Get in the mood for the city that Charles Dickens called “the most extraordinary place in the world”.
Amélie (2001) is the ultimate French romantic fantasy. In the title role, Audrey Tautou is all soulful eyes and impish grin as she shyly brings unexpected happiness to the people in her Montmartre neighbourhood. The whimsy was too self-conscious for a few critics but audiences and film-award juries around the world disagreed.
◖ Ratatouille (2007): Among this film’s many joys are sensational views of Paris. That sounds odd, given it’s an animation, but every element of this movie about a rat (voiced by Patton Oswalt), who dreams of being a top chef, and the kitchen hand he bonds with is topnotch.
◖ Funny Face (1957): Audrey Hepburn, Fred Astaire, dreamy fashion, music, Paris... heaven.
Philosophy professor turned novelist Muriel Barbery hit a chord with The Elegance of the Hedgehog (published in French in 2006 and English in 2008), selling more than six million copies. It’s a funny, moving, accessibly clever story of a seemingly plodding Parisian concierge concealing refined tastes and a 12-year-old girl who notices what others don’t.
◖ Suite Française (2004): Written during the early years of World War II and discovered more than five decades after its author, Irène Némirovsky, died at Auschwitz, this book (English translation by Sandra Smith) became a worldwide sensation. It opens with the German army about to take Paris in June 1940. The threat is palpable but Némirovsky captures the poetry and absurdities, too.
The French capital has been the adopted home of American pastry chef and cookbook author David Lebovitz since 2004. He captured its wonders and idiosyncrasies beautifully in his 2009 memoir, The Sweet Life in Paris. His 2017 follow-up, L’Appart, is just as good. Listen to the audio book version, narrated by Graham Halstead, while sitting at an outdoor café, watching the world go by.
◖ Twenty Years of Hate (2015): In 1995, the film La Haine (Hate) shocked France. This drama about life in the bleak housing estates on Paris’s outskirts was so powerful that cabinet ministers attended a special screening. Two decades later, British journalist Andrew Hussey set out to discover how things had changed. You’ll find his 28-minute audio documentary on BBC iPlayer Radio. ￼