The Eiffel Tower pictured at nightTWITTER/SOUMA83

Home to the revolutionary French cinema scene, and hailed by the rest of the world as the city of romance and excessive amounts of accordion music, this week we’re going to Paris. This is the first of a series in which I take you around the world, a couple of hours at a time. We’ll be sifting through films where the background comes to the foreground, films where the real star is the setting, allowing us that long-awaited holiday even within the time constraints of a Cambridge term.

So, first: Paris (pronounce: pah-ree, to get in the spirit), a place I have actually visited. When I think of Paris, I think of huge junctions with bars and restaurants on every corner. I truly have seen Parisians sitting out with coffee, a cigarette and a newspaper, the sort of relaxed, public lifestyle I don’t recognise so much in my home city of London. Of course, like any city, Paris has its more unpleasant aspects, but today we’re going on holiday.

Three Colours: Blue (1993)TWITTER/ADAMSCOVELL

The first film I must recommend is Three Colours: Blue (Krzysztof Kieślowski, 1993), following Julie (Juliette Binoche) after a life-changing accident, as she moves away from her old life into a quiet and isolated existence in a Paris apartment. The beauty of this film is that, had she stayed in the larger country house, it would be all-consuming and depressing, but moving into Paris, where people are always living in sight, she’s carried along by the tide of the city around her. There’s a moment in this film where Julie’s attention is caught by a TV interview relating to her late husband, and as she is consumed by it, and so are we, the low-level music of the strip club she’s sat in (long story) keeps going in the background. In moments like these which permeate the film, the continuous life of the city of Paris is ever-present. Having grown up in London and spent hours of my childhood and adolescent life wandering the city thinking about whatever was all-consuming at the time, I think this is a lovely depiction of the real romance of city life, which is never really being alone. I’ll also note that for anyone who appreciates wonderful use of music in a film, this one may well be for you.

“It might be a cinematic sin to talk about Paris on film and not mention something from the French New Wave”.

Now turning to the idealised American view of Paris, there’s nothing more suitable than An American in Paris (Vincente Minnelli, 1951). This film wasn’t even made in Paris, but it is beautiful. Set to the most amazing Gershwin score, MGM’s California Paris is atmospheric and dramatic when necessary, and otherwise sunny, flower-filled, and perfect for lazing over balconies. An American in Paris provides the joyful escapism, hectic plotlines, and happy endings I’ve come to expect from American musicals from 40s and 50s (Singin’ in the Rain, anyone?). If you’re looking for a ‘romantic escape’ (in isolation, of course...) this is the film for you.

An American in Paris (1951)TWITTER/EDWARDHMO

Also, an honourable mention, another beautifully drawn Parisian set appears in Disney’s The Aristocats (Wolfgang Reitherman, 1970), seriously!


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I think it might be a cinematic sin to talk about Paris on film and not mention something from the French New Wave. There are plenty to choose from, friends of mine recommended Cleo de 5 a 7 (Agnès Varda, 1962), definitely a worthy mention, but, for me, the film in which Paris is the star is Breathless (Jean-Luc Godard, 1960). This film takes liberties with how much B-roll of the Eiffel Tower and Champs-Elysees is interspersed with the storyline. In addition to the gratuitous tourist shots, this film is also nice like Three Colours: Blue in that Paris always lives on through the window while the personal lives of the characters play out. If you’re looking for escapism but can’t quite handle a full-blown musical love story, this light-hearted crime drama (it works, I promise!) is the solution.

Breathless (1960)TWITTER/LUNARSCP

An unbelievable number of films are set in Paris and, in a great deal of those, the city steals the stage, but these are a few of my recommendations. The centre of Paris isn’t filled with clusters of skyscrapers, so, although the crowded metro underneath would suggest something different, the city feels like a beautiful playground for peoples’ day to day lives. These films portray this casual vivacity, and also the city’s beauty. Next week we flee from the romantic getaway to take on a classic interrailing adventure: Prague, Vienna & Berlin.