Movie Locations, Paris
If this scene looks familiar, it might be that you have seen the 1938 film Hôtel du Nord by Marcel Carné (or snippets of it on the internet) and recognize this as the place where Arletty delivered her now-famous line about “atmosphère”.
Actually she didn’t say it here at all, but on a film set that had been built at great expense outside the film studios in Billancourt to look like this section of the Canal Saint-Martin in Paris. Originally Carné wanted to shoot the film here, on location, but it turned out that there was too much noise from commercial barge traffic and the like, so he had to retreat to the studio.
I must admit that when I first looked at this scene on YouTube or DailyMotion I only understood one word, atmosphère, but after repeated listenings I started getting accustomed to Arletty’s accent and began to understand what was going on.
It turns out that she wasn’t talking about the romantic atmosphere of Paris. She was reacting to something nasty that was said to her by Edmond, her pimp and lover, played by Louis Jouvet.
Edmond in this scene is wearing a baggy 1930s suit and tie and has a fishing rod slung over his shoulder. Today he is just going fishing along the canal, but he knows he had better get out of France very soon because two of his former gangster buddies are looking for him and want to kill him. She says she wants to go with him, to a foreign country or the colonies or anywhere.
His reaction is: No, it would be the same anywhere. I’m suffocating. I need a change of atmosphere, and my atmosphere is you!
She replies: This is the first time I’ve ever been called an atmosphere. If I’m an atmosphere then you’re some sort of hick town out the sticks. (t'es un drôle de bled)
Then after a short rant she delivers her famous line:
« Atmosphère ! Atmosphère ! Est-ce que j'ai une gueule d'atmosphère ? »
This is a puzzling line for us foreigners, but my current theory is that it simply means: Do I look like an atmosphere? Or: Have I got the mug of an atmosphere?
This line is not in Eugène Dabit’s novel, in fact the whole scene was invented by the screenplay writer Henri Jeanson, who never dreamed it would become a cult scene that would be replayed over and over in drama workshops in the 21st century.
What makes the line so funny is the mocking, sarcastic way Arletty says it in her delightfully slutty lower-class 1930s Parisian accent. In effect she is informing Edmond that his days as her pimp and lover are over and he should bugger off and get the **** out of her life.
At the end of the scene she hands him his fishing bag and stomps off the bridge, shouting “Good fishing and good atmosphere!”
Second photo: For those who don’t recognize the scene, the mayor’s office has helpfully set up a sign entitled “Atmosphère, atmosphère…" next to the bridge with a drawing of the film set. What makes the scene look different today is that the trees, which were saplings in 1938, have now had over seventy years to grow up into large leafy chestnut trees.
Third photo: A small boat going through the locks of the Récollets.
Fourth photo: Square Eugène Varlin.
Next review from July 2012: Canal cruise on the Canal Saint-Martin
One of the text panels at the exhibition Paris au Cinéma in June 2006 said that so-and-so many hundred permits are issued each year to shoot films on the streets of Paris, and so-and-so many dozen films are being shot in Paris on a given day.
Later that afternoon I actually did see some folks shooting a film with a hand-held camera at the Place du Châtelet. The scene was of a young man with a silly grin on his face walking spastically past the café and turning left at the end. They shot the same scene about six times, and the director –- that's the grim-looking chap behind the cameraman –- did not seem at all happy with how it was going. (Is he famous? Should I have recognized him?)
But eventually they packed up and left, so I guess they must have got it in the can.
If you ever see it on the screen, please let me know.
Second photo: Sometimes these film shootings can get really elaborate, like here on the Boulevard Saint-Jacques in June 2007, where dozens of trucks were lined up with the equipment for the film company.
In the Salle Saint Jean at the northeast corner of the Hôtel de Ville (City Hall) there is usually some sort of interesting (and free) exhibition going on. In June 2006 it was Paris au Cinéma, a fascinating and very detailed account of Paris in the movies from the beginnings of moving pictures up to the present day.
Second photo: The brothers Lumière began experimenting with the first moving pictures –- in Paris, of course* –- as early as 1895. Some early examples were shown at the exhibition, as well as stills and samples from just about every year since then.
*Thanks to VT member JLBG for pointing out that this "is not completely true though not really wrong". He writes: "The brothers Lumière experimented in Lyon, their home. The first ever film they shot, « workers going out of the Lumière factory » was shot 25 rue Saint Victor, Montplaisir, in Lyon. The patent for their film process was taken on February 13th 1895. The film was officially presented to the public in Paris, exactly at the seat of the « Société d'encouragement à l'industrie nationale », rue de Rennes in Paris, on March 22nd 1895. The Lumière factory produced photography plates. In Lyon there is a « rue du premier film » and a « rue des Frères Lumière ».
Thanks, Jean-Louis, for this information! On my recent visit to Lyon I took your advice and went to the Lumière Institute and Museum.
There are now three tips/reviews about this on my Lyon page:
• Villa Lumière
• Lumière Museum
• Institut Lumière
• Plus, believe it or not, a tip about a nearby restaurant, Le Bistro Autrement
Third photo: At the end of the exhibition Paris au Cinéma they had several big screens showing excerpts from famous films that were set in Paris. Makes you wonder to what extent our perceptions of Paris have been influenced by what we have seen in the movies.
The activity I am recommending is a film about the history of Paris done in 3D but without the need for glasses. It was something highly recommended to me by many of my friends from the US and also several French friends. On my last visit to Paris I went to see this film with a few friends and was blown away.
Although the film is Paris-Story's main attraction they also feature an interactive miniature of the city for visitors to look at. On this miniature there are the descriptions of many sites of Paris and with a touch of a button visitors can see the sites light up. The best part about this miniature in my opinion is the option to illuminate the buildings that were constructed in the same style of architecture. I was so surprised when the owner himself explained this to me.
What a delight the film was.
If you're tried of walking and need a break or it's rainy outside go see a french comedy. They use slapstick in their comedies so they're pretty funny and you'll understand some of it. Animations are even easier to follow but not always playing. The plus side to seeing a comedy in French is that you'll laugh at different parts of the movie then everyone else, makes it even funnier. I thought it would be impossible to see a movie in French not speaking a word of the language but I had a great time.
In the movie Before Sunset, Céline (Julie Delpy) tells the limo driver that she lives at 18 rue des Petites Ecuries near the Chateau-d'eau Métro station but the actual film location that was used is Cour de l'Etoile d'Or off of rue du Faubourg St-Antoine which abuts onto the 11th/12th arrondissements (nearby you could also walk along the Promenade Plantée also featured in the movie as the beautiful garden they walk through - underneath is the Viaduc des Arts).
Get off at the Ledru-Rollin Métro station, walk west. You'll pass the Cour de l'Ours and the Cour de Trois Frères on the right-hand (north) side. To find the latter more easily on a map just note that it is across from rue St-Nicolas. The next passage/court will be the one you seek. It's so tiny it isn't even labeled on Pages Jaunes (France's Yellow Pages website)! However, you can find it on their Photos de Ville website.
And this concludes our tour of Céline & Jesse's walk through Paris that one fateful day, Before Sunset.
Click HERE to start Celine & Jesse's journey.
I like hunting down locations for my favorite films.
Since 'Le Dernier Tango a Paris' (Last Tango) is one of my alltime favorites; Marlon Brando likely my favorite actor; and the Passy an attractive place to walk around, this was a fun afternoon.
Only going to post a couple of the exterior location shots with some Passy fotos, but if you like, for grins see if you can identify the location (in the film they put up phony street signs / addresses on the apartment as they usually do so it's not "rue Jules Verne").
I also checked out some of the interior shot locations around Passy and Montparnasse when I was close by (obsessive???? moi -???? )
The panoramic view at the La Samaritaine department store is breathtaking and you can get some absolutely beautiful shots there. If you've seen The Bourne Identity it was here that its main character, Jason Bourne, had one of his fight scenes and it was on Pont Neuf below they filmed another scene.
There is an outdoor cafe on the terrace. So if you want a small snack and/or a cafe it's possible to order here.