Visualize: a white Mustang driven by a man, the surfboards of Deauville (Calvados), the beach at low tide, a woman… Have you got it? With around three hundred films, the number of shoots in France returned to their pre-Covid level in 2022, attesting to the attraction of filmmakers to France. Among these films, only a few have forever marked the city, or the site, which hosted them.

It is these legendary filmings that documentary filmmaker Sam Caro (On ​​the Path to Stevenson, 2022) chose to focus on. “We wanted to find sites immediately attached to a film. They also had to speak to as many people as possible, crossing generations,” he explains. Eight were thus selected, necessarily old, according to his criteria.

Starting with Deauville, the natural setting of A Man and a Woman (1966), by Claude Lelouch, with Anouk Aimée and Jean-Louis Trintignant. A flying start, since, for the occasion, Claude Lelouch arrives in person behind the wheel of a perfect replica of the original car – but more slowly – before speaking out.

On each site, Sam Caro found a few privileged witnesses, who will share their memories, with nostalgia, but also pleasure, such as the actors Souad Amidou and Antoine Sire (the two children in the film).

A windfall for tourism

In Wallers-Arenberg (North), a mining area near Valenciennes where Claude Berri filmed the adaptation, in 1992, of Germinal, by Emile Zola, for the cinema, it is two former miners who guide, with emotion, the cameras in the remains of the mine. On the screen, we recognize Renaud (Etienne Lantier, leader of the miners’ revolt) and Gérard Depardieu (Toussaint Maheu). We find the French actor (currently accused of rape and sexual assault), during the evocation of Cyrano de Bergerac (1990), by Jean-Paul Rappeneau, filmed partly in the medieval heart of Le Mans.

With the exception of the Butte Montmartre, in Paris, which did not wait for The Fabulous Destin of Amélie Poulain (2001), by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, to become a tourist hotspot, filming is a bonanza. On the Normandy coast, Villerville (Calvados), for example, does not skimp on signs and fireworks to remind us that, here, Henri Verneuil filmed A Monkey in Winter (1962), with Jean Gabin and Jean-Paul Belmondo. Likewise in Bergues, a small unknown town in the North until Dany Boon filmed Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis (2008): “Fifteen years later, 80% of people come for the film,” assures a resident.

The memory is more attenuated in Rochefort (Charente-Maritime), city of Demoiselles de…, by Jacques Demy (1967), with Catherine Deneuve and Françoise Dorléac. Including for the viewer, who, as a result, will perhaps discover the astonishing transporter bridge on which Gene Kelly and George Chakiris danced.

A decade older, And God… Created Woman (1956), by Roger Vadim, with Brigitte Bardot, however, remains present in people’s minds. Two characters will then offer us an astonishing journey back in time and to Saint-Tropez (Var): Simone Duckstein, 80 years old, daughter of the owners of the famous Bar de la Ponche, and Patrice de Colmont, who can be found at the beach from Pampelonne, to Ramatuelle, an “inhospitable place” where, in 1947, his father, an ethnologist, bought a cabin without water or electricity, far from everything. It will become Club 55. Perhaps that’s the magic of cinema.