We’ll always have Paris. These iconic lines from Casablanca help sum up how the world often views Paris. Romantic, desired, nostalgic, and full of possibility, perhaps it’s best seen through the Seventh Art itself, where artists have long looked to the City of Light as a source of inspiration. Can’t travel to the glorious city that I’m so lucky to have lived in for the past year? Watch these eight films set in Paris to immerse yourself in from the comfort of your sofa. Don’t forget the cheese and wine.
Amélie (2001), directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Amélie, known as one of the only films to win over subtitle-haters, paints a beautifully whimsical picture of contemporary Montmartre. The incomparable Audrey Tatou stars in her famous role of a quirky waitress searching for inner happiness while frolicking around Paris’ cobbled streets and gazing out over the Sacré-Cœur’s sweeping vista. The film is utterly self-conscious of its Frenchness – one of Amélie’s greatest joys is the sound of cracking crème brûlée with a spoon – with Yann Tiersen’s accordion-filled soundtrack to boot. On your next visit to Paris, skip stones by the Canal Saint Martin, stroll along the metro platform at Abbesses, and visit the Café des 2 Moulins in Montmartre where Amélie worked as a waitress. Jean-Pierre Jaunet’s legendary idiosyncratic directorial style makes this film a true classic of modern French cinema, coveted by Parisians and enjoying a worldwide success.
Midnight in Paris (2011), directed by Woody Allen
An equally quirky portrayal of Paris presents itself in Midnight in Paris, a true love letter to the French capital. Richly invested in Paris’ literary and artistic history, the film sees Gil Pender meet F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, and even Salvador Dalí as he wanders around the buzzing capital, searching for inspiration for his writing. Although Owen Wilson portrays the blundering American protagonist, the film also features Titanesses of French cinema like Marion Cotillard and Lea Seydoux – even Carla Bruni makes a cameo. Dealing with themes of materialism and nostalgia, an opening montage of Paris in all its beauty immediately sets the film up as one deeply invested in the city’s greatness. Although, when Gil says Paris is most beautiful in the rain, I’d have to disagree.
Inglorious Basterds (2009), directed by Quentin Tarantino
Although decidedly less romantic with its storyline, Inglorious Basterds remains faithful to the theme of the fantastical. Tarantino’s typically bloodthirsty film tells the alternative history of two plots to assassinate Nazi Germany’s leader, and Mélanie Laurent plays the feisty owner of a Paris cinema who conspires to rebel against Hitler with her lover, Marcel. Similar in many ways to François Truffaut’s The Last Metro with its setting, period and artsy secrecy, we’re presented with a less glamorous portrayal of Paris under the Nazi occupation. You can visit filming locations like Bistrot La Renaissance on Rue Championnet in Paris, but sadly Shoshanna’s Wes Anderson-esque Paris cinema was built in a studio.
The Devil Wears Prada (2006), directed by David Frankel
Although only the last portion of the film is set in Paris, it reminds us that the City of Lights is truly the fashion epicentre of the world. Anne Hathaway’s iconic role as the reluctant assistant of fashion’s high Priestess Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) is one that we will all remember – especially at the end of the film when she sticks to her journalistic guns and throws her phone into the fountain of Paris’ Place de la Concorde. And who can forget all the iconic cameos, from Gisele Bündchen as a catty assistant to Heidi Klum and Valentino Garavani? Paris is the ultimate stomping ground for any fashion lover, so rewatch The Devil Wear’s Prada for your ultimate fix. That’s all.
Funny Face (1957), directed by Stanley Donen
Bonjour, Paris! Audrey Hepburn twirling around by the banks of the Seine in a trench coat is iconic for any film buff. She stars as Jo Stockton, a bookseller who longs to visit Paris due do its rich intellectual history and to visit her favorite philosopher. When the opportunity arises to visit, there’s just one thing she has to agree to – to take part in a Paris fashion event, something she detests and sees as vapid and useless. Covering all the best-known Parisian landmarks, from the Eiffel tower to the Louvre museum and Opéra National, it highlights two of Paris’ most well-known outputs – intellectual thinkers and of course la mode.
The Dreamers (2003) directed by Bernardo Bertolucci
Set against the backdrop of the May ‘68 Paris student riots, The Dreamers follows American student Matthew who becomes drawn into a strange love triangle with two libertine twins, Theo and Isabelle. Fusing sexual escapades with revolutionary politics, The Dreamers helps capture the essence of Paris in the sixties, with its love of trailblazing cinema, intellectual revolt and civil unrest. Besides being very jealous of Theo and Isabelle’s beautifully eclectic and divinely decorated Parisian apartment in the enviable 5th arrondissement, I love how it constantly makes reference to classic and New Wave cinema and rock’n’roll music.
Breathless (1960) directed by Jean-Luc Godard
New York Herald Tribune! Who hasn’t seen and loved Jean-Luc Godard’s masterpiece? Breathless was the masterful director’s first feature-length film, and Jean Seburg’s pixie cut and precarious French accent isn’t its only iconic take-aways. With its innovative jump-cuts and utterly cool style, it’s iconic of the French New Wave era. From strolls on the Champs-Elysees, evading policemen at the Cinema Mac-Mahon and stolen car-chases down St-Germain (stopping to gaze at the Place de la Concorde on the way), the film guides us around the most well-known Paris hotspots.
Casablanca (1942) directed by Michael Curtiz
The utterly iconic wartime film, focusing on Rick’s dilemma of choosing between his love for Isla and helping her Czech Resistance leader husband escape the Vichy-controlled Casablanca to fight the Nazis, is endlessly quotable. Although the film was shot entirely in a studio (in keeping with its time), stock footage of Paris accompanies the love narrative and it’s the idea of Paris and its possibilities, romance and hope, which prevails. From the Arc de Triomphe to boat rides on the Seine, we see Humphrey Bogard and Ingrid Bergman’s characters fall in love against a backdrop of the charming and romantic city. Paris, here’s looking at you, kid.