Every night is a starry night with a full moon, rouged lips speak softly into the ears of rugged French men, and everyone you fall in love with will live on Ile-Saint-Louis, Le Marais, or Montmartre.
Or so you thought. The movies we watch about Paris tell one story, a story of limitless love, liquor, and light during even the darkest of winters. Dough-eyed babes head to France, looking for an apartment with a perfect view of the Eiffel Tower. They buy black coats, red lipstick, and maroon wine… But after days of dog poop on the sidewalk, smog smothering the view, and creepy men trailing them through the bar, those wide-eyed dreamers might have had better luck basing their Paris dreams on Les Mis instead of Amélie.
Here are the top 10 lies you learned about Paris from your favorite (ex-favorite?) movies.
1. All of my food will be beautiful and delicious. – Ratatouille (2007)
In order to perfectly depict Paris, the film’s director, producer, and some crew members spent a week in the City of Lights taking pictures, doing a motorcycle tour, and eating at fancy-schmancy restaurants. The filmmakers succeeded—Paris was perfect, and the food was perfect. Too perfect. Paris isn’t all hot omelets, potato soups, fresh baguette, and ratatouille made perfectly by a rat (see image). Some days you only have 5€ for a sloppy jambon beurre in a paper bag…though it’s plausible that was made by the rat.
2. “Paris is at its most beautiful in the rain.” – Midnight in Paris (2011)
Owen Wilson makes this dramatic claim while walking melodramatically across a bridge. Hypothetically, Paris could be its most beautiful in the rain, but then, it would also have to be twilight, with street lights and the Eiffel Tower’s lights in the distance. Also, all drainage must be working (no puddles or mud), and even then it must be a drizzle not a downpour. There should be no honking car horns, and my hair must not get frizzy. Oh, and this is *only* the case if I’m in the 16th, the 15th, the 7th, 6th, 4th or 1st arrondissements… Paris is pretty in the rain, sure, but I’d rather take sunny, dry, and breezy Paris any day.
3. Getting on the rooftop is easy. – The Aristocats (1970)
Near the end of the best film about cats to ever be made, the two pro-cat-onists of the movie exit through a top-floor window, walk across the rooftop, and sit by the chimneys. Honestly, it doesn’t matter that the creatures crossing rooftops are cats; the problem isn’t that humans aren’t as agile as cats, the problem is that real French rooftops don’t have shingles for gripping, and they slope at 80 degree angles. Don’t try this at home–or at your Airbnb.
4. U2 makes Paris seem glamorous. – The Devil Wears Prada (2006)
The Devil Wears Prada film has the second best use of the U2 song City of Blinding Light. (Barack Obama used it best at his farewell speech to the nation.) As Andy arrives in Paris with Miranda, the song begins to play over a mix of aerials and shots from a moving vehicle showing the most iconic monuments lit up at night. Paris seems elegant and bustling, like the center of the world. Flash forward to 2015, I’m in Paris and U2 has spammed their new album into everyone’s iTunes. For whatever reason, my iPhone always wanted me to listen to U2. I swear to you, walking around Le Marais to the unwanted croon of U2 did not improve my impression of Paris.
5. The Jardin de Champs-Elysées is full of families and lovely people. – Charade (1963)
Set in the 1950s, Charade depicts a refined, yet dangerous Paris. The most dangerous places were fancy hotels and apartments, and the most refined place was the park. …I think the writers had a little mix-up because Paris parks are definitely not refined. Cary Grant strolled through cheerful families, children playing, and couples holding hands. I strolled through through a forest of selfie-sticks, dodged doggie doo-doo, and gawked at a goat cutting (eating) the grass. (Goats are cheap labor.) See the garden walk-through here at 1 hr 28 min 13 sec.
6. My neighbors will be fun to hang out with. – Moulin Rouge (2001)
I never once met my neighbors in Paris. I heard doors closing and occasional foot steps in the stairwell, but I met no one. There were no young people to go out with, no elderly French women dispersing wisdom, no kids to babysit, not dogs to pet—no one. In Moulin Rouge, Toulouse not only meets but collaborates and takes psychedelics with his neighbors! Psychedelics aside, I would have very much liked a similar experience with my neighbors.
7. When you feel joy and sadness simultaneously, you fall in love with Paris. – Paris Je T’Aime (2006)
In the final scene of everyone’s favorite honest film about Paris, an American woman recounts in choppy French her trip to Paris. She says that she fell in love with Paris when she felt both joy and sadness simultaneously. Well, I felt joy and sadness plenty of times in Paris, and that’s not when I fell in love with Paris. After I got pickpocketed at the Place de la Nation metro stop and had to get a new phone, I felt sadness paying hundreds of euros, yet also joy at having a phone again. But that was not the moment I fell in love with Paris.
8. A chambre de bonne is spacious, versatile, and romantic. – An American in Paris (1951)
A chambre de bonne is a minimalist house in the space of a closet. Gene Kelly’s chambre de bonne is the exact type of “roughing it” so many Francophiles dreaming of Paris hope to experience. His bed lifts into the ceiling, he’s got a big window with a ledge, double doors that lead onto a balcony, and his furniture is mobile and collapsible. A real chambre de bonne is like a nuclear bunker in the attic, furnished with inflexible furniture. The legal minimum size is 9.2 square meters or 99 square feet Which may seem like significant space until you realize that you have to fit your kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, and living space in what is essentially a 10×10 foot storage locker with a slanted ceiling.
9. I will love every kind of cheese because it’s French. – French Kiss (1995)
Meg Ryan stars at Kate, the France-hating, lactose intolerant woman headed to France to retrieve her unfaithful husband. Kate tries some French cheese and loves it. She declares her love for all French cheese! Well, my apologies to France, but not every type of cheese is delicious. Some of it is painfully pungent, quite stanky, and can’t be tamed with any amount of neutralizing crackers.
But the times when French cheese was the worst was after a few days, uncovered, in the fridge, because–and I quote my host mother–“cheese is alive and needs to breath.”
10. Most everything you ever thought about Paris. – Le Fableux Destin d’Amélie Poulain (2001)
Ugh, where do I start? Amélie has cool neighbors, Café des 2 Moulins isn’t crawling with tourists, random displays of kindness are appreciated, train stations are clean and beautiful, and all of Paris exists under a giant Valencia Instagram filter. There’s no industrial skyscraper skyline, there are hardly any people of color, and Amelie inexplicably has an apartment with a rent that is definitely above a waitress’ pay grade.
All that said, Le Fableux Destin d’Amelie Poulain is one of my favorite movies, and if you’re reading Frenchly, it’s probably one of your favorites too. And while it may depict a rose-colored Paris, it’s still fableux.
Oh what the hell. Paris is amazing, dog doo-doo and all.
All images are courtesy of the films.