Cléo from 5 to 7

Top 10 Films about Paris

If you’re preparing a visit to the City of Light or planning to do your MBA here, film is a great way to immerse yourself in Parisian culture. Jennifer Wallace, Direct Marketing Manager for the HEC Paris MBA, has a PhD in French cinema, so we asked her to share her top 10 films about Paris:

  • Paris qui dort (The Crazy Ray) is a science fiction film from 1924 directed by René Clair. It’s about a mad doctor who manages to freeze everybody in Paris except for a small group of misfits, who proceed to eat in fancy restaurants and steal clothes and jewelry from expensive stores. The most beautiful scenes—which were really shot on location!—take place at the top of the Eiffel Tower as the characters jump around the metal girders.

    Enfants du paradis

    Les Enfants du paradis

  • La Maternelle (Children of Montmartre) is a melodrama from 1933 shot by the directing duo Marie Epstein and Jean-Benoît Levy. It tells the story of Rose, a young woman who falls from grace when she is abandoned by her fiancé and has to find work in a school in the slum of Montmartre. It’s praised for its unflinching view of life in poor neighborhoods (despite being fictional) and for Madeleine Renaud’s stunning performance as Rose.
  • Les Enfants du paradis (Children of Paradise) is frequently named as one of the greatest French films and rightly so. It was directed by Marcel Carné in 1945 during the time of German occupation, and features music-hall star Arletty as a beautiful courtesan who is pursued by four men. The film is set in the theatre world of the 1830s and is famous for its lush costumes and lyrical script by poet Jacques Prévert.
  • An American in Paris was technically shot on a studio backlot in Hollywood, but this Vincente Minnelli musical from 1951 is such a joyful portrait of Paris that it has to be included. Gene Kelly is a GI/painter who stays in the city after the war where he falls for shop girl Leslie Caron. Its 15-minute dream-ballet sequence was recently recreated by Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in La La Land.
  • Cléo de 5 à 7 (Cléo from 5 to 7) is my defining film of the French New Wave. Directed by Agnès Varda (who is widely credited as having kicked off the cinematic movement several years earlier with her debut film La Pointe Courte), this films tracks 90 minutes in the life of a blonde pop singer as she waits for the results of a medical test on June 21, 1961. It’s revolutionary in its depiction of a positive relationship between a woman and the city, and it’s the only feature film of the French New Wave written and directed by a woman.

    Diabolo ment

    Diabolo menthe

  • Diabolo menthe (Peppermint Soda) is a semi-autobiographical teen film from 1977 by director Diane Kurys. Set in the early 1960s in a Parisian high school, it’s witty, wistful and empathetic towards its young, female protagonists. The costumes, decor and soundtrack have given the film a well-deserved cult status.
  • Les Nuits de la pleine lune (Full Moon in Paris) by Eric Rohmer is a film that deals with the difference (and distance!) between Paris and its suburbs. Louise, played by Pascale Ogier in some delightful 1980s outfits, finds herself drifting apart from her boyfriend when she decides to live alone in a small flat in the city. Like all of Rohmer’s films, it focuses on shifting human relationships and perfectly captures the essence of post-modernist Paris in 1984.

    Les nuits de plein lune

    Les Nuits de la plein lune

  • J’ai pas sommeil (I Can’t Sleep) made in 1994 by Claire Denis, is a story about the lives of three immigrants in Paris, but it is frequently overlooked in favor of Mathieu Kassovitz’s La Haine, which was released one year later. However, the film is equally bold in its depiction of outsiders who are denied the opportunities and pleasures that living in a city brings. Its critical treatment of French views on race, gender and sexuality are issues that run throughout all of Denis’ films.
  • 2 Days in Paris, a not-so-romantic comedy from 2007 by director Julie Delpy, is a hilarious look at failing American-French relations when Marion (Delpy) brings her boyfriend Jack (Adam Goldberg) to Paris to visit her family. An increasingly bewildered Jack has to deal with her over-sharing father, flirty younger sister and a parade of ex boyfriends as he negotiates Paris in the summer—where everything “smells like lamb”.

    Bande de filles

    Bande des filles

  • Bande des filles (Girlhood), from 2014, is an intimate look at the lives of young black women on a suburban estate directed by Céline Sciamma. Upon its release there was some heated debate about whether it was too clichéd in its depiction of suburban life, but there’s no doubt that it’s a rare perspective to see Paris through the eyes of a young woman of color. Karidja Touré was the standout star of the film, and the sequence where she dances with her friends to Rihanna’s “Diamonds” is unforgettable.