The Best French Films to Stream Right Now

 Isabelle Huppert, Sandrine Bonnaire,

LA CEREMONIE, from left: Isabelle Huppert, Sandrine Bonnaire, 1995, © New Yorker/courtesy Everett Collection

©New Yorker Films/Courtesy Everett Collection

While Bastille Day may have a bloody and violent history, the holiday has evolved into an exuberant celebration of French spirit. And what better way to fete that joie de vivre than by watching a great French film? For decades, France has produced some of the most respected auteurs—and most influential artistic movements— in the world of cinema. Here, a half dozen French flicks worthy of a Bastille Day binge.

For New Wave Fans: Breathless

It may seem obvious to recommend a Jean-Luc Godard film (and on Bastille Day, of all days), but really, if you haven't seen Breathless, his first production and the one that cemented his status as a pioneer of the nouvelle vague, then you are really missing out on the fundamentals. Without Breathless, a noirish crime drama about a Humphrey Bogart-obsessed criminal played by Jean-Paul Belmondo, we would not have fallen head over heels for Jean Seberg, the first American to really achieve icon status on the French New Wave scene.

Where to stream: Criterion Channel

For Art House Snobs: Knife + Heart

Set in Paris in 1979, Knife + Heart (also known as Un couteau dans le cœur) stars Vanessa Paradis as a gay porn producer who gets caught up in a murder while attempting to win back her lover. Yann Gonzalez's 2018 film made a splash on the festival circuit, and even competed for the Palme d'Or at Cannes.

Where to stream: Mubi

For Classics Connoisseurs: The Rules of the Game

Jean Renoir's The Rules of the Game (or La Règle du Jeu) is a masterwork that stands the test of time. Released 80 years ago, in 1939, this Parisian comedy of manners was expensive (with a stacked ensemble cast) and groundbreaking (deep-focus cinematography had yet to become à la mode.)

Where to stream: Criterion Channel

For Auteur Addicts: À Ma Sœur! (Fat Girl)

Catherine Breillat's films tend to deal with the horrors of the body, and À Ma Sœur! (released as Fat Girl in English-speaking countries) is no different. It tells the controversial coming-of-age tale of Anaïs, who is both impressed with and jealous of her attractive older sister, played by Roxane Mesquida (whom you may know from Gossip Girl or Now Apocalypse). The family goes on vacation, and the sisters have completely different experiences with sex and relationships. It is a controversial story with a truly shocking ending.

Where to stream: Amazon Prime

For Documentary Devotees: Faces Places

Although the late Agnès Varda was born in Belgium, she became a symbol of the French New Wave in the 1960s. Her documentary with artist JR is critically acclaimed and easily accessible. (While you're at it, you should also watch Varda's brilliants Cléo from 5 to 7, which is streaming on Kanopy).

Where to stream: Netflix

For the Isabelle Huppert Lovers:La Cérémonie

Isabelle Huppert hive, it's time to report for duty. Huppert stars in this 1995 thriller— directed by Claude Chabrol and loosely based on the true story of two maids who plotted to kill their employer's wife and daughter in 1933—alongside Jacqueline Bisset and Sandrine Bonnaire. Jean Genet spun this story into a play called The Maids in 1947, which was performed in Paris at the Théâtre de l'Athénée.

Where to stream: Criterion Channel

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