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Five Films To Watch Before You Go To Paris

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To help you get inspired for your trip to Paris, you should see the French capital on screen before you arrive. Here are our top five films to watch before Paris.

l’épicerie de la rue des Trois Frères in Montmartre was a filming location for Amelie


One of the most internationally successful French Films, Amélie shot its star, Audrey Tatou, to worldwide fame in 2001.

A portrait of Paris painted in muted colours and imbued with a heady dose of magical realism, the cast of odd characters live on the very edges of society.

There is Amélie’s neighbour, a painter with bones as fragile as glass; her reclusive father, a hypochondriac friend, and Nino – an assistant in an adult shop with a curious hobby for collecting torn-up photos from photo booths and reconstructing them.

Deprived of love and a social life for most of her young life, Amélie nevertheless embarks on a series of acts of kindness, helping those around her and eventually – after persuasion from the elderly painter – herself.

At the heart of this somewhat bizarre creation is a beautiful and simple story about a girl who loves, told against the dreamlike backdrop of the city of love.


Funny Face

If there is one actress who is the embodiment of Paris, it has to be Audrey Hepburn – quite an achievement for a non-French actress.

She does, however, exude a timeless European chic, just like the city itself. Funny Face is the film in which she epitomises Parisian style.

This 1957 musical is a feel-good flick which showcases the best of Paris.

It stars Hepburn as Jo, a rather reluctant model, opposite Fred Astaire, who plays a renowned photographer. He spots Jo’s potential when he visits the shop where she works, but the only way he can convince her to become a model is to entice her with a trip to Paris, where she hopes to hear a great philosopher speak.

Things become increasingly complicated for Jo as she is torn between fashion, philosophy and love – the three things which are surely the foundations of Parisian society.

As Hepburn and Astaire sing and dance their way around the city, they offer plenty of opportunities for you to fall in love with Paris (and Paris on film!).

Dangerous Liaisons

This 1988 retelling of Choderlos de Laclos’ scandalous 18th century novel remains faithful to the original text, featuring stellar performances from Glenn Close, John Malkovich and Michelle Pfeiffer.

Shot on location in the Ile-de-France region – with full period costume displaying the excesses of pre-revolution France, the film is gloriously brought to life.

The manipulative, scheming Marquise de Merteuil, played by Close, wants to get her revenge on Gercourt, the man who spurned her. She tries to persuade the Vicomte de Valmont (Malkovich) to seduce Gercourt’s bride-to-be, Cecile, but the womanizing Valmont is already busy trying to seduce someone else: the married, straight-laced Madame de Tourvel (Pfeiffer).

Things begin to unravel, however, when Valmont realises that he has fallen in love with her. Scandals abound as we are drawn to a fatalistic end.

The story holds endless fascination – evident in the numerous film remakes – and this version portrays it in all its 18th century decadence.

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La Vie en Rose

Marion Cotillard was only the second woman to win the Best Actress Oscar for a role in a language other than English (the first was Sophia Loren).

That gives some indication of the quality of this stunning biopic about Edith Piaf, France’s petite môme – little sparrow. Cotillard is simply incredible as the tragic Piaf, as the film zigzags through her life.

Born to bohemian, alcoholic parents, an illness causes the young Edith to go temporarily blind in her childhood. She is cared for by her grandmother, a brothel-owner, and the girls who work there. This far from auspicious start in life seems to only foreshadow the things to come, as she is discovered by a club owner and ends up in the great music halls of Paris.

Initially reluctant to be taught how to sing properly, the petite môme gradually blossoms into a singing sensation and becomes the toast of Paris.

However, she is not a woman to do anything by halves – it’s a journey fueled by fervent, painful love affairs, alcohol and time spent in the dark underground of Parisian society.

Accompanied by Piaf’s unique voice on the soundtrack, Cotillard portrays a woman for whom fortune’s wheel does not turn kindly, but who nevertheless lives every moment with all the passion in the world. Never have the lyrics of ‘Non je ne regrette rien’ been quite as poignant as they are in this film.


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Paris, Je T’Aime

This 2006  film is, quite simply, a love letter to the city of love. It is a real treat for cinema-lovers, featuring 20 vignettes from world-class directors – including the Coen brothers and Walter Salles – each offering a different story of love set in Paris.

From comedy to romance, vampire-thriller to drama, it spans the genres and sweeps us up on a journey through the streets of Paris.  There is the quietly heartbreaking story of a Hispanic nanny, who has to leave her own baby at a grim day-care center each day to go and take care of a more privileged infant; the poignant monologue of an American in Paris and even one entirely in mime.

Featuring an exceptional, multinational cast, the narratives are skilfully woven together to create a poetic and sublime film. Each story will draw you in and enchant. Some will make you laugh, others will make you cry.

But above all, each one will make you fall in love with Paris.

You may also like: A Paris Secret: Desserts And Waistlines

So how about you – have you seen any movies featuring Paris that you would suggest viewing before a trip there?


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About the author

Originally from Salisbury in the UK, Katy Stewart is an itinerant freelance writer. She indulges her passions for travel, film and literature at her blog, Starry-Eyed Travels. You can follow her on twitter @SEtravels.

20 thoughts on “Five Films To Watch Before You Go To Paris”

  1. Katy – What a FAB list. After your description of “Dangerous Liasons,” I want to watch it again, maybe tonight! Another film I love, and it really shows the beauty of Paris is “Avenue Montaigne.”

  2. What a great list! I’ve watched Amelie a dozen times, but I’m sure watching it right before going to Paris- or right after- gives a whole new perspective.

    The new Woody Allen movie will certainly be added to your list soon!

  3. I’m really looking forward to seeing the Woody Allen movie too! Love this list, Katy – I somehow managed to miss Paris, Je t’aime, and am going to order it on Netflix this weekend … One movie that I would recommend for any male people who are going along, is The Bourne Identity. May even convince a few unenthusiastic spousal units to get excited about visiting Paris!

  4. Oh how fun!! 🙂 I haven’t seen a couple of these yet – shame, shame!! – so I’ve got them on hold at the library and can’t wait for my next rainy night to escape to Paris. 🙂

  5. This is what my boyfriend and I did before we went to Paris in April. We watched ‘Amelie’ and a kind of thriller movie we like ‘Taken’. I know thriller is not romantic but the movie was filmed in Paris.

    Have you been to the café where the Amelie was filmed? It’s very close to Moulin Rouge and it looks amazing. You feel like you’re in the movie if you’re there. 🙂

  6. I love Taken! Certainly not romantic, but a brilliant film! That cafe is so cool, isn’t it – you do feel like you’re falling into the film, haven’t been there for a long time though.

  7. Before Sunset! lovely showcase of Paris – the entire movie is about romance and the backdrop of the streets of Paris is just perfect!

  8. Love Amelie the best! As a matter of fact I called it the Perfect French movie in a blog post at A Traveler’s Library and readers suggested dozens more. ( If links are allowed: There are so many movies made in Paris that it is difficult to choose. Have you seen the book Paris Movie Walks by Michael Schurmann ? A fantastic compendium of where movies were shot in Paris and introduces you to many French-made movies as well as Hollywood ones.

  9. Super list of great movies. I have seen most and have made note of the others so I can get caught up!

    I’m not sure you need to see these before going to Paris but I love old musicals based in Paris – Gigi (probably my favorite of all time) and An American in Paris.

  10. I’ve seen Amelie, and despite it not being a film I would usually see it did keep me on the couch all the time. Thanks for the other recommendations!

  11. It´s a great article. I´ll keep in mind your suggestions as I´m travelling to Paris next month.
    I saw Midnight in Paris last week and although it´s not Woody Allen´s best movie it´s a good one, funny, with a nice twist and great postcards of Paris.
    The first minutes, without credits, are wonderful. Of course, Paris City Hall/Tourism Office advertisement, but isn´t Paris marvellous?
    Owen Wilson makes a great Woody Allen alter ego and Marion Cotillard (La vie en rose) is excellent.
    Any movies with Juliete Binoche?

  12. I forgot, The Elegance of the Hedgehog (L’Élégance du hérisson). The book is better than the film but it´s good to see, although it´s very sad.

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