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.
‘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.
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.
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.
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.
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?