Paris: 10 Great Films set in the City

To follow from my Rome-location film list which I made last April, here is the list of 10 films that showcase the delightful City of Light – Paris, a permanent place for romance, charm, elegance and sophistication. As usual, this is a subjective, in no particular order, slightly “off the beaten path” films list.   

I. Amelie (2001)  Amelie Poster

This romantic comedy, directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet (“Delicatessen” (1991)) and starring Audrey Tautou and Mathieu Kassovitz, could be described as the very definition of whimsical Paris. The film is set around Montmartre, a place that once nurtured great writers and painters, and is about a shy waitress, Amélie Poulain, who is seemingly on the mission to better the lives of those around her. Set in Montmartre, naturally, the film features the Basilica du Sacre-Coeur, and Café des Deux Moulins (15 rue Lepic) where Amélie works. However, the film also displays such sights as the distinctive staircase leading to the Métro Lamarck-Caulaincourt as well as the Pont des Arts.

II. Breathless (1961)Breathless Poster

A “New Wave” film-critic-turned-director Jean-Luc Godard produced in 1960 his directional debut “À Bout de Souffle” or “Breathless“, starring Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg as Michel Poiccard and Patricia Franchini respectively, and what a debut it turned out to be! Breaking from previous confined film traditions, “Breathless” is a thriller and a love story in one package, showcasing such famous landmarks of Paris as Avenue des Champs-Élysées, l’Arc de Triomphe,  and the Notre-Dame de Paris, while action also takes place around Avenues Mac-Mahon and George V (George V Métro station) and the Boulevard Saint-Germain. The final tense scenes take place not far from the Boulevard du Montparnasse – Rue Campagne Première. 

III. Midnight in Paris (2011)Midnight in Paris

This film by Woody Allen is all about the literary Golden Age of Paris as it mingles reality and fantasy, capturing the true magic of the city. Paris’s fancy hotels, cafes and gardens populate the imagination of this movie. The posh Hotel Le Bristol (112 rue du Faubourg St Honoré), the chic restaurants Le Grande Véfour (17 rue du Beaujolais) and Maxim’s (3 rue Royale), and the gardens of Versailles are all part of the setting of the plot where an American screenwriter Gil and his fiancee Inez roam Paris. The characters also tour the Musée Rodin, while the steps of St Etienne du Mont provide the transition to the world of fantasy. Other settings include quai de Bourbon, quai des Orfèvres, the Musée de l’Orangerie, Place de la Concorde, Parc Jean XXIII on the Ile de la Cite, Maison Deyrolle (46 rue du Bac), 17 Place Dauphine, the bookshop Shakespeare and Co. (37 rue de la Bucherie) and the Pont Alexander III, among other illustrious locations.  

IV. Inception (2010)Inception-movie-poster

When you are thinking about Paris-based films, you would not necessarily think about Christopher Nolan’s “Inception“, but there is something about its Paris location which is memorable. Very crudely put, this film is about one of the missions of a thief Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), who has the ability to enter peoples’ dreams and steal their secrets. When Dom explains to their newly-hired member Ariadne (Ellen Page) the possibilities of dream-meddling they sit at the Debussy Cafe, which is Da Stuzzi Patisserie at 6 rue Cesar Franck (corner of rue Bouchut). Later, the two walk along rue Bouchut and Ariadne folds up rue Cesar Franck.  The duo then approach Avenue du President Kennedy, and Ariadne constructs a footbridge over it. They continue walking on the Pont Bir Hakeim.

V. The Tenant (1976)The Tenant Poster

This maniacally-claustrophobic thriller by Polanski is based on the 1964 novel “Le locataire chimérique” by Roland Topor as it tells of a quiet man Trelkowski (Roman Polanski) who, after moving into a new apartment, starts to experience paranoia. Among other locations, the film features the beautiful exterior of the Abbesses Metro station, Place des Abbesses, and Port Debilly, overlooking the Tour Eiffel. The story also takes place near the Bassin Octagonal, Jardin des Tuileries (the place to float miniature boats), where Trelkowski gets angry with a boy.  Other settings include rue du Faubourg Saint-Martin (overlooking l’Arc de Triomphe), Passage de l’Industrie and rue Joseph de Maistre. 

VI. Three Colours: Blue (1993)Threee Colours Blue Poster

This is the first film from Krzysztof Kieślowski’s trilogy – other two films include “Three ColoursWhite” (1994) and “Three ColoursRed” (1994). “Three Colours: Blue” takes place in Paris, and Juliette Binoche plays Julie, a wife of a famous composer, who struggles to reconcile with the deaths of her husband and daughter. Unlike other movies on this list, Paris is not accentuated here, but the shooting did take place at the Palais de Justice, Place Monge, Cite du Midi, Rue de l’Alboni, and Rue Mouffetard. Perhaps, it is the great cinematography of the movie, as well as its simple plot, which distinguishes itself above all other elements here, and there is something poetic about the idea of trying to find liberation from one’s past in Paris. 

SamouraipVII. Le Samouraï (1967) 

In this very influential film by Jean-Pierre Melville, Alain Delon is in the role of Jef Costello, a professional hitman who feels himself in a tight corner after being witnessed during one of his hits. Such Parisian landmarks as Pont Alexandre III,  Quai des Orfèvres, Avenue des Champs-Élysées, George V Metro station, and church Saint-Jean-Baptiste-de-Belleville (the Jourdain Metro station), as well as many other sights, are referenced in the film. Despite its age, “Le Samourai” still feels relatively unique and absolutely sublime, and Alain Delon is perfectly cast. 

VIII. Cleo from 5 to 7 (1961)Cleo from 5 to 7 Poster

Agnes Varda conveniently opens her film with a tarot-reading. In this movie, a young woman named Cleo (Corinne Marchand) is given just over one hour for her diagnosis to be known – whether she is ill with a terminal cancer or not. In these two hours, a somewhat spoiled pop-singer Cleo goes on with her arrangements for the day, but the impending diagnosis means she has to revise her attitudes towards issues and people around her. Together with Cleo, we are taken on the ride through the thrill and buzz of Parisian streets. There are shots of meetings at Parc Montsouris, taxi rides through rue du Pont-Neuf and quai de Conti, while the film also features the place d’Italie, rue de Vaugirard, Boulevard Raspail, place Denfert-Rochereau and rue Huyghens, among other locations.

The Dreamers PosterIX. The Dreamers (2004)

This is a wilder card on my list. “The Dreamers” is a Bernardo Bertolucci (“Last Tango in Paris” (1972)) film, starring Eva Green (“Dark Shadows” (2012)), Michael Pitt and Louis Garrel as students who experience sexual awakening in Paris amidst the ’68 Paris student riots. Notable Paris sights in this film include Pont d’Iéna, Palais de Chaillot, Rue Beethoven, Rue Malebranche, Port de la Bourdonnais, Avenue de Messine, and Church of the Val-de-Grâce. More significantly, though, the film includes the running through the Louvre. Green, Pitt and Garrel’s characters re-enact a scene from Godard’s “Bande a part” (1964), where the other trio does the same, wanting to break the world record. Incidentally, “The Dreamers” also pays an indirect tribute to Godard’s  À Bout de Souffle“.

The Apartment PosterX. The Apartment (1996)

A layered plot and shifting timelines characterise this film by a French director/architect Gilles Mimouni. Starring Vincent Cassel, Romane Bohringer and Monica Bellucci, it is about a man Max who finds his heart again aflame after sighting his ex-girlfriend Lisa in Paris. Maybe this film is too “architecturally-complicated” for its own good, but it, nonetheless, points to some charming Parisian corners, such as the Place Vendôme (the opening sequence), Cimetière du Père Lachaiserue de Sèvres, and the Boulevard Saint-Germain. More significantly though, the very picturesque Place de Furstenberg provides a romantic encounter point for two lovers – Max and Lisa.

See also my list of “10 Favourite French-Language Films”.

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26 Responses to Paris: 10 Great Films set in the City

  1. Benn Bell says:

    Great post! Love Paris and I love movies.

  2. This post made me smile because you mentioned some of my favorite movies. The next movie on my Netflix queue is “Le Samouraï.” I was so impressed with Alain Delon in “Purple Noon” that I wish to see his other work.

    • dbmoviesblog says:

      We definitely have tons of favourites in common since I follow your blog so closely and always notice I agree with virtually every one of your reviews. Many Delon movies are worth checking out. I knew him largely through Antonioni’s L’Eclisse, but La Piscine (which Guadagnino then loosely remade into his A Bigger Splash) is also worth checking out if you have not already.

  3. keith1942 says:

    Interesting listing. There are also a lot of fine earlier films using the city: ‘Hotel du Nord’, (1938) and ‘Crainquebille’, (1922) are both really worth seeing.

    • dbmoviesblog says:

      I have no doubt. I always tell myself to watch older movies. I will definitely be checking out your suggestions, thanks. Hotel du Nord looks particularly interesting. I also contemplated including Les Enfants du Paradis.

  4. Chris says:

    Lots of great choices! You really get a sense of the streets of Paris in Breathless, and the ending of Midnight Paris is magical. Amazing how different the city looks in Three Colours: Blue and Amelie based on the way those two films were shot.
    I recently watched a cute French-Belgian comedy called Lost in Paris (2016) which is pretty underrated. Others films set in Paris I enjoyed: Paris, je t’aime (2006) and Subway (1985)

    • dbmoviesblog says:

      Lost in Paris definitely looks very interesting, thanks a lot for recommending! Paris, je t’aime and Subway as well. I guess comedies are not a big thing for me…I don’t know lol my taste can be pretty weird.

  5. Great films listed there. I would also include Paris While It Sizzles.

  6. I haven’t seen all of these, but I love the ones I have seen! Amelie and Breathless were especially life-changing for me. But Cleo from 5 to 7 and The Dreamers are also favorites.

  7. Nice choice I have to see the apartment I have not see this one for a while. I loved it. Actually I love this selection awesome. Nice post.

  8. Awesome post, DB. I love #3 and #5 looks really cool. For many others on your list, I confess, I know little about.

  9. Paul S says:

    I’ve only seen Breathless out of this selection.Every time I watch Godard’s masterpiece I want to take a time machine back to Paris in the sixties.

  10. Breathless was the first New Wave film that I ever saw. I was a kid and didn’t know what I was watching, only that it was something unique and I liked it–though I wasn’t sure why. I haven’t seen Le Samourai but I must. Great post by an obvious cinephile.

  11. Jay says:

    I love Paris, and I love any reminder of it.

  12. Great post! We just got home from Paris and yes, we had to seek out filming locations.

  13. Eric Binford says:

    Great list! My personal favorite is … Night and the City (1950), probably my favorite film noir. 🙂

    • Eric Binford says:

      Not Paris, but great city film! Charade (1963) is one of my favorite “Paris” movies.

      • dbmoviesblog says:

        Thank you, and great choices! I am thinking about doing a similar list but set in London soon, so Night and the City is a nice suggestion indeed. I completely forgot about Charade. This film always somehow slips my mind, but you are so right it is a great “Parisian” film.

  14. Another great list. Love that a few of my favorite movies of all time are here, and yes, Amelie must be number one. What a gem of a film.

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