City of Light shines bright for helmers

Gallic officials work to keep Paris a film mecca

Despite the recession’s impact on the film biz, Paris continues to lure American filmmakers, inspire stories and captivate the Stateside psyche.

“The great masters of American cinema from the ’50s and ’60s, including Vincente Minnelli, Stanley Donen and Billy Wilder, have magnified the iconic places of Paris and turned them into the references anybody has in cinema,” says Olivier Rene-Veillon, exec director of the Ile de France Film Commission.

Paris serves as one backdrop to two upcoming American pics — Clint Eastwood’s supernatural drama “Hereafter” and Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi thriller “Inception.”

“Paris has been heavily featured in period dramas and romantic comedies,” says Michel Gomez, general delegate of Mission Cinema, a film commission set up by Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoe. “But it’s also proved, in recent years, to offer an ideal scenery for action films like ‘The Bourne Ultimatum’ and ‘Taken’ or thrillers like ‘Munich.’?”

In fact, the City of Light’s characters and settings can help broaden the canvas of suspensers.

“Inception,” penned by Nolan, centers on a man, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, who enters people’s dreams to extract information. Gallic thesp Marion Cotillard plays his wife. In “Hereafter,” French thesp Cecile de France stars as a TV journalist who seeks help from a reluctant psychic, played by Matt Damon, after surviving a near-death experience.

Up next, Woody Allen’s untitled romantic comedy will lens in Paris over the summer, with Cotillard toplining. Martin Scorsese will also shoot exteriors in Paris for “The Invention of Hugo Cabret,” an adaptation of Brian Selznick’s children’s book, inspired by the work of French cinema pioneer Georges Melies.

“In cultural terms, Paris belongs in the top 10 most fascinating cities in the world. It’s a movie capital,” says Patrick Lamassoure, managing director of Film France. “France has worshipped film directors, as opposed to producers or even actors.”

Hardly a week goes by in Gaul without an American showbizzer getting a distinction: Tim Burton has just been awarded the French medal of Arts and Letters; Harrison Ford received the Honorary Cesar in February; Eastwood picked up a second legion of honor medal last November.

“France remains one of the rare countries that approaches cinema as an art form,” Eastwood said upon receiving the Cannes Film Festival’s honorary Golden Palm last year.

The recurring role of Paris in films has also helped keep France atop the world’s most popular tourist destinations. “International audiences look for production value, something sumptuous to get thrilled about,” says Scott Aversano, producer of “Killers,” the Katherine Heigl-starrer, which partially shot on the French Riviera.

But shooting in France isn’t cheap, said “Julie & Julia” helmer Nora Ephron, who recalls before rebates she had to beg the studio to shoot five days of exteriors in the French capital. “We were terrified that the studio would make us go to Montreal or Prague, but they let us shoot in Paris,” she said.

Sophie Boudon-Vanhille, general manager of Mission Cinema, points out that helmers don’t just come to shoot the Eiffel Tower. “I was surprised that Quentin Tarantino chose to shoot five days in a Paris bistro called La Renaissance,” she says. “And then I was told that he had seen the cafe in one of his favorite films, Claude Chabrol’s ‘Le Sang des autres.’?”

The city’s biggest selling point is its inimitable character. As Aversano observes, it’s “the intimacy of a cafe, the richness of details and the history that makes Paris so cinematic and noteworthy.”

Click here for more Scout & About: Ile de France

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