Where Taken was Shot
It makes for good PR if a city can boast that it has provided the backdrop for a major feature film and the tourism office hacks can use that fact in their brochures. And they rarely fail to do so.
The possible exception to this rule is the movie Taken.
What this movie tells its audience can be roughly summed up as follows: Here’s the deal – You send your daughters to Paris and they will be drugged and raped, sold into prostitution, and possibly killed, without the French police batting as much as an eyelid. Actually, the city’s coppers are even in on it and share in the proceeds. Now, form an orderly queue, please. There is room enough for everybody.
Welcome to the City of Lights!
Maybe the shame which the – largely – French crew must have felt about this storyline explains why Paris is shot in such a strange, understated way. The exteriors never give you a feeling for any particular Parisian area or street.
Neither are there lush establishing shots of the type that you find in nearly every other American movie about Paris. Instead, the houses are always shot in isolation and zoomed close-ups, as though they were all protagonists in a 1960s spaghetti western.
Nevertheless, you can spot a few major Parisian landmarks along the way, proof that the film was actually shot on location rather than with the help of some cut-price Eastern European body double.
The Eiffel Tower puts in a cameo appearance behind the house in which the two American girls are “taken“ (on 9, Avenue d’Eylau, nearest metro Trocadero).
And when Liam Neeson meets his policeman friend (in front of the legendary Fouquet’s bar on the Champs Elysees), the Arc de Triomphe at the end of the street provides a little local atmosphere.
“The house” where the American girls are drugged and trained by their Albanian captors is located on no. 5, rue de Paradis, in the 10th arrondissement near the Gare de l’Est , not at all the type of “Southern Bronx” neighbourhood the film appears to suggest but in reality is one of the most interesting and lively quartiers of the capital. (If you go there, do explore the adjacent Rue du Faubourg Saint Denis with its wonderful mix of Mauritian, Kurdish and North African delis and cake shops.)
Action scenes in Paris are always a problem these days. The city administration has become very blasé and reluctant to grant anything more than a one-day permit for a daytime shoot – as even Stephen Spielberg had to find out for Munich.
Taken’s action sequences are consequently shot either indoors or on sites such as the rubbish dump where Liam Neeson eradicates half of the male Albanian population – with two exceptions.
Firstly, there is the scene where Liam Neeson leads the French police on a wild goose chase by connecting two mobile phones together in such a way that the police trace him down to the restaurant l’Auxerrois on 13, (behind the Samaritaine department store, nearest metro: Pont Neuf) while he is actually standing on top of the church Saint Germain l’Auxerrois across the road. (He is taking the phone call from his policeman “friend” who is sitting on a bench in the Square du Vert Galant, the very tip of the Ile de la Cité).
That scene was tightly edited to give it some pace. But, if you think about it, the film actually contains not much “action” in the common cinematic sense – apart from one shot where the police cars take a screeching-tyre turn from the rue de l’Arbre into rue des Pretres Saint Germain l’Auxerrois.
There is a bit more to see in the film’s culminating action sequence, a wild car chase down the quais – the freeway-like road by the banks of the Seine – during which Liam Neeson jumps off the Pont des Arts into a Bateau-Mouche-style pleasure boat (to thwart “pleasures” of a kind that are not normally offered on board, at least not as part of the standard 10-Euro-a-head tourist ride).
But even here, in its signature action scene, Taken finds it hard to shake off its restraints: the pacy editing that needs to substitute for more elaborate stunts ensures – in combination with the effects of a night shoot – that the city’s skyline is condensed into a string of blurry lights. Taken’s Paris, here as in the scenes before, never really comes to life.