Jewish Life in France: 8 French Movies to Watch During Hanukkah

As France is home to the third largest Jewish community in the world, it is no surprise that Jewish life is frequently depicted in French cinema. So in celebration of the eight-day Festival of Lights, here are eight movies to watch on Netflix and Vimeo in between the dreidel-spinning, latke-eating, and candle-lighting.

The Off-Beat Odd Couple Comedy 

The Names of Love / Le nom des gens(2010)—An examination of cultural identity through the unlikely relationship between Bahia, a quirky and liberal (politically and sexually) girl of Algerian origins and Arthur, an older soft-spoken square who hides his Jewish heritage. Rent on Netflix.

The Heart-Wrenching Autobiographical Classic 

Au revoir les enfants (1987)—New Wave filmmaker Louis Malle explores a painful memory from his own past in this story set in a boarding school in occupied France and that is secretly harboring several Jewish students. Rent on Netflix.

The Absurdist Campy Slapstick Farce

Let My People Go! (2011). Reuben, a young French Jewish mailman is living a blissfully happy expat life in Finland with his beautiful blond boyfriend. But a botched postal delivery causes a rupture in their relationship and Reuben is forced to spend Passover with his zany dysfunctional family in Paris. Watch instantly on Netflix. 

The Indie Crime Thriller

Aliyah / Alyah(2012).Feeling constrained by his life as a drug dealer in a working-class neighborhood of Paris, Alex jumps at the opportunity to emigrate to Tel Aviv with his entrepreneurial cousin. While saving up for the move, Alex takes Hebrew lessons and also discovers truths about his family history. Watch instantly on Netflix.

The Dark Wartime Drama

Sarah's Key / Elle s'appelait Sarah (2010). Based on the bestselling novel by Tatiana de Rosnay, the film intertwines two parallel stories. One follows 10-year-old Sarah as she and her Jewish family are arrested by French police during the Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup. Meanwhile, sixty years later, an American journalist living in Paris discovers Sarah’s story as she is doing research on the mass arrest for an article. Rent on Netflix. 

The Award-Winning Biopic 

The Life of Emile Zola (1937). Awarded an Oscar for Best Picture, The Life of Emile Zola portrays the politically activist author’s integral involvement in the infamous Dreyfus Affair as Zola put his career on the line to defend Jewish Captain Alfred Dreyfus who was falsely accused of treason due to anti-Semitism in the French military. Rent on Netflix.

The Light and Breezy Rom-Com 

Café au Lait / Métisse (1994). A year before he made his tense and gritty La Haine, a movie about three social outcasts—one Jewish, one Arab, and one African, director Mathieu Kassovitz told a much softer interracial story. In Café au Lait, Lola has two lovers: Felix (a poor Jewish messenger) and Jamal (a wealthy Black son of diplomats). When Lola reveals that she is pregnant but unaware of who the father is, both guys begin the fight for her affection. Rent on Netflix.

The Powerful Political Documentary

Leon Blum: For All Mankind (2009). A tribute to the first Social Prime Minister of France, the film follows the prominent Jewish politician from his efforts in support of worker’s and women’s rights to his imprisonment in a Nazi concentration camp to his postwar re-election. Watching instantly on Vimeo.

Sophie Weiner

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