The Watchers

The Watchers

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Paris On Film

I've recently come back from a trip to Paris. The city of light and love, amazing architecture, delicious food and an elegant style. It is perhaps unsurprising that Paris has a deep link to cinema. The Lumiere brothers, early pioneers of moving pictures, showed their short films there at the start of the Twentieth century whilst Georges Melies manufactured many of his seminal visual effects there too. Over the years, everything from major Hollywood blockbusters to low-budget indie movies have used the boulevards and landmarks of the city as a backdrop. From horror films to comedies, dramas to actioners, Paris has seen it all.

The main focus on this article will be English-language movies filmed in the city, but it would be remiss not to mention some of the most iconic bastions of French cinema that also were filmed there, such as Les Enfants Du Paradise (1945), Godard's 1964 Bande a Part (which features the famous race around the Louvre galleries), Truffaut's Jules Et Jim (1962) and- the crowning glory of Catherine Deneuve's career- the startling Belle du Jour (1967). The work of Michael Haneke, including Cache (2005) and Amour (2012), bring a darker edge to the city, as does Kassovitz's 1995 drama La Haine.

One of the most striking set-pieces of Roger Moore's tenure as James Bond was set in Paris, with May Day's breathtaking swandive from the Eiffel Tower during A View To A Kill (1985). However, this was not Bond's first brush with Paris - the opening scene of Thunderball (1965) was also filmed here. Sidney Lumet's star-studded Agatha Christie adaptation Murder On The Orient Express (1974) used the Gare de L'est as a location. Matt Damon ran round the city trying to get his memory back in The Bourne Identity (2002) whilst Liam Neeson stalked the city looking for his daughter in Taken (2008).

The whimsical comedy Amelie (2001), which made a star of Audrey Tautou, used many different locations within the city- such as the Gare du Nord, the Gare de Lyon and the Cafe des Deux Moulins (where Amelie works)- whilst Ron Howard's 2006 adaptation of The Da Vinci Code (which also starred Tautou and a woefully miscast Tom Hanks) used several locations mentioned in the book, including the Louvre (although they had to use a replica version of the Mona Lisa).

Although you would never know it, Carnage (2011) starring Jodie Foster, Christoph Waltz, Kate Winslet and John C. Reilly was filmed in the city - as that is where director Roman Polanski now lives. Lowkey drama Before Sunset (2004) saw Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy rekindle a past love affair over the course of one day, whilst Woody Allen's lyrical elegy to the belle epoque, Midnight In Paris (2011) utilised many different locations in the city, such as the artistic enclave of Montmartre and the breathtaking Sacre-Coeur. Scorsese's love letter to cinema, the sumptuous Hugo (2011), was filmed there (using a lecture hall of the Sorbonne as a cinema hall) and even features Georges Melies as a character.

This warning is above the door to the ossuary - it translates as 'stop! this is the empire of the dead!'
 The winding catacombs beneath the city are atmospheric and not a little unnerving (especially the infamous ossuary where the bones of thousands of people are interred in disturbingly neat piles) so it's no surprise that recent horror film As Above, So Below (2014) decided to use them as a setting: having been down there, I can vouch for the air of tension the long echoing tunnels can bring.

There are also several examples of films being set in Paris which were not filmed there. Both Vincente Minnelli's An American In Paris (1951) and John Huston's Moulin Rouge (1952) are set in Paris, although the only filming that took place there for either film were some exteriors. Despite being set in one of Paris' most beautiful and iconic locations- the Garnier Opera house- Joel Schumacher's 2004 adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera (based on the 1911 novel by Gaston Leroux) didn't have a single frame shot in the city; it was all filmed at Pinewood Studios. Similarly, Baz Luhrmann's frenetic, beautiful and dazzling Moulin Rouge! (2001) might have used the famous Paris nightclub as its basis, but again wasn't filmed there. 

In 2006, Paris Je T'aime was released. A series of short films based around the different arrondissements of the city, the cast included Nick Nolte, Miranda Richardson, Elijah Wood, Juliette Binoche, Bob Hoskins, Steve Buscemi and Natalie Portman whilst directors included the Coen Brothers, Gus Van Sant, Gurinder Chadha, Walter Salles, Wes Craven and Alexander Payne. The film was described as 'a slam-dunk for cineastes, romantics, and Francophiles', which can be said about the city itself. A truly wonderful place.


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