Paris in the Movies: Which Film Best Evokes the City of Light?

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Paris in the Movies: Which Film Best Evokes the City of Light?
We asked Parisians… Which film best evokes Paris? Whether a French film or a Hollywood production, new or classic work… what movie captures the magic of la Capitale? Paris is so multi-faceted, and so distorted by romanticism—or prejudices—that it was only natural for our anecdotal list to be diverse. The answers from the motley sample of locals often reflected the particular sentiments of the responder, or their mood of the moment. No one answered An American in Paris (which was made entirely in “Hollywood, USA,” as the credits proclaim)– despite a successful musical adaptation which recently travelled from Paris to Broadway. And no one gave what would have been my own personal choice, A Bout de Souffle (Breathless), Jean-Luc Godard’s first feature starring Jean-Paul Belmondo and the American Jean Seberg. Other honourable non-mentions: Paris Vu Par …, a New Wave compilation film and Quai des Orfevres, a classic policier directed by the noir great Henri-Georges Clouzot. In no particular order: 1. Amélie (2001)—this film, directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, was a big hit in France and in the U.S. too, and made a star out of Audrey Tautou. It portrays one fabled corner of Paris—Montmartre—in a whimsical style that reflects the baroque comic vision of the director, but also the variegated nature of the quartier, which even today is filled with artists, bohemians, hustlers, sex workers, immigrants, and tourists. 2. Un Long Dimanche de Fiancailles (2004) A Very Long Engagement—Yet another film directed by Jeunet and starring Tautou. The film takes place during the First World War, and tells the story of a woman searching for her poilu husband. It portrays a long-ago Paris and despite a reprise of Amelie’s comic whimsy, also reminds us of the lasting impact of WWI on French sensibilities. 3. Midnight in Paris (2011)—The most frequently cited American film (Woody Allen’s films aren’t really “Hollywood”). Allen and the French have had a long-lasting love affair dating back decades. Allen beautifully filmed numerous sites, obvious and less obvious, in the city. The narrative is, appropriately, a romantic fantasy which contrasts Lost Generation Paris and neurotic present-day American tourists. The film won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, and featured a new generation of actors, American and French, including Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, and Marion Cotillard. 4. La Traversée de Paris (1956)—a surprising number of people mentioned this film, which I’ve never seen. It was made by one of the foremost pre-Nouvelle Vague directors, Claude Autant-Lara. The film takes a comic look at a dark moment in the past, portraying black marketeers during the Occupation (which wasn’t all that long before the film was made). It starred French cinema icons Jean Gabin and Bourvil, and introduced in a small role the comedian who became France’s best-loved comic actor, Louis de Funes. 5. La Grande Vadrouille (1966)—Made by Gérard Oury, another film that portrays Paris during the Occupation (though it also ventures beyond the city). Like La Traversée de Paris, this film treats a dark time with the absurd, in this case farce—Louis de Funes is the undisputed star of the film. La Grande Vadrouille isn’t well known outside France, but it’s the country’s biggest grossing film ever. It’s one of those films re-broadcast on TV every year, just as The Wizard of Oz used to be in the US. 6. Hotel du Nord (1938)—This classic film was directed on the eve of WWII by Marcel Carné, one of France’s greatest directors, and features the legendary icon Arletty (whose reputation remains under a cloud because she blithely continued her career during the Occupation). It’s a Grand Hotel-type portrait of numerous characters, but more melodramatic and atmospheric. Ironically, the Canal St. Martin quarter is now one of Paris’ most thoroughly gentrified neighborhoods. 7. Paris (2008): Cedric Klapisch is known for comic films with a genuinely human touch. Paris is a bittersweet film about a dancer sidelined by an illness. He uses his newly sedentary and solitary life to observe others around him. This is a frame for several stories featuring some of France’s best actors: Fabrice Luchini, Juliet Binoche, Romain Duris, Melanie Laurent. 8. Two Days in Paris (2007): Directed by actress Julie Delpy. She also wrote, edited, wrote the soundtrack, and starred in the film. In other words it’s an effort at an auteur film, not so much in the French tradition, but the New York Woody Allen vein. In fact the film starts in New York, but the troubled couple it depicts go to Paris to resolve their situation, only to complicate it. 9. Le Jour Se Lève(1939): Another film directed by Marcel Carné. It’s a melodramatic subject, tracing the events that led to a murder, but poetically filmed, and written by one of France’s great twentieth-century poets, Jacques Prévert. It’s been said the film was made to avoid any…
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Lead photo credit : The café in Amélie, ©2001 - Miramax

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Dimitri Keramitas was born and raised in Connecticut, USA, and was educated at the University of Hartford, Sorbonne, and the University of London, and holds degrees in literature and law. He has lived in Paris for years, and directs a training company and translation agency. In addition, he has worked as a film critic for both print and on-line publications, including Bonjour Paris and France Today. He is a contributing editor to Movies in American History. In addition he is an award-winning writer of fiction, whose stories have been published in many literary journals. He is the director of the creative writing program at WICE, a Paris-based organization. He is also a director at the Paris Alumni Network, an organization linking together several hundred professionals, and is the editor of its newletter. The father of two children, Dimitri not only enjoys Paris living but returning to the US regularly and traveling in Europe and elsewhere.

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Comments

  • ana maria carrasco
    2020-01-24 19:09:36
    ana maria carrasco
    Yes, yes,yes. Paris Romance was more than wonderful. I saw it as many times as I could in Europa TV. The songs, the views, their remarks. I am glad I am not the only one who enjoyed it

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  • Pete in California
    2020-01-18 19:03:48
    Pete in California
    My wife loves to visit these types of movie sites. One night, a few years ago, we went to visit the site where Owen's character was picked up at midnight, to be transported back in time. It was a Sunday evening, and certainly looked nothing like the movie in the fading daylight, but on the church steps, we found a large assemblage of young ladies hanging out. Sunday night is apparently Aux Pairs' night off, and this is where they gathered to meet others like themselves. We spent considerable time chatting with these girls, who were from all over the world, and most delightful to talk to.

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  • George Broadhead
    2020-01-18 01:52:25
    George Broadhead
    I was in Paris during the filming of "Amelie", and had no idea what was in store. Not only does it evoke the Paris I prefer to remember, I innocently took a few snapshots of the filming in progress: e.g. a telephone booth being placed where there in fact wasn't one; changes to 'signs' over a few shops, etc.

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  • Lawrence Bennett
    2020-01-17 15:47:46
    Lawrence Bennett
    I loved Charade. Watched it many times.

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  • Joy Maguire
    2020-01-17 12:43:31
    Joy Maguire
    Paris, Je t'Aime is also wonderful.

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  • Barbara
    2020-01-17 11:13:29
    Barbara
    Loved all of these movies. But also Funny face with Audrey Hepburn

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  • Olive
    2020-01-17 05:01:17
    Olive
    We had been planning a trip to Rome but then we watched Midnight in Paris and we were hooked and changed our minds.....ended up spending a wonderful 6 weeks in paris....absolutely loved it ....and it took about 26 hours of flights to get there from down in new Zealand!!!!

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  • Joy Maguire
    2019-10-23 13:24:24
    Joy Maguire
    I agree absolutely

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  • Robert
    2019-10-23 12:26:11
    Robert
    "Before Sunset" by Richard Linklater, starring Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, is an absolute love letter to strolling through the streets of Paris.

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  • Thomas
    2019-05-30 15:32:19
    Thomas
    Je suis d'accord. Ratatouille is a brilliant film, and its depiction of Paris is highly evocative and deeply felt. I had seen it in the original English version when it first came out, and then again last year in French on a transatlantic Air France flight. As you might imagine, as good as it was in English, it was even better in French.

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  • Joy Maguire
    2018-11-03 11:23:04
    Joy Maguire
    also forgot to mention Ratatouille!!!

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  • Joy Maguire
    2018-11-03 11:22:23
    Joy Maguire
    Both Paris Je t'Aime and An American in Paris should be considered. I do love Midnight in Paris

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  • anita
    2018-11-02 19:31:26
    anita
    Paris Romance which I saw in Europa, Europa TV. A boy and a girl walking or riding the Metro through Paris while they sing French songs and give very brief descriptions of what we are being shown and of it's history.

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  • Janet Dreyer
    2018-11-02 19:30:59
    Janet Dreyer
    Where oh where is Camille Claudel? She breaks my heart every time I think of her. The movie is very well done and very true to her story as I know it.

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  • Richard Porter
    2018-11-01 19:34:17
    Richard Porter
    I agree Owen Wilson is not a good actor but the scenery made that movie worth watching. Amelie is my favorite.

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  • Laurel
    2015-09-10 18:28:06
    Laurel
    Paris, je t'aime- anthology of five minute stories by different directors and with different casts. And Avenue Montaigne, interwoven stories centering around one Fabulous part of that street.

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  • Preston
    2015-08-04 20:14:56
    Preston
    DIVA and CHARADE are personal favorites.

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  • Jude111
    2015-08-03 19:57:39
    Jude111
    Agnes Varda's Cleo from 5 to 7 might just be my #1. She wanders through Paris, takes a taxi ride through the city while gazing out the window (special treat, we get to hear the radio play as well), listens to some ye-ye songs in a bustling Parisian cafe, takes a bus... Wonderful film, with Paris as a major character in the film.

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  • Jude111
    2015-08-03 19:55:41
    Jude111
    1) That film is considered to be a very slight film overall within Rohmer's canon. 2) However, I love the movie, and it's one of my favorites by Rohmer; cheers for mentioning it! It certainly makes my list. ;-)

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  • Gail Starr
    2015-08-03 05:30:12
    Gail Starr
    THE ABSOLUTE BEST AND MOST ROMANTIC MOVIE FILMED IN PARIS WAS "CHARADE" (1961) WITH CARY GRANT AND AUDREY HEPBURN. FABULOUS.

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  • Jean-Marc Creau
    2015-08-01 18:25:38
    Jean-Marc Creau
    I loved l" les chansons d'amour" (the love songs ) by Christophe Honnoré depicting the young lives of 2 men and 2 women in the slightly less fancy Paris of La Bastille and gare du Nord. Above all the freshness and complexity and beauty of the characters. Paris is a city of light but also of love and Who knows what happens behind the high windows in the heart of the young ?

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  • Vincent Bochis
    2015-07-31 16:12:48
    Vincent Bochis
    For capturing the beauty and the feel of the many neighborhoods, for acting and for story line, Paris Mon Amour gets my vote!

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  • Arlene P.
    2015-07-31 02:20:03
    Arlene P.
    I adored Amelie, so much so, that I took a friend to see it for my second time. I liked Midnight in Paris for the scenery, but really Amelie was my favorite for it's charm and scenery of Montmartre.

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  • Missie17
    2015-07-30 18:21:02
    Missie17
    I can't believe no-one nominated Eric Rohmer's wonderful love-song to the City of Light, Rendezvous A Paris! One of my favourite films

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