Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Tiny French Town Boasts Oldest Working Movie House


Cannes is easily the film festival capital of France, but it has some competition just down the Riviera. The city of La Ciotat has an even-longer cinema history but without the red carpet. Among other things, it boasts the world's oldest surviving movie theater. We're going to revisit that theater now and listen again to a report from NPR's Eleanor Beardsley that first aired a few months ago on this program.


ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: Audiences are enthusiastic when the lights go down at the Eden. This historic cinema house has been showing movies for the last 120 years, which makes it the world's oldest cinema still in operation. The Eden lies smack in the middle of the tiny town of La Ciotat and in front of the Mediterranean Sea. As the story goes, one half of La Ciotat met the other half on its velvet benches. Municipal employee Thierry Mabily says he's a pure product of the Eden. We sneak inside the cinema while a movie's playing so he can show me why.

THIERRY MABILY: (Through interpreter) It was right here on the second-floor balcony near that last pillar there that my mother met my father. The year was 1956, and the film playing was "The Four White Feathers."

BEARDSLEY: La Ciotat is also the setting for some of the very first moving pictures recording by the pioneering Lumiere brothers on their invention, the cinematograph. Building on advances of the day by other inventors such as Thomas Edison, the Lumiere brothers patented their cinematograph, the first portable motion-picture camera and projector.

GILLES TRARIEUX LUMIERE: My name is Gilles Trarieux Lumiere, and Louis Lumiere was my great-grandfather. (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: Trarieux says the Lumiere family built a large mansion in La Ciotat when the brothers' father, Antoine, a successful photographer from Lyon, visited and fell in love with the Mediterranean light and color. One of the very first moving pictures, "Arrival Of The Train In La Ciotat," is said to have astounded Parisians when they saw it in 1895 - great-grandson Trarieux Lumiere.

LUMIERE: (Through interpreter) That's the film of my grandmother coming on vacation. Louis Lumiere took his camera, went on the platform and filmed his daughter arriving on the train.

BEARDSLEY: The Lumiere brothers sent photographers carrying their cinematographs across the globe to record scenes of daily life. They were the first to project their films to audiences in rooms that became known as cinemas.


BEARDSLEY: The Screenings generated widespread excitement around the new technology. During its heyday and before television, the Eden played to packed houses. By the 1990s, it had fallen into disrepair and closed. The cinema was nearly demolished. Jean-Louis Tixier led the committee that raised funds to save the Eden.


JEAN-LOUIS TIXIER: (Through interpreter) Cinema should not be watched at home on a TV screen. Cinema is about people breathing and having emotions together. Cinema is a collective human experience.


BEARDSLEY: Today, the Eden's programming evokes the Lumiere brother's spirit of exploration and sharing.


BEARDSLEY: An enthusiastic Cesaria Granier has come with her mother to watch a documentary about a young man who sails to France from the Bay of Bengal on a sailboat that is its own ecosystem.

GRANIER: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: "We don't usually see films like this," says the 12-year-old. "It makes you realize, with ideas and the will, you can do anything." Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, La Ciotat. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.