Best French Film Comedies

It is said that you can gauge the health of a nation by the capacity of its people to laugh at themselves. Comedy is mankind's way of dealing with the problems that life throws in its path - small things like wars, plague, famine, dental surgery and that impending visit from the mother-in-law. Evidently, a nation that knows how to laugh is more likely to thrive than one that does not. As W.C. Fields might have said (but probably didn't), life is far too important to be taken seriously. Slapstick, farce, sarcasm, innuendo and self-mockery - the raw elements of comedy - are actually a fundamental part of the human psyche. No wonder then that we all enjoy a good film comedy. If French cinema is anything to go by, France would seem to be one of the most civilised nations on Earth.

Since the birth of cinema, comedy has occupied a pre-eminent position in French cinema. Is it such a surprise that the six French films to have achieved a French cinema audience greater than 10 million were all comedies?  Today, comic films tend to be the most popular in France, achieving far higher returns than all other genres.

But how wide appeal do French comic films have outside France?   Although some of the biting satire may lose its edge, there is a lot we can identify with. Much comedy stems from the simple observation that things always seem to go wrong, that a slice of toast will invariably land on the carpet butter-side down five minutes after an expensive firm of carpet cleaners have washed it. This is something we can all we relate to because, from the moment we are aware of the world around us, we know for sure that it is out to get us. It is this which forms the basis of most French comedy.

There are of course some cultural specific elements to French comedy, and this adds greatly to its charm. For one thing, the French absolutely hate authority - not surprisingly after the humilities they suffered under the Nazi Occupation and the latest Chirac administration. Policemen, soldiers, civil servants, politicians, managers... basically anyone in a uniform or power suit is a legitimate target for the vile wit of screenwriters of French comic films.

The quality of French comedy rests ultimately in the hands of its performers, and here French cinema has been particularly fortunate. The music hall gave French cinema its first comic stars, and this tradition continues with each succeeding generation. Fernandel, Bourvil, Louis de Funès, Jacques Tati and Coluche are comic giants who have acquired a legendary status in France (although Tati alone has achieved international fame). Today's generation of comic actors have a lot to live up to but recent box office hits such as Astérix & Obélix: Mission Cléopâtre show that French comedy continues to thrive and will remain an essential part of French cinema.

Having well and truly whetted your appetite, here are a selection of the greatest French film comedies, films that are guaranteed to blow away the storm clouds and make life just a little bit more bearable.

Un chapeau de paille d'Italie
René Clair skilful transposition of Labiche's play from the 1850s to the 1890s makes for one of the greatest comic farces of the silent era. A sublime piece of visual comedy. [More...]
Le Million
An extravaganza of burlesque comedy and the forerunner of the Hollywood film musical, Le Million was a triumph for the era it was made in and remains an enduring popular classic of French cinema. [More...]

À nous la liberté
Technology enslaves man but ultimately it will free him, a Utopian vision which underpins this outrageous comic farce. Arguably René Clair's best film, and an inspiration for Chaplin. [More...]
Drôle de drame
The most bizarre work from the fruitful Carné-Prévert partnership is this extraordinary black comedy, where the entire cast appears to have been made up from inmates of a lunatic asylum. [More...]

Jour de fête
Jacques Tati's first full-length film is this hilarious portrayal of provincial life. The wealth of visual jokes establish Tati as a genius of comedy, on the same level as Chaplin and Keaton. [More...]
L'Auberge rouge
Fernandel gives one of his best performances in this witty black comedy. For some reason, the Catholic Church was not amused by this portrayal of priests as self-serving hypocrites. [More...]

Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot
Brilliant, sheer brilliant. There is not much else you can say about this sublime comic masterpiece - other than to add that Tati's performance as M. Hulot is the stuff of legend. [More...]
Les Tontons flingueurs
The best of Georges Lautner's comic parodies of the French crime thriller unites Lino Ventura and Bernard Blier as you have never seen them before, with tongue firmly in cheek. [More...]

Le Corniaud
Director Gérard Oury struck the jackpot when he got Louis de Funès and Bourvil to appear in this lavish comic farce. Replete with visual jokes, this has become a classic of French cinema. [More...]
La Grande vadrouille
Comic giants Bourvil and Louis de Funès join forces with Terry-Thomas in this extravagant WWII comedy. With 17 million spectators, it remains the most popular film made in France. [More...]

Fantômas contre Scotland Yard
The best of the three 1960s Fantômas films sees Louis de Funès pitted against Jean Marais for the last time. In his dual role, as Fandor and the green-skinned Fantômas, Marais became a cult icon. [More...]
Baisers volés
For the third installment of his semi- autobiographical Antoine Doinel cycle, François Truffaut offers us this delightful portrait of young love. A tender, witty, ironic and utterly charming film. [More...]

La Folie des grandeurs
Yves Montand makes life Hell for Louis de Funès in this spectacular historical comedy. The jokes are good but they don't quite match up to the film's stunning production values. [More...]
Les Aventures de Rabbi Jacob
If you are going to poke fun at Jewish culture, do it well. Avoid all clichés, and do not get Louis de Funès to send up orthodox Jews. This film breaks all the rules but still manages to be hugely funny and inoffensive. [More...]

Le Charme discret de la bourgeoisie
The most celebrated and outlandish of Buñuel's no holds barred assaults on the French middle-classes is a masterpiece of surrealist comedy. [More...]
La Cage aux folles
Based on a hit stage play, this was one of the funniest French films of the 1970s. With outrageously camp performances, it became a cult film in both France and the US. [More...]

Le Gendarme et les extra-terrestres
France's response to Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind?  One film had state of the art special effects and a colossal budget, the other had Louis de Funès. Now, which is the funnier film? [More...]
Buffet froid
This bizarre black comedy is one of the most popular films from Bertrand Blier, a true maverick of French cinema. Some great acting makes this a compelling surreal masterpiece. [More...]

La Chèvre
Pierre Richard and Gérard Depardieu make a stunning comic duo in this delicious laugh-a-minute comic gem. Richard plays the unluckiest man in the world in a familiar Veber farce. [More...]
Le Père Noël est une ordure
This aggressive satire of the so-called "caring society" features great comedy from the Equipe du Splendid. Gérard Jugnot plays a hacked off Father Christmas and Christian Clavier a man-hungry transvestite. [More...]

Les Ripoux
Philippe Noiret and Thierry Lhermitte play two crooked law enforcers in this outrageous satire on police corruption. Stylish and witty, this cult classic is one of Claude Zidi's best films. [More...]
Trois hommes et un couffin
The original "3 Men and a Baby" was this hilarious satire on fatherhood and modern living. It proved to be a staggering box office success in France. [More...]

One of the icons of French cinema in the 1990s, Delicatessen paints a disturbing vision of the future, where people resort to canabalism and the world is policed by frogmen. Brilliantly imaginative. [More...]
Les Visiteurs
This hilarious farce featuring a time-travelling knight and his vassal proved to be a huge box office success in France. Jean Reno and Christian Clavier make this a comic tour de force. [More...]

All is not quite what it seems in cosy middle class suburbia. Behind the chintz curtains there are murderous dreams and dark fantasies. And all because of a sinister white rat... [More...]
Le Dîner de cons
The film version of Francis Veber's long-running stage play proved to be a major box office success in France. The scintillating dialogue and sparkling performances are to be savoured. [More...]

Conte d'automne
The final film in Rohmer's "Four Seasons" cycle is both a melancholic and uplifting work, in which a middle-aged woman is subjected to the match-making tendencies of her well-meaning friends. [More...]
Le Goût des autres
Jean-Pierre Bacri attempts to breach the cultural divide in this sophisticated comic farce. With great scripting and acting, this was one of the film highlights of the year 2000. [More...]

Harry, un ami qui vous veut du bien
This superlative black comedy consists of an extraordinary sequence of comic situations. Sergi López is both enchanting and disturbing as the friend who just can't help doing a good turn. [More...]
Le Fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain
This fairytale Parisian romance was a worldwide success, thanks to its surreal comic touches, distinctive photography and, most of all, Audrey Tautou. A magical film. [More...]

Astérix & Obélix: Mission Cléopâtre
Asterix and Obelix make a triumphant return to French cinema, only to be outstaged by popular television comedian Jamel Debbouze. 15 million spectators turned out for this high budget romp, so it can't be all bad. [More...]
8 femmes
Eight classy women are lodged together in an isolated mansion. One of them is a killer, but can any of them avoid breaking into song?  This hugely entertaining comedy thriller is so seductive that you just have to watch it again... [More...]