For many people, France represents a romantic ideal. Whether your archetypal image of the European nation includes the glittering lights and café culture of gay Paris, the sumptuous food and idyllic lifestyle of Provence, or the golden sunshine and endless beaches of St Tropez, thinking of France is sure to bring a clear and attractive image to mind.
Due to its massively influential position in Western culture, the country has been used as a backdrop for some of the most recognisable and enduring films ever made. Some of these are French-language films made by French directors, whereas others are Hollywood blockbusters desperate to claim some of that particularly French brand of glamour – whatever the motivation, filming in this country makes France as much a character on screen as any of the actors involved. With its long history of championing the arts – from theatre to painting to music to dancing – it’s a place that’s rich with historic location and artistic temperament to draw on.
In an increasingly digital world, we find ourselves more often than not turning to screens and handheld devices for entertainment, rather than looking outside our homes. Whilst HooplaDigital does offer a seemingly endless library of movies, ebooks, music, and PokerStars Casino promises to help you while away the hours with a spot of table gaming, there is still a certain charm about using the old brick-and-mortar establishments. In a seamless marriage between technology and the real world, you could even use the list below as a starting point to create your own film-based tour of France on 360Cities. However you decided to approach this journey, there’s bound to be plenty of inspiration to be found in the movies now instantly available on streaming sites – that’s certainly something to be thankful for!
With all this in mind, let’s take a look at some of the most iconic filming locations in France.
The capital city of France, otherwise known as the City of Lights, is the only place to start this cinematic tour. Known throughout the world as a hub of romance, art and old-world glamour, it was also home to the first ever ‘cinema screening’ by the Lumiere brothers.
Playing off all of these tropes, the 2001 movie Moulin Rouge captured the theatricality, the drama and the tragedy of love in a time of absinthe, poverty and social upheaval without ever actually filming in Paris. However, it remains one of the most loved on-screen portrayals of the bohemian side of the city, blending modern pop culture and 20th century Parisian chic perfectly.
Moving on to filming within the city itself, one title which plays like a love poem to Paris is Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amélie. This sweet tale about a girl growing into a woman introduced a whole new generation to the mysteries of Paris and spread far beyond just French audiences. It really captures the essence of Paris and the French way of living in such a fascinating and constantly surprising city. Following this romantic thread leads us to Richard Linklater’s Before Sunset. In this movie, the Paris location really helps to set the tone for a chance meeting between two young people and the delicate yet moving connection that forms between them. It particularly makes use of the charm and Anglo-French nature of Paris bookshop, Shakespeare & Co, reflecting the coming together of English and French protagonists in the storyline. Paris truly is a global city.
Heading south, we come across the Var area of Aix-en-Provence and it’s easy to see why this is often used as a filming location. The rolling fields of green, cascading blooms, blue sky and lazy sea drifting past create an idyllic paradise that anybody would long to get lost in. As well as representing the perfect escape from everyday existence, it also provides a feast for the eyes that both refreshes and excites. This is, perhaps, why Roger Vadim set his 1956 romance …And God Created Woman in Var’s perfect environs. A young and lovely Brigitte Bardot plays a woman stuck marrying a man she doesn’t love and pining after his brother instead, all against the backdrop of sunny St Tropez. In fact, this film is credited with making that seaside town such a popular tourist destination, which it remains to this day.
The region of Var pops up again in that quintessentially English Christmas movie, Love Actually. Colin Firth’s lovelorn character retreats to Provence’s warm embrace when he is unlucky in love. Thankfully, he meets a woman there who promises to be everything he wants and more; yet another coming together of different European backgrounds against the welcoming scenery of France. The Provençal landscape is the perfect setting for both Jamie’s earnest hours sat at the typewriter and the gradual falling in love between him and the Portuguese housekeeper, Aurelia.
Though this is just a short overview of some of France’s best remembered and most recognisable filming locations, there are so many more out there to be found. You could track down the town of Flavigny-sur-Ozerain on the Côte-d’Or to wander the quaint streets seen in the film Chocolat, or seek out Jean Valjean’s redemptive backdrop in the village of Gourdon, located in Alpes-Maritimes. Wherever you wander to, you’re sure find the magic and mystery of the cinema around every corner.