Last Tango in Paris
We know from the opening of Bernardo Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris that the film’s powerful emotions will drive everything two strangers share in a dim apartment that comes to personify the erotic menace of their encounters. We first see a man deeply distraught and wandering the streets under Paris’ pont de Bir-Hakeim. A young woman hurriedly passes him, looking on with concern. The violent sounds of a train seems to signify the tumultuous journey that lies ahead, unable to drown out the man’s animal cry. Later, they remain lost and lonely in each other’s arms, and although their days on a dirty mattress in Paris seem incongruous with the city of love, it’s a fascinating, intense contradiction to watch unfold.
Nine years after Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) meet on a train in Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise, the couple encounters each other again in Paris during Jesse’s book tour. This time they’re older, wiser, and more jaded after experiencing various heartbreaks and unfulfilling relationships. The observations they’ve shared about life, love, and longing continue during their hours-long reunion through the city, while they grapple with the deeply intimate feelings they still share for each other. Although both move about their lives in separate countries, their clarity is always strongest during these fleeting moments in transit. The vitality of their previous encounter returns by the film’s fitting end, which leaves us wondering — but hopeful — about where things are headed for the couple.
Paris, je t’aime
The 2006 anthology film Paris, Je t’aime featuring the talents of directors like Gus Van Sant, the Coen brothers, and Walter Salles is a true love letter to Paris. Each filmmaker weaves an emotional tale through the city’s streets, an interconnected travelogue celebrating the city’s romantic history. We’ve featured Tom Tykwer’s short starring Natalie Portman as the love interest of a blind man who reflects on their relationship after she phones him with bad news.
Baz Luhrmann’s modern twist on Paris’ 19th century Montmartre/Moulin Rouge scene is filled with feverish song and dance numbers. The film exuberantly revives the grandeur of Paris’ famed nightspot through the tragic love story of a young poet Christian (Ewan McGregor) and an ill cabaret starlet Satine (Nicole Kidman). The operatic tale — also based on two famous performances, La traviata, and La bohème — surrounds us with its rollicking decadence, instantly transporting us to a place of passion and fantasy.
Henry & June
One of literature’s most famous love affairs is between that of authors Henry Miller and Anaïs Nin, their letters the only remnants of the intense relationship they shared in Paris during the 1930s. The couple’s love triangle — with Miller’s wife, June — is the subject of Philip Kaufman’s 1990 movie. Both Miller and Nin were involved with others at the time of their meeting in the French city, where the trio’s sexual liberation and longing serves as the fuel for their creative passions.
Jean-Luc Godard’s 1960 debut feature is a hallmark of French New Wave cinema, featuring innovative visuals and a dynamic storyline centering on a young car thief (Jean-Paul Belmondo) and his relationship with an American student (Jean Seberg). One of the film’s famous scenes follows the duo down the Montarnasse, then a thriving meeting point for artists and intellectuals alike — a fitting spot for Godard’s groundbreaking film, bold and bustling with new possibilities.
Bernardo Bertolucci sets another American in Paris for his 2003 drama The Dreamers. Michael Pitt plays the student venturing to Paris during the 1968 riots. His life becomes intertwined with intriguing and unusual twin siblings. A radical relationship forms, mirroring the turmoil in Paris’ streets beyond their bedroom window.
Love in the Afternoon
Billy Wilder’s 1957 romantic comedy is about an aging playboy, Gary Cooper’s Frank Flannagan, who falls for the daughter of a private detective, Audrey Hepburn’s Ariane. She’s hired to catch him in the act with the wife of a client. Ariane takes on the persona of a femme fatale in order to keep the mystery swirling, but eventually the façade cracks as seen in the film’s passionate closing scene. The film’s opening voiceover sets the scene for Flannagan and Ariane’s romantic tale:
“This is the city — Paris, France. It is just like any other big city — London, New York, Tokyo — except for two little things. In Paris, people eat better. And in Paris, people make love — well, perhaps not better, but certainly more often. They do it any time, any place. On the left bank, on the right bank, and in between! They do it by day, and they do it by night. The butcher, the baker, and the friendly undertaker. They do it in motion, they do it sitting absolutely still. Poodles do it. Tourists do it. Generals do it. Once in a while even existentialists do it. There is young love, and old love. Married love, and innocent love… ”
Midnight in Paris
“I couldn’t care less about my book tonight, I just want to walk around Paris with you,” Owen Wilson’s Gil tells Marion Cotillard’s Adriana. He meets the seductive woman after time-traveling to the 1920s, falling in love with her and the romantic city. The charming and sentimental story from Woody Allen reminds us that the city was fertile ground for lively arts and culture, but also remains of place of self-discovery, passionate love, and luminous dreams.
Les enfants du paradis (Children of Paradise)
Set in Paris’ early 19th century theaters, Jacques Prévert’s poetic film follows four men who have fallen hopelessly in love with an unattainable courtesan, played by famous French actress Arletty. “Paris is very small for those, like us, with such a grand love,” she tells one of her suitors — and Prévert’s stunning picture of the Boulevard du Temple bursts with the heartbreaker’s romantic sentiment. The legendary love story has been called the greatest French film of all time, and it’s easy to see why.