Better Learning Through Laziness
September 22, 2011 4:00 AM   Subscribe

I would like to learn French. I like to watch movies. What are some French-language movies that might allow me to do both things at once?

I am a beginner in French, but find that I'm able to pick up words and phrases fairly easily by watching movies. Obviously, movies with easy-to-follow plotlines and conversational French are best. Bonus points for movies with well-rendered subtitles and movies specifically in Quebecois.
posted by eric1halfb to Writing & Language (30 answers total) 57 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: French In Action might be what you want. It's a TV series meant to teach you the language.
posted by backwards guitar at 4:39 AM on September 22, 2011 [9 favorites]

French Comedies:

Best Ever French Films:

French Language Movies:
posted by bunderful at 4:39 AM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: quebecois films - la grande seduction, horloge biologique, québec à montréal.
posted by andreapandrea at 4:43 AM on September 22, 2011

Best answer:

I finally watched the last few seasons of Star Trek Voyager (in french) on that site. There are tons of popular tv series dubbed in french there, so you're bound to find something you like. One thing I've noticed is that shows that are an hour long tend to have slower speech which makes them easier to understand for the beginner. I tried watching the Big Bang Theory in french, but the quick banter and retorts are hard to keep up with.
posted by Homo economicus at 5:16 AM on September 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

I liked La Nuit Américaine. Parts are in English, so you can catch up with the plot (which is pretty fluffy and not that hard to follow anyway) periodically.
posted by oinopaponton at 5:30 AM on September 22, 2011

L'Auberge Espagnole is one of my favourite films. The main character narrates some of the action in French, so it's very easy to understand (as the action is actually taking place on the screen, if that makes sense) and there's a bit of Spanish and English in there for good measure (mostly French though). It's definitely a fun, easy-to-understand film.

I also loved Priceless, Tais-toi!, The Dinner Game, Après Vous and of course Amelie.
posted by lovedbymarylane at 5:42 AM on September 22, 2011

I've tended to do this with Disney movies and children's cartoons in the past. (Although I've found that it's sometimes worth being familiar with the dialog in English, first—I've enjoyed watching Toad Patrol in Spanish, for instance, but the show uses a lot of phrases that are somewhat strange and cutesy in English, and are thus equally nonstandard in the Spanish dubbing.) A lot of these DVDs, at least in Region 1 (which covers Canada), offer dubbed French audio tracks.
posted by divisjm at 5:44 AM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Seconding both French in Action and watching dubbed cartoons.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:13 AM on September 22, 2011

One of my favorite movies is "Amelie." It's a bit of an artsier film.
posted by DoubleLune at 6:20 AM on September 22, 2011

One of my favorite movies is "Amelie." Too.

But a friend recommend that I watch Monsieur Ibrahim and it was a priceless journey in itself. The synopsis does not do this justice. Starring Omar Sharif.
posted by infini at 6:27 AM on September 22, 2011

La Grande Vadrouille has a good chunk of English dialogue and is also hilarious.
posted by mkb at 6:45 AM on September 22, 2011

Etre et Avoir.
posted by Capri at 6:52 AM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you for all of the response so far. French In Action sounds promising, although not what I had in mind. I will certainly check out dpstream too. But I was thinking more along the lines of Amelie, Monsieur Ibrahim, and such, as I'd like to have the pleasure of watching a good film at the same time. Unfortunately subtitles are often near worthless—watching Entre Les Murs yesterday made me want to offer up my services as a proofreader—and the pace of dialogue is often too quick for my limited abilities.

Thank you again for the suggestions. Please keep them coming, especially if they're Quebecois films (my wife is French Canadian).
posted by eric1halfb at 7:50 AM on September 22, 2011

Best answer: For Quebecois french I like the films of Denys Arcand- Jesus de Montreal, Le Declin de l'empire Americain, Les Invasions Babares.
posted by beau jackson at 8:12 AM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you like whimsy, check out the film adaptation of Le petit Nicolas. The story is simple enough but the main challenge is that children's voices can be a bit tricky to understand (higher pitched and fast-paced).

Also if you already know some French, try watching french movies with the FRENCH subtitles turned on. It helps fine-tune your listening ability while english subtitles would be for comprehension.
posted by kitkatcathy at 8:27 AM on September 22, 2011

I've watched French in Action, and found it very amusing, and occasionally educational, but by that point in my French education, I was ahead of much of it. It's pretty good. It's about half narrative (a fairly preposterous narrative) and half lesson, wherein the events of the narrative are reviewed to pick up on actions, nouns, expressions, and use of tense.

I second the Denys Arcand movies-- great characters, and some sharp satire.

I recommend "La Placard" ("The Closet,"), "Le Scaphandre et le Papillion" ("The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,") and my absolute favorite thriller, "Ne Dis a Personne," ("Tell No One.")
posted by Sunburnt at 8:30 AM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Try some Jacques Demy musicals. The scores, written by Michel Legrand, are very easy to understand because they sing clearly, and the vocab/grammar isn't very esoteric. The Nouvelle Vague's take on the Gene Kelly-style American musical! Very fun.

My favorites are "Les Demoiselles de Rochefort" (more fanciful and mod), "Les Parapluies de Cherbourg" (more romantic), and "Peau d'Âne" (really cool take on the French fairy tale, "Donkeyskin").
posted by desertface at 9:21 AM on September 22, 2011

My four favorite French-language films:

Tatie Danielle because it's hilarious — the title character is a wicked, wicked woman
Man Bites Dog because it's hilarious and a little shocking (a camera crew follows a serial killer, who is an obnoxious boor)
The Little Thief because it's Truffaut, and it's where I first saw (and sort of fell in love with) Charlotte Gainsbourg
Belle de Jour Catherine Deneuve is reason enough, but it's also just one of the best damn films, if I may opine
posted by heyho at 9:24 AM on September 22, 2011

"Dinner for Schmucks" was based on a far superior French film called "Le dîner de cons." It really was hysterical, available on Netflix.

The Closet (with Daniel Auteuil (he's fantastic!) and Gerard Depardieu) is also light and funny, though not especially PC.

La Reine Margot (Queen Margot) also with Daniel Auteuil is a great drama, but heavy and a bit dense.

Les Visiteurs starring Jean Reno is a fun romp with a simple enough plot that you have time to concentrate on language.

Have a blast! It's a great, fun thing you're about to do.
posted by bluejayway at 9:28 AM on September 22, 2011

If you like music and a heart-rending love story, I'd recommend Les Parapluies de Cherbourg, a colorful 1964 film in which all the dialogue is sung. This movie would probably be easy for beginners to follow since the plot is fairly simple. Because the dialogue is all sung, you also have several advantages: the words naturally come out a bit more slowly, they are enunciated better, and the register is a bit more proper-sounding than regular speech.
posted by datarose at 9:29 AM on September 22, 2011

Now this is a bit tangential, but I've found that listening to French radio (especially news radio) while doing random stuff really helps. I bring up the news because if you listen to it in English, odds are they're going to be talking about similar things in French, so after a while you begin connecting the dots and WHAMMO, good stuff.

That and I feel like the onus put on your listening by using the radio helps you pick up the flow of the language simply for the sake of how it sounds. This isn't to say that the radio trumps your movie method, but I think they work very well together.

Coming full circle, my high school french teacher had us watch "Les Choristes" ("The Chorus"). After that I went and bought it, and I still have it. It's very well put together.
posted by Chutzler at 9:31 AM on September 22, 2011

Seconding Les Parapluies de Cherbourg, which is one of my favorite movies ever, not just favorite French movies. I also adore French in Action in all of its cheesy 80sness. What makes it different from similar programs that one might use in a French class in school (other than the fact that it's totally hilarious and has a huge cult following) is that it's based completely on immersion - almost no English at all.
posted by naoko at 11:41 AM on September 22, 2011

you probably know these if you like Amelie, but City of lost Children and Delicatessen
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:28 PM on September 22, 2011

Les Diaboliques – great 1950s Hitchcockian mystery thriller.

Also, I've found watching English films with French subtitles turned on to be a good lazy way to learn.
posted by mattn at 2:33 PM on September 22, 2011

The first French film I watched without subtitles was Jean Cocteau's "La Belle et la Bête." It's Beauty and the Beast, so you'll know the story in advance, and the dialogue is fairly basic -- the actors don't talk too quickly, and there is no slang. Great fairy-tale visuals, too!
posted by clair-de-lune at 6:28 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

My personal favorites (Sorry, accents are missing):

- Bienvenue Chez les Ch'Tis
- Jeux d'Enfants
- Ne le dis a Personne
- Viva l'Aldjerie
- Incendies
posted by msk1985 at 6:41 PM on September 22, 2011

Response by poster: Thank you for all the suggestions. I'm keeping a list and will make my way through slowly.

French In Action sounds more and more promising with every mention. Again, not what I had in mind, but I'm willing to try any educational film with '80s quirkiness and a cult following.

Thank you also for the suggestions regarding French subtitles, dubbing, etc. My first inspiration in this little experiment was to procure a copy of The Breakfast Club dubbed in French because I could probably recite the English dialogue if I was forced to do so. I can't say watching that has helped too much, though. I just get distracted by the fact that everyone's speaking French!

Anyway, many thanks (and merci beaucoup) for your time and consideration.
posted by eric1halfb at 8:34 PM on September 22, 2011

My favorite French film is Cyrano de Bergerac with Gerard Depardieu. One of the things that was great about it for me when I was learning French is that Cyrano is a poet, so there's a fair amount of rhymed verse in the film, which makes it easy to remember phonetically, and then suss out meaning word by word later. It also helps that it's adapted from a play by Edmond Rostand, so you can keep the text nearby to refer to. (More than a decade later, I can still recite Ce sont les cadets de Gascogne / De Carbon de Castel-Jaloux! / Bretteurs et menteurs sans vergogne, / Ce sont les cadets de Gascogne! / Parlant blason, lambel, bastogne, / Tous plus nobles que des filous, / Ce sont les cadets de Gascogne / De Carbon de Castel-Jaloux!, though I have to think to remember what it all means.)
posted by ocherdraco at 11:29 PM on September 22, 2011

It means, roughly,
These are the Cadets of Gascogne
Of Carbon de Castel-Jaloux!
Swordsmen and shameless boasters,
These are the Cadets of Gascogne!
You might speak of the arms of nobles;
All these are the noblest of rogues,
These are the Cadets of Gascogne
Of Carbon de Castel-Jaloux!

posted by ocherdraco at 11:43 PM on September 22, 2011

Mon Oncle Antoine is set in rural Quebec. It is not a happy movie, fair warning.
posted by dottiechang at 10:11 PM on September 28, 2011

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