Criterion Collection · Drama · France

#802 Paris Belongs to Us (1961)

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#802 Paris Belongs to Us

1961 // France // Jacques Rivette

Criterion Release Date: 8 Mar 2016 (LINK)

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The female investigator Anne

Jacques Rivette was the last French New Wave director that I came across, largely attributed to the unavailability of his majority of works in physical media and their daunting epic running time. Watching Rivette’s Out 1: noli met tangere (1971) is like climbing the Mount Everest insofar as its daring 13-hour length is concerned. Despite a larger exposure to Rivette’s oeuvre in recent years, personally I could only express my appreciation more than fondness. Frankly, the one and only one Rivette film that I truly enjoy is Celine and Julie Go Boating (1974). I still hold this statement after I watched Paris Belongs to Us, Rivette’s debut feature, for the first time, coincidentally on the same day of Rivette’s birthday.

Famously known for its stalled production and distribution for three years, led to a release date later than the films by Rivette’s companion in Cahiers du Cinéma, like François Truffaut’s The 400 Blows (1959) and Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless (1960), Paris Belongs to Us may have miss the opportunity for a larger popularity. Nonetheless, Paris Belongs to Us is a perfect starting point which comprised of tones and themes that continue throughout Rivette’s future works. The rehearsal of theater play, secret group of conspiracy, citations from literature or cinema, Paris Belongs to Us is also a perfect entry point for who are unfamiliar with his works.

PARISNOUSAPPARTIENT_STILLS_ 10.tif
Play at the background

The narrative thread is mainly the investigation of a college student Anne (Betty Schneider) on the mysterious circumstance upon the suicide of a Spanish composer Juan, and the search of Juan’s missing music tape for a rehearsing Shakespeare play. Anne’s encounter with Juan’s companion in a bourgeois gathering seems to be a fateful one, including Gérard (Giani Esposito), the director of the Shakespeare’s play, Philip (Daniel Crohem), an American political exile in the McCarthy era, and Terry (Françoise Prévost), a former acquaintance of Juan. All the main characters are introduced in the first 15 minutes but the narrative thread only comes to the clearer foreground much later.

Somehow Juan’s music tape looks like a “MacGuffin”, it serves as an anchorage for a much loosely based conspiracy theory in the overall narrative, foretelling the later paranoid films in Hollywood. As long as the obsession of Anne in finding the truth propelled the story forward, I’m intrigued. Juan, arguably the most important character in the film, is a phantom-like existence haunting our protagonist and his acquaintances, much like the invisible political ambiance in that era, the fascist Franco regime in Spain, the leftist in France, and the rattling tension of the Cold War. Paris Belongs to Us is not only a film capturing the city geographically, it also rendered a timeless portrait of the zeitgeist of the late 1950s.

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Godard in a Cafe

Charles L. Bitsch’s cinematography implicitly captured the various location in France, both interior and exterior. The open area in the park or the warehouse for the rehearsal of the Sheakspear play, street side cafes or boulevard, as well as the countryside in the ending, Paris was a stage in regard to Rivette’s cinema as much as Gérard’s play. The ongoing struggle in finding places for rehearsal or actors and actresses to stay was self-reflective as Rivette’s own endeavor in finishing the film. As many other Rivette films, the film itself is an critical essay of cinema itself, and an exploration of the interplay between theatre and cinema. The self-indulgence in the language of cinema may sound more interesting that the film itself, as my other encounters with Rivette’s films, I find it nearly impossible to connect emotionally and intellectually. One day, perhaps, I would be able to synchronize with Rivette’s rhyme and learn to stop worrying and love the bomb Rivette wholeheartedly.

Film rating: 3.5/5
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