Four Films about Paris that are NOT Amélie
Anyone who’s taken high school French knows Amélie. Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s artful film about a mousey waitress (Audrey Tatou) and her solitary and imaginative life in Paris has drawn countless girls and guys to swoon over the City of Love. The film’s indie lure and breathtaking views of the city have ignited sparks in countless young francophones, leading to plane rides into Charles de Gaulle airport while the film’s piano- and accordion-based soundtrack undoubtedly plays in their headphones.
Thank you, French teachers everywhere, for inspiring young people worldwide to venture to France through the fictional life of Amélie Poulain.
However, while Audrey Tatou’s smile is ever so charming, there are several other noteworthy films that present the stereotypical Parisian experience that draws foreigners. Any of these films can put its viewer in the mood for a stroll around Canal St. Martin or a croissant in Montmartre just as well as the lovely, but more well-known, Amélie.
1. Paris, Je t’aime
Paris, I Love You, is essentially a map. The anthology is organized by arrondissement; but, it is also a map of the city’s people. Each of the 18 short films that comprises Paris, Je t’aime is named by its corresponding arrondissement. It is more than a geographical tour, however; it is a tour through Paris’s heart. Twenty two directors created the segments separately. (Gerard Depardieu, Wes Craven, Alexander Payne … ). Through capturing the life of an individual, often by presenting only a moment in the character’s day, directors whisk the viewer into a new neighborhood every four to six minutes.
Sometimes the segment fits its corresponding neighborhood’s generalities, such as “Le Marais,” which is known for many charms, including being the gay neighborhood of Paris. The segment in this arrondissement follows an almost entirely one-sided conversation as a young man tries explaining to another young man that he’s convinced they’re soul mates.
Each film provides a quick, but not necessarily shallow, peek into the life of the many diverse livelihoods throughout the city: a Muslim girl who experiences racism, and then kindness; a non-French speaking American tourist who gets himself into trouble; a Frenchman whose wife is dying of a terminal illness; an immigrated housekeeper who must leave her own baby to take care of someone else’s to earn money.
The short and sweet plots range from romantic to comedic to fantastical. Rather than being transported into just one Parisian life, such as Amélie Poulain’s, audiences will experience both the more stereotypical French (in two mime artists who fall in love), and the lesser-seen and more imaginative (through a tourist who meets the ghost of Oscar Wilde at Père-Lachaise cemetery). Paris, Je t’aime is a well-rounded cinematic telescope into the diverse lives that make this city tick.
2. The Dreamers
Based on Gilbert Adair’s novel The Holy Innocents, this 2003 film takes place in 1968, during the student riots in Paris. Matthew (Michael Pitt) is an American exchange student who befriends twins Isabelle (Eva Green) and Théo (Louis Garrel). Not for the prude or close-minded, the film delves into the open sexuality and ideals many associate with both France and the ‘60s.
In one scene, the three run through the Louvre, imitating the trio who did the same in the legendary 1964 Jean-Luc Godard film Bande à part; however, most of the film takes place inside Théo and Isabelle’s apartment in Paris while their parents are away on vacation. They trash the house playing games, drinking wine, and taking baths together.
The classically-French love of all things culture is prevalent in their conversations as they discuss music, political ideals, sexuality, and film. The historical context gives the viewer a feel for the city during this time, as well, especially when Matthew, Isabelle, and Théo are faced with the decision to join the student riots in the last scenes when a brick is thrown through their window. The intriguing debates they have can put anyone in the mood for an intellectual discussion about Charles Chaplin and films over a glass of Bordeaux.
3. Le Petit Tailleur
Paris is the city for romantics – what could be more romantic than giving up all for love? In the short film The Little Tailor, screenwriter Louis Garrel explores love, identity, and sacrifice. He does so through protagonist Arthur (Arthur Igual), an apprentice tailor to an elderly man who plays a father figure to him. Arthur falls passionately in love with an actress named Marie-Julie (Léa Seydoux).
One of the first scenes is Arthur running through the streets of Paris at breakneck speed to get to the theater where Marie-Julie is acting in a Kleist play; he hasn’t even met her yet, but it as though he is running head first into love. For 44 minutes, the viewer is cast into the anxious, twenty ton hearts of both conflicted lovers and is left awaiting Arthur’s final decision.
Unlike The Dreamers, the backdrop of this film is irrelevant. In an interview, Garrel says he chose to film in black and white for the sake of timelessness. Sacrificing for love is a universal theme that knows no time – or place. However, the film is dripping in Parisian essence. Léa Seydoux is the quintessential and envied Parisian woman, with her messy hair, minimal makeup, black clothes, chain smoking, and love of poetry and theater. Arthur Igual, a rather depressive and sensitive romantic type, is the archetypal stereotype of a Frenchman. Scenes are shot in the streets of Paris, as well as indoors, but this film needs no images of the Eiffel Tower to feel French because few things feel more Parisian than a heavy forbidden romance.
4. Midnight in Paris
Ok, Woody Allen is not French, but his light-hearted film about a Californian screenwriter who is obsessed with Paris in the rain will remind anyone why they were drawn to the city in the first place.
Owen Wilson shows a more serious, sensitive side of himself in this film as he plays Gil Pender, an American on vacation in Paris with his materialistic and rather unromantic fiancé Inez (Rachel McAdams). As he wanders the streets alone, he ponders the theme of his latest work – nostalgia – and is literally transported through time to 1920s Paris at midnight each night, where, to his utter delight, he meets the greatest minds of this time who flocked to Paris in the same fashion as he – Pablo Picasso, Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald, Josephine Baker, Cole Porter, and Salvador Dali. Paris’s history of worshiped writers, composers, and other artists of all kinds has as much of an appeal as the city today, and sometimes even more so for some, such as Gil Pender.
The all-star cast includes Tom Hiddleston, Kathy Bates, Carla Bruni, Marion Cotillard, Léa Seydoux and Adrien Brody.
Although a fantasy film, the plot pays no mind to the how and why of Gil’s time travel, but rather focuses on his search for sincerity and romance. The romance he finds not in his fiancé, but in Picasso’s current muse, a sultry French woman played by Cotillard, and later from a woman of his own time, whom he meets one unexpected night on Pont Alexandre III – in the rain.
The warm cinematography, 3 and a half minute opening montage of post-card-perfect Paris, and filming at Giverny, the Palace at Versailles, the Opéra, and Montmartre, all desperately lure the viewer to the place where rain enchants the cobblestone streets and magic always goes unquestioned.
It’s understandable why high school French teachers are fond of introducing Amélie Poulain to their students, and why it’s a go-to for francophiles yearning to walk the streets of Paris. However, several other films exist to transport foreigners into this romantic world for a spectaculaire voyage parisien.
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