Funny Face (1957)
Directed by Stanley Donen, this American musical follows a photographer (Fred Astaire) and a philosophically-minded young woman (Audrey Hepburn) as they negotiate the worlds of fashion, existentialism, and love in the streets of Paris. Among the songs, written by George and Ira Gershwin, is the wonderfully indulgent “Bonjour, Paris!”, in which Hepburn, Astaire, and Kay Thompson run past Parisian landmarks and meet by chance as they ascend the Eiffel Tower. In its satirical explorations of existentialism, the film also follows its characters into the Caveau de la Huchette in the Latin Quarter, which forms the backdrop for a memorable Hepburn dance and remains a popular jazz club today.
Another musical, this time set exclusively in turn-of-the-century Paris, Gigi is based upon the 1944 novella by French author Colette. The story follows Gigi (Leslie Caron) as her aunt and grandmother educate her in the art of becoming a courtesan. The young girl laments her home-city’s obsession with love (as mentioned in the endearingly disgruntled musical number, “The Parisians”) while taking solace in her friendship with Gaston (Louis Jourdan), a charming but easily bored member of high society. The film was directed by Vincente Minnelli and shot mostly on location. It won nine Oscars and a Golden Globe. One of the most opulent of its sets, Maxim’s, to which Gaston takes his romantic conquests, is still famed for its Art Nouveau interiors and Belle Époque ethos.
Bande à Part (1964)
Bandé a Part features one of the most remembered scenes in French cinema: when the main characters (Anna Karina, Claude Brasseur, and Sami Frey) run through the Louvre in a record-breaking nine minutes and 43 seconds. An adaptation of the 1958 crime novel Fools’ Gold by Dolores Hitchens, Jean-Luc Godard’s new wave classic features dark and intriguing shots of Parisian streets. As two of the main characters walk off screen towards the Place de Clichy, the narrator observes, “It brought them back to the present, the past, and their intrepid future”, a comment that would surely persuade any viewer to visit the city and experience its timelessness.
Les Amants du Pont-Neuf (1991)
Written and directed by Leos Carax, Les Amants du Pont-Neuf depicts the precarious relationship between Michele (Juliette Binoche) and Alex (Denis Lavant) as they attempt to make the oldest bridge in Paris, the Pont-Neuf, their home. Suffering from an affliction of the eyes, Michele wishes to appreciate the beauty of her surroundings before being overcome by blindness; it is no surprise, therefore, that this film boasts some striking shots of Paris, including the bridge blanketed in snow and the Seine sparkling with fireworks. Winner of four awards and nominated for a BAFTA, Les Amants du Pont-Neuf has enjoyed critical acclaim, and, though it may not present the idealised Paris on which many films tend to focus, it does depict a Paris of intermittent splendour in which love can endure.
Everyone Says I Love You (1996)
This musical romance, directed by and starring Woody Allen, is a cinematic postcard exhibiting the most eye-catching locations in New York, Venice, and Paris. Spending Christmas in Paris, members of an upper-class American family, whose shifting relationships form the basis of the film, obligingly walk past many of the city’s most famous attractions, including the Notre Dame and Les Deux Magots. In what is arguably the film’s most famous scene, the divorced Joe (Woody Allen) and Steffi (Goldie Hawn) dance together beside the Seine. Views of the Notre Dame reflect on the water as, in a brief episode of magical realism, Steffi begins to fly, and dances upon the air.
Also featuring magical realism, Amélie follows the life of the introverted title character as she seeks to bring happiness to, and exact justice in, the human lives she observes. Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, the film brought the wonderful Audrey Tautou to the attention of audiences all over the world, and remains one of the most successful French films ever made. Set around Montmartre, the film exudes a Parisian atmosphere as it travels between grocers’ shops, cafés, and bridges, accompanied by Yann Tiersen’s enigmatic soundtrack. Particularly memorable is a scene in which blue-painted arrows lead Nino (Mathieu Kassovitz) up the numerous steps to the Sacra-Coeur Basilica. The views of Montmartre from this vantage point, not to mention of the Sacré-Cœur itself, are breathtaking.
Before Sunset (2004)
A sequel to 1995’s Before Sunrise, Richard Linklater’s Before Sunset sees Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Céline (Julie Delphy) meet again nine years later. Spending an afternoon together, they stroll through streets, visit Le Pure Café, and take a boat ride on the Seine in a series of picturesque scenes. Nominated for an Oscar, the film is successfully understated as the characters discuss everything from work to the nature of memory. The first few minutes of the film are particularly memorable for their setting in the English-language bookshop Shakespeare & Company. Previous home to Beat Generation writers, including Allen Ginsberg, this bookshop has long been an attraction for English-speaking travellers and lovers of literature, the resident cat only adding to its eclectic charm.
Paris, je t’aime (2006)
A collection of 18 five-minute short films, Paris Je t’aime is a collaboration of over 20 writers and directors, united with the common aim of depicting a Paris with which viewers can fall in love. It spans the genres from horror to comedy and features the work of such directors as the Coen brothers, Walter Salles, and Wes Craven. Each short portrays characters experiencing the pain, excitement, and revelations of love’s many forms. Unavoidable in any tableau of Paris, the Eiffel Tower forms the main backdrop for the ninth short, in which a lonely mime artist follows and caricatures various tourists before being pursued by the police. It is an amusing and unexpected treatment of France’s most recognisable landmark, and forms just one memorable moment in a series of surprising and beautifully filmed pieces.
Julie & Julia (2009)
Just as the Eiffel Tower is unavoidable in any discussion of France, so is the culinary renown of the country and of its capital city. Based upon two true stories, Nora Ephron’s film luxuriates in the art of French cooking. The eccentric Julia (played by Meryl Streep, who was nominated for an Oscar) delights in her food and charms shopkeepers as she conducts her own culinary tour of Paris. Though only shot on location for five days, the film exhibits a number of beautiful Parisian locations, including the exterior of Julia’s apartment on the Rue de Seine and the market stalls of the Rue Mouffetard. Not only known for its culinary variety, the Rue Mouffetard is also a mere five minutes’ walk away from the Place de la Contrescarpe, where Hemingway lived.
Midnight in Paris (2011)
The characteristic style of Woody Allen is evident throughout Midnight in Paris, which he wrote and directed, as the camera lingers upon still shots of the city in the rain, illuminated at night, and bustling by day. The film was awarded an Oscar for Best Writing, appropriate for a film that visits the literary Golden Age of Paris in the 1920s. In the film, Gil (Owen Wilson) sits upon the steps of the Saint-Étienne du Mont at midnight and is transported into the past. The costumes, sets, and soundtrack are similarly effective in transporting viewers into a different age, though the nocturnal silence of present-day Paris seems just as enchanting as the glamorous gatherings of its early 20th-century incarnation.