A Learner’s Guide to French Cinema
Talk in French
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A Learner’s Guide to French Cinema

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french cinema guide

Can you really use French movies to learn French?

My answer is a resounding oui ! This guide will teach you some tips on how you can effectively use French movies to improve your French and point you to a lot of good French movie recommendations.

If you’re serious about learning French, you would want as much exposure to the language as well as gather insights about the culture. Unfortunately, some people are not at all crazy about French films (to put it lightly), and that’s quite a shame.

There are a lot of stereotypes going around about French movies such as:

  • French films are dull and full of philosophical musings
  • It’s too metaphorical and requires a lot of deep thinking
  • Only pretentious people (and hipsters!) are into French cinema
  • It’s for mature audiences only and not safe for children

These stereotypes are just that—general assumptions—and while some stereotypes make sense, these do not hold true for all of French cinema.

So don’t let these preconceptions make you wary of watching a French film. French cinema encompasses a wide variety of themes and ideas and there is bound to be some French movies that you’d gladly watch over and over.

If you don’t think so… well, you probably haven’t seen enough French movies yet. So be sure to scroll down to the bottom and browse the movie recommendations.

How will watching French movies help?

 

Aside from the new vocabulary that you can pick up from different French films, here are some other ways French movies would help:

  1. Movies will help you develop an instinctual feel for the pace and flow of actual spoken French.
  2. Movies will introduce you to the kind of spoken French that rarely show up in regular French lessons or textbooks. This includes some street slang, subcultural expressions, shortened words, and even some beautiful poetic lines.

Watching movies is a relaxing and enjoyable activity that would break the monotony of learning a new language. It’s a fun exercise to inject into your French learning routine.

Read more about building a French learning habit here.

How can you learn French by watching movies?

 

Choose a movie for your level.

 

If you are a beginner-level French learner, don’t jump automatically to the nouvelle vague gems by François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard. Remember that the French language has evolved from the way it’s spoken in the 1960s and 70s to how it’s spoken today. So while some movies might be considered classics of French cinema, the words and expressions used may no longer be appropriate in the present.

I suggest that beginners would watch uncomplicated films like children’s movies, action films, or animations. Action movies are great because even if you could not fully follow the conversations yet, the action will give you more or less an idea of what’s going on.

Also, don’t mix up French films with French-Canadian ones. There are distinct differences in Canadian French and French in France, so the slang and expressions being used also vary.

For more differences about French in France and French in Canada, go here.

Pick a movie with subtitles.

 

If possible, look for movies that have both English and French subtitles. Just bear in mind though that English subtitles do not exactly match the French dialogue word for word.

French subtitles, on the other hand, would help you in getting the spellings and articles correctly which would be important in learning new words that you haven’t come across before.

Watch the movie “actively”.

 

By actively, I mean you would need a pen and paper or some other writing instrument to jot things down.

Here are some steps you could try on how to watch a French movie actively.

  1. First, watch the movie fully without any subtitles. Just soak up on the story and try to grasp the “feel” of the film.
  2. After you’re done watching it in its entirety, go back to the start and re-watch it scene-by-scene: first, with no subtitles. See which words you can grasp even without the help of subtitles. Every time you hear a word you’re not familiar with, write it down
  3. Re-watch the scene but this time with subtitles. The French subtitles will help you get the spelling and articles used correctly.  If you want to check if your understanding is correct, switch on the English subtitles in your 3rd viewing of that particular scene.
  4. When watching scene-by-scene, pay attention to the vocabulary and the context on how the words were used. Look out for any idioms and slang, and take note of the grammatical structures used in the sentences. Write down anything interesting you noticed, and be ready to review it later on
  5. If there are some new words that you cannot seem to pronounce, listen to it and repeat the words and sentences over and over until you get the hang of it.
  6. After re-watching the movie fully one scene at a time, look up the words you don’t understand. If there are some things about the movie that are bugging you—slang terms, regional jargons, double meanings, wordplays, and subtle humour that you couldn’t quite grasp—ask a native French speaker to help you understand and appreciate it better.
  7. Re-watch the movie until you are confident that you have understood the gist of the conversations and the context of the words. Feel free to watch it as many times as you want—with subtitles and without.

If you want to take it a step further, the website Apprendre le Français… Avec le Cinema Français has a wide range of movie clips, dialogue transcriptions, and quizzes that you can review.

French Movie Recommendations

 

So by now you’re probably raring to try watching some French films. But how to start? Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered.

Here in Talk in French, I’ve listed down more than 365 French films for you to check out: that’s a movie each day of the year! Here are some ways on how you can enjoy the different movie recommendations.

One Movie per Day

If you’re at a level of French where you’re more or less confident of your ability to grasp French conversations and subtle nuances (B2 level or more), you can try out the one movie/day suggestions.
There is one article with movie lists for each month. You can check them out below.

Let’s say it’s January 30 now. Click on the link to the January list of movies, scroll down to the date and see what movie is suggested for the 30th. Then go watch it.

There is also a downloadable e-book that you can get for free. It covers all the movie suggestions from January to December. You can store it on your e-reader and simply flip the pages to see which movie is recommended for that particular day.


Want to watch as many French films as you can? Then challenge yourself with one movie a day for the entire year!

Child-Friendly Movies

Now, if your French is not on an intermediate level yet or maybe you can barely decipher spoken French, feel free to go through the list per month and choose movies which would be more appropriate for your level. As mentioned earlier, this includes children’s movies, animations, or action films.

Here’s a list of children’s films you might be interested in: 10 Child-Friendly French Movies and Where to Watch Them.

Other Movie Recommendations

Aside from the lists mentioned above, you can also enjoy movies based on the themes that you like.

Such as:

Do you have other French movie themes you would like me to add? Feel free to leave a comment below!

And once again, don’t forget to get your copy of 365 Days of French Movies. Click the photo below to download.

About the Author Frederic

Frederic Bibard is the founder of Talk in French, a company that helps french learners to practice and improve their french. Macaron addict. Jacques Audiard fan. You can contact him on Twitter and Google +

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