Paris Belongs to Us

1961 [FRENCH]

Drama / Mystery / Thriller

IMDb Rating 6.8 10 2237

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Jean-Luc Godard as Un homme à la terrasse
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2 hr 22 min
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Movie Reviews

Reviewed by OldAle1 10 / 10

Paranoia, Pericles, and a mysterious Paris at the beginnings of the House of Fiction

A few critics, noting Rivette's general lack of recognition in comparison with Truffaut, Godard, Rohmer and Chabrol, have wondered if his "late start" might have had anything to do with it; this film didn't have its American release until 1962 or a British premiere until 1964 by which point the New Wave was already a well-established "movement" in people's minds and this long 16mm talk-fest about conspiracies and theater must have looked weird and out of place even compared to the experimentation of Godard.

I'm not so sure. Rivette's films have usually been hermetic worlds unto themselves, most readily relatable to each other and to the worlds of theater and other movies - apart from "La Religieuse" all of Rivette's work over his first 30 years of feature-making seem to inhabit what has been called his "House of Fiction", an area just a little off from the real world and one in which obsession, madness, and duration (at 140 minutes "Paris" is one of his shortest films) rule. Also his focus on the lives and romances of women and the near-exclusion of the kinds of macho American gangster-influenced characters that inhabit many of Godard's and Truffaut's early films wouldn't be likely to endear him to wider audiences. Interestingly enough, Rivette is just as obsessed with Americana as his contemporaries, and in fact the first words spoken in this film are in English, haltingly read aloud by a young woman in a tiny and somewhat decrepit apartment in Paris.

Before this, as the credits roll, we see Paris, a grimy, silent and derelict-looking 19th-century city of endless 5 to 7 story apartments and wide but empty streets; our first view is from an unseen train, accompanied by eerie music heavy on wailing strings and percussion (by Phillippe Arthuys - the soundtrack is spare but frightening and beautiful throughout). A title, "June 1957" and we enter the world of Anne, our young reader, and her contemporaries, a lost and unfocused group of intellectuals, bohemians, actors and writers. Anne hears crying and screaming from an apartment next door - the young woman within seems both upset (in tears) and ecstatic - she know's Anne's brother, Pierre, who apparently is in danger from somewhere, something, somewhat - it is unclear - the same danger that "murdered" Juan, and before him Assunta. She has the look of excited madness as she claims that the whole world, in fact, is in danger. Anne is confused; she meets Pierre at a café, and he shrugs it off.

Next we find Anne and Pierre both at a party, lots of mostly young intellectuals squeezed into another tiny apartment - a man plays guitar and the conversation revolves around this same Juan (who was also a guitarist, and composer), only it appears that he committed suicide -- or did he? We are also introduced to Philip Kaufman, apparently a famous American writer though he seems destitute and unhinged here. There are cameos by the director and Claude Chabrol, and the talk is charged and political, but direction-less. Snatches of conversation, withheld glances bespeak something going on, conspiracies and traitors and some evil that hangs over everyone...eventually Anne accompanies Philip on a long walk (filmed very much like a scene out of a hard-edged American noir) where he expounds on his own conspiracy theories. Everything it seems revolves around this Juan, and when Anne falls in with a troupe of actors rehearsing a seemingly impossible adaptation of Shakespeare's Pericles she finds out that the music to it was by Juan, but it is apparently lost.

Gerard, the play's director, soon casts Anne as a replacement for one of his many departing actors; there is much made of people leaving and disappearing throughout the film, often for unsaid or unknown reasons. Anne and Gerard become romantically entwined also, but like most romances in the film it is ephemeral and unpredictable, and both have other entanglements. Eventually Anne takes it upon herself to find a tape of this music, which becomes the driving force of the latter half of the film, if this portrait of half-truths and romantic obsessions with dark powers and political intrigues can be said to have a real plot at all. It's a red herring, of course, much like the Maltese falcon, another homage to or parallel with the world of noir - in fact psychologically, if not plot-wise, this may be the most noirish of all the early New Wave films.

I first saw Paris probably 15 years ago in the crappy old cut version available on VHS in the USA and this was my first re-watch, in the fine recent release from the BFI on Region 2 DVD. It's fascinating to return to it again after having seen nearly all of the director's subsequent work and to find that nearly all of his great themes and interests are present in this first feature made 50 years ago: complex romantic tangles, obsessions with conspiracies that may or may not exist, the city as playground, female friendships, theater - nearly all of Rivette's life's work can be found in nascent form here. One marked difference from everything that comes after is in the soundtrack, post-synchronized here, and this is rather unnerving when one is used to the direct sound that the director has mastered. Yet it works in Paris, the lack of street noises and the focus on individual voices and the eerie soundtrack music contributing to a view of the city as nightmarish, a place of loners and loneliness, of the permanent outsiders, of madness in the face of an obscure modern world. The last scene, as Anne's gaze wanders off following birds flying across the water, is emblematic too of this cryptic loner. Nothing is truly revealed, and more questions remain than were ever answered.

A masterpiece, and for my money every bit as important as any of the other films from the dawn of the New Wave.

Reviewed by olethrosdc 8 / 10

Interesting, some minor flaws

This is an unusual film. It revolves around a group of characters that are slightly connected to each other through their artistic tendencies and/or political beliefs. The group is presented well - it is quite realistic, even though it is so colourful. This is perhaps because the criteria for being part of the group are so 'normal'. Friends, people with similar interests.. acquaintance networks - this is something that is presented very well in the film.

A sinister undercurent pervades the whole movie: a background plot that is never revealed, or shown directly - it is something that the characters speak to each other about and make reference to. While in other movies the conspiracy plot would have been the central theme, here it is pushed into the background, delegated to a simple object of discussion - the movie instead revolves around the lives of the characters and in particular, the protagonist's, from whose point of view the situation is seen. By bringing the focus onto the characters and their daily lives, illusions and aspirations, the movie manages to to breathe fresh life into what would have otherwise been just another conspiracy film.

A few technical things: The acting is not very consistent. The parisian scenes were very good and the photography was aesthetically pleasing. The music enhanced the atmosphere significantly, though some of its psychedelic overtowns were a bit overpowering at points (making the dialogue hard to follow - if the intention was to transfer the confusion/paranoia to the viewer, it was appropriate, however).

It's not a masterpiece, but it is definitely interesting and worth watching at least once.

Reviewed by rooprect 7 / 10

Surprising blend of New Wave and classical literature

I suppose that's a bit of an oxymoron: to blend New Wave and classical literature. After all, New Wave is the cinematic movement that prided itself with trashing the standard literary formula. I equate New Wave to free-form jazz which trashed the standard classical music structure in favour of expression & improv.

Well I'm not a big fan of New Wave (or free-form jazz), so it was rather begrudgingly that I watched this film. Surely enough, it begain in a sort of expressionistic delirium, prompting me to say, "oh great. here we go again. haiku anyone?" But suddenly it reins in, and a very lucid story materializes out of the haze. I was pleasantly surprised. There are many compelling allusions--if not outright parallels--with the classic play "Pericles, Prince of Tyre" as well as Molière and Goethe. This means that the film adopts a certain bit of structure, which is highly unusual for New Wave. I found it very refreshing. With philosophical overtones of Sartre and Camus as well, it's by far the most head-scratching, beard-stroking New Wave film I've seen, and it's not just existentialistic babble either (although there is a hefty share of existentialism).

Its biggest flaw, however, is that it seems to attacks too many themes at once, and in so doing, it dilutes the power it could have had. There's only so much that can be packed into a film, even if it is 140 mins. As a few other reviewers have pointed out, the ideas presented are truncated. Mere fragments. The director intended this, as we see in a dialogue where two characters discuss how the play Pericles is a very fragmented tale which comes together only at the end. HOWEVER, in the case of "Paris nous appartient", it doesn't seem to come together. Whether this was deliberate irony on the director's part or whether it was just poor execution, I can't say. But either way it left me unfulfilled.

It is possible that I missed something. Perhaps I should see it a 2nd time, but unfortunately it falls just shy of the good-enough-to-see-a-2nd-time mark. I did enjoy it, and I'm glad I watched it, but I probably wouldn't care to see it again.

If you see this movie and agree with what I've written, then I think you'll enjoy the film "Orphée" (1950).

Oh, and just a word about the music in this film (since I've already made the analogy of jazz), it's... well... wacky. It's really the equivalent of jazz improv except with symphonic instruments. At times it fits the absurdity of the moment perfectly. But at other times, especially during the dialogue, it can be a bit distracting. I kept wondering to myself how much better it would have been with just a single brooding piano instead of the experimental orchestra noises. But music is entirely a personal taste, so you may enjoy it.

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