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Iconic Paris cinema shuts in sign of Champs-Elysees decline

The last screening on Wednesday night was 'La La Land' with Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling
The last screening on Wednesday night was 'La La Land' with Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling - Copyright AFP Sami KARAALI
The last screening on Wednesday night was 'La La Land' with Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling - Copyright AFP Sami KARAALI

The iconic UGC Normandie cinema on the Champs-Elysees in Paris closed its doors Thursday after 90 years — with critics seeing another sign of tourism and fashion sucking the life from one of the world’s most famous shopping boulevards.

Once a preferred spot for gala premieres, the UGC Normandie was one of several grand cinemas on the Champs-Elysees that made the area a hub for film buffs in the 1960s and 70s. 

But the street long ago lost its cool among Parisians, becoming increasingly dominated by flagship fashion stores and tourists taking snaps of the Arc de Triomphe. 

The UGC cinema chain said it faced a “very sharp increase in rent” at the location, which is owned by the Qatari royal family.

Two other famed cinemas on the boulevard, the George V and Gaumont Marignan, have closed since 2020.

“The cinema is disappearing in somewhat terrible circumstances for the whole culture,” said a former employee, 22-year-old Yann Raffin, adding that he feels both “sadness” and “anger”.

“This avenue is transforming into an avenue reserved for the ultra-rich,” he told AFP.

The last screening on Wednesday night was “La La Land” with Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, a fitting tribute to Hollywood musicals of a bygone era. 

Its director, Damien Chazelle, appeared on screen with a special message for the sold-out crowd.

“This room was an extension of my own life, it was a friend and an ally,” said Mehdi Omais, 40, a film journalist, visibly moved. 

“It’s heartbreaking to see it close and to see this avenue becoming a cemetery of cinemas.” 

An auction of the chairs and decor was due on Thursday, including the huge letters on the outside, with proceeds going to a charity that organises screenings for hospitalised children. 

Paris remains a film-going hotspot and still has more cinemas per head than anywhere in the world, with swanky new theatres opening elsewhere in the city. 

They include a state-of-the-art Pathe cinema near the Opera Garnier, designed by architect Renzo Piano who created the Pompidou Centre and The Shard in London. 

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With 2,400 staff representing 100 different nationalities, AFP covers the world as a leading global news agency. AFP provides fast, comprehensive and verified coverage of the issues affecting our daily lives.

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