Strolling the streets of Paris is a lot like touring an open-air museum; everywhere you look are bucketloads of natural beauty, dazzling displays of human-rendered artistic expression, and the visual accumulation of centuries upon centuries of history. Hidden amidst the remnants of royalty and revolution is the history of cinema; literally hundreds of films have been made here, and every day, another film crew takes to the streets. Can you spot the open-air set of your favorite French film?
Perhaps the easiest to suss out are scenes from 2001’s “Amélie”. A quirky tale of a quirky girl’s adventures around Montmartre, the story actually begins further south and east, at the Canal St. Martin (quai Jemmapes), where you, too, can skim stones à lá Mademoiselle Poulain. As you mosey toward Amélie’s Montmartre stomping grounds, weave through Little Jaffna, which looks—smells, and sounds—a lot more like South Asia than northern Paris. When you get to Café des 2 Moulins, where the fictional protagonist worked as a waitress, take a seat on the terrace, order a noisette from a real-life Amélie, and soak up the ambience of this lively neighborhood.
The 1995 film, “Before Sunrise” has morphed into a Gen X classic, and its follow-up, Before Sunset, has almost catapulted into that arena. The sequel brings “Céline and Jesse” together again, this time swapping Vienna for Paris. The film’s opening scene takes place at Shakespeare and Company, worth a visit even without the cinematic tie-in. If it’s a hot summer day, you, too, might like to roam in the direction of the Bateau Mouches (Quai Pont Neuf) for a boat cruise on the Seine. Prone to motion sickness? Do like Jesse and Céline and stroll the elevated Promenade Plantée (rue Daumesnil) all the way to the Bastille instead.
In Jean-Luc Godard’s 1959 flick “Breathless”, bad boy Jean-Paul Belmondo and his American co-star Jean Seberg played hipster fashion icons with award-winning verve. To follow in their too-cool footsteps, start at the Arc de Triomphe. Walking down the Champs Elysée in the direction of rue Berri (former home of International Herald Tribune office), you’ll walk the same tree-shaded path where Patricia hawked copies of the paper in her stylish uniform of slender black pants and white Trib’ T-Shirt. Further on is Cinema Normandie, where Michel glimpses a movie poster featuring his hero, Humphrey Bogart. If you dare, turn the corner onto Avenue Montaigne like the ill-fated lovers did, and cruise past the Dior boutique—ideally, not in a stolen convertible.