Sweet summertime, with its sunny spendor, sweat, and splashing around. Les vacances, le chaleur…l’ennui total. Getting lost in days reading poolside, dozing on the lawn, wondering what time of day it’s cool to crack open the rosé. As children, summer means liberation from school, running around outside, aimless, climbing of trees, kicking a ball, getting lost for hours, for days, floating in a pool, chewing on blades of grass, as morning bleeds into afternoon and then night. For adults, with greater demands on our time, summer gets carved into work days and vacation, when we haul ourselves somewhere special that sure as hell better provide escape and time to unwind and recharge.
These films français reveal the balmiest season in all its romance, adventure and complicated emotion; all of those seaside retreats, sun setting gloriously on the horizon, shimmering mirages on wild stretches of lake or desert or wherever you’ve been dragged by family or friends. These films remind us of what it’s like being crammed into the backseat with squirming siblings, landing at grandma’s house worlds away from our friends back home, the parties we’re missing, the hours we’ll never get back. When the rain is falling or staring up at the clouds is turning your head to mush, plunk down on the couch and let someone else’s summertime romance—or nightmare vacation—turn a restless afternoon into l’été de vos rêves.
Summer of 85, François Ozon, 2020
Those itching for more of Lost Illusions’ hunky lead, Benjamin Voisin, look no further. When moody teenager Alexis (Félix Lefebvre) capsizes his sailboat off the coast of Normandy, Voisin’s David saves him—and Alexis is smitten. Sailing, dancing in clubs to the Cure, riding the dangerous curves of the coast on David’s motorcycle, a summer romance arises, turns volatile, and takes a crash course for heartbreak.
One Wild Moment, Jean-François Richet, 2015
The story—a divorced 40-something dad lets himself be seduced by his teenage daughter’s best friend (who’s also his best friend’s teenage daughter) while they’re all on vacation together—might sound familiar. That’s because it’s based on the eponymous 1977 film by Claude Berri, which also inspired Stanley Donen’s Blame It on Rio (1984), starring Michael Caine and a baby-faced Demi Moore. I’m including this version, starring Vincent Cassel, François Cluzet and Lola Le Lann, mainly because Richet is an old friend I got to know when he was in New York promoting his electrifying 1995 debut, Inner City (État des Lieux).
A Good Year, Ridley Scott, 2006
Russell Crowe plays a rich London banker who inherits his uncle’s vineyard in Provence, where he spent his childhood summers, and Marion Cotillard the local hottie he knocks off her bike with his car. You can see where this is headed, but rest assured the trip will be an entertaining one, thanks to its pretty cast, valuable life lessons and sun-soaked cinematography of the stunning estate at golden hour.
Summer Hours, Olivier Assayas, 2009
The critically acclaimed film by this dependable auteur stars Charles Berling, Juliette Binoche and Jérémie Renier as siblings duking it out over what to do with their family home in the country and its many valuable works of art after the death of their mother.
Purple Noon, René Clément, 1960
Loosely based on Patricia Highsmith’s 1955 novel, The Talented Mr. Ripley, this moody thriller stars Alain Delon as the amoral Tom Ripley, the poor American friend of rich dilettante Philippe Greenleaf (Maurice Ronet), whose life he covets. When the friendship sours, Tom plots to kill Philippe and steal his identity. Set on the sparkly Italian coast, the movie made the shockingly beautiful young Delon a star. A 1999 version called The Talented Mr. Ripley starred an equally gorgeous Jude Law, Matt Damon and Gwyneth Paltrow.
Swimming Pool, François Ozon, 2003
A British crime novelist, played by Charlotte Rampling, crashes at her publisher’s house in the Provence for the summer to hammer out her latest book, only to be surprised by a hot young thing claiming to be his daughter (Ludivine Sagnier). The girl clearly takes pleasure in disturbing the uptight writer’s tranquility with her petulant attitude and noisy one-night-stands. This being a François Ozon film, nothing is as it seems. Against a sparkling blue, chlorine-tinted backdrop, things quickly turn dark and dangerous.
Goodbye First Love, Mia Hansen-Løve, 2011
15-year-old Camille (Lola Créton) is madly in love with her older boyfriend Sullivan (Sebastian Urzendowsky) and devastated when he goes on a yearlong South American adventure with his friends. The film tracks Camille’s emotional journey as she forces herself to go on with her life and eventually love again, only to get pulled back into the orbit of her first love.
Nicolas on Holiday, Laurent Tirard, 2014
The follow-up to the 2009 hit, Le Petit Nicolas (based on René Goscinny and Jean-Jacques Sempé’s children’s book series), sends our young friend and his kooky family on a seaside vacation, where he finds a whole new goofy band of buddies. Reportedly not as good as the first, the sequel promises a big fat French family film to entertain the kiddos with its pre-pubescent hijinks and hilarity—although there appears to be light nudity and not so subtle innuendo.
The Young Girls of Rochefort, Jacques Demy, 1967
In Demy’s follow-up to The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, real-life sisters Catherine Deneuve and Françoise Dorléac play a pair of singing and dancing sisters who long to move to Paris and meet the boys of their dreams. In the running is a slew of artsy types: two carnival workers passing through, a sailor cum painter/poet, and an American composer. With Michel Legrand providing the jazzy score, it’s a fizzy tale of near misses and high hopes, where even their lonely maman (Danielle Darrieux) gets a surprise second chance at love. Michel Piccoli and Gene Kelly also star.
My Best Holidays, Philippe Lellouche, 2016
It’s 1976. In the middle of a heatwave, an Algerian-Jewish family heads from Paris to Brittany for les vacances. While the strangers initially clash with the Catholic locals, eventually friendships—and some unexpected romance—emerge. Even the kids have a blast. Starring Gérard Darmon, Julie Gayet and Philippe Lellouche.
Summertime, Catherine Corsini, 2015
Against the backdrop of the early feminist movement in 1971 Paris, Carole (Cécile de France) and Delphine (Izia Higelin) fall in love. When Delphine is called home to help with the family farm, the pair faces opposition to their relationship from her conservative family and other locals, and have to figure out if they’re willing to stand up for their principles—and their love.
Le bonheur (Happiness), Agnès Varda, 1964
This perfect film from la grandmère of the French New Wave plays like a joyful melody that, with incessant re-listening, distorts itself into something sinister that haunts you in the night. In the deceptively simple story, François (Jean-Claude Drouot) and Thérèse (Claire Drouot) are a happily-married couple with two young children, who love taking weekend walks in the country. Their life is dreamy, all sunflowers and Mozart woodwind quartets‚ until François meets Emilie (Marie-France Boyer). Film scholar Jenny Charmarette called the film, “a horror movie wrapped up in sunflowers, an excoriating feminist diatribe strummed to the tune of a love ballad. It’s one of the most terrifying films I’ve ever seen.” Joyeux été!
Andrea Meyer has written creative treatments for commercial directors, a sex & the movies column for IFC, and a horror screenplay for MGM. Her first novel, Room for Love (St. Martin’s Press) is a romantic comedy based on an article she wrote for the New York Post, for which she pretended to look for a roommate as a ploy to meet men. A long-time film and entertainment journalist and former indieWIRE editor, Andrea has interviewed more actors and directors than she can remember. Her articles and essays have appeared in such publications as Elle, Glamour, Variety, Time Out NY, and the Boston Globe.