Friday, April 10, 2009

Movies transport us to other places, other mindsets, and other cultures. I love to watch movies about Paris before traveling there. And I love them even more when I get back. It's a perfect way to prolong the pleasures of the city.

Below are three movies to get you in the mood for Paris. I've chosen them according to these criteria: (a) because I love them, (b) because each offers good footage of the city itself, and (c) because there's something classic about each one.

I'll add more recommendations over time, but if you're wanting more right now, go to this entry on Ann Althouse's blog. About three years ago, she invited commenters to create a list of favorite movies set in Paris. The list is a treasure trove. (And she ended up engaged to one of the commenters!)


Diva (1982) is one of my all-time favorite movies. And it's set in Paris. It's a quirky love story set in the crime thriller genre, and there's a scene with a baguette that I would put on any list of classic movie moments.

There's also a tears-streaming-down-the-cheeks scene set in the Chatelet theater before it was cleaned up and beautified in the early 1980s. On a bare, crumbling stage, the diva of the movie's title performs "Ebben? ne andro lontana" from Alfredo Catalani's La Wally for a lone spectator. It'll make an opera fan of you.

Although reviewers at the time criticized weaknesses in Diva's plot, they all conceded this: the movie has Style with a capital S.


A Bout de Souffle is a 1960 New Wave classic directed by Jean-Luc Godard. In the twenty-first century, we take jump cuts, handheld cameras, ambient noise, and natural lighting for granted, but fifty years ago, they were revolutionary. (Read this excerpt from Richard Brody's Everything Is Cinema (2008) for more about the genius of Godard.)

Not so long ago, I saw the movie on a big screen and loved it. I can't say the plot holds up, but then again, New Wave wasn't driven by story. What sticks in the mind are the images: Jean Seberg selling the New York Herald Tribune on the streets of Paris (above), Jean-Paul Belmondo's obsession with Bogart (photo at top of this entry), and the extended death scene at the end of the movie. If nothing else, the film will give you a sense of the French take on derring-do.

This 2004 sequel to Before Sunrise (1995) finds Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) in Paris. In what is essentially an 80-minute conversation, the movie follows the pair (above) as they wander the streets and canals of Paris, catching up on nine years of life. (Recognize the Left Bank bookstore in the still above?)

While Godard was known for introducing quick cuts, the director of Before Sunset, Richard Linklater, revels in the long take. Single shots last several minutes, creating a sense, according to Roger Ebert, that the film is taking place in real time.

I'm about ten years older than Delpy and Hawke, so, to be honest, I wasn't terribly interested in the content of their Before Sunset conversation (the script for which they co-wrote). But I did love the street scenes of the city, and paired with 2 Days in Paris(2007), also starring Julie Delpy, it's great viewing after you get back from Paris. Delpy has a knack for capturing French-American culture clash. She is very loving about it--and wickedly funny. You'll catch yourself nodding in recognition.

Happy viewing, and don't forget to check in next Friday for more tips from Experiential Paris!


fresca said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ddip said...

Thanks for the correction! I also went into the entry and fixed a spelling error. Ooof!

isbelle said...

I just watched "à bout de souffle" again! It is just a wonder how everything is in "ce vieux film": betrayal, absurd, cowardice, excitement, love, death, contradcitions and above all also a Paris that will tend to disappear! Great blog!