The Perfect French Movie?

France on Friday

Destination: Paris

Movie: Amelie (2001) (English subtitles)

But surely you have seen Amelie? Have a listen to a piano version of the sound track:

I had indeed seen Amelie, when it first appeared, but what a delight it was to see it again on a DVD, and particularly to follow along with the director, Jean-Pierre Jeunet as he discussed the making of the film. Jeunet drew my attention to many things that had escaped my attention the first time around, plus answered questions I would have asked if I had met with him in person.

First the irresistible Audrey Tautou makes the movie unforgettable. The casting is one of those rare moments of bringing together the perfect actress with the part. The huge brown eyes, the whimsical smile, the dreaminess she portrays make it impossible to imagine anyone else in the part.

Then there is the equally picture-perfect setting of Montmartre with its village feel. While many movies that we are watching as a prelude to our trip to France  give only fleeting glances of Paris, or soundstage recreations, this one sticks to the narrow streets and shops and parks of Montmartre.

Some movie goers get impatient with whimsy, but the layers of Amelie keep everyone interested. As Amelie flits through life fixing other people’s lives like a fairy godmother, we see her own sometimes ridiculous attempts to direct her own destiny.

It is hard to pick perfect scenes, but the very old painter who lives in Amelie’s apartment building and recreates ancient masterpieces intrigues me.  Amelie gives him helpful hints and in a sense paints herself into his picture as her little romance develops.

So if you have not seen Amelie, take a trip to Montmartre with the movie. If you saw it long ago, take another look and check out the fascinating director’s notes. Me–I’m off to see if I can find a copy of the soundtrack to add to my I-pod.

What is your perfect French movie? Is it set in Paris, like most movies that want to say FRANCE, or elsewhere? Period or contemporary? American-made, French or from somewhere else?

See more French movies in these posts:


Julie and Julia

The French Resistance in World War II

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About Vera Marie Badertscher

A freelance writer who loves to travel. When she is not traveling she is reading about travel. When she is not reading or traveling, she is sharing with the readers of A Traveler's Library, or recreating her family's past at Ancestors In Aprons . She has written for Reel Life With Jane, Life is a Trip and other websites. Also co-author of a biography, Quincy Tahoma, The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist. Contact Vera Marie by e-mail.

29 thoughts on “The Perfect French Movie?

  1. (NOTE: I approved this note but removed the commercial web site address attached to it. No fair sneaking into the comment section to advertise, folks!)

    I have heard of this movie several times before and heard it got great reviews, so its tempting. I suppose its about time I check it out! If its set in France I’m sure I’d love it more since I’ve been planning for years to travel there!

  2. We are in France right now and my daughter is playing with a bunch of French kids. She so liked this movie that she told them her name was Amélie” ( she knew from being in Spain, that they’d never be able to say her real name any way).

    Hard to pick our favorite French movie. We love Chocolate and Moulin Rouge too. Yes, French at different time periods, ( and one only on a sound stage) but something so French and creative about them.

    My all time favorite French movie has to be the Red Balloon.

  3. I adore French films. While timeless favourites like Jean de Florette and Manon de Sources show the wonderful Provence rural countryside among a good story but a recent one which was particularly good was “The Class” showing a fly-on-the-wall natural view of teaching in a rough neighbourhood of Paris and all the challenges that brings.

  4. Loved “Amélie” and have it in my Netflix instant download queue to revisit. Owned DVD, but it disappeared when I lent it to an acquaintance. Ditto “Paris, Je T’Aime,” which I didn’t much like except for the Coen brothers’ classic bit. Note to self: Don’t lend out DVDs.

    Just saw a reference to “Amélie” in Jason Reitman’s “Up in the Air.” It features a version of “the gnome thing” without naming the movie.

    To see a much less romantic/stylized contemporary Paris, try “Ne le dis à personne” by Guillaume Cantet, an engrossing thriller based on Harlan Coban’s novel “Tell No One.”

    1. Which reminds me of the gnome thing in Amelie. Was that the whole beginning of the traveling gnome, and other traveling objects–stuffed bears etc.? Trip Advisor did the Traveling Gnome didn’t they? And if not, who did? And what are some of the other traveling icons??

      1. Misspelled Guillaume Canet’s name in last comment. Désolée.

        Don’t know where the gnome thing started, but in “Up in the Air” they refer to “the gnome thing, like in that movie.”

        Another fun fact about Amélie: the concierge is played by the wonderful Yolande Moreau, who subsequently starred in 2008’s “Seraphine,” set in Senlis. She says her name is “Madame Wallace, comme les fontaines,” because she cries all the time. A bit later there’s a street scene showing a “Fontaine Wallace.” One of those details that delights lovers of Paris.

  5. No-one else will like it, but Weekend by John Luc Goaddard is probably my favourite. Disturbing, but amazing film-making.

  6. I remember loving Cousin, Cousine long ago — the French, not the American version. Also Jules Y Jim.. anything with Catherine Deneuve!!!

  7. The comments here give me several new titles to add to my Netflix list. I love watching French films, pretending it’s to expose my ear to French, but I understand none of it. I find I actually like movies about French children — “The Chorus” was wonderful, and old ones I can’t quite remember the name of, a pair of films in which “My Mother” featured in the title of the first, and “My Father” in the sequel.

    Vera, may I change the subject? I wonder if you’ve read the book “Praying for Snow in Havana” by Carlos Eire. My book club just finished with it. It’s more memoir than travel book. I’d love to go to Havana, on the first plane to land, before it becomes Las Vegas South again. Would you?

    Libbie Griffin

    1. Libbie: thanks for two more recommendations. I googled a bit and found My Mother’s Castle and My Father’s Glory, which seems to fit your suggestion, and they look lovely.
      As for changing the subject, I would like to be on that plane with you to Havana. I don’t know why, but I yearn for Cuba. On the other hand, I do know why–it was a movie–and that means I need to write about it. There is also a book about an American living in Cuba that I will review soon. Perhaps you would like to do a guest post about Praying for Snow in Havana?

      1. Vera, I need to correct the title of the book I recommended — it’s actually Waiting for Snow in Havana. And while I might be tempted to review something else for you, this isn’t the one.

        Yes, you found the movies I referred to. They are “tres charmant” (very charming).

        I’m very interested in Cuba, and I look forward to both your movie report and the book about the American living in Cuba. It’s one place I really want to see for myself. My book club friend had been to Havana not long ago, and she brought her photos to our meeting. Gee, it didn’t look stuck in 1959 like many reports I’ve read say it is.


    1. Hi Heather: Are the waiters rude or just uppity? I have read that the Paris restaurants have very small staffs and so the waiters are trying to keep things moving and don’t like people who change their minds after ordering, (for example). And also that you are expected to ask for your bill, because they think it is rude to present it without having been asked, and Americans think it is rude that they are “ignored” when they should be given the bill. So how much is rudeness and how much is misunderstanding of each other’s expectations? That is something that always worries me when I am traveling–am I expecting something that they don’t understand and vice versa?

  8. Hah- in the spirit of High Fidelity I asked myself “top 5 films with Paris in the title:

    Paris, je t’aime
    Last Tango in Paris
    Under the Rooftops of Paris
    The Last Time I Saw Paris

    Let me throw in:
    Red Balloon
    Chacun Cherche Son Chat
    L’Auberge Espagnol

    Trying to remember the new wave film about the 1968 riots.-r

    1. Okay, Richard–but I didn’t ask for every Paris movie every made 🙂 Geez, in the book Paris Movie Walks we are informed that they make so many movies in Paris that you’d have to be watching about three a week to keep up. Now which is THE movie that shows us the essence of France??

  9. I have to agree with Rose — PARIS JE T’AIME is lovely. Not just because of the stories, but because each of the 18 shorts is set in a different arondissement of Paris. So while it’s not a travelogue, you see the city & life there as one seldom would as a visitor.

    And like Jessiev, I second the thanks — can’t wait to check out the other recommendations! Until my budget comes in line with my dreams, movies are the next best way to travel 🙂

    1. Yes, indeed. Thanks so much for all the suggestions. My Netflix list is not going to know what hit it! Looks like I’ll have plenty of content for the France on Friday posts for quite a while.

  10. I haven’t seen “Amelie” since it first came out – I need to add it to my Netflix queue to watch again! I remember it as very charming … I also liked Audrey Tautou in a very different French movie, “He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not.” It showed a relationship from her perspective then from his. Really good!
    “French Kiss” with Kevin Kline and Meg Ryan is one of my favorites for Paris and French scenery. Kevin Kline was amazing as a scruffy Frenchman. The movie has a wonderful soundtrack, too.

  11. La femme Nikkita is an amazing film. It’s sort of a prequel to Leon, but was made before I think. My husband recommends Un Prophet. He reckons it the best film he’s ever seen, I haven’t seen it yet. It’s just been released on DVD here in Europe.

  12. My answer was going to be Amelie as well! My second favorite is Paris, je t’aime – a collection of love stories from around Paris. Le sigh.

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