The 10 Best French Biopics to watch right now

A "ciné" in Paris, Photo by Guillaume Didelet on Unsplash
A "ciné" in Paris, Photo by Guillaume Didelet on Unsplash

French cinema has always been a force to reckon with, especially when it comes to biopics, offering a unique insight into the lives of some of France's most iconic figures. From the tumultuous life of legendary singer Edith Piaf to the political career of Charles de Gaulle [Click on "Lire la suite" to read The 10 Best French Biopics to watch right now]

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A "ciné" in Paris, Photo by Guillaume Didelet on Unsplash

French cinema has always been a force to reckon with, especially when it comes to biopics, offering a unique insight into the lives of some of France's most iconic figures. From the tumultuous life of legendary singer Edith Piaf to the political career of Charles de Gaulle, and the fashion empire of Coco Chanel, these biopics are shot with a combination of drama, realism, and great attention to detail. So let's take a look at ten of the 10 best French biopics to watch right now.

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1. De Gaulle (2020)

Directed by Gabriel Le Bomin, De Gaulle, is a biographical drama that explores the life of France's most iconic leaders, Charles de Gaulle, portrayed by Lambert Wilson. The film focuses on De Gaulle's personal life and political career up until the end of World War II, showing a leader with immense moral courage who stood up for his country against the Nazis when no one else would.

Le Bomin masterfully captures the tension and uncertainty of war-torn France, delivering remarkable period detail and an enthralling vision of historical events. Wilson delivers a flawlessly measured performance, conveying both De Gaulle's authoritarian leadership, his caring side as a husband and father, and his political vision for France. This is a must-watch movie for anyone interested in French history or the Second World War.

Read more: Why you should watch Lambert Wilson’s movies if you like French cinema

2. Arletty, une passion coupable (2015)

Directed by Arnaud Sélignac, Arletty, une passion coupable tells the story of French actress and singer Arletty. Laetitia Casta delivers a stunning performance as Arletty, embodying her sultry screen presence and complex life. The movie explores her rise to fame, her troubled personal life, and her controversial involvement with a German officer during World War II.

Arletty's unwavering and impassioned personality enables us to empathize with her transgressions and reflect on the nuances of war and life. For people interested in the French culture, this movie underlines the difficulties of French people during World War II, thus increasing the audience's admiration for the resilience of the French.

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3. La Vie en Rose (2007)

Directed by Olivier Dahan, La Vie en Rose, tells the story of French singer Edith Piaf's rise to fame, her tumultuous life and her tragic death. The movie is structured as a nonlinear narrative, covering all aspects of the singer's life from her childhood to the final stages of her fatal illness. Marion Cotillard's portrayal of Piaf earned her an Academy Award for Best Actress, making her one of the few non-English speaking actresses to do so. 

This 2007 French movie beautifully captures the vibrant atmosphere of the Parisian life in the 40's and 50's, with its charming yet gritty neighborhoods, and the iconic music scene. The film also features a remarkable ensemble cast including Emmanuelle Seigner as Piaf's best friend, and Gérard Depardieu as the crooner's thoughtful promoter. La Vie en Rose stands out not only for its exceptional performances but also for its artistic development, taking an immersive approach to the singer's life, and showing her as more than just an entertainer.

4. Intouchables (2011)

This is not common knowledge, even in France, but the French movie Intouchables is based on a true story! Directed by Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano, Intouchables is one of the most popular French movies outside of France and France's third biggest box office hit ever (only behind Titanic and Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis). It tells the story of two men from opposite ends of the social spectrum who find an unlikely companionship. Philippe, portrayed by Francois Cluzet, is a wealthy quadriplegic, and his live-in caregiver Driss, played by Omar Sy, is an impoverished immigrant from the suburbs. Driss becomes Philippe's caregiver out of necessity, but their friendship blossoms into something so much more meaningful.

Intouchables is an inspiring portrayal of the power of human connection, breaking down barriers of race, class, and disability. It's a touching and uplifting comedy that had a massive impact on audiences worldwide, with Sy's performance earning him the prestigious César award for Best Actor. Intouchables is based on the true story of Philippe Pozzo di Borgo, a billionaire who lost the ability to walk following a paragliding accident, and Abdel Yasmin Sellou, his caretaker who was just out of prison when the two men met.

5. Hiver 54 (2019)

L'Abbé Pierre is a 1989 French language biopic directed by Denis Amar and stars Lambert Wilson as the titular character. The film chronicles the life of Henri Grouès, also known as l'Abbé Pierre, a French Catholic priest and social activist renowned for his work with France's homeless population. 

The movie portrays l'Abbé Pierre's journey from his religious studies to his humanitarian work, where he founded the Emmaus movement in 1949 to support homeless individuals. Throughout the film, audiences witness his struggles, including his clashes with authorities and harsh living conditions, but the narrative reflects the compassion and determination he showed throughout his life. Lambert Wilson delivers an outstanding performance, bringing the character to life and showcasing his inspiring dedication to helping the less fortunate. L'Abbé Pierre is a movie that teaches viewers about the power of dedication and the impact one person can have in creating social change.

Read more: From France to Hollywood: the Inspiring Journey of Lambert Wilson

6. The Odyssey (2016)

Directed by Jérôme Salle, The Odyssey, is a fitting tribute to Jacques Cousteau's life and career, offering a cinematic journey that captures the beauty and majesty of the oceans. The film follows Cousteau's life and his attempts to explore and understand the sea's complexities. In this movie, the audience gets an in-depth look at Cousteau's relationship with his wife, Simone, who played an immense role in his life.

Lambert Wilson delivers an enchanting performance as Cousteau, while Audrey Tautou (Le Fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain, directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet) portrays his wife Simone, thus creating an authentic representation of the couple's lives and struggles. The Odyssey is an awe-inspiring tribute to Cousteau's legacy and his commitment to exploring the unknown depths of the sea.

Dive Into Lambert Wilson's best roles: From Félix in La Boum 2 to the Merovingian in The Matrix

7. Godard Mon Amour (2017)

Directed by Michel Hazanavicius, Godard Mon Amour is a biopic about the revered French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard, an essential figure of French New Wave cinema (with the like of François Truffaut, Jacques Demy and Agnès Varda). This movie - which premiered at Cannes - is a fascinating and entertaining insight into a person who revolutionized cinema trends and imagery. The film focuses on Godard's personal life, including his relationships with women, as well as his artistic ambitions and eventual disillusionment with the film industry.

Louis Garrel delivers an exceptional performance as Godard, capturing his eccentric personality and unique take on filmmaking. Hazanavicius skillfully blends Godard's original and groundbreaking style of cinema with his own, creating a playful and surrealistic atmosphere that reflects the filmmaker's vision.

8. Mesrine (2008)

This one is for true crime buffs. Directed by Jean-François Richet, Mesrine is a two-part biopic thriller that explores the life of infamous French gangster Jacques Mesrine, portrayed by Vincent Cassel. The movie documents Mesrine's life from his earliest criminal exploits, his stint in the French army in Algeria, his brutal raids, and his daring escapes from jails.

Richet employs a gritty, violent, and dynamic style to capture Mesrine's ruthless ways; however, the thriller also offers some character depth, especially when exploring the protagonist's failed attempts at normalcy. Cassel's performance balances the violent Mesrine with just enough vulnerability and complexity to make him relatable. This is a gripping crime drama that explores the life of one of France's most notorious criminals.

9. Saint Laurent (2014)

Directed by Bertrand Bonello, Saint Laurent is a biopic of one of the most influential fashion icons of the 20th century, Yves Saint Laurent. Not your traditional biopic that tells the story from birth to death, the film focuses on Saint Laurent's creative genius, his troubled personal life, and his enduring legacy in the fashion industry. 

Gaspard Ulliel delivers a nuanced and emotional performance as Saint Laurent, portraying the designer's creative vision, sensitivity, and fragility with heartbreaking realism. The movie's stunning cinematography and costume design, coupled with a rich soundtrack, authentically capture the glamorous and high-stakes world of fashion.

10. Coco avant Chanel (2009)

Directed by Anne Fontaine, Coco avant Chanel is a drama that explores the early years of iconic fashion designer Coco Chanel, played by Audrey Tautou (Le Fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain). The film traces Chanel's journey from a lowly seamstress to one of the most influential fashion icons of the 20th century. 

Fontaine's direction and the film's production design draw attention to the intricate details that set Chanel's designs apart from her contemporaries. Tautou's performance brings a sense of levity, charm, and passion, thus making the film a fulfilling watch. 

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