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The Last Metro in Paris


          The first Metro we took on our 2023 visit to Paris proved the last for that trip—and perhaps for all others. No heartbreaking love triangle like the one in François Truffaut’s classic Last Metro film confronted us. Instead, we faced the fear of sharing too much personal information loaded in the cell phone a team of pickpockets stole while our group of four crammed into the crowded line from Montmartre to Arc de Triomphe. 

The crime came after a near-perfect day in Paris where each casual step led to movie or television connections of sights and experiences that work better in person. No big or little screen captures the scale of standing below the Eiffel Tower craning our heads upward on a morning when rain clouds broke to reveal a turquoise sky with rays of sunshine casting slight tinges of color onto iron spires. A key sight for so many films set in Paris, the Tower never fails to send waves of excitement in person with its familiar welcome. Moving on from the Tower, we walked in other film footsteps at:

*Notre Dame to admire Quasimodo’s home base, though none of his various screen iterations catch the cathedral’s imposing Gothic magnificence even when partially covered in scaffolding from a massive 2019 fire.

*Along the Seine to the Jardin des Plantes mineral museum and gems that sparkle more than any in the Netflix series All the Light You Cannot See (though admittedly, the show’s Parisian museum scenes shot in Hungary).  

*Sacré-Coeur Basilica to imitate Amélie by admiring the cityscape and feeling proud of all the calories burned climbing more than 300 steps to get there.

Granted, we deserved to breathe more easily than Keanu Reeves in his fourth outing as John Wick since he arrived up the stairs after decimating a hoard of contract killers attacking him.  Our adventure proved less lethal than Chapter 4’s—despite the threat caused by massive crowds and their pickpocketing elements.  Too bad Keanu’s John Wick didn’t join us on that jam packed ride back to our hotel.  Like us, he could spot the nefarious aims of a man who rammed Fred just before the train stopped. The middle-aged, well-dressed guy and his short female partner looked wrong, eyeing people and purposefully banging into them. The guy staggered towards Fred, knocking him over. That’s when we needed John Wick to slam his fist down on the thief’s head while at the same time choking the woman who slipped her hand past Velcro into Fred’s cargo pants and retrieved a cell phone.

If all that pummeling didn’t stop the thieves, John Wick could pull out his gun and fire a couple of shots to explode their heads into a colorful red spray that would suit Metro decor.  Ah, the joys of movie fantasy.  Instead, the criminals bounded towards a tunnel exit, with no time for us to do the same before the train took off again. Yeah, yeah we know: all travel resources list thieves—particularly pickpockets—as threats and dangers on any big-city trip. Even so, we always assume that happens to other people.

Rather than beat ourselves up, we took action—though sadly, not with John Wick effectiveness like a bone breaking, organ crunching kick to prevent the predators from ever again victimizing innocent visitors.  Instead of unleashing a rash of stylized, violent moves, I unzipped the inner pocket of my travel vest, pulled out my own safely ensconced phone and called the United States for help. Fred’s service provider quickly shut down the password protected device. Keeping it on airplane mode meant none of the day’s photos got backed up in the Cloud, so Fred lost those. Plus, he had no phone for the rest of the trip and needed to buy a new one upon arriving home. He did so two weeks later, just as the thieves managed to turn on the phone in Algeria, alerting an anti-theft system that protects data.

Bad, yes, but worse things happen according to screen stories: a Sharknado storm could move to Paris and send fish down the tunnel to eat us all up.  Zombies from Train to Busan could move to Paris and eat us all up. The assassins sent after John Wick could miss him and nail us instead.  Any of those qualify as a last metro ride.  In contrast, pickpockets sent a message to use in the future: zip up valuables and consider taking a taxi.

Iconic Images from Paris

All the Light We Cannot See, 2023 with Mark Ruffalo saving jewels in Paris. For a story that promotes inner depth involving the title’s kind of illumination, the series relies on surface visuals. Director Shawn Levy uses skills he developed in his Night at the Museum movies, garnering broad performances and blending top notch special effects with impressive locations and set design. Fans of the Pulitzer Prize winning book by Anthony Doerr will miss his lyrical flow of language in Steven Knight’s screenplay—not a huge surprise when switching a long story from one format to another.  The show gains creds by hiring actress Aria Maria Loberti for a breakthrough role as Marie, a blind teenager helping the resistance in a French town occupied by Nazis. Legally blind in real life, Loberti brings special understanding to the role, her warm smile and open approach suiting the character. Playing Marie’s inspirational uncle, Hugh Laurie’s recognizable voice adds resonance to the project, though some other performances come off as caricatures, especially a series of particularly nasty Nazis (not that anyone believes in nice Nazis).

Inception, 2010 with Leonardo DiCaprio mining people’s dreams in Paris.  Though writer-director Christopher Nolan gets serious, awards worthy respect for films like Oppenheimer, his cult status comes from time-bending, mind-challenging projects so complex that repeated viewings enhance understanding and appreciation.  As he showed in his first film Memento, Nolan prefers purposefully holding back, a practice many find ambiguous enough to cause extensive head scratching. The Inception finale includes a spinning top that fans continue to debate without coming to definitive conclusions. However, everyone agrees that each Inception production aspect stands out, starting with DiCaprio heading a cast of supporting players that include Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon-Leavitt, and Eliot Page in Ellen form. Beyond the actors’ appeal come phenomenal special effects as characters use technology to creep into dreamworlds and experience places unrestrained by laws of nature and gravity. Real world locations include Paris, with the Palais Galliera fashion museum as a university and the Il Russo café playing Café Debussy. Just a couple of blocks away, a dream makes Paris streets fold in on themselves demonstrating a first-rate example of CGI effects.    

John Wick, Chapter 4, 2023 with Keanu Reeves heading to a duel in Paris. All the John Wick movies provide me with a conundrum. I enjoy watching glamorous locations. My heart pitter patters at handsome men like Keanu. I envy the athletic skills of martial artists. I revel in glowing colors of beautiful lighting from neon and nature. I go all gushy for dogs. The John Wick franchise gives me all these elements—surrounded in a cacophony of gratuitous violence created by its underworld hired killers. Working with a writing team—Shay Hattan, Michael Finch, and Derek Kolstad—director Chad Stahelski finds stylish and creative ways to kill people. Fans love providing a body count for each film and one online source says Chapter 4 features 140, raising the series total to 339 (John Wick’s Body Count In ‘John Wick: Chapter 4' wegotthiscovered.com). But (spoiler alert) the dog survives, so why complain? Armchair travelers see an already beautiful Paris enhanced by CGI lighting effects, while set jetters discover the movie’s inspirations at such iconic city locations as the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe and by walking up 300+ stairs to the Sacré-Coeur Basilica (instead of imitating thousands of people like Fred and Ron in our group, who avoided those steps by riding a funicular).  

Le Dernier Métro (The Last Metro), 1980 with Catherine Deneuve and Gérard Depardieu not getting pickpocketed on the Montmartre line. Going backstage at a Montmartre theater after Nazis invaded Paris, writer-director François Truffaut insists that art helps people handle horrific circumstances. A former film critic, Truffaut tips his hat to Casablanca by combining a World War II timeline, a romantic trio, a resistance fighter, and a setting where people come together for entertainment. Rather than note the Casablanca link, the director told interviewers at the time about three other goals (as shown on the Criterion Collection DVD). One: he wanted to use the Nazi Occupation period, which featured a mandatory curfew that heightened importance for catching “the last metro” of the night’s schedule in order to get home on time. Second, Truffaut liked the idea of exploring the backstage world of theater.  And third, he wanted to create a diverse role for Deneuve as a woman in an unusual circumstance of power.  With a face adored by cameras, Deneuve’s magical screen presence joins Depardieu’s in a tale that mixes melodrama and sentimentality with appealing aplomb. Set jetters must satisfy themselves at other theater venues in Paris since producers went to the city’s northwestern suburb in Clichy and used an empty chocolate factory (sans Charlie or Willy Wonka) to build sets. Or imitate Depardieu and ride the Metro to Montmartre (but beware of pickpockets).

Moulin Rouge!, 2001 with Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor singing late 1900s pop tunes in early 1900s Paris. Adapting Giacomo Puccini’s 1896 opera La Boheme, director Baz Luhrman and co-writer Craig Pearce play all sorts of games, never fearing to go over the top as music pounds, glitter sparkles, and Elton John gets even more money from residuals.  The jukebox musical features such established hits as John’s “Your Song,” and Nirvana’s “Smells like Teen Spirit,” none of which ever played on stages at Moulin Rouge in early 1900. No matter. With a sly smile and the pull of a showman’s beckoning hands, Luhrman invites audiences to sit back and enjoy the outrageous. Instantly recognizable, hummable tunes enhance the lure, sung with natural ease by the often-non-musical Kidman, McGregor, (plus Jim Broadbent). All this created awards bait with eight Oscar nominations including best picture and actress along with wins for costume and set design. Those spectacular sets existed only on Australian sound stages rather than the real-life building that still draws audiences to Montmartre. The iconic Moulin Rouge cabaret features red lights along its signature windmill and ranks as a top tourist attraction in Paris.

 

                                            ***

 

 


The Last Shot—In Memoriam to Fred’s cell, last used snapping a picture of Sacré-Coeur minutes before its tragic phonenapping on the last metro ride of our 2023 visit.



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