Paris off the beaten path with Les Parisettes: historical cinemas

MyFrenchLife™ - Paris historical cinemas - la goudesJoin us as we delve into the rich underworld of the tiny, historical cinemas scattered about Paris. From the quirky La Clef in the quiet streets of Censier-Daubenton to the veritable institution of Le Champo, these cinemas beat the mainstream multiplexes in almost every way.

Perhaps more than any other city in the world, cinema is part of the lifeblood of Paris. Cinema was born in France, thanks to the aptly-named Lumière brothers of Lyon. The first films were shown to a flabbergasted audience in a Paris café in 1895. Through the many decades since that fateful evening, French cinema has remained one of the most creative, successful, and diverse film industries in the world.

But the French aren’t just good at making movies; they are also excellent at watching them.

France has its fair share of box office multiplexes, which generally do a much better job at showing interesting films than their Anglophone counterparts. Yet what makes Paris such a charming city for cinema is its penchant for minuscule art house cinemas, often with only one or two screens, tucked away down quaint little lanes. Here, Parisians can sit where iconic filmmakers themselves have sat, to discover the finest in independent and art house cinema.

Le Champo

Even if you’re not a passionate lover of French film, you have most likely heard of the Nouvelle Vague master, Jean-Luc Godard. Godard’s films span from the 1960 ‘À bout de souffleto this year’s ‘Adieu au langage’. They are brimming with quirky, poetic dialogue, stark camerawork and existential themes.

MyFrenchlife™ - Paris historical cinemas - le champo

As a teenager, Godard gained his cinematic education from Le Champo, frequently skipping school to catch afternoon screenings of classic films. Today, Le Champo screens a different Godard film every week, as well as select retrospectives (think Jean Renoir, Agnès Varda, and David Lynch).

Le Champo 
51 rue des Écoles, 75005 Paris
Métro: Cluny – La sorbonne

La Clef

MyFrenchLife™ - Paris historical cinemas - La ClefWhile some Paris cinemas focus primarily on vetted, classic films (and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that!) the charming La Clef (‘The Key’) theatre is dedicated to the fresh and new in film.

Here you will find independent festivals, little-known documentaries, and screenings of shorts from Paris film students. Fiercely proud of its independent status, La Clef is a thoughtful, intelligent and unique space to experience the cutting-edge and marginal of cinema.

La Clef 
34 rue Daubenton, 75005 Paris
Métro: Censier – Daubenton

La Pagode

Elegance and beauty abound in this delightful dancehall-turned-cinema. As the name suggests, La Pagode is modelled on a traditional Japanese pagoda. The unusual little building is nestled in lush fern fronds and other greenery. Head to this historical cinema if you’re looking for recent French releases in particular. La Pagode tends to favour the artistic, the contemplative, and the whimsical in its film programme, which fits perfectly with its surrounds.

La Pagode
57 bis rue de Babylone, 75007 Paris
Métro: Saint-François Xavier

Want more? Other splendid, tiny, historical cinemas in Paris: Action Christine, Studio Galande, Reflet Médicis.

Have you been to any historical cinemas in Paris? What’s your favourite place to catch a film in Paris? Share with us in the comments below.

Image credits:
1. Geode, by Martyn Davis, vie Flickr.
2. Le Champo, by Martin Leveneur, via Flickr.
3. La Clef, by Métissa André, via Ecu Film Festival.

About the Contributor

Gemma King

I’m a Lecturer in French Studies at the Australian National University specialising in contemporary French cinema and museums. You can read my blog 'Les Musées de Paris' and find me on Twitter here.

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  1. Alexandria Rogers Oct 15, 2014 at 4:57 PM - Reply

    Great piece! It’s really important to highlight the French history in cinema. I found a fair amount of elementary school kids assuming Americans were responsible for so much more than we (speaking from an American perspective) actually were, including film! And The Beatles, One Direction, and Lorde. France certainly deserves credit for its extensive history in film. I’d love to check out La Pagode the next time I’m there.

    • Gemma King Oct 16, 2014 at 2:46 AM - Reply

      Thanks Alexandria, yes too few people know how important France has been in the history (and existence) of cinema! And wah?!?- people think The Beatles are American? Goodness gracious.

  2. Jill Craig Oct 21, 2014 at 1:50 AM - Reply

    La Clef was right beside my Erasmus uni – I loved it. I have such a soft spot for individual, and more unique cinemas. I’ve never loved multiplex ones (or massive shopping centres for that matter). There is just something about a cosy cinema on a rainy day in France…

  3. Selina Sykes Oct 27, 2014 at 7:13 AM - Reply

    Brilliant article Gemma! I will have to visit one of these cinemas when I visit in November 😉

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