12 Real-life film locations to visit in France
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From spectacular countryside to charming villages and landmark urban settings, France has plenty to offer the film industry in terms of locations. Here are some ideas for where to go if you are an avid lover of the silver screen.
Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie
Comedic National treasures Edina and Patsy find themselves on the run from unwanted media attention in London, and head for the bright lights of the glamorous Riviera. Despite their impecunious predicament, the pair carry on in the Absolutely Fabulous manner to which they been accustomed since the TV series started in 1992. The film visits the hotspots of the Côte d’Azur including Cap Ferrat, Nice, Villefranche-sur-Mer and of course Cannes with its iconic Boulevard de la Croisette. Where else would the pair feel quite so at home?
Raiders of the Lost Ark
La Rochelle, Charente-Maritime
It may be hard to imagine that Steven Spielberg’s 1981 action adventure Raiders of the Lost Ark included scenes filmed in France, but the World War II submarine pens of La Pallice in La Rochelle were a unique and integral part of the visual landscape of the film and story. The bunker also appeared in Das Boot, filmed in the same year.
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To Catch a Thief
Darling of the screens Grace Kelly – later to be Princess of Monaco - stars with Cary Grant in Alfred Hitchcock’s pacy romantic thriller of 1955. The film follows a series of burglaries along the Riviera involving the theft of priceless jewellery from wealthy residents and their visitors. The film manages to distil a sense of the elegance of the lifestyle of the Cote d’Azur, combined with the quiet glamour of this period of cinema. Locations include the village of Saint-Jeannet and also Cannes and Villefranche-sur-Mer.
The fifth film in this immensely popular series came out in 2018. The original 1998 movie written by Luc Besson followed a speed-obsessed taxi driver in Marseille trying to work his way out of losing his licence by helping the police with their search for a group of German bank-robbers. Cue dramatic high-speed chases and stunts around the gorgeous scenery of the roads around the local coastline and the city itself. Funny, silly and scenic in equal measure, all five of the films have their charm.
Christopher Nolan’s poignant 2017 World War II tale of the evacuation of Allied forces from the beleaguered northern French coast plays out on the atmospheric streets and beaches of Dunkirk. The main focus for many of the coastal action sequences was the Plage de Malo-les-Bains, where scenes from Operation Dynamo took place. Another location that appears in the film which was nominated for eight Oscars, winning three, is Rue Belle Rade, a street in the town just off the seafront itself.
Starring Idris Elba and Game of Thrones’ Robb Stark actor Richard Madden, this tense 2016 thriller focuses on the defusing of a terrorist plot in Paris set to take place on the titular date in July. There are classic car chase scenes through the streets of the capital, visits to typically Parisian apartments, as well as atmospheric nocturnal vignettes in the same vein as Taken, the 2008 film with Liam Neeson.
In the 2012 big screen adaptation of Victor Hugo’s classic, some of our favourite characters’ dramas play out in the scenic setting of Gourdon, a historic village perched high up in the mountains of Provence. The 9th-century Gourdon Castle has been open to visitors since 1950 and has extensive gardens designed by Andre le Notre.
Les Espaces d’Abraxas, Noisy-le-Grand, Paris
It may look like an ambitious futuristic film-set, but the Espace d’Abraxas is probably even more astonishing for the fact that it’s a real-life housing development. Located in Noisy-le-Grand, just half an hour or so by train to the east from the centre of Paris, the Espaces d’Abraxas was conceived by Spanish architect Ricardo Bofill as a modern ‘new town’ type living space consisting of over 600 apartments. Made using the material du jour concrete, the towering buildings have a warm hue to them, but nonetheless still intimidate with their almost neo-classical forms. Seemingly well-suited to post-apocalyptic plotlines, the development was also the setting for Terry Gilliam’s 1985 film Brazil starring Jonathan Pryce.
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
2011’s big budget Hollywood celebration of the British super-sleuth stars Robert Downey Jr as the man himself and Jude Law as Doctor Watson. The film kicks off in explosive style with one of the early scenes involving a bomb taking place in the busy Place de la Cathedrale in Strasbourg in Alsace.
This 1977 Ridley Scott classic based on a story by Joseph Conrad sees two officers in Napoleon’s Grand Army transforming a minor disagreement into a lifelong series of duels. Harvey Keitel, Keith Carradine and Albert Finney star in the stylish period drama, but arguably demanding higher billing are the beautiful Dordogne countryside and towns, including locations such as Sarlat and the Chateau de Commarque. A feast for the eyes.
The Hundred Foot Journey
Saint-Antonin Noble-Val, Tarn-et-Garonne
This picturesque village on the banks of the Aveyron river in Occitanie makes a charming setting for the 2014 film, The Hundred Foot Journey. The film stars Dame Helen Mirren as a snobbish owner of a local gourmet restaurant who cannot bring herself to welcome the culinary creativity of her new Indian neighbours. Most of the film’s exterior scenes are shot in the village, including at the medieval market hall, but the restaurant itself is in the nearby village of Carlus.
Shakespeare and Company, Paris
The second instalment of Richard Linklater’s trilogy of films that began with Before Sunrise and went on to follow the relationship ups and downs of Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, 2004’s Before Sunset is set almost entirely in the city of Paris. Nine years after they first met and discovered Vienna together, the two meet again while writer Jesse (Hawke) is on the French leg of a book tour. Notable locations in the film include the iconic setting of the Shakespeare and Company bookshop as well as the river, bridges and parks of one of the most filmed cities in cinematic history. The film is as much a love story about Paris as it is about Jesse and Celine.
Ian Fleming’s spy has done a fair bit of travelling in his time, but France has featured largely in his itinerary over the years. Over the course of the 26 movies so far, James Bond has visited numerous locations across the country. In Thunderball and Moonraker he visited famous chateaux near Paris (Chateau d’Anet and Vaux le Vicomte respectively), while in A View to a Kill there is a jaw-dropping action seen on the Eiffel Tower itself as well as scenes at Domaine de Chantilly. Never Say Never Again, the remake of Thunderball sees a visit to Villefranche-sur-Mer, while the audacious opening scene in Tomorrow Never Dies takes place at the high-altitude Altiport de Peresourde-Balestas airport in the heart of the Pyrenees. Where next we wonder?