Paris vu Par: Godard gathers up his friends to show us Paris.

With all my cinematic meanderings my inner boomerang (it’s an Aussie thing) will always bring me back to my beloved French New Wave.  Despite my passion for Bergman and my adoration of the Czech New Wave, Godard ‘does it for me’ in every conceivable way.  He is the right balance of all things a film should be, entertaining, stimulating with just a dash of pushing me over the edge. He’s my favourite director because there is a place deep inside of me that vibrates at his touch – a yawp that answers his call.

This isn’t a great film by any definition of that term, but it does have the hall marks of the French New Wave plastered all over it. Entertaining, interesting plot lines with petit twists to excite the intellect, muted color to enhance subtlety and that all important trust in the view who they greatly respect.

Paris Vu Par is Six in Paris. That is what this is, an omnibus films. Six small films by the best directors in France at the time, overseen all the way by Godard himself.  The line up is:

“La Muette” Directed by Claude Chabrol

A wonderful short film staring Chabrol himself as a very oily very sleazy husband.
The boy’s parents argue so much is unleashes pent-up rage in the boy. As an attempt to escape, he fills his ears with ear plugs that drown out all noise.  On a particularly bad morning, his parents are fighting and he is missing it. His mother falls down the stairs as soon as her husband leaves. She breaks her back and starts to die a slow death. The boy who is oblivious, leaves the house by another door as his mother dies at the base of the stairs.

“Saint-Germain-des-Prés” Directed by Jean Douchet

Jean wakes up one morning and wonders how he is to get rid of the young American, Katherine, he has invited back to his apartment.  Katherine soon gets the message and walks out in a huff when Jean tells her he has to fly off to Mexico in an hour’s time.  Katherine can hardly believe her eyes when, a short time later, she finds Jean modelling for a class of art students.  She allows another young man to take her back to his apartment – and is surprised to find herself back in the same room where she spent the night with Jean…

“Montparnasse-Levallois” Directed by Jean-Luc Godard

Monica sends a letter to each of her two lovers – one a sculptor in metal, the other a car mechanic.  Thinking she has mixed up the two letters, she visits the two men and tries to work her charms on them – but she only makes matters worse when the first throws her out for being a whore and the second reveals (after her confessions) that she didn’t mix the letters up at all.
This was the story Jean-Paul Belmondo tells Anna Karina in the Godard film A Woman Is A Woman (Une femme est une femme, 1961).

“Rue Saint-Denis” Directed by Jean-Daniel Pollet

Léon, a timid dishwasher in a restaurant, invites a middle-aged prostitute back to his cramped lodgings.  This being his first time with a woman, he is uncertain what to do – to the amusement of the prostitute…

“Place de l’Etoile” Directed by Eric Rohmer

Jean-Marc makes his living selling expensive shirts near to the Place de l’étoile.  One day, whilst on his way to work, he gets into an argument with a stranger, which ends with the latter collapsing when Jean-Marc hits him with his umbrella.  Convinced he has killed the man, Jean-Marc flees and spends an anxious few days, waiting for the death of the stranger to be reported in the newspapers…

“Gare du Nord” Directed by Jean Rouch

Over breakfast one morning, Odile and Jean-Pierre, a young married couple, come to blows.  Odile is fed up with the noise from the nearby building site but Jean-Pierre is unwilling to move until his career prospects have improved.  Odile is ready to walk out on Jean-Pierre when, on her way to work, a strange man accosts her.  The stranger offers to take her away, to share with her a life of adventure, romance and passion.  Odile is tempted – but refuses, with disastrous consequences…

 

By the mid-1960s, there were signs that the French New Wave had all but run its course.  Its leading lights – François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Jacques Rivette and Claude Chabrol, had each suffered major box office failures in the preceding years and it looked as if their innovative approach to filmmaking had exhausted its novelty value.  Producer Barbet Schroeder conceived Paris vu par… as a means of promoting, if not re-launching, the French New Wave, at a time when La Nouvelle Vague was beginning to look distinctly passée.

 


Schroeder’s instinct was (as was the case many times in his career as a director and independent film producer) proven to be correct.  Paris vu par… all set in different parts of Paris, beautifully evokes the sense of the French New Wave from six different perspectives. It gives us the caustic anti-bourgeois humor of Chabrol, the quirky anarchy and misogyny of Godard, a witty moral tale from Rohmer, and three engaging short films from some lesser known but nonetheless influential figures of the French New Wave: Jean Douchet, Jean-Daniel Pollet and Jean Rouch.

The six film are different in style, but still form a coherent whole representing a style of cinema that is genuinely timeless and just as engaging to witness today as it was in the 60’s. Each film accurately represents its director as well as a different aspect of Paris. The first film – directed by Jean Douchet – is closest to what most people would recognise as a Nouvelle Vague film: an ironic and witty portrait of young love in the Latin Quarter, home to the city’s Sartre-quoting, Galloise-smoking intelligentsia.  This is probably the best of the six films, although Chabrol’s offering (in which the director appears alongside his then wife, Stéphane Audran, looking like the married couple from Hell) is the most memorable, if only for its dark humor and a death scene which is simultaneously shocking and hilarious.
It would be pushing it to say that Paris vu par… single-handedly reversed the declining fortunes of the French New Wave.  However, it is true that in the years following the making of this film, all of the major Nouvelle Vague directors discovered a new lease of life and would continue to have a major impact on French cinema.

Advertisements