French Comedy Movies: Origins and 14 French Comedies to Watch

Table of Contents

La comedy is one of the most important genres in French cinema and although long considered a minor film genre, it has produced some best films in the history of cinema. French comedy movies began to appear in considerable numbers during the silent film era, roughly from 1895 to 1930. The humor of most of these silent films depended on farce and burlesque.

French comedy movies are often social comedies, which differ largely from American comedies. The scheme of French comedy has remained the same: a turbulent foreign component must integrate into a context (geographic, physical or spiritual). After the social shock and also the inevitable phase of common rejection, the protagonists realize that despite their differences they have helped each other.

French Culture shockcomedies, often has a number of “clichés”, which include religious beliefs, difficult marriages, social histories, distinction of life between two areas, difference of life between 2 time periods, comic duets. Some French comedies are based on a friend’s film, in which two very different characters relate. Many gags that make French people laugh involve puns that only work in their language. Much French humor is ‘jeux de mots’, untranslatable puns.

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French comedy movies before cinema

In Europe, comedy established itself in the classical Greco-Roman era, just like the shows in the Roman Empire. Throughout the Middle Ages, street performances in the form of enigma, fabliaux, farces and comedy were more or less inspired by ancient genres.

In France during the 17th century under Louis XIV, the Italian impact and even Molière began to recognize comedy as an art in its own right and not as a sub-genre with respect to the drama. From the 18th to the 19th century, comedy would continue to incorporate opera as well as comedy-ballet and would become opéra comique. The comedy would also have inspired the Operetta (Offenbach) in the mid-19th century. At the beginning of the 20th century, operettas were transformed into musical theater. Bourvil and Fernandel started out as operetta singers while Louis de Funès started out as a music-hall pianist.

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Beginning of French comedy in cinema


In 1892, before the creation of cinema, Émile Reynaud made a series of entertaining animations. Comedy movies began to appear in considerable numbers during the silent film era, from 1895 to 1930. The visual humor of many of these silent films was based on farce and burlesque. An early comedy short film was Watering the Gardener (1895) by the Lumière brothers. In his France and around the world, Max Linder was a prominent comedian and could qualify as the true celebrity of early French comedy.

Georges Méliès, from theater to cinema. He has developed numerous silent comedy movies. During the First World War, America acquired a monopoly of comic films with silent films of Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy. Only after audio was incorporated into films (The Jazz Singer was launched in 1927 in the United States) did comedy movies begin to be produced in significant numbers in France by the 1930s. Since most of the French lived in the woods during the 1930s, many films took place in rural areas.

After the Second World War, French culture underwent many changes during the 1940s and 1970s, and thus had a great influence on the comedies of this period. A variety of French comedies have had the ability to discover an English-speaking target market, including Fernandel, Bourvil, Louis de Funès and Jacques Tati.

In the early 1970s, the new stars of the baby boom generation starred in comedy movies: Gérard Depardieu, Splendid, Daniel Auteuil, Daniel Prévost and Coluche. The 70s and 90s represented the golden age of the comedies developed and performed by Le Splendid which were very popular in the theater industry. The comedies of the time dealt with new social phenomena and were made to provoke or shock the audience. 

From 1980 to 2000 a brand new variation of the Francis Veber principle developed. “Francois Pignon” as well as “Francois Perrin” represented the most stupid and naive man who triumphs over the most intelligent and “most powerful” boy thanks to good luck. The 2000s correspond to a change: in fact, the generation of Splendid performers of the 70s tended to yield to new characters such as Dany Boon, Jamel Debbouze, Omar Sy.

Le Million (1931)

It wasn’t just Charlie Chaplin who wasn’t impressed with the introduction of sound films. One of the great French directors, René Clair, rejected the fashion of obediently producing films with dialogue, which he considered a bad substitute for the aesthetic potential of cinema. After that, with virtuosity, in her second film, about finding a missing winning lottery ticket, Clair showed everyone how audio could be used in an innovative and witty way: to change much of the show’s dialogue with melodies, including a chorus, and trying out sound effects that would surely sound bold even today – for example, marking the frantic rush in search of the coat containing the missing ticket with the noises of a crowd in the arena.


There is much, much more to Le Million, from its justifiably famous and jaw-dropping Parisian rooftop opening the roundup, to the contagiousness of its neighborhood chants. In fact, the film as a whole is so funny and light, that only at the end do you know you have witnessed an intriguing story about war and greed, money and passion.

Zero for Conduct (1933)

The boys return from their holidays in the terrible boarding school, run by obtuse and conformist professors, unable to motivate the growth of any kind of spirit of freedom as well as creativity. The only point these strict teachers can make is to assign a zero in conduct. The kids make the decision to rebel against the school system with the help of their new manager, Huguet, who is different from everyone else. A real transformation begins.

Jean Vigo explains the yearning for freedom of young people with audacity and a subversive spirit, with a fierce criticism of the French school system. The film was banned by French censorship and also did not have a public screening until 1945.

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Jour de fête (1949)

Jacques Tati before Monsieur Hulot, with his desire to perfect already strong circumstances, in this film based on his short film L’Ecole des facteurs (1947), which also includes himself in the character of the postman François. The sleepy references to the French countryside town of Jour de fête provide the ideal comparison with François’s goal of influencing the modern “American-style” mailing he saw in an advertisement. While perhaps not as successful here as in his later work, Tati hones his dialogue-free aesthetic humor, a series of loosely connected comic vignettes in which his masterful shots allow the lines to unravel naturally.

Three versions of Jour de fête are still available: the black and white version from 1949; the total modified version of 1964 with the addition of hand-drawn colors and the reissue of 1995, reverted to the originally intended color scheme. All three have their own charm and provide an excellent account of his identity among the masters of French cinema.

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Zazie nel metro (1960)

La French Nouvelle Vague is celebrated for many points, though perhaps less so for comedy. Louis Malle’s crazy, chaotic adaptation of Raymond Queneau’s non-filmable novel, about an 11-year-old bolshlie (the charming Catherine Demongeot) who is discredited by her uncle (a young Philippe Noiret) in Paris while her mother goes on an adventure of one night. Bubbling with aesthetic shots, swooping editing cuts, fast motion, as well as teeming with puns, it transforms late 1950s Paris into a lively playground in which every adult appears mentally much less stable than the young Zazie, who he happily returns to their immaturity, while indulging his own.

Indeed, for a comedy, there is a deep mood in Zazie’s core. Malle maintains speed so unrelenting amidst conflict that it is possible to completely ignore the self-criticism of Paris, its inhabitants’ attraction to sex and even aging. It’s all summed up beautifully with Zazie’s lighthearted and touching closing line about what she did during her stay in Paris: “I’ve grown old.”

Les Tontons flingueurs (1963)

This gangster comedy, adapted from the Albert Simonin novel by film writer Michel Audiard (father of director Jacques) and director Georges Lautner, was not very popular on its initial release, before belatedly becoming a hugely important French TV staple. Lino Ventura, as a former gangster brought back to the underworld of crime by his dying boss, while the mobsters are competing for power, tries to keep his boss’s daughter, a seemingly good girl, out of trouble and away from organized crime.

If the film didn’t catch on on its first release in France, it could be that Audiard’s way of writing dialogue may be tricky to translate correctly. Much easier to appreciate overseas is Ventura’s comic timing, a justifiably famous moonlight drinking scene and an intense sense of farce that threatens to overwhelm the gangsters’ need to stay in control.

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972)

In 1962, Luis Buñuel makes The Exterminating Angel, a surrealist farce in Spanish about guests who find themselves unable to leave an upper-class dinner. A decade later, he came to France and overturned the concept with arguably even more powerful effects: six bourgeois try to have lunch together, but never succeed due to bad days, dead restaurant managers, military drills. 

Combining desire with action without directly criticizing institutions, this is the surrealism of the late period in its most diabolical form: he mocks his characters while showing their pretensions and corruption. Great cast: Delphine Seyrig, Stéphane Audran, Fernando Rey, Jean-Pierre Cassel. Buñuel’s great directorial and narrative ease and in the script of co-screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière which somehow makes the satire much more powerful.

Love on the Run (1978)

After seven years Antoine and Christine separate, while remaining friends. Antoine continues to meet with Christine’s friend, Liliane, who has published a memoir of hers collaborating as a proofreader. Antoine begins a romantic and troubled relationship with Sabine, a saleswoman in a record store.

With Love flees Francois Truffaut concludes a work consisting of five films made over the course of twenty years by recounting the growth of Antoine Doinel, constantly played by the actor Jean-Pierre Léaud himself. Love flees is the last film of the cycle, the film that takes stock of all previous trips.

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Le Père Noël est une ordure (1982)

A film that was a flop on its first release, which later became a cult film. Le Père Noël est une ordure, or Santa Claus Is a Stinker (“stinky” is a polite translation), is a traditional Christmas view in many French homes. A film that reveals the Christmas period as a moment of kindness and generosity in which selfishness and hypocrisy are hidden.

Based on a play by the comedy company Le Splendid, whose participants including Christian Clavier, Josiane Balasko and Thierry Lhermitte have become prominent French celebrities, it is set in the office of a telephone line of assistance on Christmas Eve, where two unfortunate workers struggle to deal with visitors, including a depressed transvestite, an abused waiting woman, a crazy Santa Claus outlet store with a gun. The escalating chain of catastrophes, causing the need to get rid of an unexpected corpse, is a delightful mix of terrifying farce and very ingenious jokes.

Delicatessen (1991)

A dilapidated, post-apocalyptic urban landscape where people resort to cannibalism to make it through. It is the set for a horror film, however in the hands of rookie directors Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet – who seem equally inspired by comics, silent film storytelling, the creation of Heath Robinson and also by Terry Gilliam, who is also a producer at Delicatessen, is the basis for one black comedy very particular

Calibrated with meticulous accuracy, his anarchic and innovative spirit is probably enveloped by the well-known scene in which, while the butcher makes love to his girlfriend, the screeching springs of his bed progressively synchronize the activity of the entire condominium at their increasing pace. Caro and Jeunet frame beauty in squalor, find heart and humor in the darkest of fairy tale worlds.

The Taste of Others (2000)

Director Agnès Jaoui and her co-writer and recurring co-star Jean-Pierre Bacri had created award-winning plays and even film scripts before Jaoui’s bittersweet, clever and witty debut film won the Césars at the beginning of the new century. A story centered on a middle-aged conservative entrepreneur and his rude awakening of conscience, The Taste of Others (Le Goût des autres) uses the idea of ​​one’s imagination as a springboard for a broader evaluation of ourselves.

The narrative is cleverly intertwined between its precisely defined characters (Jaoui as a pot-peddling bartender, the fantastic Alain Chabat as the driver of Castella’s vehicle playing the clarinet) , yet it is the incomparable Bacri to steal the show. Comparisons with Woody Allen were consistent, although it was actually a long time before Allen made something as innovative and exciting as this movie. 

OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies (2006)

Before The Artist (2011) became an unexpected global hit and an award magnet, director Michel Hazanavicius and stars Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo also teamed up to pay homage to a another period and cinematic style of the twentieth century. Jean Bruce’s books actually predate Ian Fleming’s 007, but the film points to perfect Connery-era Bond entertainment. Agent 117 is a stiff prankster who loves his job. The film amuses itself by bringing out the racism, sexism and unsuspecting homoeroticism of the times, while 117 tries to infiltrate a Cairo filled with fanatical people and untrustworthy Nazis.

Some insane scenes, such as a fight involving the throwing of live chickens, are hilarious, and become a post-9/11 allegory of Arab world meddling. An actor performance for the wonderful Dujardin, perfect for Connery’s appearance and figure, as well as excellent comic timing.

The Names of Love (2010)

The romantic comedy has experienced a significant drop in audience preferences in recent times. This French version, therefore, is a breath of fresh air for the genre. A free-spirited half-Algerian French woman sleeps with right-wingers to transform their political views, then falls under the spell of an overly attentive middle-aged avian flu professional. The Names of Love constantly puts the questioning of national politics, racial heritage, and even social identity to the fore, and the film is more than just a comedy for that.

The protagonist proclaims herself “political slut” and does nothing but undress. The film is ingenious, and Sara Forestier develops something much more than a male erotic fantasy, as do screenwriters Baya Kasmi and director Michel Leclerc’s bold use of tropes such as the holocaust and pedophilia, reveals that they have a lot to do with it. more in mind besides romance and fun. One of best romantic comedies of recent years.

Tournee (2010)

Joachim Zand, a TV producer in crisis, returns to France after a long stay in the United States. Joachim had cut off all relations in France: friends, enemies, children. She arrives here with a group of chubby and energetic Californian dancers who do burlesque shows that she intends to bring to Paris.

Director Mathieu Amalric drew inspiration for Tournée from 1970s American independent cinema, most notably Murder of a Chinese bookmaker of John Cassavetes. The character of the protagonist Joachim Sand is played by the director himself, who confirms himself as a star of the highest level, already chosen as an interpreter by directors such as André Téchiné, Alain Resnais, Arnaud Desplechin: an expressive actor with the ability to observe himself also from the outside as movie director.

Adorable friends (2012)

Three friends in their fifties are welcomed at the wedding event of Philippe, a mutual friend of their youth, who after numerous sentimental experiences seems to have found the ideal woman, Tasha. Chantal is alone and the strange bitter chocolate advertising and marketing job is a disaster. Gabrielle is one of her friends, spontaneous and libertine, convinced that making love is the only way not to grow old. Nelly, discouraged and cold, or so it seems. All 3 have had a flirtation with Philippe in the past, do not wish to see him again, yet curiosity wins. The journey is also a pretension to analyze thirty years of life, the bonds with the men they loved, the resentments they had to face every day, the frustrations of work. An opportunity also to change your life. on the highway with 3 women in their fifties, in the midst of joy, anger, unhappiness, delightful as well as painful.

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