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10 Best French War Movies To Better Understand France’s Military History!

10 Best French War Movies To Better Understand France’s Military History!

As a country with a longstanding tradition in the art of strategy and combat, the history of France has inspired many tales of war and, consequently, French war movies. Myths and legends of mighty characters have been written in ink, drawn in pencil, or shot in a film.

From the horrors of World War I trenches to the suspense of World War II espionage, French cinema has produced an array of gripping war movies that have captivated audiences worldwide. These films have masterfully portrayed the courage, sacrifice, and humanity of soldiers and civilians caught in the chaos of war.

Whether through heart-wrenching dramas or intense, action-packed thrillers, French war movies have delved into the emotional and psychological impacts of armed conflicts, exploring the complexities of war from various perspectives.

In this article, we will delve into some of the best French war movies that have left an indelible mark on the history of cinema, offering powerful portrayals of war and its profound effects on individuals and societies. From classic masterpieces to modern gems, these films have mesmerized audiences with their cinematic artistry and thought-provoking narratives, making them must-watch entries in the war movie genre.

10 Best French War Movies To Better Understand France's Military History!

These heroes may inspire us to be a better version of ourselves; thus, lessons from the past – taught via war movies such as those set in Britain, Vietnam, China, and Germany – help transform today’s society in a positive way.  We also have put together our favorite films set in France if you would like to learn more about this intriguing nation…

Wondering where to watch? It depends on where you live in the world and which streaming services you have. We link to the streaming service we watch on in each case - be it Netflix, Amazon Prime, Apple TV+, or elsewhere.

You can get one month free of Amazon Prime (or a 6-month trial for students) of Amazon Prime and also get immediate access to FREE Two Day shipping, Amazon Video, and Music. While you won't be charged for your free trial, you'll be upgraded to a paid membership plan automatically at the end of the trial period - though if you have already binged all these, you could just cancel before the trial ends.

Apple TV+ also has a one-week trial, and Hulu has a one-month trial (which can be bundled with Disney!). Another option might be using a VPN to access Netflix titles locked to other regions. Netflix is now available in more than 190 countries worldwide and each country has a different library and availability. US Netflix is (understandably) one of the best. 

While we wish everything could just be in one place - for now, it seems these are the best streaming platforms to watch on.

10 Best French War Movies To Better Understand France's Military History!
10 Best French War Movies To Better Understand France's Military History!
10 Best French War Movies To Better Understand France's Military History!

This Land Is Mine (1943)

Directed by the legendary Jean Renoir, This Land Is Mine is a thought-provoking war drama that offers a powerful commentary on the human condition during times of conflict. Renoir, known for his contributions to French cinema, brings his artistic prowess to create a compelling film that resonates with viewers to this day.

The film boasts an impressive cast, including Charles Laughton, Maureen O’Hara, and George Sanders, who deliver stellar performances. Laughton shines as Albert Lory, a timid schoolteacher who finds his courage amidst the chaos of war. O’Hara plays Louise Martin, a strong-willed woman caught in the crossfire, while Sanders brings depth to the character of George Lambert, a conflicted collaborator.

The plot follows Lory as he grapples with his inner demons and finds himself drawn into the resistance movement against Nazi occupation in a small French village during World War II. As the tension rises, Lory is forced to confront his fears and stand for his beliefs, facing the consequences of his actions.

Despite being released over seven decades ago, This Land Is Mine remains relevant today, showcasing the enduring impact of war on individuals and societies. It serves as a poignant reminder of the power of humanity in the face of adversity, and the importance of standing up for what is right.

This Land Is Mine is a compelling war drama that showcases Jean Renoir’s directorial genius and features outstanding performances from its cast. Its thought-provoking plot and nuanced portrayal of war make it a timeless classic that continues to captivate audiences. Highly recommended for anyone interested in thought-provoking cinema that delves into the complexities of human nature and the impact of war on society.

The Battle of the Rails (1946)

The Battle of the Rails is a powerful and poignant war film directed by René Clément, released in 1946. Clément, a French filmmaker known for his exceptional storytelling and innovative techniques, crafted this film as his directorial debut. His career was marked by several notable films that garnered critical acclaim, including Forbidden Games and Purple Noon.

The film features a talented cast of mostly non-professional actors who bring a sense of authenticity and rawness to their performances. Notable among them is François Leterrier, who plays a young French Resistance fighter. Leterrier’s portrayal is deeply moving, capturing the internal struggles and sacrifices of a young man thrust into the harsh realities of war.

Set during World War II, The Battle of the Rails is based on true events in France during the German occupation. The film follows the efforts of the French Resistance to disrupt Nazi train transportation by sabotaging railway tracks. The plot is filled with suspenseful and tense moments as the Resistance fighters risk their lives to carry out their mission, facing overwhelming odds and dangers.

The Battle of the Rails is a powerful representation of French resistance during World War II, highlighting the heroism and sacrifices of ordinary people who fought against the Nazis. The film pays homage to the brave men and women who risked their lives in the face of overwhelming odds, showcasing the resilience and determination of the human spirit.

The Battle of the Rails is a remarkable film that combines powerful storytelling, exceptional direction, and outstanding performances. It serves as an important testament to the bravery and sacrifices of the French Resistance during World War II. I highly recommend this film to anyone interested in war films, historical dramas, or the resilience of the human spirit in the face of adversity.

A Man Escaped (1956)

A Man Escaped is a gripping and suspenseful French film directed by Robert Bresson, known for his unique and minimalist style of filmmaking. Bresson, considered one of the greatest directors in cinema history, had a career spanning over five decades and was known for his mastery of capturing the human spirit on screen.

The film is based on the true story of André Devigny, a French resistance fighter during World War II, played with remarkable intensity by François Leterrier. The plot follows Devigny’s harrowing journey as a prisoner in a Nazi prison during the German occupation of France. The film’s main focus is Devigny’s meticulous and daring plan to escape, using his intellect and resourcefulness to outwit his captors.

What makes A Man Escaped truly special is Bresson’s distinct directorial approach. He employs a minimalist style, using sparse dialogue, precise framing, and naturalistic performances to create a sense of realism and tension. The film’s use of sound is particularly noteworthy, with Bresson using it to heighten the suspense and immerse the audience in Devigny’s claustrophobic and dangerous environment.

A Man Escaped also serves as a representation of the French resistance during World War II, depicting the courage and resilience of those who fought against the Nazi occupation. Bresson portrays Devigny as a symbol of resistance, showing how his unwavering determination and belief in freedom drive him to never give up, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.

A Man Escaped is a masterpiece of French cinema, showcasing Bresson’s unparalleled directorial skills and featuring outstanding performances from the cast. Its gripping plot, minimalist style, and portrayal of the French resistance make it a must-watch for cinephiles and history buffs alike. Highly recommended for those who appreciate powerful and thought-provoking films.

La Grande Vadrouille (1966)

La Grande Vadrouille is a French comedy film directed by Gérard Oury, known for his skill in creating hilarious and entertaining movies. Oury was a prominent director and screenwriter in French cinema, with several decades of career. He was known for his ability to create visually stunning and humorous films that resonated with audiences, and La Grande Vadrouille was no exception.

The film features an all-star cast, including Bourvil, Louis de Funès, and Terry-Thomas, who deliver outstanding performances. Bourvil and de Funès, in particular, showcase their comedic talents, bringing laughter to every scene they are in. Bourvil plays a down-to-earth Frenchman caught up in the chaos of World War II, while de Funès portrays a pompous and bumbling German officer, creating a perfect comedic duo.

The plot of La Grande Vadrouille revolves around two civilians, Bourvil and de Funès, who unwittingly find themselves aiding British airmen trying to escape Nazi-occupied France during World War II. The film follows their misadventures and escapades as they navigate through a series of hilarious situations, encountering resistance fighters, disguises, and narrow escapes along the way.

The film’s clever screenplay and Oury’s expert direction result in a comedic masterpiece that has become a classic of French cinema. The film also provides a unique perspective on the French experience during World War II, with a lighthearted yet poignant portrayal of resistance against the German occupation.

La Grande Vadrouille is a must-watch for anyone who appreciates well-crafted comedies with a touch of historical context. With its outstanding performances, engaging plot, and brilliant direction, the film is a testament to Oury’s talent as a filmmaker. If you’re in the mood for a feel-good movie that will make you laugh out loud, this is the film to watch. 

The Last Metro (1980)

The Last Metro, directed by François Truffaut, is a captivating French film that tells a riveting story set during World War II. Truffaut, known for his influential role in the French New Wave movement, has an impressive directorial career, and The Last Metro is a standout addition to his filmography.

The film boasts a stellar cast, with Catherine Deneuve in the lead role as Marion Steiner, a theater actress who takes over her Jewish husband’s role as the director of a theater company in Nazi-occupied Paris. Gérard Depardieu delivers a powerful performance as Bernard Granger, a struggling actor who becomes entangled in Marion’s life. The chemistry between Deneuve and Depardieu is palpable, adding depth and emotion to the film.

The plot revolves around the challenges Marion faces as she tries to keep her theater running amid the chaos of war. The tension and drama are heightened by the constant fear of discovery by the Gestapo, as Marion’s husband hides in the theater’s basement. Truffaut masterfully creates a sense of claustrophobia and suspense, making the film a gripping experience from start to finish.

One of the film’s notable aspects is its portrayal of the French resistance during the war. Truffaut skillfully depicts the subtle ways the characters resist the occupation, from small acts of defiance to larger sacrifices. The Last Metro also explores the themes of love, loyalty, and sacrifice, making it a poignant portrayal of human resilience in the face of adversity.

The Last Metro is a cinematic masterpiece that showcases Truffaut’s directorial prowess and the incredible talent of its cast. Its compelling plot, engaging performances, and nuanced portrayal of wartime France make it a standout film. Highly recommended for those who appreciate thought-provoking, character-driven dramas with historical significance.

A Self-Made Hero (1996)

A Self-Made Hero is a thought-provoking film directed by Jacques Audiard, a renowned French director known for his unique storytelling and captivating visuals. Audiard has established himself as a prominent figure in the French cinema industry with his impressive filmography, including critically acclaimed films such as The Beat That My Heart Skipped and A Prophet.

The film stars Mathieu Kassovitz as Albert Dehousse, a young man who fabricates a heroic past for himself during World War II. Kassovitz delivers a stellar performance, portraying the character’s complex journey from a timid and disillusioned individual to a charismatic and confident war hero. Other notable actors in the film include Anouk Grinberg, Sandrine Kiberlain, and Jean-Louis Trintignant, who bring depth and authenticity to their respective roles.

The plot of A Self-Made Hero is centered around Albert’s fabricated war stories and the aftermath of his newfound fame. The film seamlessly weaves between Albert’s present-day struggles with his constructed identity and flashbacks of his imagined wartime exploits. What makes the film special is its exploration of the human need for heroism and the power of storytelling in shaping one’s perception of reality.

A Self-Made Hero also offers a unique perspective on French wars, challenging traditional notions of heroism and patriotism. Through Albert’s fabricated war stories, the film raises thought-provoking questions about the nature of heroism and how war narratives are constructed and manipulated for personal gain or societal ideals.

A Self-Made Hero is a captivating film that showcases Jacques Audiard’s directorial prowess and features outstanding performances by its talented cast. Its thought-provoking plot and unique perspective on war and heroism make it a must-watch for cinephiles who appreciate unconventional storytelling. Highly recommended for those who enjoy intellectually stimulating films that challenge conventional norms and offer a fresh take on familiar subjects.

Army of Shadows (1969)

Army of Shadows, directed by Jean-Pierre Melville, is a masterpiece of French cinema that showcases the director’s unique style and skillful storytelling. Melville, known for his distinct neo-noir films, had a prolific career in French cinema, and Army of Shadows is often regarded as one of his finest works.

The film features an ensemble cast of renowned French actors, including Lino Ventura, Simone Signoret, and Jean-Pierre Cassel, who deliver stellar performances that bring the characters to life. Ventura plays Philippe Gerbier, a resistance leader during World War II, and Signoret portrays Mathilde, a fellow resistance member. On the other hand, Cassel plays Jean-Francois, an enigmatic and resourceful character who adds depth to the story.

Set in Nazi-occupied France during World War II, Army of Shadows tells the gripping and harrowing story of a group of resistance fighters who struggle to survive and continue their covert operations against the German forces. The film depicts the challenges, sacrifices, and moral dilemmas faced by the resistance members as they navigate through a treacherous landscape of betrayal, secrecy, and danger.

Army of Shadows also serves as a reflection of French history, representing the country’s resistance movement during World War II, and the unwavering spirit of those who fought against Nazi occupation. The film captures the psychological toll of war on individuals and the resilience of the human spirit in the face of adversity.

Army of Shadows is a cinematic masterpiece that showcases Melville’s directorial prowess and the remarkable performances of its cast. Its compelling plot, poignant portrayal of the French resistance, and exploration of the complexities of war make it a must-watch for cinephiles and history enthusiasts alike. Highly recommended.

The Army of Crime (2009)

The Army of Crime, directed by Robert Guédiguian, is a compelling film that tells the gripping story of the French Resistance during World War II. Guédiguian, known for his socially and politically conscious films, brings his unique directorial style to this historical drama.

The film boasts a talented cast, including Simon Abkarian, Virginie Ledoyen, and Robinson Stévenin, who deliver standout performances as members of the resistance. Their portrayals are authentic and nuanced, capturing the resistance fighters’ challenges, sacrifices, and camaraderie as they navigate the dangers of wartime Paris.

The plot of The Army of Crime revolves around the formation of the Manouchian Group, a resistance cell comprised of immigrants from various countries who wage a guerrilla war against the Nazis. The film delves into their struggles, dilemmas, and relationships as they engage in sabotage, assassination, and propaganda to resist the Nazi occupation. It also explores the complex dynamics between the resistance fighters and the French authorities, who sometimes view them with suspicion and betrayal.

Furthermore, the film provides a nuanced portrayal of French wars, showcasing the complex interplay between politics, ideology, and personal motivations in times of war. It challenges the notion of a monolithic, unified resistance movement and sheds light on the internal conflicts and challenges faced by the resistance fighters.

The Army of Crime is a thought-provoking and poignant film that sheds light on an important chapter of French history. Its engaging storytelling, strong performances, and socially relevant themes make it a must-watch for anyone interested in World War II history, resistance movements, or thought-provoking cinema. Highly recommended.

A Very Long Engagement (2004)

A Very Long Engagement, directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, is a visually stunning and emotionally resonant film that weaves romance, mystery, and war into a mesmerizing tale of love and determination. Jeunet, known for his distinctive visual style and whimsical storytelling, rose to international prominence with his critically acclaimed film Amelie and has continued to be a respected figure in French cinema.

The film features an outstanding cast, with Audrey Tautou as the lead protagonist, Mathilde, who delivers a powerful and captivating performance. Other notable actors include Gaspard Ulliel, Marion Cotillard, and Jodie Foster in a cameo role.

Set during World War I, the film follows Mathilde as she searches for her missing fiancé, Manech (Ulliel), who was believed to have been killed in action. Mathilde, unwilling to accept her fiancé’s death, embarks on a relentless quest to uncover the truth behind his disappearance, encountering many intriguing characters along the way.

The film effortlessly blends mystery, romance, and war elements into a compelling narrative that keeps viewers on the edge of their seats. The cinematography is breathtaking, with visually stunning artistic and symbolic scenes, creating a dream-like atmosphere that adds depth to the story.

The film also provides a unique perspective on French wars, highlighting the devastating impact of World War I on the lives of ordinary people and the toll it takes on families and communities. It explores themes of love, sacrifice, and resilience amidst the horrors of war, making it a poignant and thought-provoking viewing experience.

A Very Long Engagement is a cinematic masterpiece that showcases Jeunet’s artistic prowess as a director and features outstanding performances from its cast. Its compelling plot, breathtaking visuals, and profound themes make it a must-watch for cinephiles and anyone who appreciates thought-provoking cinema. Highly recommended.

Intimate Enemies (2007)

Intimate Enemies is a gripping war drama directed by Florent-Emilio Siri, known for his work on action-packed films. Siri, a French director, has made a name for himself with his ability to capture intense and emotional moments on screen. In Intimate Enemies, he once again demonstrates his directorial prowess with a visually stunning and emotionally impactful film.

The film boasts a stellar cast, including Benoît Magimel, Albert Dupontel, and Aurélien Recoing, who deliver outstanding performances. Magimel, known for his versatility as an actor, gives a standout performance as Lieutenant Terrien, a young and inexperienced officer tasked with leading a platoon in the Algerian War.

Dupontel’s portrayal of Captain Dougnac, a seasoned and jaded soldier, is equally powerful, adding depth to the film’s characters. Recoing also shines in his role as Colonel Faivre, a morally conflicted figure torn between duty and humanity.

The plot of Intimate Enemies revolves around the harrowing experiences of French soldiers fighting against Algerian rebels during the Algerian War. As the platoon faces increasingly dire circumstances, tensions rise, and allegiances are tested, leading to a gripping tale of survival and sacrifice.

The film’s intense and realistic portrayal of the brutality and psychological toll of war sets it apart. The raw emotions, complex character dynamics, and moral dilemmas explored in the film are thought-provoking and resonate long after the credits roll.

Intimate Enemies is a compelling war drama that showcases the directorial prowess of Florent-Emilio Siri and the exceptional performances of its cast. Its realistic portrayal of war, complex characters, and moral dilemmas make it a powerful and thought-provoking film. Highly recommended for those interested in war dramas and thought-provoking films that explore the human condition in the face of conflict.