Visiting Paris? Nothing helps get you in the mood for a brilliant holiday like watching movies set in your soon to be locale. Here are my top eight recommendations for films to watch before you visit Paris.
In Paris, everybody wants to be an actor; nobody is content to be a spectator. -Jean Cocteau
Midnight In Paris (2011)
Probably the most accessible of the films on this list, Woody Allen’s Midnight In Paris follows an American couple visiting Paris in posh style with their parents. the story quickly takes a turn as Gill, smoothly played by One Wilson, begins to long for the Paris of the past, the one written about by Hemingway and painted by Degas. Filled with nostalgia, romance and intrigue, Midnight In Paris is a perfect way to prepare for your trip to this magical city.
If Midnight In Paris is the most accessible of the films about Paris, then Breathless (À Bout de Souffle) will counteract that. This masterpiece from Jean Luc Godard is full of jump cuts, funny dialogue and some of the most iconic scenes set in the French capital. If you’re new to the films of the French New Wave, this is your perfect introduction. Breathless follows the whirlwind romance of a French outlaw and his American love interest as they traipse around the city avoiding the authorities. A French classic that must be seen.
If you’re traveling to Paris with children, Ratatouille is the best way to help pique their interest. Kids and adults alike will love this beautiful Pixar film that stars a French chef and his rat friend Remy as they work in a stereotypical Parisian restaurant. Directed by Brad Bird, who also helmed The Incredibles for Pixar, Ratatouille is a fun jaunt into the city of light that gives viewers of all ages a lighthearted look at Paris and some of its more known locations.
Cleo From 5 to 7 (1962)
Agnès Varda uses Paris as the backdrop for one of the best character study films ever made. Cleo From 5 to 7 (Cléo de 5 à 7) follows Cleo through the back half of her day as she waits to get test results back form her doctor. the film also serves as a look at Parisian life in the 1960’s and the Algerian War, which led to Algeria’s independence from France in 1962. Cleo begins as a pretty vapid character that suddenly is faced with her impending mortality, prompting much wandering, physically and mentally. It’s a beautiful, meandering film that really captures the heart of the early 1960’s and gives a glimpse into the sexism that women dealt with.
Paris Je t’Aime (2006)
Eighteen short films set in different arrondissements, Paris, je’ t’aime is a love letter to the city in every sense of the term. With shorts from Gus van Sant, Alexander Payne, Wes Craven and many more, this is the perfect film for a quick introduction to the many different flavors of arrondissements of Paris. My personal favorite is Alexander Payne’s short that follows Carol from Colorado as she takes her first European holiday. hearing Carol speak French reminds me of my horrible attempts to speak a language that I’m pretty bad at, as are most tourists.
Before Sunset (2004)
Director Richard Linklater’s use of real time in filmmaking is absolutely genius. Before Sunset picks up nine years after the previous film, Before Sunrise, with Jesse and Celine meeting in Paris. In each of the movies in the Before trilogy, the city that it takes place in becomes a character in its own right, with Paris playing its magical part in the romance. There’s something ethereal about Linklaters’s film. the almost mumble-core style dialogue mixed with exotic locales just draws you in. If you’ve ever wanted to just wander around Paris, this film is a great place to start.
The 400 Blows (1959)
There’s too much to say about François Truffaut’s masterpiece The 400 Blows (Les Quatre Cents Coups) and how much of an impact it’s had on my life. So I’ll save that for another post. Suffice to say that this French New Wave classic inspired countless filmmakers with its gritty look at Parisian life in the 1950’s through the eyes of a child. Young Antoine Doinel is the quintessential misunderstood child, and a somewhat biographical take on Truffaut himself, that just can’t seem to do anything right. the opening scenes show a moving Paris from a very low angle, invoking how a child would see such a massive city. A bit more harsh of a look at the French capital, but a moving and necessary one.
There’s just something about watching Amélie walk around Paris that is inherently romantic. Storyline aside, just seeing her interact with the outlandish but everyday Parisians makes you feel one step closer to eating a croissant in Montmartre. Jean-Pierre Jeunet created such a beautiful and whimsical film that puts you into the shoes of Amélie Poulain, a lovable and mostly accident prone young woman in the northern Paris district of Montmartre as she looks for love. It’s romantic, fun and a really heartwarming look at the former artist enclave of Montmartre and the area around Basilique du Sacré-Cœur.