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1. Les Choristes (2004)
English Title: The Chorus
Genre: Drama, Music
IMDb: 7.9 / 10
This is the beautiful, award-winning story of a failed composer who goes to a boarding school to teach some unruly orphans of World War II. He finds a way to break through to them using music and forming a choir.
If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s definitely worth a watch.
(Apologies for the English trailer, the French trailer wasn’t good enough.)
2. Entre les Murs (2008)
English Title: The Class
IMDb: 7.5 / 10
This movie is based on a novel written by François Bégaudeau and largely inspired by his life as a French teacher in a difficult Parisian school.
I didn’t really enjoy this movie because it’s basically sitting in a French class for almost two hours. It lacks a clear story line and you will probably find this movie even more difficult to understand than the others in this list because the pupils keep interrupting each other in addition to using a lot of slang.
I still decided to include it because the movie received the Palme d’Or at the Festival de Cannes in 2008. I don’t quite understand why apart perhaps from the fact that it was the first realistic “classroom” movie that had been made until then (the other movies in this list came later and are much better) and because it was filmed almost like a documentary. At least that’s the way it feels when you watch the movie.
Anyway, you decide if sitting in a French class for two hours is worth your time. 🙂
3. Monsieur Lazhar (2011)
English Title: Monsieur Lazhar
IMDb: 7.5 / 10
This is the story of an Algerian refugee in Montreal, Canada, who steps in to replace a teacher who committed suicide. The movie delicately shows how both he and the students face and deal with past loss.
A sweet, sad and quiet story with a little bit of humor now and then but still worth a watch.
(Note: There is some Canadian French in this movie which sounds different from European French and sometimes uses different words and idioms, sometimes also mingled with English words.)
4. Les Héritiers (2014)
English Title: Once in a Lifetime
IMDb: 7.0 / 10
This movie is based on the true story of a History teacher and her class. In order to help her pupils get really involved in learning what happened during World War II, she signs them up for a national competition around the theme “Children and adolescents in Nazi concentration camps”.
Initially reluctant, the pupils start to become really invested in the topic and their work as they “meet” the Holocaust victims from the past and present.
5. Le Brio (2017)
English Title: Le Brio
IMDb: 6.8 / 10
This movie is a modern French adaptation of Pygmalion (or My Fair Lady), except that the teacher and student don’t fall in love.
Neïla, a law student, arrives late in one of her classes. Unfortunately for her, the professor, who is “slightly” racist, calls her out and humiliates her in front of all the students.
In order to redeem himself, the director of the faculty forces him to take her under his wings to prepare her for an upcoming speech contest.
This will be an interesting movie to watch for learners of French because French Slang / Street French meets “correct” upper- and middle class French.
6. Première Année (2018)
English Title: The Freshmen
IMDb: 6.7 / 10
Antoine, a student doing his first year of medical studies for the third time, and Benjamin, just starting out his medical studies, meet and decide to study and prepare together for the highly competitive contest that will enable them to choose the medical specialization they want.
While things seem to come easy for Benjamin although he’s not that passionate about the medical field, Antoine, whose dream it is to become a doctor, really struggles until he physically and mentally breaks down from the lack of a healthy study-life balance.
Funny yet dramatic, this is a fairly accurate picture of what the first year of medical studies in France looks like.
7. La Vie Scolaire (2019)
English Title: School Life
IMDb: 6.4 / 10
Samia starts as a school counselor (conseillère principale d’éducation = CPE) in a school with mainly immigrant students.
I enjoyed this movie (which you can find on Netflix) both because of the students’ lines and great acting performance, as for the story lines which accompany a handful of students and show how they evolve in contact with each other, their neighborhood and the adults that surround them at home and in school.
The movie also raises the question how much of a chance students of immigrant origins living in immigrant neighborhoods really have of breaking out of the system and poverty when they are “chained” to their environment.
Again, it’s a fairly accurate picture of what French schools can be like in some areas.