Paris is a great place to go to the movies. With more than 300 screens in 100 different movie theatres, you can see movies from anywhere in the world in their original languages with French subtitles (version originale, VO) or dubbed into French (version française, VF) on any night of the week. Depending on your mood, you can catch the newest Hollywood blockbuster – Pirates des Caraïbes, for example. I’d have expected American movies to have a delayed release in France, but Pirates actually comes out in Paris two full days before the U.S. release – grâce au fait that French theatres switch their movie schedules every Wednesday rather than Friday.
If you’re in the mood for something a little different, there are a few cinemas that show classic movies – like Orsen Welles’ “Touch of Evil” currently playing at the Filmothèque du Quartier Latin, or the Rocky Horror Picture show, which plays every Friday and Saturday near St. Michel. At the Cinémathèque Française members can check out and watch any film from the institute’s film vault in private viewing rooms. There are films from Nepal, China, Latin America, the U.K., Germany, Sweden and South Africa (among many others) playing at theatres all over the city. In Paris, you don’t have to trek down to the Grand Cinemas or art house theatres to find foreign, independent and documentary films. The six-screen chain theatre Gaumont Opéra just two blocks up the street from my apartment is currently playing Jesus Camp, a 2006 indie documentary from the U.S. about an Evangelical Christian summer camp in North Dakota.
Because people don’t really rent movies in France, the movie-watching culture is more of a cinema culture. There are a few pay-by-the-hour rental stores sprinkled throughout Paris, but for the most part, seeing a movie is a going out event. Because of the rare and inefficient rental options, movies play in theatres for much longer to give more people a chance to see them. Woody Allen’s 2005 film “Match Point” is still playing in two theatres in the city. Going to the movies in France is more like going to an actual theatre – the films are scheduled to begin 20 minutes after the advertised movie time to give moviegoers a chance to skip the commercials and previews to sit and have an espresso or sandwich in the movie theatres’ sit-down cafés.
While full-price movie tickets are always a bit steep, it’s easy to get around the prices. Everyone under 26 gets the discounted student ticket, and people with Navigo or Imagin’R métro passes often get discounts as well. Anyone can buy a movie pass, which gets you into as many movies as you have time to watch for a flat monthly rate – usually around 18 euro. The movie passes work for different groups of theatres, like Gaumont and Pathé or UGC, and as long as you make it to at least two movies a month (or upwards of four, like me), they are a fantastic deal. There are constant promotions and two-for-one tickets and during one weekend in March the French association of theatres sponsored the Printemps du Cinéma (Springtime of Cinema), where every showing was a flat 3,50 euro.
Not only is it easy and inexpensive to see movies in Paris, but the cinema culture is very single-friendly. There are always couples and groups, of course, but every screening is filled with a significant number of individuals. When I caught an afternoon matinee of “Marie Antoinette” last fall, the audience consisted of me, one couple and five single old ladies. At a showing of “The Wind that Shakes the Barley” I was surrounded by teary individual middle-aged men. When R and I saw the new Ninja Turtles movie it was us and a whole bunch of single university-aged guys. At a showing of Jesus Camp a few weeks ago I sat two seats down from a single French girl and we spent the whole movie making shocked faces at each other and left the theatre side-by-side shaking our heads in deep disturbance.
The only downside of seeing movies here is that while the biggest blockbusters open simultaneously across the world – Pirates of the Caribbean, Spiderman 3, Casino Royale – there are some movies that you just have to wait for. The movie Zodiac opened in France this past Wednesday – and I’ve been waiting for it since its March 2nd release in the U.S. The movie 28 Weeks Later opened a week ago in the U.S., but won’t make it to France until September 19th. I’ll be back in Seattle in September, but by that point I’ll probably have to wait four more months for the dvd release.
At the movies in Paris the singles bond together, the selection of films is amazing, the prices are reasonable and the French movie popcorn is delicious – but the absolute best thing about French cinema is the French audiences. There is nothing more amusing than seeing an American movie in a room full of Parisians. The audiences are so interactive, and love both American movies and laughing at Americans. When R and I saw Borat, we were almost more entertained by the audience than the movie itself. During the scene at the rodeo everyone was laughing so loudly that we could barely hear the dialogue. Jesus Camp was also an interesting experience, though the reactions were more of the “Tsk tsk America” variety than of amusement.
It’s also funny to watch how the French react to the American culture shown in films that they just can’t relate to. Last night a group of us went to see the hip-hop movie “Stomp the Yard” (oddly re-titled “Steppin’” for French audiences), and it was definitely a cultural experience to watch a movie about black fraternity step teams in a theatre full of Parisians. There was confused laughter through the entire fraternity pledge montage, but the scene that got the loudest laughs was a 10-second clip of a curvy girl walking away from the camera. None of us (a group of two Americans, two Canadians and an Australian) could figure out what the laughter was for. Our best guess was that because behinds just generally aren’t that curvy in France, the Parisians couldn’t understand why her hips would swivel that much as she sashayed across the screen.
• A few days ago I watched an American tourist pose for a picture that featured him licking the giant stone vagina of this statue in the jardin des Tuileries. The next day I walked by and found that the poor old girl had not only been molested, but graffitteed as well.