Your plans for a museum visit are thwarted by the grève aux museés (strike)? You scheduled a walking tour but woke up to freezing rain? Don’t fret. There’s an alternative world to discover, one as sheltered and filled with old, exquisite treasures as any museum. I’m talking about the fabulous vintage films—from all over the world—that make Paris a mecca for every kind of movie fan. The city is as famous for these as it is for its Tour Eiffel, and many of the cinemas that screen them are just as celebrated. Once you know these, you have something special to do come rain or strike.
Parisians have revered cinema since the era of the Lumière brothers and Méliès. But the heart of the city’s romance with film lies in a set of cinemas both historic and quirky. These offer a barely-believable range of movies, in screenings that often begin before noon and end deep into the wee hours. It’s possible to take in Tinseltown glamour, an epic adventure and one of the screen’s great romances—all in one day.
Programs and Show Times
The challenge is to work out what’s on, where and when. For this you need the weekly guide Pariscope. It comes out every Wednesday, costs less than a euro, is easy to carry around and lists every film in town. They’re categorized with initials: “FN” for films nouveaux (first run), “AF” for autres films (already showing), “RE” for reprises and “FE” for festivals.
Art and vintage films turn up in the last three categories. But: a festival often means a group of vintage films by one director, featuring one actor or made in a certain genre. Also, be sure you look under Séances Exceptionelles. This category will list screenings of true rarities, such as Abel Gance’s mind-blowing five-hour Napoléon (screened with a full orchestra).
All foreign-to-France film titles are paired with initials: either “v.o.” or “v.f.” The first stands for version originale (i.e., shown in the original language, French subtitles added); the second means version française (entirely dubbed in French). Each entry for a non-French film includes the original title, e.g., “Un jour à New York. On the Town.”
Each film’s entry in Pariscope ends with the name of a cinema, followed by a number. You look for that number under the section Salles Paris to find the name of the cinema where that film is showing, with its street address, metro stop, ticket price, etc. These entries are where you actually find which day and what time your chosen film will show. Because turnover is so rapid in these cinemas, many films screen only once. But don’t worry—there are gems to be seen every day.
Many of the cinemas below are in the Latin Quarter. But seeing the right film in any one of them will always be memorable.
Accattone (5th Arrondissement)
Once managed by François Truffaut, this is a showcase for vintage art films from Italy and the work of grands auteurs from anywhere.
The Action Écoles (5th), Action Christine (6th) and Grand Action (5th) are famous for sharp new prints of classics both beloved and rare. Plus, they show independent films you won’t see in the US or UK.
Once owned by the director Jacques Tati, of M. Hulot fame, l’Arlequin was later bought by the Soviet Union, which dubbed it the Cosmos. Shows independent and first-run art films.
Le Champo (5th)
A certified historic monument, with two screens operating for more than 70 years; retrospectives range from Alain Resnais to Monty Python.
Le Cinéma du Panthéon (5th)
The city’s oldest still-operating movie house, whose salon du thé was designed by Catherine Deneuve.
Cinema Mac-Mahon (17th)
A 1930s cinema that made its reputation as an art house with all-American programming. Now the selection is more varied but still “classic.”
L’Entrepôt’s three screens show Arab and African cinema as well as gay films, documentaries and short films.
La Filmothèque du Quartier Latin (5th)
A cinema not to miss, with its salle rouge and salle bleue. Screens rare independent film and classics, holds memorable festivals.
Le Grand Rex (2nd)
Not an art house but a truly historic cinema landmark in art deco style. The fantastic “Spanish” interiors, created by great American picture-palace designer John Eberson, alone make it worth seeing: try the crazy 50-minute tour, Les Etoiles du Rex. Its salon prestige has the largest screen in Europe. As “the Rex,” it also provides the capital’s most important venue for DJ nights of club music, especially techno.
Le Nouveau Latina (4th)
Films from every Latin culture, plus weekly salsa dancing.
La Pagode (7th)
This amazing imitation pagoda was built in 1896 as a ballroom by Bon Marché director François-Emile Morin. La Pagode, now a listed historic monument with two screens, premiered Cocteau’s Testament d’Orphée and was owned by Louis Malle. The “oriental” decor makes it a true picture palace; don’t miss its salon du thé or the romantic garden.
Reflet Médicis (5th)
Shows vintage or recent classics, plus new art films; runs the “100 Most Beautiful Films” in repertory.
Studio 28 (18th)
Seen in the film Amélie, this house was named for the year in which it was founded. It premiered Luis Buñuel’s l’Age d’Or, after which angry conservatives destroyed its murals (by Salvador Dalí). Now it mixes classics and reruns.
Studio des Ursulines (5th)
Hosted the world premiere of Marlene Dietrich in The Blue Angel; shows older and more recent classics, as well as children’s fare and short films.