Monday, 11 April 2011

Underground cinema 2: the Paris Métro on film

Fred Cavayé's tremendous Point Blank is due to be released in the UK 20 May and I can't recommend it highly enough. The French thriller (which I suspect will be marketed so as to mask its nationality and maximise its audience) features a great chase scene in the Métro, so I thought I'd follow up my post on films in London's Underground with a look at movies set on the Parisian tube network.

Appropriately enough for the city of love, romance features highly - from The First Night (1958) by Georges Franju through to Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Amelie (2001). In Bande à part (1964), Jean-Luc Godard's trio of Anna Karina, Claude Brasseur and Sami Frey invent stories for a sad-looking man on the Métro, while fellow nouvelle vaguer Francois Truffaut caught Le dernier métro (1980) with Gérard Depardieu and Catherine Deneuve in wartime.

Louis Malle acknowledged social unrest in his adaptation of Raymond Queneau's Zazie dans le métro (1960), when ingenue Catherine Demongeot arrives to find the underground barred by one of the system's endemic strikes. Bernardo Bertolucci also stayed above ground in Last Tango in Paris (1972) for those memorable shots of the Pont de Bir-Hakeim, where the Métro crosses above the Seine between the Eiffel Tower and the posh sixteenth arrondissement. Those views are replicated in Gilles Mimouni's stylish 1996 thriller L'appartement, featuring Vincent Cassel, Romane Bohringer and Monica Bellucci.

In another thriller, Jean-Pierre Melville mounted a chase in the underground, intercut with indicator bulbs lighting up on a tube map, in Le samourai (1967), starring Alain Delon. Peak time for Métro movies came in the 1980s with the cinéma du look when first Jean-Jacques Beineix burst onto the scene with Diva (1980), which features a chase through the Métro, on and off trains and up and down escalators - on a postman's scooter!

Luc Besson uncovered a world of bag snatchers, bodybuilders and pop wannabes down there in romantic comedy-thriller-musical Subway (1985), starring Christopher Lambert and Isabelle Adjani (pictured). Paris is always amenable to directors using its public spaces and so it was for Leos Carax' beautiful and audacious homeless romance, Les amants du Pont-Neuf (1991) - the most expensive French film ever.

The city's authorities were happy to close the bridge at the movie's heart for some filming but delays meant that shooting had to continue on a set recreated, with requisite Métro station, in the south of France. In a particularly brutal scene, Carax regular Denis Lavant runs through those iconic white-tiled corridors tearing down posters emblazoned with the image of his missing girlfriend, Juliette Binoche, before setting fire to the bill-sticker himself. It's a wonder Binoche doesn't stay clear of the Métro: she gets her carnet out again for Michael Haneke's Code Unknown (2000), which uses a confrontation with a young man on a train to examine similar racial themes to those in Hidden (Caché) five years later.

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