Stream Holidays

Stream Holidays: Six Great Films About Trips to France

From the salty shenanigans of Monsieur Hulot's Holiday to the ambling romance of Before Sunset, here's our guide for the armchair traveller

In Stream Holidays, we recommend the best films to watch as alternatives to going abroad at this time of global quarantine – all available to stream or rent from the comfort of your own home.

Cobbled streets, clear waters, busy bakeries, romantic lazy evenings. A French getaway evokes slow decadence, a nostalgic allure that lets anyone dream of being a writer, a painter, a devastatingly tortured artist in another life.

Whether it’s the sound of an accordion slaloming its way through alleyways in Paris, or the hot Mediterranean sun on a beach in the South, France offers rich and delicious holidays. Ripe for fiction and imagination, the country lets filmmakers bask in its sun-kissed allure, without ever truly letting go of its cosmopolitan pride.

Ruben Östlund looked towards snow-choked scenes to tell his story, while François Ozon relished the turquoise blank canvas of a rural swimming pool. Whichever corner you turn to, taking a trip to France is never a bad idea. Here’s six of the best to visit while we wait for the real world to catch up…

 

Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday (1953)

Where to watch it: The Criterion Channel (US only)

Jacques Tati’s loveable alter ego brings to mind our very own Mr. Bean – a lanky, bumbling man just going about his business while effortlessly getting a laugh out of audiences from mostly body language alone. Tati played Monsieur Hulot in a number of films in the '50s and ‘60s, but few offer as rewarding a portrait of the character as the very first one, Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday. The film lenses a nondescript seaside resort in the south of France, and has little plot to speak of. Hulot meets various other holidaymakers, which poke fun at a handful of French stereotypes, and discovers every party’s inability to switch off and just relax on the beach. Hulot shuffles his feet like a mechanical windup toy, and so much of the comedy can be found in the smallest body language. A raise of an eyebrow, the shrug of a shoulder. It’s a sweet, smart and certainly salty holiday comedy.

 

Fat Girl (2001)

Where to watch it: The Criterion Channel (US only)

Academic summer holidays give teenagers the chance to live a more stimulating life onscreen than the classroom allows. Middle and high school movies have their own merit, but there’s something about taking a teenager out of their daily routine and giving them time to sit with their thoughts, their bodies and their families, that pushes them to behave in often more dangerous and impactful ways. Fat Girl paints a saddening portrait of a young girl, Anaïs, who looks up to her older sister Elena, and sees her ultimately unravel while on a family holiday by the French seaside. Body image and sexual consent create the central conflict in the film, as sticky bathing suits and scratchy bedsheets act as prisons to teenage girls at war with their self-confidence. The film lingers on the pains, both literal and emotional, of coming of age, and the backdrop of a remote seaside home gives the story an eerie sense of quiet.

 

Swimming Pool (2002)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

The South of France offers rich fruit for literary inspiration as well as unilateral escape. In Swimming Pool, Charlotte Rampling plays Sarah Morton, a crime novelist with a bad temper, who takes a trip to her publisher’s home in Lacoste to refuel and rewrite. But the arrival of the publisher’s daughter, Julie, distorts Sarah’s ideas for her idyllic escape. Director François Ozon relishes the impact the hot mediterranean sun has on these women’s minds and bodies – lingering on tanned skin and droplets of water full of chlorine, leaning into the intoxicating atmosphere that comes from spending a bit too long in the sun. The erotic focus certainly gives darkness to the glorious rural landscape, but the hallucinatory nature of the relationship that develops between Sarah and Julie remains vivid and hypnotic at all times.

Before Sunset (2004)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

Perhaps one of the finest examples of the “walk and talk” genre of movies, Before Sunset is Richard Linklater’s second instalment in the trilogy that finds a man and a woman, Jesse and Céline, meet and connect, and reunite and reconnect, over the course of several years – both onscreen and off. The film picks up nine years after Before Sunrise, in which the pair spent a day and a night in Vienna. Now in Paris for a book tour, Jesse locks eyes with Céline across the room as if nothing has changed. Their tour of the city is a distracted one, two people desperately scrambling to re-discover and understand one another without crossing any lines, regardless of where they might be. Yet despite all the Parisian sights and landmarks that Before Sunset celebrates, it is the final moments in Céline’s apartment that make for the best scene in the film. City of Love, indeed.

 

Midnight in Paris (2011)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

The arrogance and neuroses of Woody Allen are often skilfully fed into the filmmaker’s narratives. By going an entire century back in time, Midnight in Paris represents the apotheosis of this. A reluctant holiday to France with his less than agreeable fiancee pushes Gil (Owen Wilson) to wander the streets of the capital alone at night: basking in the romance of the city’s history, hungry for inspiration. By some miracle, the strike of midnight takes Gil back to 1920s Paris, where he meets all those who inhabited it. Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Picasso, Stein, Dali… for those yearning to discover Paris, the film offers a glorious one-stop tour of both the people and the places that helped create such a mystique. The dynamic of those visiting the city is curious – Inez (Rachel McAdams), Gil’s fiancee, cares little for traditional culture, more focused on guidebook tours and lavish souvenirs. But Gil isn’t faultless either – his obsession with the past has a certain condescension to it. Still, behind this insecure and dissatisfied persona, the city of Paris thrives.

 

Force Majeure (2014)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

Trips away aren’t exclusively sunny days and sweaty nights – the landscape for a family holiday turns to the French mountains in Ruben Östlund’s chilly relationship drama Force Majeure. A skiing vacation becomes a fraught crossroads for the family, as the surrounding mountains act as a great leveller in a brief moment of potential terror. Crises of a meteorological kind are avoided, but the fight-or-flight instincts of the father of the family, Tomas, creates a rift in his marriage to Ebba that is only further crystallised by the foreign landscape around them. Pathetic fallacies are pushed to extremes here, as the glittering appeal of a snowy idyll soon melts away. As it turns out, it takes a new background for this Swedish family’s true colours to transpire. The claustrophobia of a never-ending natural haven comes to the fore, while there is no amount of smooth slopes or decadent dining that can save these tourists.

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