While your travel plans are on hold, you can pretend you’re in a new place overnight. Around the World Home invites you to channel the spirit of a new place each week with recommendations on how to explore the culture, all from the comfort of your home.
“America is my country and Paris is my hometown,” wrote Gertrude Stein. Me too; or, well, almost. Over the past few years, I was commuting between New York City and the French capital, where my current husband worked, and at that time, Paris became a city where I had a history, the streets of which I could remember to walk through. muscular. Now that transatlantic travel has all but come to a halt, the closest I can get to Paris is on screen – but luckily the view is fantastic.
Paris was the site of the first film showing, in 1895 (although the Lumière brothers shot these first images in Lyon). It remains the home of Europe’s largest and most dynamic film industry – France exports more films than any country except the United States.
Here I have selected 10 films that bring me back to Paris, from the beginnings of sound cinema to the era of streaming. I have omitted many French films shot in English, some shot on stage (“An American in Paris”, “Moulin Rouge!”) And others outside (“Funny Face”, “Midnight in Paris”). Instead, I selected films that I rely on when I want to escape America to Paris… which is quite often these days.
Paris today is much more than its tourist and tree-lined heart; it is the most diverse city in continental Europe, where French mixes with Arabic and Wolof and you are more likely to hear Afro trap than Edith Piaf. Celine Sciamma’s coming-of-age film follows a young black teenage girl as she shuttles between racial, economic and cultural divisions between Paris proper (or “Paname”, in girls’ slang) and its suburban housing estates, whose architecture the director films with rare style and sympathy. Aubervilliers, Bondy, Mantes-la-Jolie, Aulnay-sous-Bois: these nodes of Greater Paris, cradle of singers and stylists and of the world’s greatest footballers, also deserve the spotlight.
Amazon, YouTube, Google Play, iTunes
35 Shots of Rum (2008)
The most intimate and Parisian film by Claire Denis, quite possibly France’s greatest living director, follows a widowed father, a train conductor, and his only daughter, a student, as they walk away from one of them. the other hesitantly and embark on a new life. The cast (including Mati Diop, who has since become an acclaimed director herself) is almost entirely of African or Caribbean descent, but this is the rare film that takes the diversity of Paris for granted, and its portraits of Parisians in the workplace. -class north of the capital have a plenitude and benevolence that remain too rare in French cinema. Just as beautiful as her scenes of family life are the frequent and persistent shots of Mme Denis of the RER, the Parisian commuter train, which appears here as a bridge between worlds.
Love Songs (2007)
Almost the entirety of this gray-tinted musical – directed by Christophe Honoré and with a dozen pieces written by singer-songwriter Alex Beaupain – takes place in the gentrified but still scruffy 10th arrondissement, where I put a few too many drinks back in my 20s. As her young lovers sing in some of Paris’ less photogenic streets, on their Ikea sofas or in their overlit offices, the capital turns into something even more alluring than the City of Light of foreign fantasies. This is the movie to watch if you miss everyday life in contemporary Paris, where even cloudy days deserve a song.
Full Moon in Paris (1984)
Paris had a very good 80s: think Louvre Pyramid, think Concorde, think Christian Lacroix. Eric Rohmer’s story of an independent young woman, eager to cling to both her boyfriend and her apartment, offers the chicest dissection of Parisian youth – long-haired models dancing in the Second Empire ballrooms, and lovers philosophizing at coffee tables and in each other’s beds. There’s some ’80s music that kills electropop duo Elli and Jacno, but what makes their beauty so bittersweet is their sublime star Pascale Ogier, who died shortly after the film ended, at the age of 25 years.
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It was a Date (1976)
It only lasts eight minutes, there is no dialogue, but it is the craziest film ever made in Paris; it is a miracle that no one is dead. Early one morning, the director Claude Lelouch got into his Mercedes, fixed a camera on the bumper and contented himself with placing it on the ground: by the wide avenue Foch (where he clocked 200 per hour), by the Louvre, in front of the Opera, by the red lights and in blind spots and even on the sidewalks, up to the heights of the Sacré-Coeur. Every time I watch it, I end up covering my eyes and then laughing at the madness of it all: full speed cinema.
It’s 5 p.m. on June 21, the longest day of the year, and pop singer Cléo has visited a fortune teller to find out: is she dying? And for the rest of Agnes Varda’s incomparable slice of life, we follow her in real time – one minute on screen equals one minute in narrative – across the left bank of the capital. She passes in front of the cafes of Montparnasse, goes down the wide Haussmannian boulevards and enters the Parc Montsouris, where she meets a soldier on leave from the front in Algeria: another young Parisian who does not know if he will live another year. While Cléo puts her superstitions aside, the streets of Varda’s Paris serve as a boost to a woman’s self-confidence.
HBO Max, criterion channel
Jean-Luc Godard’s first feature film is so famous for its innovative cuts and its career story that we forget it: it is, hands down, the greatest film ever made about an American in Paris. As an exchange student hawking the New York Herald Tribune on the Champs-Élysées, Jean Seberg invests the film with a playful expatriate glamor, feigning French recklessness but clinging to American wonder. And while her language skills are questionable – my French husband imitates Seberg’s Frenglish when he wants to make fun of my accent – she embodies the dream of becoming someone new in Paris, even if you fall in love with the wrong guy.
HBO Max, Criterion Channel, YouTube, iTunes
Bob the High Roller (1956)
The sweetest of all Parisian gangster flicks – and my go-to movie for sick days in bed – orbit the lovely narrow streets of the Butte Montmartre and, just south, the seedy nightclubs and gambling dens of Pigalle . Bob, the elegant white haired high roller of the title, is a retired bank robber after one last big score, but the old Paris metro, and its old codes of loyalty, are fading. The cast is unmistakably a B-list, and genre conventions cling to their roles like barnacles: the tired but wise cafe owner, the harlot with a heart of gold. But watch Melville’s handheld camera follow Bob in his trench coat and fedora, or follow a garbage truck around Place Pigalle like a ball in a roulette wheel. Paris looks like a jackpot.
Amazon, YouTube, iTunes
Golden Helmet (1952)
We are in the northeast of the Parisian working class in this painful drama of the beautiful era, directed by Jacques Becker and starring Simone Signoret as the titular golden-haired prostitute caught between two lovers. It is based on the true story of a courtesan and the gang murders she inspired – but Mr. Becker portrays the scene as a dream of the 19th century capital, of cobbled lanes, smoky bistros and horse-drawn rice wagons.
Boudu saved from drowning (1931)
The early satire of Jean Renoir features Michel Simon as a prodigiously bearded tramp who, one fine morning, crosses half of the Pont des Arts and jumps into the Seine. Saved by a benevolent bookseller, Boudu moved into his apartment and quickly turned his family’s life upside down. The film’s skewer of middle-class values hasn’t lost its bite, but its outdoor shots of the Latin Quarter, a university district not yet overrun with tourist trap cafes, have become a poignant time capsule. .
Criterion channel, Kanopy
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