Why not use some of your free time during lockdown to discover (or rediscover) film classics? The poor internet connection in my grandparents’ house here in the south of France has forced me to watch old DVDs instead of binge-watching Netflix series… However, it has given me the opportunity to compile a list of the best of French cinema masterpieces from the 60s. Enjoy!
1. Les demoiselles de Rochefort by Jacques Demy, 1967 (The Young Girls of Rochefort)
Two twin sisters, one teaching dance and the other piano, dreaming to move to Paris to perform their art. A young sailor looking for his ‘idéal feminin’ – his soulmate – and two old lovers meeting again after years being apart. The film takes us to Rochefort, a seaside town, where residents dance and sing in the street, fall in love and dream of romance. A colourful and romantic musical, staring iconic artists such as Catherine Deneuve, her sister Françoise Dorléac, Michel Piccoli, Gene Kelly and the dancer George Chakiris from West Side Story. Definitely one of my all-time favourites, it will make you want to dance, to sing, and perhaps to learn French?
2. Cléo de 5 à 7 by Agnès Varda, 1962 (Cléo from 5 to 7)
Black and white Paris in 1962. Cléo, a young singer, realizes she might be severely ill. The film takes us on a poetic ballad through the streets of Paris, from crowded cafés to peaceful gardens. We witness the existential crisis and nostalgia of an endearing self-obsessed and superstitious woman. Becoming aware of her loneliness, Cléo meets a stranger with whom she confides about her fears and thoughts. Cléo de 5 à 7 is symbolic of the emancipation of women in French cinema, with the great Agnès Varda behind the camera raising questions about the perception of women in society. Besides, if nothing else, you will be moved by the scene in which Cléo sings the beautiful piece ‘Sans toi’ (Without you) accompanied by the composer Michel Legrand.
3. Pierrot le Fou by Jean-Luc Godard, 1965 (Pierrot the Madman)
Old lovers meet again and decide to give up everything to go on an adventure together. We follow their chaotic and surrealist journey to the French Riviera. Bored with the routine of life, they start living like two heroic characters in a suspenseful novel, stealing cars and leaving dead bodies behind them. Pierrot le Fou is an emblematic film of the French New Wave, with experimental shots and zany characters. With Jean-Paul Belmondo and Anna Karina being the lead actors, you will discover one of the most influential movements in the history of cinema.
4. Ma Nuit chez Maud by Eric Rohmer, 1969 (My Night at Maud’s)
A catholic engineer notices a young girl during a mass and tries to catch her eye. On Christmas night, he meets Maud, independent and charming, with whom he spends the night, talking about love, faith and philosophy. A slow yet deep film capturing first encounters and seduction. I watched this film on a rainy day and was absorbed by the intimacy it creates and the reflections it awakes.
5. Tirez sur le Pianiste by François Truffaut, 1960 (Shoot the Piano Player)
Charlie, played by the great singer Charles Aznavour, is a melancholic and timid piano player who works in a bar. When his brother gets involved with gangsters, he has no choice but to get implicated in the affair. Simultaneously, Charlie is mourning his wife’s death and struggling to go on with his life. With memorable scenes, beautiful music and a touching main character, it was a good introduction to the work of one the most important filmmakers in French cinema.
I hope you enjoyed reading this article, hopefully it will make you discover some hidden gems from the French seventh art.