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.