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Eight of the best classic films set on the French Riviera

25 Apr 2020

May is usually the special time of year during which the Cannes Film Festival takes place. Understandably, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the 73rd annual…

May is usually the special time of year during which the Cannes Film Festival takes place. Understandably, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the 73rd annual festival has been postponed this year. Instead, to celebrate all things film, we’ve rounded up some of the finest movies filmed in the South of France. Even better, you can grab most of these from the comfort of your own home.

1. And God Created Woman (1956)

This now legendary film is best remembered for turning Brigitte Bardot into an international star overnight. While not her first film, Bardot gives an unforgettable performance as an 18-year-old orphan whose fun-seeking shakes up all of Saint-Tropez. Bardot’s character was both ground-breaking and controversial in its time, with the opening nude sunbathing scene censored in multiple countries.

As well as revolutionising the foreign film market, ‘And God Created Woman’ also transformed Saint-Tropez into a sought-after destination. With most of the action taking place on the picturesque waterfront, Saint-Tropez was largely a fisherman’s village at the time. The film is worth a watch just to see Saint-Tropez as it was back in the day. However, it’s fair to say much of its charm remains if you visit today.

2. To Catch a Thief (1955)

This Hitchcock classic is undoubtedly one of the most renowned films set in the South of France. Starring Cary Grant and Grace Kelly, this thriller is full of comedy, suspense – and stunning shots of Côte d’Azur scenery. For example, one brilliant scene involving a brawl takes place in a local flower market.

The story follows Grant, a reformed cat burglar, who needs to catch a new thief in order to convince people he has retired. He does this, of course, all the while falling in love with Grace Kelly. Look out for multiple scenes shot in Vieux Nice, Cannes and Monaco. In the latter, Grace Kelly met Prince Rainier whom she would go on to marry. You can explore all the South of France locations in ‘To Catch a Thief’ via this map.

3. Never Say Never Again (1983)

This Sean Connery James Bond is filmed all over the globe, from London to the Bahamas. However, several iconic shots feature Riviera backdrops and landmarks. Firstly, one of the key action sequences involving a thrilling motorbike chase is set in the narrow streets of Villefranche-sur-Mer. Secondly, when Bond tracks villain Largo to his yacht in Villefranche-sur-Mer, we’re treated to a slice of the South of France beauty. Finally, Largo’s fortress – ‘Palmyra’ – was actually the historic Fort Carré in Antibes, down the road from Parc du Cap.

4. French Kiss (1995)

“Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful!” – Meg Ryan exclaims as she and Kevin Kline make their way down a narrow cobblestone street in Valbonne. This sums up many of the shots of the South of France in this romantic comedy. When American Ryan flies to France to confront her wandering fiancé, she meets French crook, Kline. After time in Paris, the two head to Cannes, checking in at the Carlton Hotel. One scene involving a fist fight in a medieval town square is the Place des Arcades in Valbonne. This old town is just 25 minutes’ drive from Parc du Cap.

5. Bonjour Tristesse (1958)

Following the release of ‘And God Created Woman’, the Riviera became a popular destination for filmmakers as well as tourists. ‘Bonjour Tristesse’ features the life of 17-year-old Cécile and her widowed playboy father. He receives a visit from his late wife’s friend which seems to threaten Cécile’s relationship with her father – and the rest unfolds. One interesting element to note about the film is the frequent transition between black and white and coloured scenes. This technique reinforces the contrast between Cécile’s older life in Paris with flashbacks to her long lazy youthful summer in the French Riviera.

6. La Piscine (1969)

‘La Piscine’ is a brooding film about relationship drama and jealously on the sun-soaked French Riviera. Lovers Marianne (Romy Schneider) and Jean-Paul (Alain Deloin) are spending their vacation in a villa near Saint-Tropez. Tension rises when Marianne invites her former lover and his teenage daughter to stay. The film perfectly pairs the American consumerist aesthetic style with the chic glamour of the French Riviera in the 1960s. Add to this a photogenic cast, elegant fashion and smooth jazz playlist – and you have a recipe for a classic.

7. Under the Cherry Moon (1986)

Shot entirely in the South of France – and in black and white – this wonderfully funny movie features music legend, Prince. Two playboys set about seducing beautiful elderly ladies to fund their lifestyle. Although many of the locations aren’t officially stated, you can see many iconic places in the film. For example, the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild which overlooks the Bay of Villefranche and the Bay of Beaulieu. Further, Nice Ville, the Carlton in Cannes and The Hippodrome in Nice. Throughout you can enjoy many stunning aerial shots of the Côte d’Azur coastline.

8. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988)

‘Dirty Rotten Scoundrels’ is another film about conmen (and women!). Set in the fictitious town of ‘Beaumont-sur-Mer’, the film is inspired by and mainly shot in Beaulieu-sur-Mer. Michael Caine and Steve Martin star as two conmen vying for the hand of a wealthy lady. All action takes place in the serene yet simultaneously glitzy environs of the French Riviera at that time. The Beaumont’s ‘Grand’ is the Grand Hotel du Cap-Ferrat and the film’s casino is Beaulieu-sur-Mer’s glass-enclosed Rotonde Lenôtre. This belle époque structure was once the dining room of the former Hotel Bristol, now used as an exhibition space.

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