With her enchanting charms and a picturesque beauty, Paris is a timeless city that will forever lure romantics and artists from across the globe. She is a city that has been featured as the backdrop of countless tales since the dawn of cinema; but with such a vast array of films throughout the years how does one set about choosing the best films about Paris? To answer that question, we need to follow one simple criterion: How well is Paris portrayed not as a setting, but as a character?
As a setting, Paris is often used to add texture to a story, enhancing the characters plight and assisting with the overall tone and mood. In my opinion, doing so effectively reduces Paris to a supporting role that serves as the backdrop to tell the tale. If we’re talking about the best films about Paris, the French capital needs to be portrayed as an essential character to the story – without this city, there would simply be nothing to drive the story or characters. Paris is a sublime beauty; she has depth, weight and layers of complexity. Remember Gotham City in Nolan’s Batman or Los Angles in Michael Mann’s Heat, these were not films that had featured the city just as a backdrop – these cities were playing an essential role! These films captured the entire fabric of how a city is bound together and the interactions between characters and the stories told within the city streets.
So without further adieu, let us examine the 5 best films about Paris:
Paris, Je T’aime (2006)
Directed by multiple renowned international directors and starring an equally international ensemble cast, Paris, Je T’aime is a two-hour film consisting of 20 short films set amongst the 20 arrondissements of Paris. Since its release, Paris, Je T’aime has now become the archetype film for Paris. This is a film where the cast are truly performing supporting roles; they all pave the way for its leading star to flawlessly shine – and my god, doesn’t she just look beautiful! As we watch each story in the various districts, we are given the opportunity to observe the wide limitless range of Paris’. From a surreal short involving a vampire to a short about the mundane morning rush hour, Paris sincerely demonstrates her skill and beauty to remind us all why she is the greatest city of them all.
Although mostly shot in the neighbourhood of Montmarte, Amélie is a stunningly beautiful film that showcases the charming fairytale element of Paris. Directed by the Jean-Pierre Jeunet,Amélie tells the tale of a unique shy waitress who sets out on a journey to change the lives of those around her and along the way discovers love. Paris is as captivating and spell- bounding as ever in Amélie; she performs an elegant waltz with the camera and gracefully portrays herself as this magical fairytale place. Not only does Paris have a lead role, but also the soundtrack plays a crucial role in the film. Yann Tiersen’s minimalistic score is the prime driving force that truly brings Paris to life, simultaneously capturing that special fairytale element of Paris. This is a soundtrack that now gone beyond the mere limitations of cinema, and majestically transcended to become the iconic soundtrack to the Parisian experience. You can hardly walk through Paris without Yann Tiersen’s score waltzing in your ears!
Midnight in Paris (2011)
Essentially Woody Allen’s ode to the City of Lights; Midnight in Paris stars Owen Wilson as Gil, a Hollywood screenwriter who inexplicably travels to the 1920’s Paris where he encounters and parties with the great creative artist of the time. Through Woody Allen’s infatuation, we are presented with the magic of an evening Paris. Paris at night becomes a sweet seductive sultress who gently whispers sweet little nothings into your ear. Her dimly lit street lamps create a dreamy orange haze that lures the romantic within, filling our hearts with beauty and romance. Through Midnight in Paris, Woody Allen proves to us that whether it be the twenties or the noughties, Paris has been, and will always be, magnificently romantic and beautiful at night. For me, this asks the questions, is Paris more beautiful by day or by night?
Even in the cold winter months, Paris never ceases to be dazzling and sublime. Director Cédric Klapisch presents Paris not to be a place of melancholy during winter, but a place where love, warmth and happiness can still be found. Paris examines the lives of typical Parisians in the winter months as shown through eight intersecting separate stories. Under the white winter scenery, Paris still brings a radiant ray of warmth to our hearts as she shines in her brilliance. But that is not all, the true beauty of the city in Paris actually lies within its normalness – she isn’t being portrayed as this grand lady of elegance and grace, she is simply just being a typical city where life goes on. The film in fact places an emphasis on the ordinary places we go to during our day-to-day existence, universities, cafés, restaurants, food markets, etc. It is a lovely insight into the lives of its inhabitants, revealing excerpts of what a real Parisian life may feel like.
La Haine (1995)
Every character has their flaws; Paris is no different. Although she is often known for her ageless classical beauty, Paris can be a venomous two-face – kind and charming to the millions that visit, but cruel and heartless to her unfortunate inhabitants. Shot entirely in black-and-white and directed by Mathieu Kassovitz, La Haine tells the story of three young friends and their struggles with living in the troubled Parisian suburb of Banlieue. It is a raw and captivating insight into Paris’ uglier side. The romantic city of love that many of us have been familiar with occurs only within central Paris. Venture out to the outskirts of Paris and the urban environment can drastically changes from charming elegance to impoverished urban wasteland. La Haine reminds us that even in such a great city, the same social are still there.
Before Sunset (2004), Angel-A (2005), Moulin Rouge! (2001), Last Tango in Paris (1972), Three Colors: Blue (1993)