Best French Fantasy Films
If there is one category of film that is under-represented in French cinema it
has to be the fantasy genre. In spite of the creative possibilities
which the genre offer, few producers and directors have dared to go there,
probably because the French cinema-going public
have traditionally preferred films set in the "real" world. However,
a few film-makers have been tempted to make fantasy films, sometimes
Fantasy cinema was most prevalent in France in the 1920s, when many
avant-garde directors who were experimenting with the new medium of film
saw the potential of the genre. The most notable contributions
came from directors such as Abel Gance, Jean Epstein, Marcel L'Herbier and
the young Luis Buñuel. In the 1940s, the celebrated writer-artist
Jean Cocteau made two fantasy films that are now regarded as classics:
La Belle et la bête and Orphée. Since,
fantasy films have been few and far between in France, the genre apparently
having little appeal to the French.
New Wave directors François Truffaut
and Jean-Luc Godard each had a fling with science-fiction in the mid-1960s,
but since then the only notable contributions to the genre have come from
unconventional film makers such as Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet.
Claire Denis' full-on horror film Trouble Every Day (2001) was panned by
the critics and shunned by the public, in spite of the popularity
of American horror films such as Scream.
The comparative rarity of the fantasy genre in
French cinema means that these films will have an enduring fascination.
Here's a selection of some of the best examples of French fantasy films...
Le Voyage dans la lune
Inspired by Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, this ambitious short was the world's first science-fiction film and has become an icon of 20th century cinema.
The sinister master-criminal Fantômas had a penchant for macabre killings in this legendary thriller film series, an early success for Gaumont.
An utterly baffling surrealist short which was commissioned to fill in the interval in a ballet. Its fantastic imagery makes it a compelling work.
Paris qui dort
Arguably the best science-fiction film made in France, this is also an irrestibly funny farce with some nice Chaplinesque touches.
La Chute de la maison Usher
Although let down by some model shots, this is a visually stunning adaptation of an Edgar Allen Poe story, atmospheric and utterly terrifying in a few places.
Un chien andalou
The fruit of Buñuel and Dali's partnerhip is this bewildering yet utterly mesmerising surrealist short film, made infamous by its opening sequence of a woman having some very unusual eye treatment...
La Petite marchande d'allumettes
Renoir's bold experimental approach gives an other-worldy, surreal edge to this dark yet poignant adaptation of Hans Andersen's fairytale.
Les Mystères du château de Dé
The best known film from the great surrealist artist Man Ray is a hauntingly evocative poem on the transitory nature of life and the role that chance plays in the scheme of things.
Attacking every institution under the sun, it's not hard to see why this surrealist film was instantly banned as being a threat to public order. What the stuffed giraffe signifies is anyone's guess though.
Le Sang d'un poète
Cocteau's attempts to express the tortured soul of a poet in this surrealist short are as unfathomable as they are fascinating. A haunting film indeed.
The lost city of Atlantis has lured many a filmmaker to his doom. G.W. Pabst's foray into fantasy land is just about rescued by his set designer and German film icon Brigitte Helm.
La Main du diable
Probably inspired by Robert Wiene's silent horror film The Hands of Orloc, this chilling work evokes German expressionism in almost every shot. Some off-the-wall comic touches add to its strange appeal.
Les Jeux sont faits
The philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre contributed to this existentialist romantic fantasy, which explores the question of free will with great imagination and humour.
Les Visiteurs du soir
This fantasy drama is most memorable for Jules Berry's wondrously camp portrayal of the Devil. It is an intense and poetic work, with an obvious anti-Nazi allegorical sub-text.
La Fiancée des ténèbres
The mixture of neo-realism and fairytale makes this a particularly haunting film, feeling like a cross between Cocteau's La Belle et la bête
and the 1976 horror film The Omen
La Belle et la bête
One of the most poetic films ever made, Cocteau's take on The Beauty and the Beast is utterly mesmerising, beautifully filmed and with an unforgettable performance from Jean Marais.
By updating a famous Greek myth, Jean Cocteau creates a work that is dark, poetic and mysterious. Some scenes have become legendary, and María Casares is spine-chilling as the queen of the underworld.
La Beauté du diable
Gerard Philipe and Michel Simon swap identities and clearly have a lot of fun in this comic version of the Faust story. Whilst the story is a bit barmy, it makes enjoyable viewing, and Philipe is particularly entertaining.
Les Yeux sans visage
Probably the best horror film in French cinema, and certainly the most gruesome, coming with an easy-to-follow guide on how to cut yourself a new face. It's dark and scary, but it's also absorbing and strangely poetic.
Le Testament du Docteur Cordelier
Jean Renoir's most surprising film is this chilling T.V. adaptation of R.L.Stevenson's "The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde", starring the great Jean-Louis Barrault.
Did someone mention Kafka? If this film doesn't persuade you that Orson Welles was a genius, nothing will. With its monolithic sets, expressionist photography and a tortured performance from Anthony Perkins, it is just stunning.
Although this 1960s revival of Fantômas isn't a patch on Feuillade's version, it is great fun, with a wondrously camp performance from Jean Marais as the green-skinned villain (who, it now appears, is an alien).
Truffaut's adaptation of Ray Bradbury's novel would stand up a lot better than it does if it weren't for the risable special effects. Despite that, it's still a beautiful film, and a science-fiction classic.
Sardonic FBI agent Lemmy Caution is thrown into a bewildering mix of sci-fi, thriller and black comedy. At least he has Anna Karina to keep him company. But can he prevent an insane computer from destroying the world?
This gloriously mad melange of science-fiction and pop comedy has become a cult classic, mainly on the strength of what Jane Fonda is (or, more precisely, isn't) wearing on her mission to save the Earth.
Un soir, un train
Yves Montand and Anouk Aimée star in this haunting love story which flitters seemlessly between reality and fantasy.
Goto, l'île d'amour
This film from controversial director Walerian Borowczyk is a surreal, erotic fantasy which coldly satirises the state-controlling regimes of Eastern Europe.
Catherine Deneuve stars in this bizarre musical fantasy which is irresistibly enchanting, despite the dubious nature of the plot.
Anna Karina stars in this unsettling pychological drama which has the most unimaginably bizarre ending you can think of. Worth watching just for the last five minutes.
Traitement de choc
This updated vampire story may feel a touch ridiculous in places, but creepy performances from Alain Delon and Annie Girardot bring out the spine-tingling horror just when it's needed.
An utterly bewildering but strangely mesmeric melange of anti-bourgeois black comedy, camp gothic horror and parodied porn. Hilariously funny in places but also rather disturbing.
The Medusa Touch
Richard Burton finds he has a knack for killing people in this slightly ridiculous but watchable demonic thriller, which has strong similarities with The Omen
Roman Polanki both directed and starred in this re-interpretation of his earlier film, Repulsion
. It's a chilling psychological thriller which becomes increasingly frightening as it progresses.
Absorbing performances from Dirk Bogarde and John Gielgud make this characteristically baffling melange of drama and fantasy an enjoyable and unsettling cinematic experience. One of Alain Resnais' most intriguing films.
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.
La Mort en direct
Foreseeing the rise of Reality TV, this disturbing sci-fi drama shows the nastier side of human nature. It's also one of Romy Schneider's last great performances.
Le Dernier combat
This bleak post-apocalyptic sci-fi thriller was Luc Besson's first film. The weakness in the storyline is more than made up for by the impressive visual sense that Besson brings to the drama.
One of the most memorable sci-fi films of the 1990s, with its distinctive visual look and off-the-wall black comedy. It's wierd, creepy, but also a lot of fun.
This eerie sci-fi thriller is a dark portrayal of obsession, masterfully composed as an existentialist nightmare, and utterly chilling.
La Cité des enfants perdus
With its dazzling special effects this sci-fi fantasy is a visually stunning work, a post-apocalyptic fairytale from the same team that brought us Delicatessen
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.
Trois vies et une seule mort
The multi-faceted Marcello Mastroianni appears in several guises in this baffling yet strangely coherent fantasy drama. Some bizarre surreal touches add to its off-kilter charm.
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...
Trouble Every Day
Claire Denis courted no end of controversy with this shockingly graphic re-interpretation of the traditional vampire tale. Definitely not one for the squeamish.