The next stop on our book club tour is France, a country with a rich literary history — and the birthplace of cinema. It seems fitting, then, that this month’s list includes titles perfect for not only poolside reading, but movies to watch this summer as well.
Read on to discover five French books and the movies they inspired to help supplement your French language learning. Or, if you’re simply a part-time francophile like I am, take a look at the list below to see how you can add a little je ne sais quoi to your summer reading list and movie queue.
1. The Little Prince — Le Petit Prince
A beloved children’s book, as well as a cult classic with a huge adult following, The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was first published in 1943. It has since been translated into 300 languages, making it one of the most-translated books in the world and a favorite among language learners. In 2015, the computer-animated film The Little Prince premiered at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival.
Synopsis: This whimsical fable is narrated by an airline pilot, stranded after a crash landing in the Sahara Desert. While worrying over his ruined plane and lack of food and water, he meets the Little Prince. This multilayered book, with its musings on vice, cynicism, responsibility, and personal fulfillment, is both K-12 friendly and a treat for adults due for a little chat with their inner child.
2. Planet of the Apes — La planète des singes
This French science-fiction novel was written by Pierre Boulle in 1963 and eventually became the inspiration behind the acclaimed 1968 American film franchise Planet of the Apes. The series was recently rebooted with movies released in 2011, 2014, and 2017.
Synopsis: Jinn and Phyllis, a wealthy couple traveling through space, intercept a message in a bottle. Inside the bottle they find the testament of Ulysse Merou, which details a French expedition tasked with searching for life on other planets. Ulysse writes that the team landed on an Earth-like planet they called ‘Soror’ near the star Betelgeuse, only to make a shocking discovery.
3. A Very Long Engagement — Un long dimanche de fiançailles
This one is my personal favorite. A Very Long Engagement, written by Sébastien Japrisot, is a novel that has something for everyone. Published in 1991 and set during World War I, the story is a quintessential French romance, adapted beautifully for the screen by French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet in 2004. Dreaming of your own classic French romance? Check out Mango Languages’ French Romance specialty course. You’ll learn handy phrases such as how to ask someone out for a drink, as well as opportunities to practice using French terms of endearment.
Synopsis: Five French soldiers convicted of trying to escape military service in World War I are court-martialed and condemned to face almost certain death on the front lines between the French and German forces. The youngest soldier, affectionately called Manech by his friends and family, left behind a fiancée when he went off to war — a stubborn young woman named Mathilde. Mathilde is notified of Manech’s death in action, but something about this news doesn’t sit right with her.
4. Beauty and the Beast — La Belle et la Bête
The traditional tale of Beauty and the Beast was written by French novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve in 1740. In 1756, another French writer, Jeanne Marie Leprince de Beaumont, wrote a second version. This second version would go on to become known as one of the most famous works of fiction published by a woman at the time. The classic tale of La Belle et la Bête has been retold and adapted many times, famously in Disney’s 1991 animation film Beauty and the Beast, and the live-action adaptation in 2017.
Synopsis: You may think you know the story of book-loving Belle’s transformative romance with the Beast, but think again — earlier versions dive deeper into the Beast’s backstory and our heroine’s family history. While descriptions of the Beast vary — from having a trunk like an elephant, to no description at all (it’s up to your imagination!) — the themes of love and sacrifice prevail through each retelling .
5. Les Misérables — Les Misérables
Of course our list would not be complete without mentioning arguably one of the greatest novels of all time: Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables (and if you’re in the mood for more literary heavy hitters, find more classic titles in our Five Must-Read Books by Russian Authors June book club post). This classic novel has been adapted many times over for the stage, radio, television, film, and even a Japanese manga. The musical film Les Misérables (2012) earned several award nominations and wins for its cast and crew.
Synopsis: In this beloved book, Hugo takes a critical look at the French authorities through the plight of Jean Valjean, a man arrested and imprisoned for the noble crime of stealing a loaf of bread to feed his family. Set during a tumultuous time in France’s history, Hugo portrays the political uncertainty of the era and its impact on lower-class Parisians.
No matter your favorite genre, whether it be sci-fi, historical fiction, or romance — this list of French books and movies has something for everyone. Interested in getting more familiar with French? Improve your language and cultural fluency in all things French by logging into your Mango profile or by creating a new profile to get a free start with our French course.
Do you have a favorite French author or film director? Let us know your recommendations in the comment section below!