Where An Education was Shot
An Education was one of the surprise hits of 2009. An English production without any major stars, it eventually picked up three Oscar nominations, including one for best picture. Carey Mulligan (who was also nominated, as was novelist Nick Hornby who wrote the screenplay) plays an intellectually premature teenager in early 1960s (suburban) London who is wooed by a slightly older and vastly more worldly man.
Paris and, more generally, France, serve as the film’s metaphor for sophistication (in her spare time, Mulligan’s character reads Camus and listens to French chansons), and the trip to the French capital is an important milestone on her coming-of-age journey. (Not least because this is where she loses her virginity.)
But while the Parisian scenes are undoubtedly important for the narrative structure of the film, they still appear to have been patched together on a shoestring. (It’s not Hollywood, after all, and it shows.) What we are getting is loads of shots up buildings and bridges, filmed “from the waist up”, avoiding the need to dress up shop fronts and windows. All scenes were shot in places without car traffic, so there was no need to decorate the streets with expensively hired vintage cars either.
We see Mulligan and her boyfriend on the Quai de Montebello, in the shadow of Notre Dame Cathedral, and on the Square du Vert Galant (the tip of the Ile de la Cite) where they have an improvised picnic in the sunset. We also (briefly) see them dance on the Ile St Louis (the Quai d’Orleans) to the music from somebody’s battery-operated record player,that ghetto blaster of the 1960s. Altogether, no great effort appears to have been made to recreate the Paris of the 1960s.
With one exception. One scene was shot – on the upper section of the Rue Chappe stairway in Montmartre – where no expense was spared.
The scene which took 20 to 30 people almost a whole day to set up was apparently conceived like this: the camera follows a man on a bicycle, delivering a bunch of baguettes, down Rue Gabrielle before it pans past the lovingly arranged row of period cars at the bottom of the stairway and accompanies the protagonists on their way up towards the church of Sacre Coeur.
I know this because I saw how the scene was shot, literally in front of my drawing room door. Of this, only about three or four seconds (Mulligan and her friend on the stairway) eventually made it into the film. All the rest must have wound up on the cutting floor.
At least I now have an idea why major feature films, even those done on a relatively tight budget, are so expensive.