The set-jetter’s guide to Paris: City of Love’s most iconic movie spots
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Few cities have the cinematic quality of Paris. From the Eiffel Tower to the winding River Seine to its perfectly manicured parks and romantic cafés, the French capital seems like it was custom made for a movie set. And whether the setting for action-adventure or treacly romance, many a director has answered the call. Let’s take a look at some of the Parisian locales that have served as backdrops for popular movies, from “Midnight in Paris” to “A View to a Kill” by way of a few international French favorites, too.
“The Devil Wears Prada”
If the Paris scenes weren’t necessarily the most memorable in “The Devil Wears Prada,” when Paris does show up, she does so with panache. That’s particularly true in the nighttime scene where Andy and Christian kick off their short-lived fling. With Notre Dame across the Seine behind them, the pair start walking south down the slender rue Frédéric-Sauton until it meets the rue de la Bûcherie in a small leafy square absent of traffic that just happens to be romantically lit up for the holidays — the perfect setting for their semi-illicit silver screen smooch. In another scene, Andy throws her phone into a fountain in the Place de la Concorde, leaving her boss Miranda in the lurch.
“Last Tango in Paris”
If the defining color of the Paris sky is a suggestive brooding grey, few films portray it as convincingly as Bernardo Bertolucci’s provocative, still controversial 1972 flick “Last Tango in Paris.” In the pivotal opening scene, Marlon Brando pretty much loses his marbles, right before a mysterious woman walks past him but not without taking notice first. This occurs under the Pont de Bir-Hakeim, a steel arch bridge that crosses the Seine between the 16th Arrondissement neighborhood of Passy and the 15th Arrondissement. Originally called the Pont de Passy and completed in 1905 to a design by architect Jean-Camille Formigé, it was renamed for the World War II battle of Bir-Hakeim. Line 6 of the Paris Métro scoots along the top of it, affording one of the world’s most iconic views of the Eiffel Tower.
“Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain”
Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s film portraying a shy French server doing nice things for other people was such a sensation when it came out in 2001 that at one point then-President of France Jacques Chirac ordered a private screening at the Élysée Palace. The movie (released internationally as just Amélie) made an instant star of Audrey Tautou and arguably co-starred the quintessentially Parisian neighborhood of Montmartre where much of the action unfolds. The director’s fantastical vision of Paris wasn’t really accurate but probably wasn’t meant to be. But the locations were real and included the wooden Pont des Arts bridge over the Seine, the Latin Quarter’s rue Mouffetard, the entrance to the Lamarck-Caulaincourt Métro station in Montmartre and the cobblestone rue Saint Vincent behind the Sacré-Cœur. The Café des 2 Moulins, where Amélie works in the movie, is still open at 15 rue Lepic (at rue Cauchois) and serves a mean crème brûlée.
Read more: 11 of the most Instagrammable cafés in Paris
Director Jean-Jacques Beineix’s 1981 romantic thriller was not an instant hit in France, but its American release the following year helped cement it as a cult classic. In the movie, Jules, a young postal worker played by Frédéric Andréi (who also starred in “The Facts of Life Goes to Paris”) falls for elusive American soprano Cynthia Hawkins, played by real-life opera singer Wilhelmenia Wiggins Fernandez. The plot twists and turns can be a bit hard to follow, but the “sentimental walk” Jules and Cynthia embark on under the Arc de Triomphe, across a silent Parisian boulevard, passing the Place de la Concorde and pausing in Tuileries Garden at dusk, may be the most romantic two and half minutes ever captured on film.
Ethan Hawke’s appeal reached a kind of apotheosis in Richard Linklater’s 2004 syrupy if critically lauded date night flick “Before Sunset.” It takes place nine years after the lovebirds played by Hawke and Julie Delpy parted in Vienna in 1995’s Before Sunrise. The movie features celebrated Left Bank bookshop Shakespeare and Company, where Hawke’s character Jesse spots Celine (Delpy) after a book reading. The pair then walk through the Marais, meander to an elevated garden and take an impromptu boat ride on the Seine. Will Jesse make it to the airport and catch his flight before sunset? Probably not but hey, c’est la vie.
“The Facts of Life Goes to Paris”
Okay, so it was a made-for-TV movie but it got a whole generation of kids in America dreaming of ditching the shopping mall for the Champs-Élysées. The two-hour film followed the antics of rich Blair, tomboy Jo, perky Tootie, brainy Natalie and of course den mother Mrs. Garrett as they galavanted around Paris, making stops everywhere from Notre Dame to Charles de Gaulle’s iconic Terminal 1 to the Tuileries Garden with plenty in between. This early 1980s time capsule is in the tradition of American films like 1957’s Funny Face with Audrey Hepburn that romanticize Paris, and contains immortal lines like “American Express is the same in any language” and “In your ear, chérie!”
Read more: Paris hotels on points for families
“A View to a Kill”
If you’re going to jump off the Eiffel Tower you may as well do it in style — that’s what Grace Jones does in this 1985 James Bond film which is unique for a number of reasons. It’s the last Bond movie starring Roger Moore, a very blond Christopher Walken plays the bad guy Zorin and the theme song is by Duran Duran. Jones plays the role of May Day, Zorin’s bodyguard, and in some scenes seems as tall as the tower she leaps from in the early part of the film. Dressed in a black cape and fleeing a tuxedo-wearing Bond, she inflates her striped parachute just in the nick of time. Speaking of nick, both Simon Le Bon and Nick Rhodes appeared in the video for “A View to a Kill” which was also shot on the Eiffel Tower.
It’s a semi-forgotten ’80s flick, but it mixed a few boldfaced names at the time like co-stars Linda Fiorentino and Anthony Edwards with some A-list locations including the UCLA campus, West Berlin and Paris. There, iconic spots like the Louvre and Eiffel Tower are the backdrop to the antics of randy college student Jonathan (played by Edwards) as he gets caught up with slinky CIA agent Sasha (Fiorentino). The action-comedy has some memorable scenes, including one where Jonathan massacres the French language and makes Americans everywhere cringe while trying hilariously to order a Pernod at a Parisian café.
“Midnight in Paris”
This 2011 fantasy comedy is populated both by famous Parisian actors like Marion Cotillard and former French first lady Carla Bruni as well as by iconic sights including the cathedrals of Notre Dame and Sacré-Cœur and the beautiful Pont Alexandre III bridge over the Seine. Whether it’s the movie’s direction or Paris itself that turns on more charm as screenwriter Gil Pender (played by Owen Wilson) wanders around the city, traveling in time to the Paris of the 1920s each midnight and then back, there’s no denying the romantic pull that Paris exerts here. Other locations included the Musée Rodin, the famous taxidermy shop Deyrolle, the Saint-Etienne-du-Mont church near the Panthéon in the 5th Arrondissement, the historic restaurant Le Grande Véfour and the luxury Hotel Le Bristol.
Like New York and a handful of other cities, Paris is both chock full of instantly recognizable monuments and richly atmospheric. While just out for a random walk it’s easy to feel like you’re part of a vast movie set. And whether your first vision of Paris was via 007 in “A View to a Kill” or a movie like “Everyone Says I Love You” or “Midnight in Paris,” the city is relatively compact, making it easy to relive some of your favorite cinematic moments. So lights, camera, voilà!
Featured photo by Alexander Spatari/Getty Images
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