May 24, 2014

City of Lights, Camera, Action!: Bleu de Gex


Living not just in Paris, and not just in the center of Paris, but in the heart of the center of Paris, I often feel like I am living in a movie set. And, it turns out, I am. Instead of having to walk around dog turds, I often find myself sidestepping movie cameras and electric cables.

One day we look out the window and are met by the unexpected sight of a horse-drawn carriage. We go out on the balcony to take photos and watch the filming, only to have one of the cameramen scream up to us, "Can you please go back inside? Your whole building is in the picture!"


We peek out from the bottom of our window, anyway. And finally, we are allowed to go down and watch from the ground level. There we find out what Oscar-worthy cinematic masterpiece our building will be starring in: Smurfs II, or as they call it in France, Schtroumpfs 2 (pronounced "Schtroumpfs").

What we see is Gargamel's carriage. Naturally, once it's released, we rent Smurfs II to watch it on  family movie night. It turns out that our whole building must be on the cutting room floor, but we do see the carriage driving by the bottom of our building and replay the scene over and over excitedly.

We also watch Smurf scenes being filmed by night. Please note that there have been no electronic enhancements and that the sky is naturally Smurf-colored.


On the other end of the movie spectrum, the new Rosemary's Baby is now set in France, and at least some of it is also set just outside our window, in the same place. We will never watch this film, as our family has a horror of the horror genre. Unless Rosemary's baby turns out to be a Schtroumpf:


And this, unknown French film:


We come across this period piece being shot in the Place des Vosges:


And this TV police show being shot along the Seine. The Seine is another hot spot for movie shots, and I can't tell you the number of times I've seen a cute little sports car racing down the normally-closed-to-traffic part of the quai alongside the river. It must make for a great car chase scene. And river chase scene, too. I recently saw some such ad that was aired on European TV, and it's killing me that I can't remember who was in it (Natalie Portman? Julia Roberts? Bradley Cooper?) or what it was for (perfume? watches?) zipping down the Seine.


My friend Fabrice who lives in the 5th right off the famous rue Mouffetard tells me that during the filming of Julie & Julia, the street was re-done, at great effort and rather convincingly, à la 1920s. And then, at the end, brought back to the 21st century. Below is a promotional photo for the movie. I know some of the big buildings on the left side of the street are different but am thinking they've been photoshopped in.

One thing I know for sure is that the same spot -- the square at Eglise St. Etienne du Mont with its neighboring alley and cobblestone street -- is the critical place in the Woody Allen film Midnight in Paris. The first time I end up here, I have this eerie feeling of déja-vu, till I realize it was used as the magic spot in the movie. It wouldn't have taken much movie wizardry to make this spot feel magical. Standing on these steps, it's impossible not to wish you could go back in time and see Paris in its different époques (eras).


Also in the 5th, I photograph this pool just for being pretty, then find out it's where Juliette Binoche swims in the Kieslowski film Bleu.

I walk the cobbled street of rue des Barres in the photo just below every week many times when I head up to the heart of the Marais. And every single time, it makes me happy. Genuinely, song-in-my-heart, smile-on-my-face, bounce-in-my-step happy. It takes me by arguably the oldest medeival colombage (wood and plaster) residences in Paris and leads me by Eglise St.-Gervais-St.-Protais. It is, as you have probably surmised, one of my favorite spots in all of Paris. For a while I marvel that I've never seen it used as a movie set. Till one day, I do.


Then there are the spots I photograph that I've never seen used as a set, but I certainly think should be. For example, just across a different bridge heading into the Marais, from Ile St. Louis, is this lovely old building below. Built around the year 1500, it is now the Bibliothèque Forney, an art-and-architecture library (with occasional exhibits) on the impossibly-named rue des Nonnains d'Hyères. I think it is just a matter of time before Kate Winslet is walking this garden, laced up in a corset.

Across the river, the Eglise (church) St. Severin in the 5th would make a great set, too. I'm also partial to it because Gigi and Pippa have had school choir concerts there, and it's atmospheric inside and out.


An old friend of mine visits from Sweden, and we spend hours in a brasserie (restaurant, but more French) on Ile St. Louis called the St. Régis. This photo really does not do it justice at all. The ambience is so perfect, Thomas actually looks over at the door at one point and says, "I keep expecting Jean Reno to walk in" -- Jean Reno being one of most famous and classically French-seeming of all the French actors, despite the fact that he was born in Morocco. His credits include Mission:Impossible, Hotel Rwanda, Pink Panther 2, the Da Vinci Code, and way too many other films to list. The St. Régis may not have as many films to its name, but it should. One morning I hear a screech, a crash, and the sound of glass shattering and turned the corner to see a car plowed into some outdoor café tables -- for a movie scene, of course.


One morning, somebody looks out the window and says, "What is that model doing?" I grab my camera and run out, so I can tell you that what she is doing: She is making love to a bass cello while freezing her ass off. Although, coming from the emaciated-tall-and-skinny school of modeling, she doesn't have much of an ass to start with.


You can see in the top right photo here that there's a real band playing. I assume the crew came out for a fashion shoot without props and then they themselves were inspired by the surroundings. They borrowed the bass cello from the band that was busking on the bridge (making it a "busking bridge band-borrowed bass:" say that five times fast). Anthony and the girls and I are trying to guess what it's an ad for: clothes? shoes? make up? perfume? frozen chicken patties? It could really be anything.

There are, of course, too many other spots and films I could include. I haven't even touched the Louvre or the Eiffel Tower. They're not right out my doorstep, after all. But if I'm too lazy to go visit them in person, I can always see them on the silver screen.

Interested in touring Paris sites used as locations in films? Here are some links for you:

THE CHEESE: Bleu de Gex

First of all, let's get this straight: Gex is not pronounced "Gex" (rhymes with sex) as I first believed. It sounds much more like "jay" and is named after the area of Gex, in the Haut-Jura, in the Eastern Alps of France. Sometimes it's also called, therefore, the Bleu de Haut-Jura or Septmoncel, the name of a community in the area.

Made from raw milk from Montbéliarde or French Simmentale breed cows that are fed only grass or hay (no fermented feed allowed) and aged for two months, it is supposed to have both a mild odor and a hint of hazelnuts. I'd have to say what I mostly get from it is just the mildness. Which is to say that I find it kind of bland. This could be a good thing if you want a blue that's barely a blue, but for me it's a bit of a let-down. I prefer a blue that is unashamed of its blueness (yes, like a Smurf).

Though it's only aged two months, it's an old cheese -- old in the sense that it goes back to at least the 13th century, where the monks of the Sainte-Claude Abbey produced its ancestor with goat's milk, later transitioning to cows. By the year 1530, it's noted that Bleu de Gex was a favorite of Charles Quint, the leader of Burgundy. In more recent years, Bleu de Gex received its AOC status in 1977, modified in 1980.


Clearly, with the Smurf connection, today's cheese simply has to be a blue. And since I at first (mistakenly) believe it to be pronounced "Gex" (rhyming with sex), I choose this one because that would also rhyme with Fx, as in Special Effects, like those needed to make that Oscar-worthy combo animation-live action Smurf movie. It's a convoluted connection, but in my head, it's perfectly logical.


  1. Coincidentally, we just came across a new business opened up on our tiny street - "Set In Paris, 3 rue Maître Albert - that provides tours of locations used in films. I haven't taken the tour, although I've wished such a thing existed since seeing "Paris, je t'aime" (which had one or two scenes on Rue des Barres), and since being driven nuts while watching one film (I think "Before Sunset") where the characters were walking down the street, would turn a corner, and would suddenly be on a completely unconnected street more than a kilometre away. I don't remember "Set In Paris" being in this location when we were here in February, but they have reviews from last summer so perhaps they moved, or just got better signage.


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