If you love Christmas movies, you’ve probably noticed that many of them belong in one of two categories: romcom (The Holiday, Love Actually) or feel-good (It’s a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story). In preparation for les fêtes de Noël, we compiled a list of the top French Christmas movies and made a not-so-surprising discovery. The French have a preference for holiday movies that aren’t romantic or sentimental. For instance, Le père noel est une ordure, perhaps the most well-known French Christmas movie, is a very dark comedy. But don’t worry, if les comedies noires aren’t your thing, you’ll still be able to find a classic holiday film on our list that piques your interest. Il y en a pour tous les goûts–there’s something for everyone!
By Sophia Millman
Comedy: Les bronzés font du ski (French Fried Vacation 2)
According to a France 2 survey, the French’s eighth favorite films is Les bronzés font du ski, the French equivalent of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. As this article celebrating the film’s 40th anniversary explains, the movie wasn’t a big hit when it was released in 1972, but since then it’s become a family favorite in France. If you enjoy this comedy, you should check out its prequel Les bronzés, which stars the same set of actors (the comedy troupe “Le splendid”). A group of friends goes on a skiing vacation in the French Alps and gets into a series of hilarious hijinks, including getting stuck on a ski lift overnight, participating in an ill-fated downhill ski race, and getting lost on an off-piste ski trip. In one of the film’s most iconic moments, the group is rescued by locals who make them sample disgusting local foods and drinks.
Fun fact: The movie introduced the concept of la foune, a cheese supposedly made of leftovers and soaked in fat and wood alcohol for two or three years. La foune is now so well-known there’s even a French Wikipedia page about it!
Cult Classic: Le pere noel est une ordure (Santa Claus Is a Stinker)
This classic comedy appears on Time Out’s list of the 100 best French films of all time. It’s one of the most beloved French cult movies, thanks to its incredibly talented cast (the comedy troupe “Le splendid”) and its transgressive humor. It’s difficult to summarize the plot, but suffice to say it includes an alcoholic Santa Claus, a suicide hotline, a disgusting cake, and an unusual sweater. Say “Oh Thérèse, une serpillère ! Vraiment, il ne fallait pas” (“Oh Thérèse, a mop! Really, you shouldn’t have!”) when you open a gift in front of a French person and we guarantee you’ll get a laugh.
Musical/Murder Mystery: Huit femmes (8 Women)
If you haven’t watched any of Francois Ozon’s movies, this is a good place to start. His interpretation of George Cukor’s The Women brings together eight of France’s most famous actresses, including Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert, Fanny Ardant, and Emmanuelle Beart. Their characters are snowbound in a country house and must figure out who killed its owner, Marcel. Unsurprisingly, each of the women has a motive for committing the crime. Fans of murder mysteries, 1950s clothing, or even musical comedies will love this campy Christmas classic.
Arthouse: Un Conte de Noël (A Christmas Tale)
Arnaud Desplechin’s eighth film is both funny and devastating. Looking for a bone marrow donor and haunted by the death of one of her sons, Junon (Catherine Deneuve) brings her children and grandchildren together only to see them fall apart. If you’re in the mood for a cosy holiday movie, this isn’t the right choice, but if you like films that explore family tensions you’ll love this portrait of Junon’s family–especially of her troubled son Henri (played wonderfully by Mathieu Amalric).
Family Drama: La Bûche (Season’s Beatings)
Young Charlotte Gainsbourg won a César for her role in this film about three daughters who come together for their step-father’s funeral. As Christmas Eve approaches, tensions arise and family secrets are revealed (if you haven’t noticed, the French love strained family dramas!). If you’re interested in learning about French Jewish identity, you’ll enjoy this portrait of a Russian Jewish family who nevertheless celebrate Christmas in a primarily Catholic country. The movie has a great soundtrack that includes “A yiddishe momme” and Dean Martin’s “I’ll be home for Christmas.”
Action/Historical: Joyeux Noël
Nominated for “Best Foreign Language Film” at the Academy Awards in 2005, Joyeux Noël hasn’t aged all that well, but history buffs will still enjoy its relatively realistic depiction of the 1914 Christmas truce. The movie’s stellar international cast (Guillaume Canet, Daniel Brühl, Ian William Richardson…) makes up for the fact that it’s a little sappy. And we also like the fact that the French, German, and English actors all speak in their native languages–for once there are no bad fake accents in a WWI movie!
Animation: L’Apprenti Père Noël (Santa’s Apprentice)
If you like feel-good children’s movies, you should watch this sweet animated film about Santa’s retirement. Santa chooses an Australian orphan named Nicolas to replace him, but there’s one catch: Nicolas is terribly afraid of heights. Happily, the two work together to overcome Nicolas’s lack of self-confidence. This movie is based on a series of the same title, and you can watch the first episode in French here!
Bonus: Navet de Noël
The French have a special word for a movie that’s a real dud: un navet. Just as Hollywood produced some real navets (Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, anyone?), France has also created some doozies. We love the comedy troupe Les Inconnus and their first film Les Trois Frères. But Les Rois Mages is just–how to put it?–un peu nul. Nevertheless, if you’re looking for a few laughs and that quintessential early 2000s French aesthetic, we recommend this!