France’s cinematic cities and long association with the silver screen make it an ideal destination for film-lovers. From coast-to-coast and back again, here is your guide to cinema in France.
Cannes, Côte d'Azur
Cannes Film Festival even extends onto the beach
Every year the wise, wealthy and weird flock to the Cannes Film Festival, and even if you haven’t secured an invite, there’s plenty to keep casual visitors entertained during a spring trip to Cannes. Start your visit with a silver screen extravaganza and queue up for (free) tickets to the outdoor screenings at Cinema de la Plage. This beach-based outdoor cinema is open to all and it’s a short walk from the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès, where all the major screenings happen during the festival. Strolling along the waterfront you’ll soon spot the telltale lights of a premiere and, if you’re lucky, the film industry’s elite going inside.
Cannes has a year round roister of free screenings, which is just as well because the hotels here tend to lend themselves to the lavish and opulent. The Renoir, for example, is a four-star hotel just a few minutes walk from the Palais and every room is decorated with portraits of Hollywood greats. Travellers who prefer to save their money are best served by booking a self-catered apartment, such as the central Florella Maréchal Joffre, or the stylish Résidence Hoche.
If you’re visiting out-of-season bypass the big multiplex cinemas in the centre and head to La Bocca neighbourhood. Here you’ll find Théâtre La Licorne, a performing arts centre close to the Roman village Le Suquet (the Cannes old quarter). Walking through the narrow cobbled streets, beneath curled wrought iron balconies and trailing vines is a cinematic experience in its own right, and the films on offer at Licorne is hard to beat.
Paris, Ile de France
Le Grand Rex is one of Europe's biggest cinemas
There are so many cinemas in Paris that even the most committed moviegoer would struggle to visit them all in one trip. Independent cinema Le Balzac is a standout, with an opulent Art Deco lobby, while Le Brady is a tiny space (with only 39 seats) but worth the trip. Le Grand Rex in contrast, is one of the biggest cinemas in Europe.
Paris’s has made an almost overwhelming contribution to the history of cinema, and one place to explore it in all its glory is via the exhibitions at Musée de la Cinémathèque. Here you’ll see significant historical moments including the Lumière Brothers’ early attempts at motion pictures, costumes, screenplays, and the extensive Bibliothèque du Film. Or for an alternative artform, head over to Cinéma Du Réel and learn about the history of documentary film.
If you’re looking to spend more than just an evening at the movies, head to Le Champo, which iconic Parisian film director François Truffaut made his HQ. Nuits du Champo features a trio of films that start at midnight and end with breakfast, after which you can stumble back to the Alice in Wonderland-inspired Hotel le Lapin Blanc to catch up on your sleep.
Bordeaux is home to the European Short Film Festival
The southern city of Bordeaux has one of Europe’s largest and best-preserved 18th-century city centres, making it extremely popular with French filmmakers. There’s an excellent chance that an early-morning café au lait run will end with an impromptu stint as a film extra. And it’s not just French companies that might press you into service: the instantly-recognisable Place de la Bourse was recently used as a filming location for Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again.
Cinemas in Bordeaux range from the elegantly historical to contemporary creative hubs. The high vaulted ceilings and general splendour at Cours de l’intendance gives the cinema an elegant, almost reverent atmosphere. Meanwhile, Kino Session showcases new, French filmmaking talent and it’s worth stopping by to admire Le Ciné Théâtre Girondin (a one-time cinema, now converted into a residential building).
Every spring the city’s cinemas make room in their programs for the European Short Film Festival of Bordeaux; a celebration of short films in the Aquitaine region that has been running since 1997. Then in the autumn it’s time for the Bordeaux International Independent Film Festival, which takes over multiple cinemas throughout the city centre. Stay within easy reach of all the best venues at L'Appartement Bordelais, stylish self-catered apartments in the city’s historical district.