Tag Archives: Paris

Style on Film: Charade

‘Tis autumn, and if ever there were a stylish, autumnal film it’s Charade (1963), the super-sexy thriller-cum-rom com which stars Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant, Paris, Henry Mancini’s wonderful music and a fabulous array of Givenchy clothes – far more than we see in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Here’s our first glimpse of Audrey’s character, Reggie – sporting ski-wear, sixties-style. (In case you’re wondering, she’s sitting outside an indoor swimming pool!)

Reggie returns from her ski trip to find that her apartment as been stripped of all her possessions. Luckily, she had obviously taken all her new season outfits on holiday with her.. Here’s the first of the 12 ensembles we see her in during the rest of the film.

If you’re in the market for a new coat, and you like the streamlined, unfussy 1960s look, Charade is a great source of inspiration. My own favourite ensemble from the film is the one Reggie wears when she visits Walter Matthau’s character at the American Embassy for the first time: the coat is tomato red, funnel-necked with bracelet-length sleeves and it’s teamed with a leopard print hat, long black gloves, black kitten heels and a black patent bag. You can glimpse it in this trailer:

For a post-funeral night on the town, newly-widowed Reggie is a vision of elegant simplicity – a little black dress and little black bolero jacket, and minimal jewellery. You can’t see it in the only photo I could find of the frock, but it has a sparkling black peplum waist and matching trim round the hem..

Doing her damnedest to be inconspicuous as she follows the Cary Grant character, Reggie dons that well-established uniform of the private eye – the raincoat. But few private eyes ever looked as chic (or conscipuous!).

The beige dress with the deep black waistband which Reggie was wearing under her raincoat sums up the sublime simplicity of her Charade wardrobe.

I’m not mad-keen on the white hat in the next outfit but Audrey carries it off beautifully, of course. Here’s the ensemble she wears when she drops her ice cream cone during a stroll along the banks of the Seine.

For the famous chase scene through the Metro and the Palais-Royale, Reggie sports another lovely coat, this time in a mustard shade, with a matching dress underneath.

Who said navy blue and black couldn’t go together? Reggie shows us how to do it in style in the final scenes from Charade, where her navy suit is accessorized with black shoes and a black bag, balanced out by the white hat and gloves  from before. You see – Charade is not only an exercise in sparkling comedy; it’s also a master-class in style.


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She’ll Have What She’s Having – Julie & Julia review

If ever there was a poster girl for butter, it’s Julia Child, the doyenne of TV cooks, whose story – or at least the part of it that began in France – is told in the new Nora Ephron movie Julie & Julia. This comedy-drama cuts and splices the lives of Child, who brought French cooking into every American home thanks to her TV shows in the 1960s, and Julie Powell, a young New York office worker who writes a blog about spending a year cooking her way through all the recipes in Child’s landmark French cookery book for Americans.

Child never tired of singing (or perhaps warbling would be a more appropriate verb) the praises of butter so it’s amazing that during her year-long cook-a-thon, Julie Powell (according to the film) didn’t seem to put on a single pound in weight. But then, she wouldn’t – because her part of the film, although based on real life, smacks of the aspects of Nora Ephron’s previous movies that were particularly unrealistic, irksome and formulaic.

There’s the wisecracking best friend (see Rosie O’Donnell in Sleepless in Seattle), the shabby chic apartment (You’ve Got Mail), the obligatory scenes of bonding in front of the telly (watching Casablanca in When Harry Met Sally, An Affair to Remember in Sleepless in Seattle etc). Somehow, Ephron even manages to sneak that old Annie Hall influence in there too: the lobster scene? Hello?

I have no aversion to movies that bear little relation to real life, but when you have a film in which the heroine – sorry, one of the heroines – works in a call centre dealing with the bereaved of 9/11, the glossy Hollywood sheen doesn’t seem appropriate.

Where it works just fine is in the scenes, woven through the film, in the Paris of Julia Child’s experience in the 1950s. Paris in any period has a romantic charm but Child’s Paris particularly so, because it’s where she discovered her calling, having already – as we know from documents released after her death – worked as a spy. In Paris, where her new husband works for the American embassy, she casts around for something to occupy her time and eventually comes up with the idea of taking classes at the Cordon Bleu cooking school.

As a Brit, I didn’t know anything much about Julia Child. And what little I did know about her – that she had a funny, high, comedy sort of a voice – was only through a hilarious (and now, I realise, totally accurate) impersonation by the brilliant jazz musician and off-the-wall raconteur Marty Grosz who used to offer an omelette signed by Julia Child as a prize if anyone could guess the tune he was singing, from its obscure verse.

Ever the chameleon, Meryl Streep does an amazing job of bringing Child to life (though it does come as a surprise to learn that she’s supposed to be just 37 at the start of the film). An ungainly, gallumphing, well-built (6 foot 2) and rather plain woman, Child comes across as having been quite at ease with her appearance – even amidst a sea of petites Parisiennes. While they may have been picking at their tiny portions like sparrows, Child devours food and relishes every opportunity for a new gastronomic experience. Streep gets the voice, the breathiness and the near-hysteria and certainly seems to embody the character, but it’s not a performance that really sheds much light on the character. She’s not onscreen enough.

Amy Adams, as Julie Powell, is onscreen plenty, however – and she is undoubtedly the less interesting and intriguing of the two heroines. She is also, as portrayed here, the 2009 version of Sally from Ephron’s best film, When Harry Met Sally. Once you notice the similarities between Meg Ryan in WHMS and Amy Adams in J&J, it’s difficult not to start playing spot the lack of difference. They have the same mannerisms (watch how the teary and tipsy Julie brandishes her wine glass), the same way of enunciating key lines (“I could write a blog. I have thoughts..”), and when Julie has her “meltdown” on the kitchen floor, you almost expect her to wail “and I’m going to be 40” a la Sally.

For me, the big surprises came towards the end when we realise that Julia Child was still alive while Julie Powell was conducting her blogging and cooking project. The next surprise is that Child lived to the ripe old age of 91, despite the copious amounts of butter she had consumed throughout her life. And the third is that for all this is a feelgood film, there is no attempt to avoid the fact that Child, when interviewed during Powell’s blogging/cooking project, expressed total disinterest in it.

Actually, here’s another surprise: that Ephron didn’t just call the film When Julie Didn’t Meet Julia.

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Paris on Film, Je T’aime

I was in Paris a couple of weeks ago, to hear about a new skincare launch by Chanel and to do some research for a forthcoming piece about the new biopic Coco Avant Chanel.

As we traced the great couturiere’s dainty footsteps across the quartier where she lived and worked, I was struck by just how many great films I’ve loved have been set and filmed there. And how, any time I need a fix of my favourite city, I have any number of wonderful movies available to me for an instant Parisian pick-me-up.

Filmmakers just love Paris. It’s little wonder, given the possibilities that it offers. Its spectacular scenery has lent itself to unforgettable musical numbers in everything from Vincente Minnelli’s Gigi (a whirlwind tour through the parks of Paris if ever there was one) to Woody Allen’s Everyone Says I Love You (who could forget Goldie Hawn dancing in the air on the banks of the Seine as she sings “I’m Through With Love”?).

Its buildings, squares and streets have added atmosphere and authenticity to historical epics and period dramas (think Dangerous Liaisons or A Very Long Engagement) and so much of the city is unspoiled that actual locations – the scene of the attempted assassination of General De Gaulle, at the corner of the rue de Rennes and the boulevard du Montparnasse, as featured in The Day of the Jackal, for example – can be used in their cinematic recreations.

You don’t need to be a director to be able to visualise clearly what the scene must have been like in the vast place de la Concorde when Madame La Guillotine was entertaining the crowds, or to imagine the misery of life in the Conciergerie prison where Marie-Antoinette and hundreds of others were held before they lost their heads: they have been preserved for posterity.

Similarly, legendary Parisian institutions – such as Maxim’s restaurant (as featured in the sumptuous Art Nouveau extravaganza Gigi as well as the tres chic sixties caper comedy How To Steal a Million), the Moulin Rouge, and the Chartier brasserie, where Jodie Foster lunched in A Very Long Engagement – have barely changed in decades, and so lend themselves beautifully to films set in any period since they opened. The Ritz will undoubtedly play its part in Coco Avant Chanel, as it was here that she enjoyed trysts with her lovers before nipping across the rue Cambon to her boutique.

The world-famous metro system and its iconic, labyrinthine stations have played host to nail-biting chases in such great (and very dissimilar) movies as Diva and Charade, and the Eiffel Tower has played a pivotal part in everything from Ealing comedy (The Lavender Hill Mob) to James Bond thriller (A View to a Kill). A moonlit Bateau Mouche cruise on the Seine is where Cary Grant and a Givenchy-clad Audrey Hepburn fall in love in one of the most evocative of all Paris films, the super-sexy comedy-thriller Charade.

The many facets of the city’s personality are reflected in the range of films that have been set there. The threatening side of Paris – especially to hapless American tourists – was exploited to great effect in the Roman Polanski thriller Frantic, in which Harrison Ford’s wife disappears without a trace from their hotel bedroom.

The often deserted platforms and empty corridors of the metro evoke the eery, unsettling side of a city with its fair share of nutters. Just ask Steve Buscemi who, in the recent portmanteau movie Paris Je T’aime, has an unpleasant (and not entirely unusual) experience while waiting for a train in the Tuileries station. Equally, the sordid and tacky parts of Paris have been shown in a diverse range of films including Amelie, which views the sex shops around the Faubourg St-Denis with characteristic bemusement.

Few films have evoked the quixotic, magical side of Paris as well as Amelie, which portrayed the city as a big adventure playground for romantics and underlined the fact that it’s the sum of its many parts, of which the pretty, whimsical, self-contained Montmartre area is just one.

Meanwhile, such Parisian passions as American jazz have produced some superior jazz movies, including Paris Blues and Round Midnight. And the city’s status as the capital of style has inspired a string of fashion films, among them Pret-a-Porter, Robert Altman’s chronicle of the catwalk shows, and the gloriously chic Funny Face.

Indeed, Funny Face is probably the greatest of all the cinematic billet doux from Hollywood to Paris. A gorgeous, colourful, joie-de-vivre-exuding movie, it highlights how one person’s Paris can be entirely different from another’s – because of all these separate, but overlapping, facets to the city’s character. While Fred Astaire’s urbane photographer character is drawn to the grandeur of the Champs-Elysees, the fashion editor played by Kay Thompson wants to hit the shops around the rue St-Honore, and our bookish, beatnik heroine, Audrey Hepburn, can’t wait “to philosophise with all the guys in Montmartre – and Montparnasse”, and explore cafe culture. .

Paris Je T’aime cleverly used this all-things-to-all-people idea to highly original effect, by gathering together 18 different stories, each set in a different part of the city. It’s the ultimate Paris film locations-wise, but, of course, the love affair between Paris and the movies isn’t dependent on complete authenticity. The most famous romantic movie of all time, Casablanca, was partly set in Paris and although filmed entirely in California, it captured the city’s romantic personality by suggesting that Paris was more than a place; it is a state of mind.

After all, as Bogey says to Ingrid Bergman as they separate forever: “We’ll always have Paris.”


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