Netflix’s reimagining of the Arsene Lupin franchise has been quite the success, with an estimated 70 million households streaming the series last month.
But with some months to go until the next batch of episodes, Francophiles will need something to tide them over. Here are our suggestions:
France’s rather brooding answer to Spooks follows an elite unit within the country’s intelligence services charged with managing complex undercover missions in unfriendly territories. While the series is rich with geopolitical intrigue - with both ISIS and the Kremlin joining the roll-call of ‘big bad’ villains - the real drama comes with seeing the agents juggle their increasingly complicated private lives and the hefty conflicts created by their field work. A slow burner - but worth sticking with.
Dix pour cent (Call My Agent)
The undisputed granddaddy of modern French comedy, Dix pour cent (its name deriving from the typical fee pocketed by elite talent agents) functions somewhere between Extras and Curb Your Enthusiasm. The show revolves around a Parisian talent agency beloved by the great and good, with well-known actors standing in to play fictional versions of themselves. Having skewered everyone from Isabelle Huppert to Juliette Binoche, the current season features its first non-French star with Sigourney Weaver joining the cast for one episode.
Like a lot of acclaimed cop shows, Braquo’s success lies in its execution rather than its central premise. Which is just as well, as the whole ‘crack team of maverick cops whose heavy-handed methods are begrudgingly tolerated by the authorities’ thing has been done before; just rarely this stylishly. The rather grizzled Jean-Hugues Anglade (best known to international audiences as the older lover in Betty Blue) is suitably weighty in the lead role.
Plan Coeur (The Hook Up Plan)
Would it really be a list of French films and movies without a steamy sex drama? Plan Coeur is about a group of female friends who decide to hire a high-class male escort to help one of their group get over a nasty break-up. While some of the underlying tropes are a little naff (Ella, the friend in question, embodies that nerdy, insecure beauty archetype that felt retrograde even in the 90s), the dialogue and humour is much better. It’s also been one of the first shows to cover the pandemic, with a special episode, released in August 2020, showing the friends struggling under France’s draconian lockdown.
As Netflix’s first French language original drama, Marseille went on to trigger somewhat of a culture war. Though the corrutpion drama was panned by broadsheet critics (who felt it to be a tad melodramatic), it was keenly lapped up by Netflix's viewers - and not just in France. The series stars Gerard Depardieu as a cocaine-snorting mayor whose plan to greenlight a casino development triggers a House of Cards-style showdown with his deputy; all set against a backdrop of rising community tensions in France's largest port city.
Mathieu Kassovitz’s cinematic triumph was hailed within weeks of its 1995 release as the quintessential portrayal of life in France’s notorious banlieues - the immigrant-heavy suburbs that surround its major cities. Ever since then, current events have seemingly conspired to keep the film as relevant as ever: from the Parisian riots of 2005 to the widespread disturbances following the killing of George Floyd last year. The film had been due to have its 25th anniversary screening at the BFI in London last year before Covid put a stop to that. Here’s hoping it gets a showing when things do reopen.
As an impressionable teen at the time of its release, I felt compelled to watch Irreversible: the avant garde Gaspar Noe thriller that shocked the cinematic world - and generated its fair share of tabloid headlines - back in the early 2000s. Yet watching the film as an adult, it definitely holds its own as a clever piece of cinema. Vincent Cassell, in particular, is absolutely electrifying, channeling Marlon Brando in Streetcar as the impulsive hedonist Alex. Even without its nastiest scene - which I took the correct decision to skip - the film remains a real cinematic gut-punch.
Prison dramas don’t come much better than Un prophète: a two-and-a-half hour masterpiece that blends the darkness of Midnight Express with the sheer brutality of 80s video nasty Scum. The largely unknown Tahar Rahim bagged various award nominations - including for BAFTA's rising star - for his turn as Malik El Djeben, the French Algerian youth who goes from jail-yard freshman to crime overlord. In a superb touch of French realism, the film's director, Jacques Audiard, used ex-convicts as consultants to ensure the project remained as true-to-life as possible.