Unique Cinemas in Paris : La Pagode : Cinéma meets Chinoisérie in the Seventh Arrondissement

The Seventh is one of Paris’ poshest arrondissements, featuring the luxury supermarket Au Bon Marché, the elite Sciences Po. university and a chic mayor in Rachida Dati. It’s only fitting that the neighborhood movie-house be a pagoda. Of all the unique cinemas in Paris, La Pagode, located not far from St. Germain-de-Près on the rue de Babylone (where else?) is the most unique-looking. After passing a private school reminiscent of the one in Les Diaboliques (but more upscale) the movie-goer comes upon a large blue-neon sign announcing the cinema, as if it needed announcing. The building looks like an archetypal pagoda such as DW Griffith might have imagined for his East-meets-West melodrama Broken Blossoms, with a rich, dark-red exterior topped with a curving black roof. The building was constructed in the nineteenth century, when Oriental art and design (typified by terms like chinoisérie and japonisme) were all the rage in France, and became a movie theatre in the 1930s. (A second, smaller screening room was built in 1973). The theatre has been undergoing renovation for the last several years, and parts of the roof are still covered with plastic sheeting. But most of the cinema’s exterior is in pristine shape, as is the lovely garden, filled with tall bamboo and other greenery, and equipped with benches, chairs and tables.  Facing the garden is a huge wall decorated with ornate wood carvings, stained-glass windows, stonework and sculptures. When the weather is cooperative (not exactly the case this spring) the garden serves as an outdoor tea room. At one time there was also an indoor café and tea salon, but that, alas, was long ago converted into a utility room. La Pagode bills itself as an art-house, but its programming is essentially mainstream, tending to prestige pictures, especially foreign films. The salle is on the long side but plush, with comfortable seats and a decent-sized screen. There’s no bookstore or gift-shop, but the cinema has a small display of “quality” DVDs on sale. Actually, across the street from the cinema is a shop called Cine-Images, where the acquisitive movie buff can find an excellent selection of posters, stills and other film-oriented artwork (originals and reproductions), as well as film books. If setting can impact one’s enjoyment of a film (as I think it does), La Pagode’s faux Oriental atmosphere turns movie-going into an authentically exotic experience. Just bring your own divan and kimono. photo 1 by Lars (Lon) Olsson (Own work) , via Wikimedia Commons photo 2 by Medelie Vendetta , via Flickr  

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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.