Top 10 French Films Of The 1960’s
After our little Top 5 films to watch in summer, why not create another list in a different context? As a native French speaker, I am a really big fan of French cinema in general and especially that of the 1960’s, including a lot of films considered as part of the Nouvelle Vague (New Wave). This new cinematic approach seeks to experience the films construction, discovering new ways of showing society through cinema and bringing a completely new style and way of filming. These films are not all from this movement, but as I could not only choose five, here is my top 10 of the best French films of the 60’s.
10) Les Tontons Flingueurs (Crooks in Clover, Georges Lautner, 1963):
A classic of the French popular cinematographic culture, Les Tontons Flingueurs is a hilarious comedy. It stars an ex-gangster who has been asked to take care of his dying friend’s business and teenage daughter Patricia, who is going to give him quite a hard time. A succession of funny actions and surprises with brilliant dialogue, this is totally for you if you like detective films with a (big) touch of humor.
9) Le Boucher (The Butcher, Claude Chabrol, 1970):
More like a thriller/drama, this film is set in a very small French village where the peacefulness is suddenly confused by several murders of women. The young teacher of the primary school, Hélène, who just started a platonic relationship with the butcher, suspects the latter of all these murders. Even if it had been released quite a while ago now, it is still just as frightening as before and is considered a great film of the 60’s.
8) Pierrot le Fou (Jean-Luc Godard, 1965):
We are staying in the drama/detective genre but adding comedy with Pierrot le Fou, one of Jean-Luc Godard best known and greatest films. Ferdinand, nicknamed Pierrot, suddenly leaves his boring and settled life to run away with an ex-girlfriend. The setting of the film alternates between Paris and the French Riviera. The two main protagonists go on a dangerous and crazy adventure, until Pierrot becomes really mad. The cinematic techniques, especially the framing and imagery, are completely in rupture with the rules of “classic” cinema. Godard here is in his Nouvelle Vague period.
7) Cléo de 5 à 7 (Cleo from 5 to 7, Agnès Varda, 1962):
The only woman director of this top 10, Agnès Varda is nonetheless one of the most important figures of the French New Wave, which brought a whole new vision to the cinema of this period. We follow Cléo, a sort of anti-hero who is waiting for her medical test results for two hours. During this time she meets all kinds of people and experiences fear more and more. The movie is set in real time, allowing the viewer to feel even more the young protagonist’s anxiety and terror while she is waiting.
6) Le Diable par la queue (The Devil by the Tail, Philippe de Broca, 1969):
This one is not considered an absolute classic, but it is one for me! The film stars the amazing Yves Montand, playing a gangster (again) who, because of the complicity of the local mechanic who constantly breaks his customers’ cars to oblige them to spend a night over at the mansion, ends up with his accomplices in a castle owned by a penniless family. Many adventures follow, with the hilarious guests and the family trying to steal the gangsters’ loot, but not everything happens as planned…
5) Le Mépris (Contempt, Jean-Luc Godard, 1963):
Le Mépris brings to the screen a new representation of cinema. A script writer collaborates with an American producer to create his next movie. The discords between them are shown and soon the writer’s relationship explodes because his wife thinks he is trying to get her to bed with the producer to obtain the contract. The music is absolutely wonderful, the actors are amazing (the wife is acted by the iconic Brigitte Bardot), and the whole film is a little jewel of cinema.
4) Les 400 coups (The 400 Blows, François Truffaut, 1959):
First, you have to know for this one that the English translation for the title absolutely does not mean anything. “Les 400 coups” is an idiomatic expression to basically say that children are doing a lot of foolish things, and this is exactly what happens in the film. Obviously the hero here is a child. Antoine is struggling with an identity crisis and is torn between his two quite different parents as he progressively experiences new things in his young life, which his teacher and parents do not, as we can imagine, really agree with. The final scene in itself can certainly be considered as one of the most beautiful ones in French cinema.
3) Lola (Jacques Demy, 1961):
Let’s come to my favourite director of this top 10. Even if a part of his films were made during the 60’s and therefore in the New Wave period, he is not considered as part of this movement. This cinema is also completely in rupture with what the audience was used to before. Here, a cabaret dancer is waiting for the love of her life to come back, while she also meets an old childhood friend and a sailor passing through Nantes. One of the very first films of this director, it announces the link between his whole cinema, with stories of people meeting by chance and others losing touch with each other, love stories that break and start again years later, bonds being done and undone, and always with absolutely marvelous music and songs.
2) A Bout de Souffle (Breathless, Jean-Luc Godard, 1960):
Godard once again, but I could not avoid having Breathless in this list. This is certainly my favourite film from this director. Another incredible example of the New Wave, it brings to screen Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg, a murderer trying to seduce a young American journalist student who came to Paris to work there. The plot, if quite simple, becomes very interesting thanks to the characters, with fascinating relationships between them, as well as cinematic techniques that very well support the content of the film. Paris is wonderfully shot in black and white, and the dialogue is also very pleasing.
1) Les Demoiselles de Rochefort (The Young Girls of Rochefort, Jacques Demy, 1967):
And here we come to the well-deserved first place of this list. This is without any doubt my favourite film ever, even though it is a musical and I usually struggle with those. Les Demoiselles was made by the same director as Lola, Jacques Demy, and is even more representative of his cinema because it was made a little bit later. In colour this time, Delphine and Solange, the twins and two main protagonists are looking for the love of their life in their provincial town Rochefort. The songs, made by the iconic composer Michel Legrand are absolutely delightful, the characters touching in their respective searches (they are all in a way wondering about love), and the city is shot in its best light. A must-see.