There are so many classic films shot in the City of Light that is difficult for us to pick only one. So we’ll highlight three:
Breathless, Charade, and Amelie.
Breathless, director Jean-Luc Godard’s French new wave salute to Hollywood film noir, is about a small-time car thief on the run, wanted for the murder of a policeman. In and fatally out of his life is his mercurial girlfriend played by Jean Seberg. Just about all of the film takes place in Paris’ familiar central arrondissements.
The movie began shooting during the gorgeous summer of 1959, specifically on Aug. 17 when most Parisians were off on holiday, and was completed on Sept. 12. (The film was commercially released in 1960.)
Breathless stills (as the one above) and one-sheet posters most often show Seberg (hawking copies of the New York Herald Tribune’s European edition) and her costar, a raffish looking Jean Belmondo, strolling down Paris’ most famous boulevard.
As one French critic put it: “The American girl’s voice still echoes on the Champs-Elysees.”
Many of the film’s interiors were shot in Room 12 in the Hotel de Suede at 15 Quai Saint Michel in Paris’ 5th arrondissement, near the Ile de la Cite in the area and not far from the Cathedral of Notre Dame. Godard and his small crew set up their cameras in the tiny room situated in a tight third floor alcove. (The Hotel has since been torn down).
Several scenes late in Breathless, as Seberg is preparing to betray her lover Belmondo, were shot outside The Herald Tribune office in Paris, situated at that time at 21 Rue de Berri, a main thoroughfare off the Champs-Elysees. (The newspaper is now owned by The New York Times and known as The International New York Times.)
The film’s final, memorable scene — in which the betrayed Belmondo is shot by police in the back, and sent staggering down the length of a long street (followed closely by cinematographer Raoul Coutard’s camera) — actually took place on Rue Campagne Premiere. Running from Blvd. du Montparnasse to Blvd. Raspail, Rue Campagne Premiere is in the heart of the Montparnasse quarter in Paris’ 14th arrondissement.
Unlike Breathless, director Stanely Donen’s 1963 thriller Charade exudes high gloss all the way. The cast includes Walter Matthau, James Coburn and George Kennedy, and is headed by Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn. She plays a widow whose murdered husband had stolen a not-so-small fortune. Three men are out to get it and her, while Grant (playing a man of mystery himself) has to sort it all out.
Charade’s locations are a treat to see. Much of the movie takes place on or next to the Seine River. There are detours to familiar Metro stations (one is the Palais Royale), outdoor markets and a couple of amusing visits to the Theatre de Guignol de Champs Elysees. The locations will have Paris lovers yearning for the next trip.
In 2001’s Amelie (French title: Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amelie Poulain), French actress Audrey Tautou plays a good-hearted soul, isolated in her youth, who moves to Paris to work as a waitress and re-arrange the lives of those around her. This fanciful comedy, directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, was nominated for five Oscars.
More important for this blog is the pleasant reality that the movie was shot all over Paris, at dozens of locations. To name a few: there are three big train stations, the Canal St. Martin, the Grand Escalier de Montmarte, Rue Mouffetard and a very inviting site, the Cafe de Deux Moulins. For these and many other visual visitations to Paris, Amelie is well worth a look.