Weekend Roundtable: Paris, je t’aime

In light of the tragic real-life events that happened in France last week, we wanted to use this weekend’s Roundtable to celebrate one of the greatest cities in the world. Over the decades, Paris has been the setting for countless movies and TV shows. What are some of your favorites?

Ideally, we’d like to focus on projects that showcase the City of Lights at its best, and not dwell on those that depict it being blown up by terrorists or pulverized by an asteroid.

Mike Attebery

Before Sunset‘, Richard Linklater’s surprise 2004 sequel to 1995’s ‘Before Sunrise’, could have been a complete disaster. The ambiguity at the conclusion of the first film, which followed twenty-somethings Jesse and Céline as they strolled the nighttime streets of Vienna, didn’t necessarily cry out for a sequel to answer the question mark at the end. In many ways, I think the open ending was part of that film’s growing appeal over the years. Yet watching the two reunite in their thirties and wander the daytime streets of Paris somehow managed to hit all the right notes.

As we follow them through a day of cafe visits, strolls through public gardens, and a short trip down the Seine, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy give us a low-key walking tour of the City of Lights, while giving fans of the first film the perfect follow-up. If you’ve never been interested in visiting Paris before, chances are good that by the time Nina Simone is playing in the background of Céline’s studio apartment, you’ll hop on your computer and peruse ticket prices on Orbitz.

Shannon Nutt

Although it’s a thriller, my favorite movie set in Paris is Roman Polanski’s ‘Frantic‘, where Harrison Ford plays a doctor whose wife disappears. The flick has a Hitchcockian vibe, and Ford is fantastic playing the everyman character in a plot that requires him to be in every scene of the movie.

I visited Paris for a week during my honeymoon back in 2007. Sadly, I’m now divorced, but I do have wonderful memories of the city and my time there. I got to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower and the Arch de Triumph, see the paintings by Monet in the Musee d’Orsay, spend a day in the Louvre, visit Notre-Dame Cathedral, and see the dancing girls of the Moulin Rouge. It’s a wonderful city and I hope to make it back there again one day.

M. Enois Duarte

With so many movies set in Paris at our disposal, how does one choose just one that makes the city look its very best? For this week’s topic, I’m going with the film that best romanticizes the beautiful city: ‘Amélie‘. Granted, much of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s film is mostly seen through the rose-tinted glasses of the title character – a young, brightly optimistic woman who developed an over-active imagination from an early age. But who better to glamorize the hope, stunning beauty and inspiration of the city than one of its own children? In her quest to bring happiness to others, Amélie Poulain takes audiences on a tour of everyday Paris life and unveils its quirky, humorous side.

Another longtime favorite that also takes moviegoers on a tour through Paris is Albert Lamorisse’s classic ‘The Red Balloon‘. Since childhood, the film has always haunted me for it beautiful simplicity and originality. It remains an exquisite glimpse at one of the most famous and gorgeous cities on the planet.

Brian Hoss

For me, it’s nearly impossible to think of the iconic nature of Paris without thinking back to ‘Highlander: The Series‘. When the show moved away from New York and had Duncan living on the Seine, his relative prestige was increased exponentially.

My own first experience with Paris was the rather inconvenient trek across Charles de Gaulle Airport, which I am much more prepared for now (deplane on tarmac, bus to terminal, train to other terminal, security, etc.). If possible, I think everyone should make the ‘Highlander’ trek to the Notre-Dame Cathedral. There can be only one.

Luke Hickman

For me, the most beautiful on-screen depiction of Paris comes to us via Woody Allen. I’ve never been a huge fan of Allen’s work, but I fell head over heels in love with ‘Midnight in Paris‘. With these characters, from Owen Wilson’s protagonist to the larger-than-life depictions of history’s literary greats, it was easy to get pulled into the film. You always hear of locations playing “a character” within films, but the character of Paris in ‘Midnight in Paris’ has to be the most fitting in that category. You always hear of how beautiful the City of Light appears at night, but until Allen shot it, no other film had been able to portray that nickname so well. I never had a big desire to visit Paris until this on-screen depiction.

Chris Chiarella (Sound & Vision)

Comedy sequels are tough. I know many people who adore ‘European Vacation‘ but I was never among its admirers. In fact, it’s so nonsensical and painfully unfunny that I find parts of it difficult to watch. And yet there’s a scene during the Griswolds’ time in France that is so boldly conceived and deftly executed that it belongs in a different, better movie. As the family tours the Louvre, Plastic Bertrand’s irresistible “Ca Plane Pour Moi” (a song which no doubt sounds similar to fans of Elton Motello’s “Jet Boy, Jet Girl”) plays over scenes of the clan surveying the works of the great masters. Assembled largely from stop-motion shots – essentially a series of smartly orchestrated still photos – the sequence is a welcome blast of fresh air, and an unexpected high point amid the international dreck.

Just giving credit where it’s due. Respect.

Josh Zyber

For movies set in contemporary times, ‘Amélie’, ‘Before Sunset’ and ‘Midnight in Paris’ (all mentioned above) can’t be beat.

Sometimes, however, I really enjoy taking a trip back to a city’s past. (By that I mean its actual past as captured at the time, not a modern recreation of it.) Two great movies in that regard are Jean-Luc Godard’s innovative crime classic ‘Breathless‘ and the Audrey Hepburn musical ‘Funny Face‘. Although these two films have little else in common (one’s an experimental attempt to subvert the rules of film grammar and the other is a light and frothy mainstream entertainment), both function as wonderful time capsules to a city of more than five decades ago. I find myself fascinated by the people, the fashions, and even the incidental details of daily life that neither movie deliberately focuses on. Many of those things are long gone now, but they’re preserved forever on celluloid.

I’ve only been to Paris once, for a week back in 2008. It’s an amazing city and I hope to bring my children there someday when they’re old enough to appreciate it. Last week’s tragedy is truly appalling, but I know that the city will recover from it, grow stronger, and continue to be the thriving cultural center it has long been.

Have you been to Paris? What are your favorite movies or TV shows set there?


  1. Chris B

    Never been to Paris but hope to go one day. It’s the setting of one of , if not THE greatest heist movie of all time Rififfi! Jules Dassin’s 1955 masterpiece is one of my new all-time favorite films since I saw it last year, and a killer Criterion disc…

  2. NJScorpio

    My own little screening tribute might be watching a few films of Luc Besson, such as ‘Nikita’, ‘The Professional’, ‘The Fifth Element’ and ‘Angel-A’.

  3. Though I’ve never been to Paris, but I’ve seen photos and Discovery Channel footage, it looks to be a beautiful place to visit. So for this topic I’ll choose Pixars wonderful as far as I know it CG recreation of Paris, Ratatouille. The city in that film is beautiful.

  4. photogdave

    Ronin – the opening and closing cafe shots are in Paris, as is the under-the-bridge arms deal scene. Maybe the big tunnel car chase too?
    Anyway, one of my favourite movies and some scenes of Paris we don’t normally see.
    Femme Fatale is another great looking movie with some nice Paris scenes.

    • Chris B

      Shit I forgot about Ronin! Great movie, haven’t seen it in years though. Think I’ll revisit this weekend. Also on the action front , La Femme Nikita. Head and shoulders above the shitty remake with Bridget Fonda.

  5. Deaditelord

    When I think of great films set in Paris I think of Ratatouille, Amélie, and the hilarious Pink Panther movies with Peter Sellers such as A Shot in the Dark.

  6. Bolo

    ‘De battre mon coeur s’est arrêté’ / ‘The Beat That My Heart Skipped’
    This is like some lost Scorcese movie. The film is a remake of an American film called ‘Fingers’ which starred Harvey Keitel, and in my opinion it is a huge improvement over the original. Romain Duris gives a intense performance. Audiard’s direction is very gripping, I couldn’t believe when he actually topped himself with his followup film. This is a great gritty deciption of modern day Paris. I would love it if Criterion put out a bluray of this one.

    ‘Le samouraï’
    A hugely influencial film in the hitman subgenre, this one has style to spare. Jean-Pierre Melville shoots Paris and Alain Delon in a way that does justice to both.

  7. EM

    Great topic. (Great city.)

    Any reader paying much attention to my viewing habits (if there are any such readers) should not be surprised by my #1 pick, a film which this past Halloween season I yet again saw projected with live pipe-organ accompaniment. I am of course speaking of the 1925 classic Phantom of the Opera, which is set almost entirely inside and below the famous 19th Century opera/ballet house also known as the Palais Garnier. Based on what happens to be one of my favorite novels, the film depicts a sumptuous Opéra as the marvelous hive of intrigue and secrets. But the film was not shot in Paris: Universal built a stunning collection of sets to re-create this musical monument thousands of miles away. As a special bonus, near the end of the film Lon Chaney’s titular Phantom, running through the streets of Paris to flee an angry mob, races past Notre Dame cathedral…or rather, another fabulous set from an earlier Chaney–Universal film, The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

    Another side of Paris is shown in Jacques Tati’s 1967 comedy Play time, which follows Tati’s disheveled, befuddled Monsieur Hulot character through a series of misadventures in a modern urban landscape gone gently mad. Like Phantom, Play time wasn’t shot in the real Paris: Its “Tativille” sets were constructed to the east and south of Paris, forming a veritable complement to La Défense, a district to the west and north of Paris which the film’s setting so greatly resembles, although similar constructions can be found in the City of Light itself. But the setting is clearly Paris—somewhere—as evidenced by the scant cameos of recognizable landmarks. The film’s “modern” architectural monstrosities, though somewhat dated, nonetheless retain a soupçon of the future or an alien world, making for a strange and puzzling but ultimately harmless, even amusing Paris that’s worth a visit, at least for a while.

    Some other favorites: Before Sunset; Moulin Rouge!; and Casablanca, which, though mostly set in the titular Moroccan city, features flashbacks to the French capital and is responsible for the immortal line, “We’ll always have Paris.” And indeed…we’ll always have Paris.

  8. timcharger

    Violating the HDD ways and going with standard definition,
    I pulled this out of storage. It’s going to go back on to my primary shelves
    despite not being a blu-ray. Reminds me to upgrade this one.

    Paris je t'aime

    This was one the very first Steelbooks I owned.

  9. EM

    Merde, I feel silly having overlooked Jean-Jacques Beineix’s stylish 1981 thriller Diva. It’s a great movie all around, and it makes good use of its multicultural Paris setting. There’s a great chase sequence involving the Place de la Concorde and the Métro that makes me feel like I’m there again (not that my visits have gone quite like that…).

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