Newsflash: Four of the top ten foreign films that appeared in 2018 are French!

While American superheroes battle evil at the movie box office, thought-provoking films of social commentary and the lives of real people are playing on silver screens everywhere.

True, they are subtitled: unless you speak fluent French, it would be difficult to follow the rapid-fire dialogue and the sardonic twists of phrases.

Still, you won't find a special effect, nor much CGI – computer generated imagery in French language films.

There is one extraordinary costume among those four famous French films mentioned above, but then, race car drivers do wear a lot of protective gear.

That was a spoiler!

With no masks and capes to hide behind, and no Lycra tights to display taut musculature, French actors really have only one choice: to act.

If we were discussing American cinema, we might quip Who was that masked man?, a reference to Batman.

As we are discussing French cinema, we'd like to know: who are your French favourites of the movie world?

From Simone Signoret to Vincent Cassel; from Jacques Audiard to Jean Pierre Jeunet: let us tell you about our favourite actors of French nationality!

Or click here to find out why cinema is so popular it is a national obsession in France.

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The Scandalous Ones

For some reason, it always seems that famous women get embroiled in scandals more than famous men.

Whether over political views, activism or who they get married with, these three women made headlines that had nothing to do with their acting, but unfortunately, more to do with their private life.

Catherine Deneuve

The daughter of stage and voice actress Renée-Jeanne Simonot, Ms. Deneuve is known for her many film roles as well as her liberal political views.

She made her film debut at the tender age of 14 years, but did not gain recognition until her breakout role in 1964, when she took the lead role in a beautiful movie called The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.

Although prolific in her acting career, This top-class actress also has her own popular fashion line, designing eyeglasses, shoes and jewellery.

You would think she would be too busy to excite any scandal, wouldn't you?

Ms. Deneuve most recently made headlines with an open letter she signed, that stated men should have the right to steal kisses or touch a knee without fear of prosecution.

The missive came at the height of the Hollywood #MeToo movement, and was not well-received by the media in Paris.

A few days later she backtracked, clarifying her position.

Brigitte Bardot

At the top of her career, she was the very essence of sex kittenry, posed provocatively on poster advertising for the Jean Luc Godard film Les Mepris.

In fact, her bouffant hair and pouty lips were plastered everywhere, at every opportunity; her beautiful appearance received more praise than any of her movie performances.

Ten years later, she mysteriously retired from screen, stage and studio, having recorded over 60 songs during her short career, and made 47 films. Today, she is wholly focused on activism, and hasn't appeared as much in the media in recent times.

And, it seems, hatred and disdain!

No fewer than five times has she been prosecuted for inciting racial and religious hatred, at one time being charged the highest fine ever imposed in France for that crime.

She gave a clue to her irascible temperament when she refused the Legion of Honour award, in 1987.

Apparently, she's not mellowed since then!

Marion Cotillard

This is an actress who had no problems accepting France's highest civilian award. In 2016, Ms. Cotillard was bestowed the very honour Ms. Bardot had refused.

Besides that distinction, this French actress is the proud recipient of a Bafta, a Golden Globe, two Cesars and a Lumière Award.

What she did to earn them is phenomenal: to date, her films have brought in more than three billion dollars at the box office.

Clearly, she is a draw; a magnetic force that few can resist.

After all, how many women could pull off such a realistic performance in La Vie en Rose as Ms. Cotillard did in portraying Edith Piaf, the most famous French singer?

It is that attraction the tabloids speculated on that sounded the death knell for Brad Pitt's marriage. When they filmed Allied together, there was a rumoured romance...

But that is not the only reason why she is on our scandal list.

One of her more dramatic moves on the activism front was caging herself in front of the Louvre to demand the release of 30 GreenPeace workers, whereby she staunchly proclaimed herself a climate defender.

These three remarkable French actresses, so talented in their portrayal of Everyman – Everywoman?, seem to make more use of their social position than merely being eye candy and winning awards.

Even if they do so outrageously!

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Presenting the elegant Mlle. Darrieux
The incomparable Ms. Darrieux, pictured here at 91 years young Source: Wikipedia Credit: Studio Harcourt

The Sirens

Before we go on, a trivia question: Roger Vadim had a love affair with two of our scandalous sirens. Which ones?

The three Dames of French film just discussed no doubt qualify as screen sirens; it is only the extremity of their misdeeds that put them on the scandals list.

Now we feature three women of haunting beauty and staggering skill at immersing themselves so completely into their roles that, for the time of filming, they actually become their character.

Audrey Tautou

She made her acting debut at 18 on television and her feature film debut in 'Venus Beauty Institute', for which she received critical acclaim and won the Cesar Award for Most Promising Actress. Later she starred in perhaps one of the best known French movies worldwide, which earned Audrey Tautou international acclaim as the irrepressibly curious, sunnily optimistic title character in the film 'Amelie'. 

With only a handful of roles beneath her belt before landing the lead in that project, naturally she scored countless awards – as did the film. 

Since then, she has diversified her stock: comedies, dramas and thrillers, and she has worked quite extensively in the English speaking world of film. Most notably in 'The Da Vinci Code' alongside Tom Hanks, a film which raked in over $750 million at the box-office. On the more independant side of things, Tautou was in social thriller 'Dirty Pretty Things', a beautiful film which follows the lives of two immigrants living in London. Aubrey's character's life is a difficult one, and she plays the role excellently.

Although she has made English language films in the past, she firmly insists that she is a French actress, and will continue to work in France. Her other notable French films include works such as 'Coco Before Chanel', a biographical drama detailing the early life of French fashion pioneer Coco Chanel. She was nominated for the Cesar award of Best Actress, and although the film didn't attract much attention outside of France, it still doubled it's production costs at the box-office.

 

Juliette Binoche

She nursed The English Patient and brought Chocolat to Johnny Depp, and somehow, she finds the time to participate in organisations such as Reporters Without Borders.

Often referred to in the press as La Binoche, she has had no issue starring in both English and French production films during her 35 year career.

And it looks like there is no stopping her!

Isabelle Huppert

The Piano Teacher lead actress has been touted as one of the most accomplished in the world today.

And for good reason!

With a career spanning nearly 50 years, this Parisian has had the opportunity to emote to the widest range of the human experience: tragedy and despair; comedy and compulsion – all with command and precision.

For all of that, she has most recently been compared to Isabelle Adjani who, in that film critic's opinion, goes far deeper into agony and passion than this established luminary.

Honourable Mention: Danielle Darrieux

In spite of trying to keep the numbers balanced, casting our vote for 3 scandals, 3 sirens and 3 of the best actor type, this list would not be complete without mention of the phenomenal Danielle.

Her career spanned a record 80 years; she was still accepting juicy roles as late as 2010 – at the ripe young age of 97.

Oh, if we could all be so gifted!

Mr. Delon was certainly an attractive man!
This 1962 head shot makes it easy to understand why Alain Delon was a heartthrob! Source: Wikipedia Credit: Stefan Kragujevic
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What About Actors?

Actors who behave badly are generally not reported on, at least not to the extent that their female counterparts are...I wonder why?

Our first actor is a bit of a rebel, though...

Gerard Depardieu

There is a question of whether we should consider Monsieur Depardieu on the list of French actors, as he stated in 2012 that he would give up his French nationality, and currently resides in Belgium.

Nevertheless, he has made important contributions to French cinema, having starred in The Last Metro, and Jean de Florette – which made him an international star.

In fact, he is considered the most prolific character actors of all time, having made more than 170 films since 1966.

His flair for comedy virtually guaranteed him a role in all four Asterix movies, but he has also been known to star in the occasional thriller.

He also indulges in the occasional romantic comedy, as seen in Cyrano de Bergerac, for which he won the Best Actor award at the Cannes French film festival.

His popularity has virtually eclipsed his bad boy persona: drink driving, serial womanising and, of all things, voiding his bladder in a bottle on a plane!

Alain Delon

This veteran French actor became one of French movies' greatest sex symbols of the 1960s.

Discovered in Cannes by an American talent scout, he was offered his first contract, contingent upon his learning English.

He resisted the lure of Hollywood after meeting famed French film director Yves Allegret, who cast him in his debut film.

Once engaged to Romy Schneider – they met on a movie set, he too has enjoyed his share of romantic relationships and legal troubles.

No, the Markovic Affair was not a fictional account of intrigue...

Initially associated with the New Wave, this film festival favourite is best known for Breathless – one of his earliest roles.

A star of innumerable commercial films, he scorned intellectual ventures, preferring action to nudity.

Whether a Very Long Engagement – pun intended, or a promising ascension, actors and actresses in France thrill French audiences, and those worldwide.

The reading of subtitles aside, there is no one genre that defines the quintessential French film, only excellence as portrayed by talented French people on the silver screen.

Do you have your own list of the best French films? Is it similar to this one?

If you enjoyed this article, why not learn more about the history of French cinema?

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Contemporary French Actors

This article has so far explored a history of actors and actresses of French nationality in the Paris movie scene, but what about some of the most famous actors that are at the top of their careers right now?

Omar Sy

It's hard to go past Omar Sy as our first name on the list. Omar Sy was born in the commune of Trappes, not far from Paris, to Senegalese and Mauritanian parents. He came onto the scene on radio, in a comedic partnership with Fred Testot. The duo had relative success but nothing compared to the life that Sy finds himself in now.

Sy's major breakthrough came in the 2011 smash hit 'Intouchables', where he played a streetwise young man who becomes the personal assistant to a wealthy quadriplegic, played by François Cluzet.

The film was a huge success, Sy's comedic moments were a highlight, and Omar Sy became a household name around France. At the 2012 Cesar awards (France's Oscar equivalent), Sy won the Cesar for Best Actor.

Sy has since transitioned to Hollywood too, playing a role in 'X-Men' and will feature in the 2022 film, 'Jurassic World: Dominion'.

He also appeared, well, starred, in the 2021 Netflix success 'Lupin'. A mystery-thriller, 'Lupin' has quickly become the most popular TV series in France during 2021, and has been watched by more than 70 million households around the world!

Omar Sy is one of France's most beloved actors right now. Credit - Harald Krichel

Jean Dujardin

Another French actor and comedian, Jean Dujardin began his career as a stand-up comedian in Paris, before landing a role as an actor which would propel his career into becoming a household name in France. That role was in cult TV series 'Un gars, une fille', a short format comedy sketch show based around a young couple sharing an apartment together.

He starred alongside Alexandra Lamy, and the two quickly fell in love while shooting the series! It did come shortly after the ending of his first marriage, though we won't dig too much into that. Dujardin and Lamy did get married, and later divorced in 2013 after a 10 year relationship.

After his success in 'Un gars, une fille', Dujardin appeared in a succession of films, with varying levels of popularity. It was his performance in classic French comedy 'OSS 117', where Dujardin received a nomination for the Cesar award of Best Actor, and in 2011 he starred in 'The Artist', which earned him an Academy Award!

If you haven't seen it, 'The Artist' is quite a unique film. The entire film is silent. This really leaves the viewers noticing the acting much more, and it really brings out Dujardin's incredible talent.

Dujardin's most recent prominent role came in Roman Polanski's film, 'An Officer and a Spy', where he earned yet another Cesar nomination for Best Actor.

Mélanie Laurent

Laurent is a French actress, filmmaker, singer and pianist, though her acting made her famous! Born in Paris, she was introduced to acting by Gerard Depardieu at the age of 16, who cast her in a minor film role. Her breakthrough came in 2006 film 'Don't Worry, I'm Fine', for which she won the Cesar Award for Most Promising Actress.

She garnered attention from around the world for her part in renowned director Quentin Tarantino's film 'Inglorious Bastards'. The film was a huge success and gave a boost to Laurent's Hollywood career.

More recently, she starred in the 2018 drama 'Operation Finale', but has since laid quite low. We are excited to see what she has in store for the future!.

There you have it, you are now well placed to impress your French friends or even any film buffs you know, with your knowledge of French cinema at the next dinner party!

Cinema plays an important part in French culture, so keep an eye out for things like the Cesar Awards, to help you get an idea of the best new French films that have been released!

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