A Moulin Rouge dancer starts to see the city around him in a new light while awaiting a heart transplant that might take his life. It’s a rather glum premise, but hey, it’s Paris—that is, the hit French film from L’Auberge Espagnol director Cédric Klapisch, now playing in New York and L.A. with a national rollout starting this Friday—and those sweeping streetscape shots are as melancholy as they are alluring. I asked Klapisch, a born-and-raised Parisian, for his tips on experiencing the City of Lights.
Q: In a way, travelers might find themselves in predicament (albeit a much less dire one) that's similar to Pierre’s—Paris has so much to offer, but you only have so much time there. Where would you suggest going first?
Probably the place I like most: Île Saint-Louis (1st arrondisement), the historic center of Paris. It’s touristy, but it’s very harmonious, especially in the evening. I don’t know why—something about its relation to the Seine.
But what’s great about Paris is that there’s not only one center. I love going from one district to another because you feel like you’re going to a different city. If you follow the banks you can explore the new neighborhoods in the 13th arrondissement, like la Butte aux Cailles, where a lot of artists live.
Q: The main character, Pierre (played by Romain Duris), often gazes down on the city from his terrace. Where do you go to see Paris from above?
A: There are two places. The first is one of the most popular: Montmartre (18th arrondissement). The view around Paris is just really beautiful from the top of the Sacré Coeur basilica (35 rue du Chevalier-De-La-Barre).
The second place—Belleville (20th arrondissement)—is not as well known. It’s a neighborhood on the highest hill in Paris, with a beautiful park. That’s where Elise (Pierre’s sister, played by Juliette Binoche) is with her children in the beginning of the film. It’s the most ethnically mixed part of Paris—there are Chinese, African, Arabic, and Jewish communities, in addition to the French. It’s not too far from where I live, so I go up there often.
Q: A distinguishing feature of your work is your way of filming the nuances of daily life that many people may not notice. What are some of your favorite parts of Paris that visitors tend to overlook?
A: A lot of tourists go directly from the Eiffel Tower to the Champs Elysee to St. Germain. Le Parc de la Villette (19th arrondissement) is a really nice, less common place to take a break, especially for families—there are special gardens and shows for children, and a science museum. It’s both very modern and very Parisian.
There’s also the Canal Saint-Martin (10th arrondissement), a new neighborhood near Place de la République. It has a really nice ambiance, and during the summer locals go there to have picnics on the banks.
After I made the movie I rediscovered the Palais Royal (1st arrondissement), next to the Place des Victoires and its fashion shops. The park there is very garden a la francaise. Parisians don’t use it too often, but it’s very beautiful, and very quiet—a really nice place for a walk. Geometrically, Palais Royal is the center of Paris. It’s nice that there’s such a calm place in the middle of the city.
Christine Ajudua is an editorial assistant at Travel + Leisure.