LUMIÈRE! CAMÉRA! ACTION! FIVE FILMS TO WATCH BEFORE YOU MOVE TO FRANCE
Whether you’ve just arrived, just left or are sitting reading this in the Parc de Belleville there’s never a bad time to watch la belle France on the big screen, so grab some popcorn, turn down the lights and take your pick from these five fantastic films.
Is it a little cliché to include Amélie in this list? Yes. Is being cliché a bad thing? No, not in this case. You probably saw the beginning of Amélie when your GCSE French teacher forgot that within the first ten minutes of the movie the charming heroine wonders how many Parisians are having an orgasm (quinze) and promptly returned to irregular verbs. Amélie deserves to be watched in its entirety, it’s a wonderfully quirky film that paints an idyllic picture of the Paris we all dream of through some beautiful cinematography and an impressive cast. It’s a funny and heart-warming love story at its core and is a must-watch for anyone heading to the City of Lights.
Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (1964)
When you think of 1960s musicals you probably picture Julie Andrews warbling atop a mountain or Audrey Hepburn’s flower-girl transformation not the glamourous Catherine Deneuve crooning sadly in an umbrella shop in Cherbourg. Les Parapluies de Cherbourg, or The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is a stark contrast to the show-stopping musical affairs of its Hollywood counterparts; there’s no dancing, no comedic supporting character, no eleven o’clock number – in fact, Les Parapluies de Cherbourg is more aligned to an opera in terms of its story-telling: bittersweet, poignant and melodramatic. This is definitely one for film lovers to check out – much like Damien Chazelle, the director of La La Land, who has admitted that this classic was a key influence for his (almost) Oscar-winning picture.
Funny Face (1957)
Speaking of Audrey Hepburn if you’re looking for an actress with an extensive filmography set in Paris then look no further. In total she made six movies set in and around Paris, including Sabrina, Love in the Afternoon, Charade, Paris When It Sizzles, How to Steal a Million and Funny Face. Whilst all six are great films (Charade in particular is worth a watch), Funny Face is the one that best showcases the city. Not only is it an entertaining musical-comedy featuring the talents of Ms Hepburn and the inimitable Fred Astaire, it’s also a visual tour of Paris’ most iconic locations, with scenes at the top of the Eiffel Tower, on the shore of the Seine, at the Palais Garnier and on the steps of Montmatre (to name but a few!) – if this film doesn’t get you excited to visit the City of Love, nothing will.
Le Havre (2011)
Paris, Provence, the Riviera, France is home to some of the world’s most beautiful places but Le Havre is certainly one of the more unexpected locations to be showcased on the silver screen. The country’s second largest port, Le Havre is overlooked by most in favour of Normandy’s more aesthetically pleasing cities and towns such as Rouen, Deauville and Honfleur but director Aki Kaurismaki chose Le Havre as the setting for his off-beat dramedy. The film which tells the story of Marcel, an ageing shoe shiner who discovers a young boy – an illegal immigrant – on the run from the police after stowing away on a cargo ship and decides to protect him from the police. Kaurismaki is known for dour, deadpan comedies that tend to have the same effect as Marmite on audiences and Le Havre is the perfect setting for such a story. It’s an unusual and memorable film that will keep you hooked until the end.
La Vie en Rose (2007)
If Paris is the iconic image of France, Edith Piaf is the iconic sound. La Vie en Rose tells the story of France’s most treasured singer and is one of the best biopics out there. It’s worth watching for Marion Cotillard’s performance alone (she rightly won a Best Actress Oscar for her performance) as she transforms herself into Edith Piaf but if you want to really finetune your knowledge of one of the most iconic French voices then this is the film for you. It’s a chaotic (is it a straight biopic or part musical?), mesmerising and, at times, shocking movie that will make you see the Non, je ne regrette rien singer in a completely new light.