amelie

The director of Delicatessen brings us this delightful fairytale story of Amelie, a shy waitress who plots random acts of kindness. Amelie decides on her mission after witnessing the joy she brings to an older man by anonymously returning a box of his childhood treasures. Other acts include sending a garden gnome on a world tour, matchmaking, videomaking, and bestowing justice on behalf of a slow-moving grocer’s assistant. Finally, karma catches up with her, and Amйlie must decide whether she’s brave enough to realize joy in her own life, not just through creating joy for others. Magic realism and the engaging pixie-like quality of lead actor Audrey Tatou make this perfect holiday fare. [france, 2001]

eight women

See the grande dames of French cinema let loose in this cheeky homage to vintage thrillers, musicals, and soap operas. Of note are Catherine Deneuve and Danielle Darrieux as the matriarchs, Emmanuelle Bйart as the maid, Fanny Ardant as the outsider, and Isabelle Huppert as an absurdly uptight aunt. When the patriarch of the home is mysteriously murdered, the octet find themselves trapped in a country house suspecting each other of the deed. Features dark secrets, glamorous outfits, bitchy backstabbing, lesbian subtext, and campy song-and-dance numbers. [france, 2002]

school of flesh

A May/December role reversal, French style. She has polish, financial power, and social standing. He has youth, looks, and a troubled past. Flesh stands out for placing a fortysomething woman, Dominique, at the heart of this story about a muted obsession with a much younger bartender. Despite the slightly twisted nature of the affair and her obvious despair, she never gets trapped or buried by it. Low on action and fireworks, it’s a nuanced dissection of an unconventional relationship. [france, 1998]

kandahar

This beautifully shot film chronicles the journey of an Afghani-born Canadian journalist as she tries to rescue her sister from Kandahar. As a teenager, Nafas, played by real journalist, non-actor Nelofer Pazira, fled Afghanistan; her beloved sister was injured by a landmine and was forced to stay behind. After receiving a letter from her sister threatening suicide, Nafas attempts the nearly impossible journey through Taliban-controlled Afghanistan to rescue her sister. While the plot is deceptively simple, the images in this film speak volumes. Highly recommended as a study on culture, rights, and freedom. [france/iran, 2001]

the umbrellas of cherbourg

This candy-colored musical (yes musical—there is no talking) starts Catherine Denevue as a young woman smitten with the blush of first love. Her more practical mother would prefer the young ingenue choose a more stable and wealthy man. This bittersweet love story, and ultimately rumination on first love, first lust, and the greater commitment of relationships has it all: a beautiful heroine, a handsome and tragic hero, and copious singing in the original language of love. [France, 1964]