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FILM

5 of Omar Sy’s best French-language films and TV series

French actor Omar Sy's profile is rapidly rising in Hollywood with a series of blockbuster films and a new Netflix deal, but he has also done some great work in French cinema. Here's our pick of his back catalogue.

French actor Omar Sy
French actor Omar Sy. Photo: Francois Guillot/AFP

Les Intouchables (Untouchable) – 2011

This is the film that saw Sy really break through in France, a more serious role after an early career in mostly comedy or light fare.

Inspired by true events, Les Intouchables tells the story of Philippe (François Cluzet), a rich man who is left paralysed after a paragliding accident. Trapped inside his own dysfunctioning body, Philippe is frustrated and depressed, unable to take care of himself.

Enter Driss (Sy) – the tall, handsome black man with an unrelentingly optimistic approach to life despite his tough background. It’s a clash of two different Frances – Philippe’s wealthy and white and Driss’ poor and black – and two men who turn out to have much more in common than they think. 

READ ALSO 12 popular films that teach you something about France

Chocolat – 2016

No, not the Johnny Depp film about the chocolate-maker, this is loosely based on the true life story of 19th-century black circus clown Rafael Padilla, who took the stage name Chocolat.

The biopic allows Sy to show off his comedy gifts and his talent for physical performance through the clowning routines, but also tackles some tough questions around prejudice and stereotyping.

It also features a classic ‘French ending’.

Tout simplement Noir (Simply Black) – 2020

This film saw a return to comedy for Sy, playing an unemployed actor who hits on the idea of organising a march protesting about the under-representation of black voices in the media as a way of boosting his career.

The film itself is a little uneven in its tone, but it gives Sy the opportunity to demonstrate his range, from slapstick comedy through to serious subjects and emotional moments.

READ ALSO 5 Netflix shows that will teach you French as the locals speak it

Omar Sy and Virginie Efira at the Berlin premier of Police (Night Shift)

Omar Sy and Virginie Efira at the Berlin premier of Police (Night Shift). Photo by John MACDOUGALL / AFP

Police (Night Shift) – 2020

This remarkable film from director Anne Fontaine tells a simple story – three police officers are tasked with transferring a failed asylum seeker to the airport so that he can be deported.

What makes it so compelling is the shifting narrative – showing the same events of the day from the different perspectives of the three officers – and the startling performances from Sy and his co-stars Virginie Efira and Grégory Gadebois.

It’s great if you want to understand some of the problems in France around policing, racism and migration.

ANALYSIS How did France’s relationship with its own police get so bad?

Lupin (2020)

A dubbed-into-English version of this exists on Netflix, but for our money it has more nuance and character in French.

It’s a clever modern rethink of the classic Arsène Lupin novels, with a lot of glitz, glamour and complicated plot twists (and bears some similarity to the British show Sherlock, another re-imagining of a classic character from literature).

You can watch the show for the fun and thrills alone, but there are also some serious points about racism, prejudice and corruption in France.

It became Netflix’s third most watched series ever, according to internal company data, and helped propel Sy to a multi-year Netflix deal, meaning we can expect to see more of him in the future, although whether his new work will be in English or French is not yet clear.

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LEARNING FRENCH

The French TV series, radio shows and podcasts that will boost your language skills

Listening to French radio or podcasts or watching TV shows in French is a well known route to improving language skills. So we asked our readers to spell out a few of their favourites.

The French TV series, radio shows and podcasts that will boost your language skills

News programmes, quizzes and culinary reality show Top Chef were among the must-watch French TV shows for anyone keen to improve their language skills, while talk radio and local stations were also top tips from readers of The Local in response to a recent questionnaire.

Streaming video on demand services or DVDs were also among the recommendations, thanks to the ease with which programmes could be rewound and replayed. 

But the most common advice was to make liberal use of subtitles.

News channel France 24 was recommended by reader Seb Rocco, from Montpellier, who suggested that French learners could, “listen in French with English subtitles, or in English with French subtitles”.

Patricia Hobbs, from Lot-et-Garonne, suggested watching French news programmes with French subtitles, going so far as to say “in fact anything with subtitles in French”, to be able to match the sound to the spelling.

As well as M6’s Top Chef, the hugely popular comedy drama Dix Pour Cent, available on Netflix, was recommended for its help developing – ahem – more colloquial French, for which the Canal Plus series La Flamme also got a nod. 

Blood of the Vine on Amazon Prime, Arte TV’s 3x Manon and another Netflix series, Family Business, also got honourable mentions in our survey for helping French learners develop their language skills.

“DVDs with multilingual soundtracks are your friend,” Mike Gibb, who divides his time between Paris and London, wrote. “Play them in French, and if there are sections you don’t get, you can replay them a few times … and the English soundtrack is always there to give extra hints. 

“Most classic films, in black and white, or [from the] golden age of Hollywood will come with multiple soundtracks by default. For the rest, buy English-language originals from amazon.fr to find the versions with French dubbing.”

New Yorker John Hart added: “I like watching TV and movies that have been dubbed into french. Dubbed dialogue is often clearer, and sometimes simpler, than in the original language. Netflix is a great resource for this.”

Local radio stations were also highlighted as great resources for language learners. “[It’s] great to get a feeling of your region, the dialect, and of course news about events, recipes et cetera,” Dora Biloux, who lives in the southwest Occitanie region told us. “Learn the language and get information at the same time.”

She also recommended full immersion in French TV. “Ditch your dish and go for full on French TV – maybe with a package of some english language series, to ease the initial pain.”

And she – wisely – suggested listening to audiobooks. “Get an audiobook in a French translation of an English book that you know well.”

Other readers recommended France Inter radio, and news and talk radio in general.

As for podcasts, recommendations ranged from dedicated educational French language services to RFI’s “Journal Monde” and “Journal en Français Facile”, France Culture’s “Le Pourquoi du Comment: Économie et Social” and “La Question du Jour”, and Bababam’s “Maintenant Vous Savez”, France Inter’s ‘Popopop’ and ‘Autant en emporte l’histoire’, France Culture’s ‘Les Pieds sur Terre’, and Bababam’s ‘Home(icides)’ True Crime.

Keep an eye out for “Talking France,” The Local’s podcast that will be back up with new episodes starting at the end of May. We’ll help you learn some French!

Got any of your own recommendations? Tell us in the comments below, or send an email to [email protected]

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