Paris on film

Every picturesque nook and corner of Paris and especially Louvre, Notre Dame and Moulin Rouge will remind you of a scene from a movie
Watch a movie at every nook and corner of Paris
Watch a movie at every nook and corner of Paris

When chroni&shycling a Paris trip, you aren&rsquot sup&shyposed to write about your first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower, or the time you spent tiptoeing about it taking photographs in the wide-eyed touristy way. It&rsquos much cooler to pretend you barely noticed this most over-familiar of landmarks, never mind that it was a constant presence, winking down at you like the all-seeing Eye of Sauron wherever you went. Rani, the heroine of the recent Hindi film Queen &mdash a homespun but plucky young woman who decides to go on her Paris honeymoon alone after her fiancé cancels the wedding &mdash knows something about this. She wants no truck with the tower (it brings back sad memories of her boy&shyfriend&rsquos romantic promises), but finds she can&rsquot escape it.

That&rsquos two movie refer&shyences in one paragraph, and here&rsquos another. When I first saw Gustave Eiffel&rsquos lattice monster during a cab ride, the image that crept into my mind was a cinematic one the lovely opening shots of Fran­&ccedilois Truffaut&rsquos The 400 Blows, where the credits roll over visuals of the tower peeking out at the camera through the city&rsquos distinctive Haussmann buildings, as if playing now-you-see-me-now-you-don&rsquot with the film&rsquos young protago&shynist Antoine Doinel.

My Paris stay was marked by movie reference points of this sort &mdash it helped orga&shynise my thoughts about a place so filled with things to do that even a whole week spent there can leave you feeling unfulfilled. I have seen fragments of the city in dozens of films over the years, from Chris Marker&rsquos classic short La Jet&eacutee, which begins with an apocalyptic vision of a Paris destroyed in a future war, to Jacques Tati&rsquos Mon Oncle, with its beauti&shyful opening sequence where stray dogs canter from the quaint &ldquoold Paris&rdquo, with its open-air markets, towards a more impersonal, developing metropolis. In one room of my memory palace, Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn swish through the Place Vend&ocircme and the Ritz in Charade in another, Sharmila Tagore and Shammi Kapoor redefine chic during a nighttime walk past the Luxor Obelisk in An Evening in Paris.

And so, movie scenes kept unspooling in my mind, even in the art museums. Trying to comprehend the incred&shyible vastness of the Louvre, for instance, I thought of the scene in Godard&rsquos Bande à part where three young people sprint noisily through the galleries just to see how much ground they can cover, never mind looking at any of the artworks &mdash one of the great depictions of youthful exuberance cocking a snook at the sort of cultural hege&shymony that demands you gaze thoughtfully and silently at a painting for several minutes. Naturally, I wasn&rsquot as bold as the kids in the film, but even while gazing at art, I was recalling filmic images. An Auguste Renoir painting was a reminder of the vivid use of light and colour in films di&shyrected by the artist&rsquos son Jean in the 1950s &mdash a testament to a father and son working in two very different mediums but bringing a similar visual sensibility to them. (One of those films, The River, set in colonial-era Bengal, had a young man named Satyajit Ray as consultant.) The layout of the Orsay Museum &mdash which was once a train station &mdash brought a fresh appreciation of Martin Scorsese&rsquos Hugo, set in the 1930s in just such an old-world station, com&shyplete with a giant wall-clock like the one at the Orsay. And at the Rodin Museum, the celebrated statue The Thinker put me in mind of an observa&shytion made by the film director Rouben Mamoulian during a talk about the misguided importance given to &ldquorealism&rdquo in art. Pointing out a little detail that often goes unno&shyticed even by those who think they know Rodin&rsquos statue well, Mamoulian said, &ldquoThe thinker is sitting, believe it or not, with one elbow on the op&shyposite knee. It&rsquos not natural or comfortable, but aesthetically and artistically it has a focus. It has design and rhythm and power. What is unnatural becomes true.&rdquo

The movie theme contin&shyued in the Latin Quarter. Outside the Notre Dame cathedral, a man wearing a gargoyle mask came running up in an effort to scare us, but I barely noticed since I was thinking about Charles Laughton as the doleful, self-pitying Quasimodo in the 1939 version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, looking out from the rooftop so what if the cathedral used in the film was a constructed one Later, dur&shying a walking tour of the Left Bank, our guide had just taken us past the Pantheon and a couple of churches when he casually mentioned that Woody Allen (&ldquoyou know, the US director&rdquo said in the tone of someone who was unsure we watched American films) had shot a scene on the nearby stairs. I looked back, and there it was the very place where Owen Wilson sits at midnight in Midnight in Paris, waiting for the car that will magically transport him to the Paris of the 1920s, to the world of Hemingway and Fitzgerald and Dalí.

In picturesque Montmartre, where we stayed, there was of course the Moulin Rouge with its bright red windmill &mdash the title, and the setting, for Baz Luhrmann&rsquos musical as well as John Huston&rsquos 1952 film about the artist Henri De Toulouse-Lautrec. But during a walk around the winding lanes leading up to the Basilique du Sacré Coeur, we also passed the Café des 2 Moulins, where Amelie &mdash the gaminish heroine of the hugely popular 2001 film &mdash worked as a waitress. And the Montmartre cemetery, where Fran&ccedilois Truffaut lies buried &mdash another reminder not just of The 400 Blows but also of a poignant photograph of the actor Jean-Pierre L&eacuteaud, who played Antoine Doinel in so many Truffaut films, placing a flower on his guru&rsquos tomb.

I may as well admit this &mdash one of the reasons I pre-booked a cycling tour of Versailles online was a dim memory of Truffaut&rsquos short film Les Mis&shytons, which begins with track&shying shots of Bernadette Lafont cycling her way through city roads that seem incredibly well suited to such a form of travel. Living in Delhi, I wouldn&rsquot have the courage to take a bicycle anywhere near a road, so this seemed like something to cross off the bucket list, and indeed the Versailles bike trip was one of the highlights of our week. Mainly because the focus wasn&rsquot on spending hours wandering through the massive, treasure-laden rooms of the palace (something that can become wearying, especially if you know that many of the fittings on view are only facsimiles of the things originally used by Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette). Instead our guide Rick &mdash an effortlessly funny raconteur with little respect for long-dead kings and queens&mdashencouraged our group to forget about the des&shytination and enjoy the journey. His favourite part of the tour, he said, was cycling through the castle lawns and settling down there for a picnic, and we soon saw why.

At the town&rsquos open-air mar&shyket, we shopped for baguettes, cheese, meats and macaroons, overcoming the language barrier (&ldquoB-a-a-a-h-h-h,&rdquo said the man behind a counter, indicating a particularly creamy variety of goat cheese studded with raisins) and my mind went all filmi again this old-world setting evoked the perfectly timed scene in Mon Oncle where Tati&rsquos Mr Hulot, carrying a bag with a large pike &mdash its mouth open, making it seem alive and menacing &mdash shops at a grocer&rsquos kiosk, and a dog beneath the stall snarls back at the dead fish. A few unhurried minutes of cycling later, we were on the lawns, with a view of symmetrical trees, people rowing about in boats nearby, and geese flying overhead in formation (if their ancestors were doing this for the Louises and the Napo&shyleons, it must have been just as impressive as the Air Force gymnastics performed for heads of state today). All the bicycles had names, inciden&shytally, and we got to pick the ones we wanted. My choice &ldquoRoyale with Cheese&rdquo &mdash a phrase made famous by Quentin Tarantino&rsquos Pulp Fiction, where it is drawled first by John Travolta and then by Samuel L. Jackson as they discuss what the Paris version of McDonald&rsquos is like.

However, the most specific cinema-related tourism I did was a trip to the Cin&eacutemath&egraveque Fran&ccedilaise museum in Bercy, a relatively long metro trip from Montmartre but worth it if you were on a private pilgrimage like I was. My chief motivation for going there was to see a woman who had haunted my dreams since I was 13. Shriv&shyelled and eyeless, she appeared at the very end of the film that got me seriously interested in cinema and set me on the path to writing professionally about the medium.

The skull of Mrs. Bates makes her famous appear&shyance in the climax of Alfred Hitchcock&rsquos Psycho, in a creaky scene in the basement, where Norman&rsquos mummy is revealed to be a carefully preserved corpse. If I had wanted my illusions to be just as well-preserved, I would have avoided going to the museum at all, so that my only mental picture would be of her as she appears in the film. There was something both comical and poignant about seeing &ldquoher&rdquo in a glass cage, bathed in a beam of yellow light, more than 5000 miles removed in space (and more than five decades in time) from the Bates Motel in Fairvale, California, circa 1960. She was clearly visible from a distance in the otherwise darkened room, and the idea was presumably to make her look spooky, but it also drew attention to her as an exhibit, something that visitors could point and chortle at (or sit down next to and smile stu&shypidly for a camera, as I couldn&rsquot help doing). She was, how to say this, unimposing.

Viewing other artefacts &mdash such as the frosty-looking robot Maria created by an evil scientist in Fritz Lang&rsquos silent masterpiece Metropolis, the starfish in the jar from Man Ray&rsquos 1928 film L&rsquo&Eacutetoile de Mer, and costumes from such movies as Jean Cocteau&rsquos 1946 Beauty and the Beast&mdashwas a reminder that fa&shymous movie props can, when removed from their familiar contexts, be banal and smaller than life. Cocteau&rsquos film was in gorgeous black and white, and these brightly coloured cos&shytumes seemed garish when set against the vivid, dream&shylike images from the film, playing on a screen above the exhibit. For anyone who has been immersed in the other&shyworldly milieu of a movie like Beauty and the Beast, going to a cinema museum is an exer&shycise in demystification &mdash a reminder that the film was planned and then shot by a cast and crew, who were probably doing mundane things like talking about the day&rsquos news or taking cigarette breaks in between shots.

Saying hello to Mrs. Bates was a high point of my life, but the lesson I ultimately learnt from my trip was that for the movie buff, Paris itself is a limitless museum of wonders, full of memories and associations that can&rsquot be confined within the four walls of a building &mdash a dreamscape where Monsieur Hulot, the cathedral hunchback, the heroine of a 2014 Bollywood film and countless other characters can speak to each other across time and space. Georges M&eacuteli&egraves, the magician and film pioneer who created so many of the first cinematic &ldquospecial effects&rdquo here back in the 19th century, would prob&shyably have figured out a way to get all these people together in the same frame.

The information

Getting There
Direct flights from Delhi to Paris are operated by Air India, Air France and other international carriers such as Emirates (round trip about Rs 58,460 per person).

Visa
A Schengen Visa is required for travel to France. Apply for the visa at the French Embassy or get one through a travel agent. For details see vfs-france.co.in.

Currency
1 euro (&euro) = Rs 82 

Where to stay
We stayed six nights at the Mercure Paris Montmartre Sacre Coeur (from Rs 9,200 33-9-69366130, mercure.com), just around the corner from the Moulin Rouge. This is a clean and comfortable four-star hotel with decent-sized rooms (by Paris standards) and a 10-15-minute walk from some of the city&rsquos most picturesque sights, around the Sacre Coeur basilica.

Other hotel options include the Hippodrome Hotel (from Rs 6,960 33-1-43876552, hotel-hippodrome.com), Le Relais Montmartre (from Rs 7,455 33-1- 70642525, hotel-relais-montmartre. com), Park Hyatt Paris-Vend&ocircme (from Rs 62,260 33-1-58711234, paris.vendome.hyatt.com).

Getting around
We travelled almost exclusively by the metro, which is fast, relatively cheap and convenient &mdash road traf&shyfic can be slow. Keep a metro map handy it&rsquos easy to figure out routes based on the starting and ending station on each line. If you are planning to make many metro trips (as we did), I recommend buying a carnet (a packet of 10 tickets, available at a discounted rate &mdash approx &euro13.8).
Walking is also a great option in Paris, when the weather is good.
We booked the bike tour via Isango (from Rs 7,300 per person 0124-4148173, isango.com).

Where to eat & drink
We stuck mainly with street food, such as crepes bought on the run. The tea-shop Angelina (33-1-42608200, angelina-paris.fr), near the Louvre museum, is almost a tourist destination for the first-time Paris traveler &mdash try their signature hot chocolate and Croque Madame (a grilled ham-and-cheese sandwich with a poached egg on top).
And when you visit Notre- Dame, don&rsquot miss the brilliant ice-creams at Berthillon (33- 1-3543161, berthillon.fr). If you visit the Pompidou museum, the Cr&ecircperie Beaubourg (33-1- 42776362, creperiebeaubourg.com) is a good place to have a quick meal.

Top tip
If you plan to visit more than three or four of the main museums (e.g. the Louvre, Orsay, the Orangeries, the Rodin, the Pompidou), pick up a Paris Museum Pass (parispass. com), which gets you discounted, skip-the-lines entry into a selec&shytion of museums.

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