French Film 101: The Erotic And Intelligent


adelefeatureFor LoveSexy month, I wanted to recommend some titillating French movies from recent years. Turns out I hadn’t seen that many sexy French films, so I watched a lot in the last few weeks! Sadly, most were awful and I don’t recommend them. (But if you’re looking for skin flicks, check out ones by Jean Claude Brisseau and Catherine Breillat. Both have a few currently streaming on Netflix.)

Something to remember about French movies, even the sexy ones: Where there’s love, there’s pain. The storylines are the antitheses of the Hollywood machine, so do not expect happy endings here. The films I picked are intellectually as well as physically sexy. Though there are plenty of funny-sexy French films, they aren’t exactly a turn-on so we’ll get to those another time!

La Vie d’Adèle/Blue Is The Warmest Color, 2013

adeleLa Vie d’Adèle tracks a young woman’s sexual and emotional evolution into adulthood. We follow Adèle from her first heterosexual encounter and her need for social acceptance to her eventual submission to a lesbian relationship with blue-haired artist, Emma. Adèle is first portrayed as a vulnerable teen in school, and she keeps this fidgeting yet silent vulnerability throughout the film, even when she has a job and responsibilities. It’s an erotic film in every way—eating and sleeping figure highly and the home-cinema-like cinematography adds hugely to the sense of intimacy. Several of the arousing sex scenes are very long: There’s the much-talked-about eight minutes of non-stop, steamy girl-on-girl action.

The brilliant performances by the two leads—Léa Seydoux as the fantastically enticing Emma and Adèle Exarchopoulus as the titular lead who appears in every scene of the film—were rewarded with the first ever acting Palme d’Or at Cannes, one for each of them. (The Palme d’Or is historically awarded for direction, not acting).

The extended runtime allows for sometimes indulgent scenes of nature, dinners, sex, sleep, dancing—desire observed and expressed slowly and deliberately. It also allows you to fully enjoy the nuanced performances and the subtle shift of the color blue from Emma to Adèle. Three hours may seem like a big time investment, but this is a superb, sexy film.

37°2 Le Matin/Betty Blue, 1986

bettyblue1Betty Blue posters have been adorning film students’ walls for decades. The cult movie known for sex, loads of full-frontal nudity and a spirited woman drifting deeper and deeper into her own insanity is also an Oscar-nominated love story with a haunting soundtrack and superb acting from the two leads.

Zorg (Jean Hughes Anglade) and Betty (the then-unknown Béatrice Dalle) meet and shag their way happily through one setback after another, moving from one place to the next. It’s clear from the start that all is not well with Betty’s mind, so we are on the edge of our seats for the entire film to see what she does next. This cocktail of a meandering storyline, unbearable tension and a sexy relationship is very enchanting.

Take Betty Blue at face value. Enjoy the fun and liberating scenes, empathize with the tragedy of Betty’s decline and wonder about the power of love and its ability to conquer all.  I loved it as a film student with the poster on my wall and I love it all over again now.

La Pianiste/The Piano Teacher, 2001

lapianisteIsabelle Huppert is outstanding in her portrayal of Erika, a sexually repressed 40-something piano instructor in a powerplay relationship with her student, Walter (played by Benoît Magical who just oozes sex appeal). Erika is into voyeurism and porn, has a very strange relationship with her domineering mother, and also self-mutilates. The film can be unsettling and quite uncomfortable. This is director Michael Haneke’s trademark. But it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before or since—films like this do not come around every day!

The first half is slow, but the characters are being built so the second half is all the more explosive. The first sex scene is more than an hour into the film and Erika is very much in the position of power. The relationship between teacher and pupil gets weirder when she writes him a letter with instructions and the control starts to shift from one character to the other. Both actors and the director deservedly won top prizes at Cannes that year.

It’s impossible to have a list of sexy French films without La Pianiste. Stick it out to the end, which is a discussion point all its own. I’d be interested to hear your feedback as this is a risky recommendation!


About Author

In college in Dublin, Cliodhna Fullam chose La Nouvelle Vague du Cinéma Français as her final year research topic. It opened her eyes to the world of film and she has never looked back. With the Abu Dhabi Film Festival, she worked tirelessly to acquaint viewers to the joys of non-box-office films. Cliodhna has spent years watching French films and believes that if she can enjoy them, anyone can.


  1. I”ll have to check out the Pianiste! What about the Hairdressers Husband? Not really hot & heavy (as far as I remember…it’s been ages) but it’s sexy and lovey and a bit fetishy with his hairdressing obsession. I have to go back and watch that now.

  2. “It’s impossible to have a list of sexy French films without La Pianiste. Stick it out to the end, which is a discussion point all its own. I’d be interested to hear your feedback as this is a risky recommendation!”

    I really wanted to like the Pianist. Truly I did. And don’t get me wrong, I love me some sexy viewing. I LOVED Blue is the Warmest Color, and read the graphic novel before it was a film. I was excited to finally watch The Pianist, and in the end, I think I didn’t actually make it. You’re right – getting to the end is a discussion point all on it’s own! I think I just started to feel too sick about the downward spiral it was taking. For me, uncomfortable is an understatement. And sincerely – you won’t hear me complaining about “gratuitous sex” scenes. Ever. I just didn’t like the phsychology behind this one.

    I haven’t heard of Betty Blue, so looking forward to it – thanks for the article!

    • Rachel, you are so brave to try. It sounded way too creepy for me to even go there. Really appreciate your review! And Betty Blue is a classic. I saw it in college and was like, Whoa, so that’s a French film!

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