I can't think of a better way to prepare for a trip to Paris than by watching romantic movies set in the City of Light. Whether you find the movies below touching, or funny, or even shocking, you'll appreciate the diverse views of Paris seen through each director's and cinematographer's lens.
This classic MGM musical captures the romance of post-World War II Paris, when Americans were beloved for winning the war and a guy could live the good life on a few centimes. The multi-talented Gene Kelly plays a soldier who trades in his uniform for an artist's smock, paints in a garret, and falls in love with Leslie Caron. The film won six Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Screenplay. The exhilarating music was composed by George Gershwin.
In the earlier film Before Sunrise, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke meet on a train in Vienna and connect. They alight in the same station and walk all night, discussing love, romance, politics, and their hopes for the future. They agree to meet up again in Vienna in six months... but do not. Their paths cross again in Paris nine years later. They pick up the conversation where they left off, bringing one another up to date with what's occurred in their lives since they first met. Tense, chatty, teasing, they traverse Paris and viewers see them in a café, on a bateau mouche, and strolling the romantic gardens and alleyways of Paris.
Woody Allen's love song to Paris, this romantic comedy stars Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams as an engaged couple visiting Paris with McAdams' parents. The film veers into fantasy on Wilson's nightly walks, when he enters the Paris of the 1920s populated by the likes of Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, and other luminaries. It's a trip back to a more romantic time, and the film is among the best in Allen's later period.
Icons of French cool, Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg play lovers in this caper flick that's both a crime drama and romantic movie. He's stolen a car, killed a policeman, the authorities are after him, and he asks Seberg to hide him and flee to Italy to escape. Beyond the plot, this 1960 film set styles for everything from the image of the sophisticated smoking Frenchman to chic, close-cropped hair on women. The film is directed by the innovative Jean-Luc Godard, considered to be an auteur with a distinctive creative touch.
Sold in a set with its hilarious American remake, The Birdcage, the earlier French versions tells the tale of a gay couple, a drag performer and a nightclub owner living in Saint-Tropez. The drag club owner's son is about to be engaged to the daughter of an ultra-conservative politician, and the boy prevails upon the couple to pass for straight to meet his in-laws. Michel Serrault as Albin is uproarious in the original, and it's worth seeing the two films side by side. Despite the plot, both films evince moments of great tenderness and romance between the men.
It wasn't easy to be a female artist in turn-of-the-century France, yet sculptor Camille Claudel burned with the desire to create. The great Auguste Rodin mentored her, then became her lover. She modeled for him, and they worked together on commissions. The strain proved too much for her, and she went mad. Not the most romantic movie, but the tempestuous relationship between the two is riveting. Isabel Adjani, who played Claudel, was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar.
A romantic comedy starring Debra Winger and Billy Crystal that starts off in Paris, this film has scenes of side-splitting humor. As it begins, sophisticated Winger is an American working for the airlines in Paris, and Crystal is an unhappy customer (so would anyone whose father's casket had gone missing in transit). The two fall in love, and the movie shows the perils of a cross-cultural affair.
The uncut and uncensored version of this torrid film about the romp between middle-aged American Marlon Brando and about-to-be-married Parisian Maria Schneider raised eyebrows and censors' hackles when it debuted in 1972. The infamous "butter scene" earned it an R rating for its "explicit sexual content."
Critics were divided on whether this movie about a whimsical Parisian gamine with an overactive imagination was romantic and charming or not. As I found Amelie so treacly that I left the theater in sugar shock, I don't recommend it wholeheartedly and have placed it last on the list. But you may feel differently, and simply enjoy it for its views of Paris. Rent it before you decide to buy.