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Paris nous appartient (1961) Blu-ray Review


BFI have re-released Jacques Rivette’s Paris nous appartient (1961), this time on Blu-ray. The film opens with the view through a train window as it passes through the Paris suburbs before eventually arriving at Gare d’Austerlitz, one of Paris’s main railway stations in the 13th arrondissement in South East Paris. The plot of the film, for want of a better term, has Anne, a young undergraduate student arriving in Paris and attending a rather heated party with a group of friends arguing among themselves following the suicide of Juan, a friend. Anne, with a modern haircut and looking every bit the archetype we expect a 1960s Parisian student to look like is played by Betty Schneider, an actress who played in only a handful of films and retired shortly after this one. She befriends many of the people at the party, some of whom are selfish and coquettish young people, including a young American writer, Philip (Daniel Crohem). This is the irony of the film’s title. Nearly all these people come from somewhere else. The title, Paris nous appartient translates into English as Paris Belongs To Us, making a fairly bold statement about how these young people have claimed Paris as there own city and it is them that bring new life to the city. Or does it refer to the nouvelle vague (New Wave) of French film directors who made and appear in this film and set the French film industry in a new direction? More on this later.

Anne, curious and bored gets involved in these peoples lives, including Terry (Françoise Prévost) who has slept with most of the men and Gérard (Giani Esposito) who is directing an adaptation of Shakespeare’s ‘Pericles’ at various rehearsal locations around the city. There are no stars in this film and it is Paris itself that is the real star. Rivette was one of the key directors of the French New Wave, although he is not held up in the same esteem as Jean-Luc Godard (who appears in one scene as an intellectual in a St, Germain cafe) or François Truffaut. Prior to Paris nous appartient, Truffaut had made Les Quatre Cent Coups (1959) and Godard A Bout de Souffle (Breathless) (1960), two other films in which the city of Paris is very central. His later films, such as Céline and Julie Go Boating (1977) are typical of the director and is one that is more closer related to Paris nous appartient while other films in his career are quite eclectic. Like Céline and Julie (also recently re-released by BFI), Paris nous appartient is a long film at a 141 minutes. But his films have some of the similar and familiar style with fast editing, references to cinema and popular culture and arty camera angles associated with French New Wave.

In many ways this film seems to anticipate the 1968 Paris student riots and seems to be caught between the Existentialism of French literature with the ennui of the film’s characters and the revolutionary spirit of ’68. The film is filled with scenes on Paris streets, real Paris apartments, theaters, both open air and indoor and of course the cafes. One of the key and most iconic shots of the film has one of the characters walking on a familiar lead Paris roof overlooking the Théâtre de Châtelet.

If the film feels disjointed, it probably because it is a little. When money was available, Rivette shot the film over 3 years, dependent on the availability of the cast and filming reels of street scenes. Over this the director has added a rather avant-garde jazz score, with sometimes only the sound of traffic and heeled footsteps over the cobbled streets, giving an added inexplicable tension to the proceedings. It has a unsettling and unexplained Cold War and even neo-fascist explanation of murder towards the end of the film. To the casual viewer the film might appear dull and boring, but for those who enjoy ye olde Paris, the film is enticing and will draw the viewer in. I for one was tempted to buy a Eurostar ticket and go and explore the locations of the film.

Extras on the disc include a fascinating study of the film by writer and critic Jonathan Romney and a short by Rivette, Le coup de Berger (1956).

Chris Hick


Chris Hick