With the British sun playing its traditional hide and seek for yet another summer, cinema’s ability to transport the viewer to idyllic places from all over the world should be fully exploited. So if you are interested in a quick trip across the pond, Ciné Lumière promises to offer you some of the most beautiful depictions of the City of Light ever to appear on the big screen.
The Paris Seen By…. season is a compilation of an eclectic list of films shot by French, European and American directors that highlight the impeccable romanticism of the French capital which has given birth to millions of love stories throughout the centuries. Take for example, Marcel Carné’s Hôtel du Nord, a masterpiece of the French poetic realism. It uses the titular hotel on the banks of the Canal St. Martin, whose main occupants are crooks and prostitutes, as the background for two powerful love stories, one concerning a gangster and a prostitute and the other, a young couple who have checked into the hotel to carry out a suicide pact. French Cancan, by the great Jean Renoir, transfers us to a more glamorous locale: in the late 19th-century Montmartre, theatre impresario Henri Danglard (Jean Gabin) turns a lovely young washerwoman called Nini Françoise Arnoul into the star of his new club, Moulin Rouge. The Gallic director shoots this archetypal “rise to stardom” story with his characteristic visual flair, presenting us with an irresistible view of that era’s nightlife.
Another heavyweight of French Cinema, Jean-Luc Godard, gives us a more modern look into the grey Parisian suburbs, with Bande à part, offering a handful of classic scenes like the one where the three main characters run through the Louvre. That scene is referenced in Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Dreamers, a love letter to Paris in the sixties with an incredibly photogenic cast that includes Eva Green and and Louis Garrel.
The winning formula of Paris + beautiful stars had already been applied with great success by Hollywood during its classic era. In Charade for example we have Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn falling in love in the French Capital. Add to this an engaging sense of suspense that brings to mind the best Hitchcock’s offerings and you have a truly enjoyable romantic thriller. Another iconic American film star, Gene Kelly, plays the role of Jerry Mulligan a former GI who comes to the City of Light to pursue his artistic aspirations and finds love in the shape of Leslie Caron in An American in Paris. It’s arguably the best musical ever made with the glorious music of George Gershwin reminding us what love is all about.
The essence of love and romance is also at the heart of two more recent films. Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris – undoubtedly his best film in years- uses the plot device of time travelling in an intriguing way ( in Paris after midnight you can be transferred to the 1920s and the 1980s and socialise with Zelda Fitzgerald, Picasso and Dali) posing the question whether romance is dead in the age we live in. Finally, for those of you who prefer your film couples to express their love for each other through interesting conversations – rather than being all googly eyed – you must do yourself a favour and follow the romantic story of Jesse and Celine. Before Sunset is the middle part of the critically acclaimed trilogy that follows the lovely couple of Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy as they stroll along the Seine and share some fascinating discussions about love, hopes and reality.
Enjoy then a season of escapist love stories in the most romantic city of the world and remind yourself whenever you are feeling blue the immortal words of Bogie: “We’ll always have Paris”. (Words: Apostolos Kostoulas)
Paris seen by. takes place at Ciné Lumière from 20 June to 20 July. To accompany the screenings an exhibition entitled The Discovery of Paris, Watercolours by British Artists opens at the Wallace Collection on 20 June. For more information go to www.institut-francais.org.uk/cine-lumiere/whats-on/festivals-series/paris-seen-by