The Best French Films to Watch on Netflix in 2021
If you ask a cinephile about their favourite film directors, you will surely get at least one or two French names in response. From Méliès and Truffaut to Chabrol and Ozon, France has given the world some of the best auteurs in film history.
In fact, when asked about their favourite films some people might simply say that they love “French cinema”. Sure, this could very well mean that they don’t know how to pronounce some of the names above, but it also goes to show that French cinema has such a distinctive style (reflective, visually pleasing, dialogue-ridden) that it has come to constitute its very own genre.
Although not many European movies make it to British theatres, English-speaking audiences can now access lots of French cinema on streaming platforms such as Netflix and Hulu. For language enthusiasts, this is also a wonderful opportunity to familiarise themselves with the French accent. Since French films are often full of loquacious characters and expressive narration, they’ll give you a nice earful of what contemporary, real-world French sounds like.
That is why today we have compiled a list of the best French films on Netflix and other streaming platforms for both cinephiles and language lovers.
1. Amélie (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2001)
Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain follows the story of a waitress called Amélie. On the day she finds out that Princess Diana has died in a car crash, she also discovers a small box hidden in her bathroom that contains old toys, pictures and memorabilia. Intrigued by this childhood treasure, she decides to seek out the owner of the box and give it back to him.
Upon finding him, she’s so moved by the man’s reaction that she comes up with a plan —from now on, she will dedicate her life to bring happiness to other people.
In this clip, you can see the moment in which Amélie surreptitiously leads the man into a phone booth where she’s left his childhood memories. The wonderful narration, which comes with English subtitles in the clip, can teach you a lot of phrases used in storytelling, such as “In a flash, it all came back”. But the great thing about Amelie is that it’s so visually expressive that even if you don’t know a lot of French, you’ll be able to follow and enjoy the story.
2. I Lost My Body (Jérémy Clapin, 2019)
J’ai perdu mon corps starts with a dismembered hand that embarks on a quest through the streets of Paris to find the young man to whom it belonged. Meanwhile, as if we were seeing the hand’s memories of its owner, another story starts to unfold in which a boy named Naoufel struggles to find his true purpose in life. Naofel, who feels like a failure even at his young age, has a boring job as a pizza delivery boy that he can’t afford to quit. Then, one evening, a fateful encounter with a young girl named Gabrielle changes his life. From this point, we see two parallel narratives until a sad but enlightening climax in which we find out how Naofel’s hand got separated from his body.
Described by critics as a “life-affirming work of graphic poetry”, I Lost My Body is one of the best French films on Netflix, a spectacular animated achievement that can be enjoyed by people of all ages.
From a linguistic perspective, this movie will help you familiarise yourself with the French spoken by working-class teenagers. As with Amélie, though, the film’s visual style will leave you in awe even if you don’t understand every word in the script.
3. Swimming Pool (François Ozon, 2003)
In this atmospheric thriller, a British mystery writer played by Charlotte Rampling visits her publisher’s summer home in the South of France to get inspiration for her next book. However, just when she’s finding herself at home, she’s suddenly disturbed by the arrival of the publisher’s daughter, Julie. A mysterious and beautiful young woman, Julie is at first an unwelcome distraction for the lonely novelist, but soon she becomes much more as a competition of personalities and some very ambiguous dynamics start to develop between the two women.
As the two main characters in the story are bilingual, the dialogue throughout the film’s brief running-time is a mixture of French and English. This makes Swimming Pool a great option for people who are curious about French and French cinema but are unsure that they could sit through an entire film spoken in a foreign language.
Enigmatic and cerebral, Swimming Pool is one of the best French films on Netflix for audiences who like movies with unexpected twists.
4. The Innocents (Anne Fontaine, 2016)
Les Innocentes, also known as Agnus Dei, is set in Poland at the time of the Second World War. Mathilde Beaulieu is a young student doctor working with a unit of the French Red Cross. One day, a Polish nun known as Sister Teresa arrives in the hospital. In broken French, she begs Mathilde to follow her to her convent. Intrigued by this unusual request, Mathilde decides to help the woman. At the convent, she discovers the advanced state of pregnancy that affects many of the nuns, who have been raped by Soviet soldiers.
When it comes to great French films on Netflix, you can’t do better than The Innocents. Although it isn’t necessarily an easy watch, its committed exploration of complex themes —and its gorgeous cinematography— are well worth the challenge. For language lovers, this movie is a true feast as it features scenes spoken in French, Polish, Dutch, and Russian.
If you know some French and you have a friend who is studying one of the other languages, you can watch it together and teach each other new words and expressions from this film.
As you can see, streaming platforms offer some very interesting options for those who know what they’re looking for. Tonight, instead of watching an American show, you can search for great French films on Netflix and learn a new skill.
If watching the movies on this list inspires you to learn French in more depth, contact us on our website and start a personalised online course with a native tutor.
Article updated on August 13, 2021.