Continuing our summer vacation in the movies, we’re going to a different European country each Thursday in August. This week it’s France. This list is not my picks for the best movies that happen to be set in France but the best portrayals of the country or part of the country that I’ve seen in the movies.
10. The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967)
The seaside community of Rochefort gives us beautiful scenery and a delightful musical comedy from masterful director Jacque Demy (the first of three films he has on this list).
9. The Triplets of Belleville (2003)
The only movie I know of that takes place at the Tour de France, Sylvain Chomet’s wildly drawn animated film introduces us to some crazy old women (the triplets), a bizarre kidnapping, and a hero dog all centered around France’s great sporting event.
8. Lili (1953)
Leslie Caron plays Lili, a 17-year old trying to find a way to live after the death of her father. She does so through working at one of the great carnivals so common in provincial France locations in the first half of the 20th century.
7. The Rules of the Game (1939)
A harsh indictment on the urban upper class France of his time, Jean Renoir’s comedy both pokes of the rampant immorality and oppression against servants in his society in what is probably the angriest and most incendiary comedy of all times that still manages to stay hilarious every second.
6. Ratatouille (2007)
What would a trip to France be without the food? Master chef Remy the Rat introduced not just his co-workers and friends, but the entire world to what was once was known as a peasant dish but has become a staple at fine-dining restaurants worldwide only in the last 10 years thanks to Remy and Disney/Pixar.
5. Lola (1961)
The second Jacque Demy film on the list, this tale of the joys and heartbreak of first love and its effect on entire life spans is set in Nantes. The coastal views are beautiful, and the film ends at one of the carnivals I mentioned with Lili a few movies earlier.
4. Hugo (2011)
Martin Scorsese’s family movie about film preservation is one of the strangest phrases I’ve ever said. The strangest thing about Hugo is how wonderfully it works. And it works so well in part because of the extravagantly beautiful sets that are equal parts 1931 France and a fantasy world created by Scorsese for a spectacular 3-D interpretation of Brian Selznick’s novel. French literature, French architecture, French music, and especially French film (and even more especially Georges Méliès’ 1902 A Trip to the Moon) are beautifully presented in Martin Scorsese’s family movie about film preservation.
3. Les Misérables (2012)
This masterful adaptation of the Broadway musical that itself adapted the Victor Hugo novel of the same name takes us to a very ugly France during the French Revolution. But the hope, the faith, and the willingness to fight for what is right in its characters bring the beauties of France to light even within the ugliest of situations.
2. Charade (1963)
Stanley Donen’s comedic espionage thriller finds Audrey Hepburn running for her life with the assistance of many people though she never knows (and neither do we) if they’re actually out to help her or to kill her. All the chasing is done throughout Paris, and we see many sites of the city as we watch her frantically run, hide and fight for her life however she can.
1. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964)
The best portrait of France that I know of in the movies is Jacque Demy’s The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Set in the town of Cherbourg, the title refers to the umbrella shop that the main character helps run with her mother who owns it. The 1960s pastel colors bring the streets to life even in the rainiest of scenes, and with a title like this, you can expect that it’s raining most of the time but that never dampens the color and the beauty of this magical, romantic trip to France.