Paris has obviously featured in everything from blockbusters to European art-house films, but it has also inspired a lot of short-form video work – both amateur and professional – including narrative shorts, commercials and documentaries. Here is a small selection of shorts that will make you want to hop on the next plane or train and explore the city for yourself.
Le Ballon rouge (The Red Balloon)
Filmed entirely in the working-class neighborhoods of Ménilmontant and Belleville, this charming 34-minute featurette follows the friendship between a little boy and the eponymous red balloon. If it sounds a bit zany, that’s because it is. The boy treats the balloon as if it were another sentient being, taking it all over Paris (some beautiful shots of Paris in the ‘50s here!), and eventually the balloon takes on a life of its own, following the boy wherever he goes and also getting him into trouble occasionally. For a movie whose protagonist is an apparently inanimate object that can’t speak a word (with the effect that the film is largely silent), there is an astonishing amount of humanism and warmth to be found here.
Juste Amis (Just Friends)
A thirty-year-old Parisian woman recruits her best friend to help her reconnect with an old flame she spotted on the metro. A simple premise with unexpected consequences that result in the comically exasperated protagonist spending half of the film cursing on a Paris sidewalk. Entertaining and an excellent introduction to swearing like a Parisian.
Originally conceived as a stand-alone, this Wes Anderson short ended up acting as a prologue to his feature film The Darjeeling Limited. In a classy-looking Paris hotel, a young man is lounging about watching old movies and ordering room service, when an old flame announces her imminent arrival. The eponymous hotel is what you imagine the inside of Anderson’s mind probably looks like: quaint, twee and almost obsessively arranged. Natalie Portman and Jason Schwartzman, as the two apparently on-again-off-again lovers, play their roles to perfection – showing us a brief moment in the lives of two individuals. Without pursuing any excessive explanations as to why they are there and where they have come from, this short leaves their background completely open to the viewer’s imagination. The final shot of classic Haussmann buildings seen from the hotel room’s balcony is in fact one of the only visuals of the city that we get, but it’s a good one.
Tuileries (from Paris, je t’aime)
Part of the anthology of vignettes Paris, je t’aime this short by the Coen brothers – as is often the case with their films – would be tragic if it weren’t so funny. Shot entirely in the Tuileries metro station, it centers on a tourist (played brilliantly by Steve Buscemi), who sees his every fear about France – mostly stoked by his trusty guidebook that has surprisingly detailed information about metro-etiquette and venereal diseases – turn true. This culminates in our hapless tourist receiving a beating at the hands of an incensed Frenchman, after his girlfriend rather mischievously instigates the confrontation.
The Quiet City: Winter in Paris
With the recognisable tones of Arvo Pärt in the background, this short by Andrew Julian consists entirely of various glorious shots of some of Paris’s most famous landmarks, as well as other particularly striking parts of the city. If this doesn’t get you into the mood for a visit, nothing will.
With the implied premise of some kind of environmental catastrophe that has forced humanity to abandon the earth, the series of shots of a completely empty Paris is as eerie as it is beautiful. Reid Willis’s music adds to the dramatic atmosphere. It does leave one wondering – as one French YouTube commenter has – when or how exactly the filmmakers managed to capture the various Paris monuments without any human presence. In a city that is in part defined by the constant back-and-forth of its inhabitants, that is quite a feat, be it through timing or technological means.
J’attendrai le suivant (I’ll Wait for the Next One)
Though this takes place in the Lyon metro, rather than the Paris one, it shows the humorous side of the French. Based around a scenario that will be familiar to anyone who has taken a metro in France before, a young man asks for the attention of the other passengers in the metro, though as quickly becomes clear, he is not begging for money or food, but for love. The lady who is the focus of the film must thus make a decision as to whether she is to take him up on his offer of companionship or not…
Petit Tailleur (Little Tailor)
At the center of this 43-minute short by Louis Garrel is Arthur, the young apprentice tailor of the title. The film follows his life in Paris, as he converses with the wise old master tailor, whose death is imminent, goes to the theater with his best friend Sylvain and embarks on a relationship with the beautiful actress Marie-Julie (played by Léa Seydoux, whose later role in Blue is the Warmest Color propelled her to international stardom). The film is a considerate look into a short period of a couple of young Parisians’ lives that occasionally becomes contemplative (reinforced by the black and white camera work) while managing to intersperse its more philosophical aspects with strains of everyday life, like Marie-Julie’s fraught relationship with her director or scenes from Arthur’s apprenticeship and his attempts to avoid disappointing his old master while pursuing his own path.
Weekend in Paris
A seven-minute advertisement for the Ford Anglia 105E Deluxe (precursor model to the Ford Escort), Weekend in Paris follows a couple as they explore the City of Lights in their car. They take in the sites, enjoy the nightlife and generally enjoy the city and all it has to offer. Alongside some nice shots of Paris monuments, this short also exhibits the style and look of the early ‘60s in a delightful manner. The fact that much of Paris essentially still looks the same today makes this film a further reminder of the timelessness of the city.
This is Richard Sénecal’s exploration of an individual’s life after 2010’s devastating earthquake in Haiti as well as the memories and feelings of longing and nostalgia that persist in those who are forced to make a new home elsewhere. Strictly speaking, the film is not about Paris, but it gives us a close look into the feelings and motivations of one of its inhabitants and the tragedy that has led her to start a life in the city. The final part of the film, however, does focus on the city that has welcomed the interviewee, as it places her on her balcony overlooking the roofs of Paris, contemplating her love for this ‘living museum’, as she calls it, and her future.
No this is not the ‘90s romantic comedy with Meg Ryan and Kevin Kline. Rather oddly, this short was produced by the hotel chain Marriot and presents that age-old story of the businessman who is too obsessed with his work to take note of the beauty around him. Leaving her magic glasses behind for him, a pretty Parisian girl, however, is there to help him reconnect with all that is wonderful about the world by taking him on a tour of Paris. Ignore the admittedly lame premise and corny nature of the short – visually it’s not bad and offers plenty of nice shots of the city that’ll make you want to visit it, with or without magic.
Performing on the Paris Metro
This three-and-a-half minute documentary by the New York Times looks at the musicians that provide the soundtrack to your commute, interviewing some of the thousands of musicians who play all across the Paris metro system throughout the year. It’s a nice little look at something many take for granted without fully realizing the amount of work, dedication and talent that they are faced with on a daily basis.
Paris through Pentax
The premise of this commercial for a camera is as simple as it is effective. Various scenes taking place all over Paris are shown through the eyes of someone looking at them through their Pentax. Beyond making you want to buy a camera for your next trip, which is obviously the main point of it, it’s a sweet reminder of how we capture the moments that mark our travels and thereby create lasting memories.
I Love Paris
Paul Richardson’s meticulously assembled time-lapse of various Paris street scenes is very impressive. The soundtrack may be a bit much, but the visuals are stunning and definitely worth a look.
Paris in Motion
This is actually a whole series of shorts by Mayeul Akpovi, which like ‘I Love Paris’ above, are based on time-lapse videos of various monuments, street scenes and vistas of Paris. Once again, some of the shots are remarkable and will inevitably inspire you to go and try your own hand at creating your own collection of Paris impressions.