Movie  Are French comedy films funny?
12/05/201700:00 Judith Prescott

What should non-French speakers expect from a subtitled French comedy? Will we ‘get’ the jokes and humour? Will we follow the plot and the narrative? Will we warm to the characters? Instead of wondering whether or not we’ll enjoy these films, maybe we should expand our horizons and simply give them a chance. So here’s a quick guide about what to expect from French comedies.

As well as humour, French comedies also tend to have an artistic feel
A lot of thought and care always goes into shooting French movies, regardless of their genre. From the stunning locations to the framing of each shot, the final picture is often a very beautiful film that elegantly combines serious art with popular  entertainment. Another example, Proper Attire Required, may have been low-budget. But even this, combined with its well-written script, makes the overall feel and offering of the film still very charming. Let There Be Light is another comedy which has a much more theatrical approach. The plot is that God writes a screenplay; He then comes to Earth to find a director to bring his movie to life.

© Tenue correcte exigée (Proper Attire Required)

You will recognise actors and actresses who’ve made it in Hollywood
One of the interesting aspects of watching international films is that you do come across actors and actresses who have appeared in Hollywood blockbusters. Some have even graced the red carpet at various well-known awards ceremonies. For example, Marion Cotillard, Isabelle Huppert, and Alicia Vikander have either won or been nominated for Oscars in their careers. Gérard Depardieu is another incredibly well-known actor who was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1990.

Some of the humour may be ‘lost in translation’ – but that’s all part of the charm
You may need to keep an open mind when it comes to some of the humour. Some of the comedy may involve puns or be cultural, in that only those who were brought up in France, or have lived there for most of their lives will find amusing. The French are great teases and tend to direct their humour towards others rather than laugh at themselves.

Interestingly, they also aren’t afraid to push boundaries on subjects that the British wouldn’t dare bring up in conversation. They’re also much more open-minded and willing to embrace multiculturalism in their work – and world film fans actually find this very refreshing.

The overview of French comedies may seem heavy going and serious – but the humour is actually light-hearted
For example, take All Fired Up, a comedy which was released back in 1982. It’s about an absent father who works in shady casino operations overseas. When he returns to Paris broke and in need of money, he finds out that his eldest daughter works at the Ministry of Finance. Meanwhile, she becomes very sceptical about him returning home to the family he abandoned a long time ago.

© Tout feu, tout flamme (All Fired Up)

The synopsis may not give the impression of a comedy classic, but Jean-Paul Rappenau is considered one of the finest comedy directors in modern French cinema. In his films, he cleverly manages to substantially lift the narrative by adding light and humourous scenes. Interestingly, eight years after the release of All Fired Up, Rappenau went on to make Cyrano De Bergerac, which is one of France’s most expensive and successful productions to date.
© Cyrano de Bergerac

While French comedies are very different to Hollywood blockbusters, the humour is simply an alternative perspective. As well as laughing and smiling, there’s a chance these movies will also make you think and experience the world from a different viewpoint – and much more culturally enriching.

The article was originally published on
French Cinema Review in March 2017.
I have worked as a journalist for 24 years both in London, England and now in Paris, France. I was a broadcast journalist for the English service of Radio France Internationale in Paris for 17 years before leaving to set up a blog for French cinema fans everywhere. I also worked as a reviewer of French films for The Hollywood Reporter and was a jury member for the Prix Michel d'Ornano at the Festival of American Films at Deauville. I am passionate about French films, both old and new, and want to share this passion with filmgoers around the globe.

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