Meet the Biggest Movie Stars in France: Cinema Magic in a Monument

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Photo: Steve Sampson

As well as attracting the screen’s biggest stars, Paris herself is a movie queen. You can’t live here without tripping over film sets (and their visiting stars) at least once a week. Historic or romantic sites gain plenty of regular pay this way. Le Dôme Café in Montparnasse, for instance, closes one day every week just for cameras; the now-closed Porte des Lilas metro stop is unused except for movies and ads.

On behalf of that French obsession (movies here are the “seventh art”), the Conciergerie has turned the grandeur of its space into a fascinating exploration of how French cathedrals, castles and great homes are filmed. Starting with the silents, it takes you through a history of the moviemaker’s tricks and trade. You’ll see plenty of famous clips, goggle from behind the scenes while feasting your eyes on glorious posters, glamour shots and sets. This is one spectacle worthy of its amazing site.

Photo: Steve Sampson

One of the most delicious aspects is participation, something that makes the show ideal for every family. At different points you can climb into a Georges Méliès set or jump into a car that is “driving around Paris”—thus becoming part of your own “film” in a monitor. Something really special for your significant others to photograph, this also helps anyone understand movie magic. You’ll learn how techniques like back projection, green screens and digital images function.

The giant exposition is composed of five parts. It begins with real places filmed for their ties to famous figures (Jeanne d’Arc, Napoleon, Marie Antoinette). In addition to plans, posters, costumes and models, this shows you how—when budgets or scenes require it—they are re-created from scratch in the studio. The expo moves on to the romantic universe of fiction, of Victor Hugo’s heroes and the Three Muskateers. Then it investigates sites that have become stars in their own right: from Versailles to places all over Paris. One, of course, is the Conciergerie itself. You’ll walk right where Gerard Depardieu’s Danton set off to meet the guillotine.

Photo: Steve Sampson

Last come the most entertaining parts. First, there is the cinema of dreams, fairy tales and digital fantasy. This is followed by “The Monument as Guest Star.” One is for the kids, the other especially for lovers of Paris. You can see how the City of Light has been immortalized as costar to everyone from Audrey Hepburn and Jean-Paul Belmondo to Catherine Deneuve. The whole endeavor is a cascade of wonderful moments, featuring everyone from la reine Margot through Walt Disney. Nor does it matter how grand or prosaic your taste; there really is more than enough for every movie fan. That includes the youngest as well as the professor of film. So allez-y; after the holidays, queues are shrinking!

“Monuments in Film” (“Monuments, Stars du Septième Art”) runs every day until February 13 at the Conciergerie; doors close at 5:15 p.m. Tickets are 8.5 euros.

• For 12.50 euros, a combined ticket allows you into the glorious Sainte-Chapelle as well.
• All entrance tickets to this exhibition grant free access to the Musée de la Cinémathèque Française.
• Entrance is free to everybody under 18, as well as to nationals of EU member states.


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