Top Ten Films About Americans In Paris

Top Ten Films About Americans In Paris - Hollywood has always been in love with Paris. Philip Horne picks the 10 best celluloid paeans to the City of Light.

America’s love story with France and things French can be a stormy affair – remember the redneck rage a few years back at the "cheese-eating surrender monkeys"? But Hollywood’s vision of France and Frenchness, often of actual Americans in Paris, can be a gloriously heady experience.

For evidence of this, just watch the delightfully sly teen comedy Youth in Revolt (out now on DVD from Momentum). Its impoverished Californian hero, shy Nick Twisp (Michael Cera), falls in love with a Francophile beauty, whose idea of a heartthrob is Jean-Paul Belmondo in Godard’s Breathless.

In order not to be boring and lose her, Twisp decides "to change every detail of my personality". He cultivates an alter ego, the cool, moustachioed, French rebel François Dillinger, a Gaulloise always between his lips and defiance of everything in his allure.

When good Americans die, it’s said, they go to Paris. When Twisp stops being good, he certainly goes all Parisian...

Here are 10 telling cases of American infatuation with France:

Portia Doubleday and Michael Cera in Youth in Revolt
Portia Doubleday and Michael Cera in Youth in Revolt
Photo: Bruce Birmelin

John Adams (HBO miniseries, Tom Hooper, 2008)

Some of the best moments in this superb epic about the paradoxical, not wholly lovable Adams and his role in the American revolution of 1776 occur in Paris, on his various missions (France helped America throw off British dominion – the root of their special relationship). Paul Giamatti wonderfully brings out the unease of the stiff, moralistic Adams confronted with the elaborate manners and free morals of the French court.

Moulin Rouge (John Huston, 1953)

No Americans appear in John Huston’s biopic of Toulouse Lautrec, starring José Ferrer. And this visually ravishing film, produced by Jack Clayton at Shepperton, was largely made by British technicians. Nonetheless, it’s Huston’s vision: he’d spent time in Paris studying painting, and this is his love letter, in rich, subdued Technicolor, to the beauty of the city in the late 19th century.

A Woman of Paris (Charlie Chaplin, 1923)

The Chaplin film in which he himself doesn’t appear – and a love-tragedy of misunderstanding and sexual self-degradation set in the capital of romantic disaster (see also La Traviata, La Bohème). He wanted to cement the stardom of his regular leading lady, Edna Purviance, but the film flopped. Martin Scorsese has praised Chaplin’s modernity and subtlety of technique in this neglected masterpiece, condemned as immoral in its day.

The Moderns (Alan Rudolph, 1988)

Maybe not quite the equal of Rudolph’s wonderful Mrs Parker and the Vicious Circle about Dorothy Parker, this picture of the Modernist 1920s Paris of American expatriates (including Gertrude Stein, Alice B Toklas and Ernest Hemingway), French painting – and forgery – is a forgotten delight. Keith Carradine, Linda Fiorentino, Wallace Shawn, Geraldine Chaplin, Genevieve Bujold – a great cast enjoy this splendidly Rudolphian excursion into the Gallic past (all shot, I must confess, in Quebec).

Ninotchka (Ernst Lubitsch, 1939)

Not an American character in sight – a Swedish star (Greta Garbo) and a sophisticated German director – but this comic paean of praise to the power of Paris is one of Hollywood’s classic statements about France as a place of pleasure (and especially of sex). The script by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett is a witty tour de force – following doctrinaire Soviet envoy Ninotchka as she gradually succumbs to the power of French love.

An American in Paris (Vincente Minnelli, 1951)

MGM Technicolor, George Gershwin, and one of the great American fantasies – Gene Kelly’s character has stayed on in Paris after the War to become a struggling painter and lead la vie de bohème – and, of course, finds love, not with an heiress who fancies him, but with a lovely French girl (Leslie Caron). The winner of six Oscars, it's unmissable.

Charade (Stanley Donen, 1963)

In a way, it’s Hitchcock-lite – a romantic comedy thriller with Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn about lies and deceptions and murder – but so what, it’s utterly perfect froth, a triumph of 1960s style with a score by Henry Mancini and gowns by Givenchy. Likeable as they are, Mark Wahlberg and Thandie Newton in nice Jonathan Demme’s much-vilified 2002 remake The Trouble with Charlie could never have measured up.

Before Sunrise/ Before Sunset (Richard Linklater, 1995/2004)

A magnificent, delightful, moving pair of films about the power, vicissitudes and uncertainties of love, made nine years apart with the same actors (Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy). This spontaneous-feeling pair of movies, the latter a masterpiece, constitutes what Linklater calls "romance for realists": his characters find themselves forced to decide – in the city of lovers – whether one’s life should be ruled by deep intuitions.

Killing Zoe (Roger Avary, 1993)

Avary has had a chequered career since co-writing Pulp Fiction to say the least (he’s now in jail for manslaughter through drunk driving), but while unpleasant and unsettling in subject matter and full of sex, drugs and violence, and critically dismissed, his story of a hippyish American criminal called Zed (Eric Stoltz) joining old friends for a bank job in Paris only to find too late they’re drug-crazed murderous losers wins passionate admirers.

The Bourne Identity (Doug Liman, 2002)

Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne is nobody's "ugly American" – he’s fluently Euro-literate, and, while he’s trying to remember that he’s a highly-trained secret agent and killing machine, we get to enjoy majestic high-speed car chases (even in a Mini) through the streets of Paris. ( )

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