Few cities in the world are as cinematic as Paris – the French city of lights and love, art and culture.
I’ve visited Paris only twice, and both times I felt like I was walking around a movie set. That might be because the city is so darn pretty, with all its iconic landmarks – the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame, etc. – or it might be because I’ve just seen so many movies set there.
These are some of my favourite movies set in Paris – the ones that make me want to rush to the airport and jump in the next plane to Paris.
5. Paris, je t’aime
There’s something for everyone in Paris, je t’aime (‘Paris, I love you’ in English), a 2006 anthology featuring 18 short films, each set in a different one of the arrondissements (or districts) of Paris.
These films span different genres – everything from romance and comedy, to drama and even horror – and star some relatively big-name stars, including Natalie Portman, Elijah Wood, Willem Dafoe, and Juliette Binoche.
One of my favourite segments was directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, and features Steve Buscemi as an American tourist who unwittingly becomes embroiled in the domestic squabbles of a Parisian couple after he makes eye contact with them on the Paris Metro – something you should never do.
What can I say about this much-loved Pixar film that hasn’t already been said? Ratatouille, the story of a rat who yearns to become a top French chef, makes me yearn to eat some top French food.
Paris has never looked better than it does in Ratatouille. The film’s animators obviously went to great lengths to depict the idealised version of Paris, and it looks like a fairy-tale kingdom in a distant land. No wonder Disneyland Paris has dedicated an entire area to this film.
3. Midnight in Paris
Speaking of fairy tales, Midnight in Paris is the charming story of an aspiring novelist on holiday in Paris (Owen Wilson) who finds himself travelling back to the 1920s – his favourite period in Parisian history – every night at midnight.
But Midnight in Paris is far from a science fiction film. This clever and very witty romantic comedy skips over the how and focusses on the characters. Writer/director Woody Allen has always been a master of filming on location, making a city one of the characters of the story, and this is one of the best examples of that.
Midnight in Paris is a celebration of the city and its intellectual and artistic history.
I’m not exactly going out on a limb here when I say that five-time Oscar nominated film Amélie is an amazing film.
Amélie (Audrey Tautou) is a shy, almost pixie-like waitress at a café in Montmartre who sets off on a series of escapades to make the people around her happy, while also pursuing a guy who likes to collect the discarded photo-booth photos. It’s très whimsical. Hilarity, drama, and romance ensues.
Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Amélie is a warm and delightful movie that would have to be near the top of most critics’ favourite French films. Paris looks great in it, and there are even some walking tours in Paris that’ll take you past some of the film’s locations.
1. Before Sunset
I absolutely love this movie, which reunites Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delphy) nine years after their fleeting one-night romance in Vienna (see the excellent earlier film Before Sunrise). They only have a few hours in Paris to get reacquainted before Jesse, who’s in Paris on a book tour, has to fly back to America.
Before Sunset is a near-perfect movie – the acting is great, the dialogue is amazing, the cinematography is sublime. Director Richard Linklater’s super-long takes (the longest is 11 minutes) are a thing of beauty, especially when shot along the Seine during mid-late afternoon.
From a travel perspective, watching Before Sunset is like going on a walking tour of Paris from the comfort of your own couch. And if you’re a big fan of this series of movies, then it’s like taking a very good friend with you.
You must watch this amazing movie. Check out my favourite scene from Before Sunset below…
**Spoiler warning: this song appears late in the film and summarises the first film**