Continuing on with our series on experiencing the world’s best vacation spots vicariously through the use of books and movies, now let’s take a sojourn to Paris the City of Lights. With its fantastic food, its café culture, its world famous museums, historic architecture and so much more, it is arguably the Ultimate Destination City. Let us explore.
Five Great Movies to See That Were Filmed in Paris
An American in Paris (1951) Vincente Minelli directed this classic movie musical based on the composition of George Gershwin. Jerry Mulligan (Gene Kelly) is a WWII vet struggling to make it as an artist while romantically involved with Lise (Leslie Caron). Oscar Levant, Georges Geutary, and Nina Foch also starred. It was a huge box office smash and was nominated for eight Academy Awards and won six. It is ranked #9 on the AFI’s list of Best Movie Musicals.
Belle de Jour (1967) Spanish filmmaker Luis Bunuel directed and co-wrote this film based on the Joseph Kessler novel of the same name. Severine (Catherine Denueve, in one of her most acclaimed roles) is a young and beautiful housewife married to physician Dr. Pierre Serizy. She loves her husband, but is sexually frustrated and finds release by working as a high class prostitute while he’s at work. Many of Denueve’s costumes were designed by Yves St. Laurent himself and the film won the Golden Lion and Passinetti Award for Best Film at the Venice Film Festival.
Amelie (2001) Audrey Tatou shines in the title role as a shy young waitress living in Montmarte who decides to devote herself to promoting the happiness of others. Along the way of course she finds love for herself as well. The movie was a global smash and the highest grossing French language film released in the U.S. to date. It was nominated for five Academy Awards, won two BAFTA awards, four Cesar Awards including Best Film and Best Director, and won Best Film at the European Film awards.
Ratatouille (2007) Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol) directed this animated Pixar offering. Remy the rat (Patton Oswalt) is an idealistic and creative soul who yearns to become a great chef but finds it hard to do because…well he’s a rat. Until that he is forms a partnership with bumbling garbage boy Linguini (Lou Romano). Janeane Garafolo, Ian Holm, Brian Dennehy, Brad Garrett, and Peter O’Toole lend their voices as well. To create the food animation Bird interned at The French Laundry restaurant and the production team consulted with numerous chefs. The end result was a visually spectacular and hilarious movie that rightly won the Academy Award for Best Animated Picture.
Midnight in Paris (2011) Woody Allen wrote and directed this comedic fantasy. Gil Pender (Owen Wilson) is a screenwriter and would be novelist besotted by Paris while his fiancée Inez (Rachel MacAdams) is less enamored. One night Gil discovers a way to travel back in time to Paris in the 20’s allowing him to hobnob with figures like Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and Gertrude Stein. The movie is essentially a love letter to Paris and its charms and enchantments which helped win a Golden Globe and Academy Award for Best Screenplay.
Five Great Books Set in Paris
Le Pere Goriot (1835) by Honore de Balzac. Set in Paris during the Bourbon Restoration, the novel follows how three characters lives intertwine: criminal in hiding Vautrin; idealistic young law student Eugene de Rastignac; and the titular Goriot, an elderly man who dotes on his spoiled and ungrateful daughters. While it received mixed reviews at the time it is now widely considered to be Balzac’s most important and influential novel that gave rise to the term ‘Rastignac’ to denote a social climber who’d do anything to advance their position.
A Moveable Feast (1964) By Ernest Hemingway. A memoir of Hemingway’s early years as a struggling expatriate journalist and author in the 20’s when he was married to his first wife, Hadley. It was published posthumously by his fourth wife and widow, Mary Hemingway, three years after his death based on his manuscript and notes. Hemingway provides specific details on many Parisian streets and cafes still in existence today as well as featuring such notable figures as Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Aleister Crowley, James Joyce, Ezra Pound, John Dos Passos, Gertrude Stein and many more. For anyone interested in Paris OR literary history it’s a must read.
The Elegance of the Hedgehog (2006) By Muriel Bayberry. Renee Michel is a brilliant and sensitive woman who hides her genius under a shade while working as a concierge at a ritzy apartment building. She is befriended by the precocious and unstable 12 year old Paloma Josse and one day the cultured Japanese businessman Kakuro Ozu begins to take an interest in Renee as well. An publishing phenomenon it became an international best-seller and won the 2007 French Booksellers Award, the Prix du Rotary International in France, and the Brive-la-Gaillarde Reader’s prize. A movie adaption starring Josiane Balasko as Renee was released in 2009.
Pure (2011) By Andrew Miller. The novel centers around the efforts of engineer Jean-Baptiste Barrette who is tasked with the removal of the Les Innocentes, cemetery and church from Les Halles, France in 1786. Barratte soon find he has both friends and enemies in this task and Miller draws a colorful cast of characters who wage against each other during a time of incredible political turmoil. It was nominated for the Walter Scott Prize and South Bank Award, and won the Costa Book Award for ‘Best Novel’ and ‘Book of the Year.’
Paris: The Novel (2013) By Edward Rutherford. This historical novel traces the history of Paris from 1261 to 1968 thru the sagas of six core families; the Revolutionary Le Sourds, the aristocratic de Cygnes, the bourgeois merchant Renards, Napolean supporting Blanchards, the Gascons of the slums, and the Jacobs an art dealing Jewish family. Based on real events following two different timelines and set in locales such as Montmarte, Notre Dame, and Boulevard Saint-Germain it weaves a fascinating tapestry.
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