As Paris is still reeling from the attacks that happened on 13th November, why not celebrate what makes the City of Lights great? What makes it great is specifically what was targeted by terrorists and should be appreciated: that is to say its beauty, its history, its artistry, its youth, its freedom, its vibrancy -in one word, its life. So I put together this list to remember all that there is to love about this city, and the great films about it, hoping there will be many more like these.
Midnight in Paris
This is the obvious one, not just because it’s one of my favourite Woody Allen films, but because the legendary New York director took the way he fantasizes about Paris and put it on the screen. Chances are you won’t live as luxuriously as wealthy Americans staying at the Bristol, but you may run into Marion Cotillard if you’re lucky, and even you don’t get a chance to travel through time and meet Hemingway and Fitzgerald, that doesn’t mean you can’t sit down in the Luxemburg Gardens or in any park and read “A Moveable Feast”. That’s as pricey as dreams get, there.
Again, this film is an obvious choice. Released the same year as Midnight in Paris (and both lost the Best Picture Oscar to a Frenchman celebrating American movies, talk about irony), it’s the story of an orphan living on his own in a Paris train station in the early twentieth century. Leave it to Scorsese, the man behind such gritty tales as Taxi Driver or Goodfellas to find enchantment, beauty and fantasies by intertwining a cute story with the birth of cinema. It’s likely that people actually did play the accordion this much back then, I’m sorry to report.
An American in Paris
Talk about charm, grace, and dreams: you’ve got it all in here. This legendary picture follows Gene Kelly as an American World War II veteran living in Paris and trying to make it as an artist while chasing the affections of Leslie Caron’s Lise. Directed by the no-less legendary Vincente Minnelli, it’s impossible not to be swept away by the quaint, romantic charm of this musical, which benefits greatly from the backdrop of the City of Lights, where you can be a penniless artist, chase a romantic interest relentlessly to the point of madness, then walk on the banks of the Seine and be happy. (I know, I did it.)
Talk about quaint charm: this is the masterpiece. Jean-Pierre Jeunet, once upon a time the director of one of the Alien entries, showed both the daily life and the fantasies, the hopes and the poetry of what some might call trite French living. Any French person will tell you that no one actually lives like that, that her neighbourhood is far too expensive for her to live on her own (picture me over a glass of wine, a cigarette in hand, as any Frenchman is), but who cares, really. If films were about reality, none of us would be in the business. And that’s why Paris is the best setting for movies, in my opinion.
Paris, Je T’Aime
Paris, I love you. So said twenty directors, thus putting together one vignette per arrondissement and painting a canvas of stories as varied as the people you can meet in this city. Some have more potential for light, beauty, poetry and hopes than others; some have a stark realism quality to them. Yet all show what art is about, all that Paris is about: life.
Again, talk about fantasy. And that’s the point. As with Amélie, the visual style sweeps you off your feet to take you to a place that could only exist in movies or in Paris -or as is the case in this movie, both. You’ve got it all: elephants, typewriters, bohemian lifestyle and star-crossed lovers. The setting of the movie in the Moulin Rouge is an obvious excuse to showcase art, entertainment, carelessness and joie de vivre -and it works perfectly.
Jules & Jim
I can’t talk about Paris without (a) mentioning a black and white film, (b) mentioning a Truffaut film and, above all, (c) talk about leaving Paris. Sometimes, life in Paris may get tiresome and nerve-racking, as in any big city, so you want to pack a case, call up a couple of friends and take the first train to anywhere. In this case, it’s two friends and a love interest. Any film buff will appreciate the inventiveness of the language in this feature, which shows Parisian, bohemian lifestyle and free-spiritedness as few others have.
Imagine you’re on a train, meet someone who has to get off at the next stop and they tell you they don’t want this conversation to stop, so you follow them, and spend the night walking and talking -only for all this to end before sunrise. Now, ten years on, imagine meeting that person again. This is that movie: Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke’s characters meet again, and get to spend an entire day together, only for him to have to leave town before sunset. For anyone who dreams of falling in love as these two have, or for anyone who dreams of falling in love with someone as they’re falling in love with Paris, that film is for you. And for those of us who were lucky enough to have just that, you’ll find Richard Linklater’s and the actors’ work so truthful that it has to bring back flows of memories. These characters met again ten years on.
Also, this film opens in the best bookstore in the world, Shakespeare and Company. See for yourself.
I couldn’t leave you without this. “Casablanca” is not set in Paris (obviously) but it might as well, as it is arguably the most remembered film quote about the City of Lights.