A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Paris Belongs to Us (Jacques Rivette, 1961)

Betty Schneider and Giani Esposito in Paris Belongs to Us
Anne Goupil: Betty Schneider
Gérard Lenz: Giani Esposito
Terry Yordan: Françoise Prévost
Philip Kaufman: Daniel Crohem
Pierre Goupil: François Maistre
Jean-Marc: Jean-Claude Brialy
De Georges: Jean-Marie Robain

Director: Jacques Rivette
Screenplay: Jacques Rivette, Jean Gruault
Cinematography: Charles L. Bitsch
Film editing: Denise de Casabianca
Music: Philippe Arthuis

Paris belongs to the French, which is one of the problems Francophobes have with it. And there's much for them to find problems with in Jacques Rivette's first feature, one of the key works of the French New Wave. Even I found myself squirming at the gallery of poseurs present at the party near the beginning of the film. But then I realized that the film is a kind of critique of poseurs: Everyone plays a role, it seems to be saying, and everyone tries to bend the narrative in their direction. The narrative of Paris Belongs to Us is a deconstruction of the political paranoia thriller: Its characters are caught up on a vast international right-wing conspiracy that may or may not exist. The idea that it does exist seems to be supported by the fact that several of its characters are exiles from Franco's Spain and Joe McCarthy's America, and the fact that some of them end up dead. The idea that it exists only in the minds of the characters seems to be supported by the fact that none of these anxious artists and intellectuals ever manages to accomplish anything: They're paralyzed by their own paranoia and egotism, or rather, like Lewis Carroll's Red Queen, they're running fast to stay in the same place. Rivette admired Lewis Carroll, so we can see his protagonist, Anne Goupil, as Alice in the Parisian pays des merveilles. She falls into the chaos of a production of Shakespeare's Pericles, a mess of a play that he probably wrote only half of, directed by Gérard Lenz, who is somehow ensnared in the political mesh that claimed the life of a composer named Juan, who had taped a guitar piece as accompaniment for the production. But after his suicide (if it was one) the tape has disappeared. Anne takes on the job of finding the tape, which leads her deeper into the mesh and into encounters with more strange characters. In the conclusion, nothing is concluded except the lives of several people, and the viewers are left wondering, "What was all that about?" Which is exactly what Rivette wants them to wonder. The film is like life: full of loose ends.

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