The City of Light


Paris When It Sizzles

Location, Location, Location, the mantra of the real estate industry, could also be that of Hollywood. Even the most pedestrian of films is often given a boost by a superb one. No location in the world illustrates this more than the "City of Lights," Paris. The good, the bad, the dreadful, filmed in Paris almost always ratchets up the caliber of a movie - at least visually. Clio thought A Summer Festival, mostly the equivalent of a "take to the beach book," might prove light-hearted (for the most part) fare for a summer evening. Not grand cuisine at Maxim's, but rather a meal at the Rue de Café, followed by a stroll through the Île St. Louis, (stop briefly in the medieval church to see the memorial given by the citizens of the American city). End the evening at the tip of the island buying ice cream at Bérthillan's while watching the night lights trace the gothic spider webs of Notre Dame.

Stealing Heaven (En Nom de Deus)

Directed in 1988 by Clive Donner, the film stars Derek de Lint and Kim Thomson as the 12th century tragic story of lovers torn between celibacy and sex. Guess which one wins? It is difficult to find in the United States and many pirated, cheap copies abound, but it is worth searching for, if only by the mature viewer. It has full frontal nudity, the requisite steamy and graphic but not gratuitous sex. While filmed in Yugoslavia, it contains wonderful shots of medieval Paris, of which only a handful still exist in the city, such as the Hotel de Cluny which contains on eof the best museums in the world, or the Cemétaire du Pére Lachaise, where the two lovers were buried. Hard to believe, but, based on a novel by Marion Meade, the film actually raises subtle questions about the intellectual and religious concepts of the medieval era. Viva La France.

Queen Margot

Produced in 1994 to universal acclaim, Queen Margot is a stunningly beautiful film in which no expense was spared and considerable research was lovingly translated to the screen. Directed by the distinguished French woman Patrice Chéreau and based upon the Alexandre Dumas novel, the movie is set in 16th century Paris in the tense days of the St. Bartholemew Day Massacre of thousands of French Calvinists in August, 1572. Beautiful Isabelle Adjani plays Margot, who, even so young, was a spirited, Literate and witty woman. She is torn between a new bridegroom played by Daniel Autuil as the future Henry IV, one of France's most loving (in every possible meaning of the term) rulers and her newly met beau. Verna Lisi gives a fine portrait of the Machiavellian Catherine de Medici. The film is richly adventurous, erotic and historical. How do you say "Thank You" in French? Clio speaks only Greek.

The Three Musketeers

Ever since Douglas Fairbanks first leapt into his tights in 1921 to play the lead role, Hollywood has virtually turned Alexandre Dumas' classic tragic romance into a cottage industry. Richard Lester, influenced by the original version, turned it into a 1974 one (in fact, broken later into two parts for a sequel of dubious legality) it remains one of the most delightful and genuinely funny films in recent decades, one that holds up brilliantly even today. Although the charming palace of Louis XIII used in the movie was filmed in Portugal, the recreation of 17th century Paris from the crème de la crème of the royal court to the filth of a five star hotel is marvelous. With the assistance of a script by Frazier, author of the hilarious 19th century Flashman novels, the dialogue is literate and witty. The scenes are filled with incredible, working depictions of inventions and machinery that foreshadows the coming of the industrial age, has never been done so well. Though these are just props, they create context of change and tension. The acting is outstanding. Particularly amusing is Charleton Heston's role. He really does look like Van Dyck's famous triple portrait of the poised, sly, Cardinal Richelieu while Faye Dunnaway is brilliant as a grossly seductive Lady De Winter. No wonder French debauchery always looks so attractive. Raquel Welch proved a fine comedian as the naive and clumsy love interest. Sadly, throughout her career, her talent and intelligence lost out to her other visible assets. See it again!

Horseman on the Roof

Assuming that even lovers of Paris escape urban pressure occasionally to the countryside, this 1998 film, set in the Napoleonic era, makes the viewer want to rush to a travel agent, considering that it is, thanks to the Oil Moguls, almos cheaper o fly that to drive. Olivier Martinez plays an Italian soldier escaping from an Austrian posse who meets a beautiful (are there any other kind?) countess, Julette Binoche, searching for her French missing in action husband. It is Love in the Time of Cholera French style. Tom Keogh, a fine film critic, nailed it. The chemistry, even with sub titles which are for once well done, claims the "chemistry" between Martinez and Binoche was " watching a pair of thoroughbreds running in the same race."

Children of the Century

Based upon George Sands memoirs of her affair with the poet Alfred de Musset and set in the intellectual milieu of Paris in the 1830's, this film is sumptuously costumed and the settings are wonderful. Made in 1999, it stars Juliette Binoche as Sand, an early feminist, demanding complete gender freedom and cross dressing to the horror of Parisian society. Binoche is not strident enough to quite carry it off and like a feminist tract is prone to preach to the choir. More an emotional, psychological drama, it conveys the passion and the decay of passion, in the two year liaison. The depiction of the unique circle of writers, poets and artists is, for the cultural vultures, fun. The film is a 19th century tear jerker, an historical chick flic but worth the price of admission.

Victor Victoria

Again, a musical comedy worthy of the city and standing the test of time. Victor Victoria, director Blake Edwards 1982 homage to Paris and his wife, Julia Andrews who playes a dual role, is worth revisiting. Set in 1934, it is that rare thing in American films, a solid ensemble performance by three fine entertainers. Playing a destitute woman, playing a man, playing a woman gaining fame in drag, Julie Andrews convinces the viewer that it all makes perfect sense. James Garner's perplexed, semi-gangster, noveau riche tourist visiting Paris with his ditzy blond bimbo in tow and falling in love with, to his horror, a "guy" convinces the audience that it doesn't make any sense at all but who cares? It is Knock Out comedy at its best. Robert Preston's very gay sponsorship of all the deceit is wonderful. Lesley Ann Warren as the gangster moll matches Jean Hagen as Lena Lamont's incredible twit in the beloved musical Singing in the Rain. The music for which Henry Mancini won an Academy Award is not hummible, but completely in sync with the theme and acting. Indeed, Julie Andrews number "Le Jazz Hot" matches the intensity of Roy Scheider's opening number in All that Jazz.

Mr. and Mrs. Bridge

Starring Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward in an unusual American film, Mr. and Mrs. Bridge (1990), based on the novels Mr. Bridge and Mrs. Bridge by Evan Connell, is set in the 1930's and 1940's and, in a world plunging towards World War II, presents a microcosm of a marriage that makes the Babbits look loose and bohemian. James Ivory and Ruth Jhabvala and Ismail Merchant perform their usual verbal and visual magic. The film, ostensibly a family saga, two wayward daughters and an errant son, is really about the mentality of middle class America in the era between the wars. Paul Newman gives a masterful performance as an emotional cripple, so stolidly rigid, that to a world that values the external appearances of strength more than the reality, he seems normal. Joanne Woodward's nuanced performance as his wife and mother of a wayward brood is haunting. She is the woman and mother as symbol for an era: foolish, feminine, loving and imprisoned in a cage she has never tried to escape. It is so comforting - and so dangerous to be her own person. Yet, awkward, painful, stale, and naive, the love between Mr. and Mrs. Bridge makes the marriage - and the film - work.

Is Paris Burning?

An exceptioin ot the general rule, Is Paris Burning? is a surprisingly good panoramic history film. With a script by Gore Vidal and Francis Ford Coppola, the film has Hollywood's beloved "cast of thousands," including Jean-Paul Belmondo, Kirk Douglas, Glenn Ford, Orson Wells and Leslie Caron and dozens of well known French actors. The film explores as did the best selling book the August of 1944 when the Allied forces cam close to bypassing Paris in the pursuit of the Nazi army. The urban rising agains the Germans, as well as General Dietrich von Choltitz's delaying tactics and ultimate refusal to destroy the most beautifuil city in the world, changed the attitude and tactics of the Allies. The filming in black and white in the era of big dollar color was considered a mistake at the time, but today seems, with the extensive use of news reels, very appropriate. Black and white was dictated, however, not by expense, but by the French government's refusal to allow the swastika to fly over the city again.

Ever After

Conclude this summer festival with a second small escape, this time to the Loire valley. Suffice it to say: Cinderella meets Leonardo di Vinci. If you have young teenagers who like Cotton Candy, this movie will remind them that they are that dwindling breed - Romantic Americans. The film stars Drew Barrymore as a feisty, intelligent, slightly plumpish and appealing girl who intends to grow up and to be a Renaissance Woman. Anjelina Huston is a joy as a prototype stepmother while Dougray Scott plays an attractive prince attracted to intelligence but who looks as if Lord Byron just dyed his hair.

by Staff


Other Films Involving Paris:

Love in the Afternoon, How to Steal a Million, Charade, Funny Face, Before Sunset, Caché, Last Tango in Paris, Les Miserables, Tale of Two Cities, and Cyrano de Bergerac.

Suggested Reading:

For Stealing Heven: Heloise and Abelard - A New Biography (2006) by Jane Burge

For Queen Margot: Saint Bartholomew's Eve: A Tale of the Huguenot Wars by Jean Giono (Jonathan Griffin, transl.)

For The Three Musketeers: The Three Musketeers by Alexander Dumas, Wordsworth Classics 1997.

For Is Paris Burning?: Is Paris Burning by Larry and Dominique LaPierre Collins.

For Mr. and Mrs. Bridge: Mr. Bridge and Mrs. Bridge by Evan Connell.