Paris stars as film makers flock to France

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The Independent Online
THE CITY of light has been transformed this summer into the city of "lights, cameras, action". On each day of last month, more than 15 different movies - French cinema and TV movies, German movies, American movies - were being shot in various parts of Paris.

Scenes for 39 films - a record - have been shot in location in the French capital since the beginning of the year. More production crews, including one headed by Roman Polanski, are moving in this autumn.

"August is the ideal time. The Parisians are away," said Antonin Depardieu (no relation to the actor), assistant producer of The Volcano, a German film set in 1930s Paris.

In truth, despite the traditional absence of the city's population, cinematic overcrowding has been a problem this summer.

The competing demands of the World Cup in June and July compressed all the filming into a shorter period. The crew of one movie being made close to the Eiffel Tower complained last week of background noise from what sounded like an African wedding. It turned out to be another film, being shot a couple of hundred yards away. There have also been complaints from the remaining residents, especially those in the cliche locations: the Ile Saint-Louis and Saint-Germain des Pres.

The police and city authorities now try to steer film companies to other areas. Some movie-makers, in any case, wish to portray a seedier side of the world's most beautiful city.

Three of the movies now in production are shot on unlovely locations close to the Boulevard Peripherique. Another is set in and around La Sante prison. The town hall was moved to complain that some film-makers insist on presenting the city "of passion and poetry" from "a dust-bin level". Notwithstanding, the most spectacular of the movies made in Paris this year is likely to be Ronin, an American thriller, directed by John Frankenheimer and starring Robert De Niro. The scenes of car chases and mayhem in the centre of Paris, filmed on 23 days spread over three months, are said to equal the classics of the genre, such as The French Connection and Bullitt.

Demand for movie-making locations in Paris - classical and unconventional - is now so great that the town hall is working on plans to set up a permanent Parisian film liaison office, modelled on the one in New York.

At any one time, the city authorities and police have more than 1,000 requests pending to film in the city, many of which come to nothing. The number of demands is running at a record level.

Why the abrupt rise in cinematic interest in the French capital? The weakness of the franc in the past 18 months has made it an affordable location once again for foreign film production companies. The French cinema, partly through public funding, partly through demand from French cable and terrestrial television channels, is itself booming.

"Paris has always been one of the great stars of the cinema," said Brigitte Brauner, the film liaison officer at the town hall.

"There's not a movie camera available anywhere in Paris. They're all rented," said Patrick Lancelot, director of Belle Maman, a movie starring Catherine Deneuve.

Filming in Paris can have its awkward moments. A Metro station was badly scorched (damage pounds 50,000) during the making of one film last year. De Niro was arrested briefly by the French vice squad while on location in Paris in the spring. He was taken for questioning, as a witness, in the investigation of a high-class call-girl ring with tentacles in the world of show-business, politics and Middle East arms dealing.

Now that would be a good plot for a movie ...