. So is the movie. Many scenes are shot from Jean-Do's perspective, limited to his field of vision and punctuated by eye blinks. In his book, Jean-Do describes three things: his real life experiences as a quadriplegic, his memories and his imagination. After his stroke, Jean-Do's real life experiences are with people who keep in touch with him: his doctors, his hard-working therapists, his wife, his kids, his aged dad, a former lover and some colleagues. They all love him. Some pray for his well being. His memories are about his life as a high flying editor of Elle (a fashion magazine), his family and his former lovers. Jean-Do's imagination reflects his abstract thoughts about his inability to move his body but his ability to move his mind freely.

What does the title of the book 'The Diving Bell and The Butterfly' reflect? Jean-Do compares his body to a 'diving bell', a heavy metallic bell-like chamber sunk into oceans for exploration. He compares his mind to a butterfly that dances around joyfully, savoring beautiful experiences :)


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