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There’s something magical about watching movies that are set in beautiful or historical surroundings. The backdrop can become a character on its own in these kinds of movies, providing a color and depth that would be impossible to achieve any other way.
You can probably remember watching a number of movies where the backdrop captured your attention as much as the plot. And there’s a good chance that one of these movies set in Provence, France, is on that list.
Best Movies in Provence
Beautiful and historical, movies about Provence can seem like they’re a world away from modern life. If you’ve never experienced this effect, then you can start here with this list.
You can also use this list of movies about Provence to sate your wanderlust for Southern France or as travel inspiration for your next trip to Provence.
A Good Year (2006)
A Good Year stars Russel Crowe and Marion Cotillard, but it’s the Luberon scenery that’s the real star here. It’s one of the best Provence movies for beautiful landscape shots and images of a small town that looks like it could come from every dream you’ve ever had about the French countryside.
This movie is based on the novel by Peter Mayle, and it follows failed London banker Max Skinner (Crowe), who inherits his uncle’s vineyard in Provence, where he spent many childhood holidays. When he arrives in Provence, ready to sell everything, Max meets an American woman who says she is his long-lost cousin and that the property is hers…
Marius et Jeannette (1997)
Marius et Jeannette is one of the more bittersweet movies set in Provence. It stars Ariane Ascaride as Jeannette, a working-class single mother who works in a supermarket. The director is Robert Guédiguian, who was born and raised in Marseille, where the movie is set.
Jeannette is struggling to support her family with only her supermarket job salary, and she starts stealing paint from a cement factory to get by. This is where she meets Marius, a security guard, and starts a timid relationship and partnership that helps them both.
This is one of those movies in Provence that tells the story of ordinary people in an extraordinary way, and it’s both heart-melting and beautiful.
Jean de Florette (1986)
Based on the book of the same name by French writer Marcel Pagnol, Jean de Florette stars Daniel Auteuil, Gerard Dépardieu, and Yves Montand. It’s set in the small town of Mirabeau, though some scenes were shot in Vaugines and Sommières in the Gard.
The movie is set after the First World War and is a mesmerizing study of small-town life in France. It follows the adventures of Ugolin and his uncle trying to gain access to the spring in the neighbor property to water their flowers. To do this, they conspire to block the spring in order to bankrupt the owner and force him to sell.
This is one of the movies in Provence that you watch for the scenery, the subtle mastery of the actors, and the slow, peaceful turn of life in the French countryside.
And God Created Woman (1956)
This is one of the best movies about Provence simply because it stars the incandescent Brigitte Bardot. Set in St Tropez, a town relatively unknown at the time, the film threw Brigitte Bardot into the spotlight and put Provence and the French Riviera on the map as a holiday destination.
And God Created Woman is about the complicated love triangle between two brothers and Bardot. Bardot as Juliette enraptures numerous men from the wealthy to the naïve. She marries the brother of the man she’s in love with while continuing her wild behavior and putting herself and everyone around her at risk. The only question is, which man will she stay with in the end?
This movie not only launched Brigitte Bardot, but it also pushed the limits of the depiction of sexuality in American cinema. Today, it seems relatively tame, but the beauty and charm of the French Riviera is still absolutely gorgeous and a good match for Bardot’s beauty.
The Horseman on the Roof (1995)
The Horseman on the Roof is a great choice if you’re looking for films set in Provence with a historical flair. Starring Juliette Binoche and Oliver Martinez, it’s based on the novel by Provence writer Jean Giono and directed by Jean-Paul Rappeneau of Cyrano de Bergerac fame.
Set in 1832, in a world ravaged by wars (between France, Austria, and Italy) and an epidemic of cholera, this movie follows two strangers — a beautiful countess searching for her husband and an Italian patriot being hunted by Austrian assassins — discover that their only chance for survival is each other.
Set in the wildly beautiful town of Manosque, in Haute Provence, this movie is everything you might expect from a historical drama. It has sword fights, rooftop escapes, beautiful landscapes, and lots of passionate and secret interludes.
My Father’s Glory (1990)
The first of two Provence movies, My Father’s Glory, is a charming film that seems to meander through the childhood of MacelPagnol, a French novelist and filmmaker. Based on the autobiographical book of the same name, it stars Philippe Caubière, Nathalie Roussel, and Didier Pain.
The movie is set in Marseille after the First World War, where young Marcel (Julien Ciamaca) grows up during the turn of the century in awe of his rationalist dad. When the family takes a summer vacation in the countryside, Marcel meets a boy Lili (Joris Molinas), who teaches him about the secrets of the countryside.
Marcel and Lili become friends soon as they explore the countryside around them. At first sight, this movie seems disjointed and random, like a series of disconnected episodes. But by the end, it has cleverly explored all the important parts that make up childhood in a way that feels very true to life.
Cézanne and I (2016)
If you like your movies about Provence to have some basis in real life, then why not try this beautiful and fraught exploration into the lives of painter Paul Cézanne and novelist Émile Zola?
Cézanne and I is shot in Aix-en-Provence and Mont Saint Victoire. This emotional entry looks at the tempestuous relationship between these two creative geniuses as they grow up in Aix and take very different paths. Zola’s novels receive acclaim early on, while Cézanne’s work is ignored, creating rivalry and strain in their relationship.
Created by writer-director Danièle Thompson, it stars Guillaume Gallienne as Cézanne and Guillaume Canet as Zola.
An Autumn Tale (1998)
Directed by Éric Rohmer, An Autumn Tale is the final movie in a series of four films known as ‘Contes des Quatre Saisons’ or Tales of the Four Seasons. The movie is a beautiful and clever look at the later years of life and what they can mean for many people, and it isn’t afraid to delve into the darker side of getting older.
This isn’t the kind of movie that you watch if you want a lot of action. In fact, it’s the subtlety and wit of this movie that makes it great. Set in the southern Rhône valley, the sense of warmth and simplicity of this movie’s bucolic setting is as heavy and intoxicating as the wine that the characters are preparing to create.
With stars like Alain Libolt, Marie Rivière, Béatrice Romand, and Didier Sandre, as well as Rohmer’s masterful touch, this movie is a true delight to be savored, preferably with a glass of French wine.