A city is a natural habitation for people in the 21st century. People are born, they study, work and die in cities. A place, wherein people spend most of their time should be both multi-functional and convenient. Thus, city planning is of outmost importance for people to live in a comfortable and friendly environment. There have been numerous attempts to improve urban planning and to create a dream city. Some of such attempts remained to be theoretical developments only, while others were realized, for example, such utopian projects as Howard’s Garden Cities of Tomorrow or Le Corbusier’s Radiant City (Fishman, 1977, 57).
Although the movie “Before Sunset” is a romantic and somewhat philosophical story about human relations, it vividly presents a modern concept of successful urban planning using Paris as a case study. Pedestrian friendly urban neighborhoods, open space, neighborhood gathering places and combinations of urban isolation and urban density give a good example of an appropriate combination of necessary usability and optional comfort in urban planning.
Paris is one of favorite sceneries for love stories and romantic adventures. This city is so beautiful and inspiring that it acts as a separate inanimate character in many movies. Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris” and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s “Amelie” are just two out of many examples of the picturesque cinematographic depiction of this city. However, “Before Sunset” presents Paris from a different perspective. The city is shown as a pedestrian friendly urban space. There are few cars or heavy traffic in the movie. Jesse and Celine walk freely along the streets. Paris looks like a real heaven for those, who like long strolls at a leisurely pace.
A big city, especially the capital of a European country is traditionally perceived as a busy place cluttered with office buildings, shopping malls and complex multi-level junctions. Irrespective the generally accepted romanticism of Paris, it is a big city, wherein the number of tourists exceeds the number of residents to a large extent. Paris is virtually crowded with people in search for love and romance and these crowds of tourists are often to the prejudice of comfortable living there. Yet, “Before Sunset” incorporates a number of scenes with open space, which contribute to a different perception of the city.
Jesse and Celine ride a boat along Seine. It is the first suchlike boat ride for Celine and even a native Parisian is amazed at the beauty of the river and landscapes on the riverside. It evidences high importance of open spaces in a big city. People need a place, where concrete jungle give way to nature. Rivers, lakes, parks and squares are integral components of urban planning architects should never disregard. Le Corbusier stood at the origins of space as one of the essential components of urban planning. Although, he could not turn all of his ideas into reality, his concept of space is worth to be taken into account in regard to planning. Another example of the usage of space in Paris is the park, where Jesse and Celine take a walk.
Neighborhood gathering places in “Before Sunset” resemble a part of small and cozy French towns, where neighbors know each other since childhood, go to the church on Sunday together and run family business for centuries. Gathering places similar to the one Celine has transform a big disembodied city into a desirable place for living. A modern concept of urban planning usually leaves a city for work and entertainment, and introduces suburban areas as a place of residence. People go to work to the city and return home to the suburbs, where they can bring up their children in a safe, clean and green environment. “Before Sunset” illustrates an alternative variant, where a big city incorporates small inclusions of suburban areas. It is very convenient to have such a private neighborhood gathering place in a couple of blocks from the subway. It is a well-executed mixture of city and village life.
The combination of urban isolation and urban density is shown with the help of scenes, where the main characters appear to be alone in a big city - in the park or on the river, and scenes with many architectural elements, where Jesse and Celine are almost absorbed by a variety of coffee houses, bookshops and other buildings. Celine’s apartment is not big. Her kitchen begins in the hall and is integrated with a living room. Such lack of space is an additional detail of urban density. Rental apartments with small lodgings symbolize the general concept of accommodating more in less.
Presentation of Paris in “Before Sunset” gives a good example of a successful urban planning. Open space is combined with multi-functional urban density, and neighborhood gathering places correlate with pedestrian friendly urban neighborhoods. Urban isolation and urban density run into one another and create a piece of architectural art. Contemporary architects may use this movie as a case study of how to transform a popular crowded city into a place, where true romance will always find a place to be alone and admire natural beauty against the background of a modern city. This is a story of two people and a story of one city, which are parallel at one time and concurrent at others. Jesse and Celine are protagonists of the story. Yet, Paris seems to be as important and meaningful as Jesse and Celine.
Midnight in Paris. Dir. Woody Allen. Perf. Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams. 2011. DVD.
Fishman, R. Urban Utopias in the Twentieth Century: Ebenezer Howard, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Le Corbusier. New York: Basic Books, 1977
Amelie. Dir. Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Perf. Audrey Tautou, Mathieu Kassovitz. 2011. DVD.