Whilst Learning the French I have found it helpful to watch the same ten movies over and over and over again until I sorta dope out the language in them. These are not necessarily good movies — some of them are quite bad. But that’s not exactly the point, now is it? Here’s the main ones:

    La Grande Vadrouille

: brilliant film, there should be more like it. It’s the French equivalent of the Great Escape, a 60s caper film about some English and American soldiers who get shot down in German-occupied Paris during WWII. All the characters speak their own languages and nobody else’s, so the movie is a mishmash of French, English, and German, tossed back and forth until you actually understand something.

    La Diner du Cons

: this movie is all about mispronounciation, puns, and bad French accents (they spend a lot of time making fun of Belgians), so it’s great — teaches about pronounciation and idiom.

    Banlieu 13

: This is an idiotic film that has taught me a lot of French. It’s Luc-Besson-as-Michael-Bay in a fairly ridiculous dark future parkour action movie. The subtitling is great, because it’s clearly someone who speaks good French and bad English.


: a completely amazing film about slapstick social justice by the people who made Amelie. Unfortunately the subtitles tell you “what they meant” instead of what they said. Jeunet is more or less my favorite director.

    Maison Close

: a six-hour miniseries about life in a brothel during the Paris Commune. I think. It’s definitely Paris and 1871 and all these people are wearing military uniforms; why would you do a movie like that and not have it be about the Commune? Tremendously complex and confusing, I’ve watched it twice and still don’t know more than a couple of the characters’ names. It does not help that I do not have English subtitles for it.

    Le Roi et Le Oiseaux

: animated children’s movie from the early eighties, a visual delight, extremely easy to understand. The sort of thing you’d see on TV on a Saturday morning if you were a French kid. I really like this one.


: this film is comforting and familiar and engrossingly cute. It’s also very, very carefully colored, which I find to be fruit for endless speculation. Possibly the greenest movie ever. I mean, there are a lot of green movies, but when this movie uses green it’s the greenest. Oh, and the dialogue is pretty simple, and narration illustrated by hilarious cutscenes is very easy to translate.

    La Revolucion Francaise

: It’s like a Masterpiece Theater story, but in French. Four hours long, completely incomprehensible. I know the revolution well enough to spot a couple of the main characters — it’s amusing how the film gravitates towards the ones who were of striking appearance in life (Robespierre, Saint-Just) and minimizes the ones of legendary ugliness (Mirabeau, Danton, Marat). I have learned a whole lot of not much from this one but I’ll keep trying.