I’m perpetually on the hunt for film and book recommendations, even though I have a long list of both that I’ll probably never get through. At the end of each year, however, I usually pick up the pace of my media consumption. The weather in Michigan keeps me away from the garden and my natural instincts tell me to remain on the couch under a blanket, at least until the days are longer. So, I’ve been watching more French films and thought I’d recommend some of my favorites from 2021.
Based on a True Story
Over the years, I’ve read a few books by the French Nobel Prize winner Albert Camus, but haven’t read much regarding his life. After my post last month, Camus’ Letters to a German Friend, I wanted to learn more about the famous author. Released in 2010, the film Camus is based upon a biography by Olivier Todd, Camus – A Life. It’s impossible to sum up a man’s existence, especially one as intricate and nuanced as Camus’, in 2 hours. However, I enjoyed watching this movie which focuses on the many women in his life, including his mother. It’s beautifully filmed and the acting is top-notch. The English subtitles are a bit hacked, but not mangled enough to ruin the story. Available on Amazon Prime.
The Ideal Palace
The Ideal Palace, released in 2018, is one of my favorite films watched in 2021. It is based on the life of an uneducated French mail carrier, named Ferdinand Cheval. With no training in engineering or architecture, Cheval spent decades of his life constructing a palace in his backyard. The edifice, now preserved as a French national monument, exists to this day. This is a beautiful film that transports the viewer to a different time, place, and rhythm of life.
Unfortunately, you may have to order it from your library if you require English subtitles. The original French version, l’Incroyable palais du facteur Cheval, is available on YouTube. The pace of the dialogue is quite slow so you may not need the subtitles. Don’t forget that YouTube lets you back up and replay and even slow down the film speed. Below is a subtitled trailer.
Lords of Scam
I enjoy true crime documentaries, especially those filled with colorful characters and singular circumstances. Lords of Scam (French title Les Rois de l’arnaque) tells the story of a couple of low-life con-men that teamed up with an over-privileged jet-setter to pull off Europe’s biggest heist of the 21st century.
Like some U.S. states, Europe puts a cap on how much carbon certain companies (mainly those in the energy sector) can emit into the atmosphere each year. Companies are given a carbon allowance which they cannot exceed without penalty. This has given rise to a marketplace where companies buy and sell carbon quotas. The con-men in this story found a loophole in the system and managed to skim off hundreds of millions of euros into their own pockets. Their downfall? They were incapable of keeping a low profile and the infighting between them eventually led to a series of assassinations. Available on Netflix.
The Women and the Murderer
The Women and the Murderer outlines the hunt for and eventual trial of one France’s most notorious serial killers. You might be thinking that if you’ve seen one serial murderer story, you’ve seen them all. As is often the case, the victims in this story were young women, brutally slain inside or near their Paris apartments between 1991 and 1997.
However, this film has some unique characteristics. The product of two female directors, the entire documentary is told by women who were connected to the case: relatives of the victims, a journalist, two trial lawyers, and the first woman to head France’s Crime Brigade, an elite investigatory unit. The first half of the film covers the manhunt but the second half, which focuses on the trial, is even better, offering some dramatic turns unlike anything I’ve seen from U.S. cases. Available on Netflix.
Abert Camus: The Madness of Sincerity
After watching the movie Camus, by director Laurant Jaoui, I felt a need to find a biographical film that would be less artsy and more factual. Albert Camus: The Madness of Sincerity fit the bill. This film is a much drier piece of cinema but provides significantly more information about Camus’ personal life, writing, insecurities, and political activities. Now, having watched this documentary, I can say that Jaoui’s dramatic telling of Camus’ life rings true. Available on Amazon.
Not My Thing
Movie critics have been raving about Titane, which came out earlier this year. Based on the reviews, I won’t be surprised to see it on this year’s list of Oscar nominees. So, when a local theater brought it to town, my husband Andy and I decided to go.
The central character is a woman named Alexia who seems to have a sexual preference for automobiles and becomes impregnated by one. Alexia has difficulty forming meaningful human relationships, which she typically ends with bloodshed. With detectives zeroing in on her trail, she poses as a trans-woman and claims to be the missing son of a dope-addicted firefighter who takes her under his wing. If viewing the painful gestation of a car-baby, as well as plentiful scenes of blood-spraying violence, erotic grinding, and rot-ridden smack-shooting sounds intriguing, this might be the show for you. Available on Amazon.
Call My Agent
I’m a big fan of the popular French TV series, Call My Agent (French title Dix pour cent.) Even Andy, who is harder to please when it comes to French films, gives it a solid thumbs up. The series revolves around a Parisian talent agency, its eccentric partners, and their clients—finicky French film stars that are impossibly demanding. Each episode features an actual French celebrity, willing to put up with a script that mercilessly mocks their real life peccadillos. Last month, Call My Agent won the prize for Best Comedy at the International Emmy Awards. Available on Netflix.
The Parisian Agency
This French reality show follows a family-run real estate agency that caters to the very rich. This kind of show doesn’t usually catch my interest, but after one episode of The Parisian Agency, I was hooked. It’s a voyeuristic dive into homes of the mega-rich. Imagine doing a walk-through of a Parisian penthouse with views of the Arc de Triomphe, the Tour Eiffel, and Sacre Cœur from various rooms of the home. Or, meeting your real estate agent at a 15th-century castle that’s been impeccably updated. The 5-episode series also highlights the geographic richness of France, visiting properties far outside of Paris, near the ocean, mountains, or gently rolling countryside. Available on Netflix.
Have you seen any of these shows? What did you think? Are there any French films that you particularly loved or hated in 2021? I’d love to read your thoughts in the comments below.