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January 21, 2021

Six in Paris

paris par vu.jpg

Paris vu par . . .
Douchet, Rouch, Pollet, Rohmer, Godard, Chabrol - 1965
Icarus Films Home Video DVD Region 1

This newly issued DVD is sourced from the 2K restoration. I do not have any information regarding the restoration, but the film, comprised of six shorts, were originally filmed in 16mm and blown up to 35mm for the theatrical release. Following the production of two short films written and directed by Eric Rohmer, producer Barbet Schroeder enlisted Rohmer and five other filmmakers to each make a short film that was loosely centered on a different section of the city. The original French title, which translates as "Paris seen by . . ." may be more indicative of how each short film is different from each other, not only in the choice of locations but in the kind of stories told. Each of the shorts is about fifteen minutes long, mostly using relatively unknown actors. The two big exceptions are Jean-Luc Godard's film which features Joanna Shimkus, just a couple years before her brief stardom in the late Sixties through 1972, and Claude Chabrol's film starring himself and then wife Stephane Audran. Those who have followed French cinema of the Nouvelle Vague will recognize several of the behind the camera credits.

What unifies the films appears to be a kind of ambivalence about Paris. This would be the feeling where "in spite of" is sometimes the same as "because of". Perhaps this is because this is the work of people who have lived in Paris for years and are not providing the tourist's "City of Lights" romantic Paris. Instead, there is an almost constant sense of claustrophobia, tiny apartments, crowded streets, a lack of privacy. Even the middle class apartment with separate rooms in Chabrol's film seems cramped with its very narrow staircase. In Rohmer's film, his protagonist can not avoid bumping into people or being bumped into while on the sidewalk or riding the metro. While some of the Paris of fifty-five years ago is still here, the films are more revealing of the filmmakers rather than the city.

The two least known filmmakers here, Jean Douchet and Jean-Daniel Pollet, both have had careers making documentaries and short films. Douchet's story is of an American student who discovers following a one night stand that her lover is not who he appears to be. Pollet has a gently comic story of a very shy, sexually inexperienced young man spending a chaste evening with an older prostitute. The documentarian, Jean Rouch, has the most serious work here, of a young married woman who walks out on her husband following a quarrel at breakfast. A chance meeting with the driver of a car that has almost hit evolves into an extended conversation about love and the choices one makes. The Rouch film is visually the most interesting, using many long takes, and with the hand-held camera following actress Nadine Ballot as she leaves her apartment, goes down an elevator and into the street on her way to work.

Eric Rohmer had yet to establish his reputation as a filmmaker at the time he made what was his third short. His haberdasher is the perpetual victim of unintended slights and small accidents that comprise a career in customer service and life in a big city. Godard's story of a young woman who thinks she sent wrong letter to the wrong lover and then tries to fix the error is slight, but it is thematically consistent with some of Godard's features with characters who end up outguessing and ultimately undermining themselves. Claude Chabrol's entry is unsurprisingly the most polished of the six. A boy gets ear plugs to block out the voices of his parents' arguments. Chabrol plays with sound with part of the film silent as the boy is in his study, cutting to the verbal jousting of the parents. The noise blocking turns out to have unintended consequences.

Especially as this is in no way the classic, romantic presentation of Paris, the more casual film viewer may wonder what the fuss is all about. The more serious cinephile will take pleasure in the renewed availability of Six in Paris, particularly in what have become early works by three filmmakers who continued working into our current century.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at January 21, 2021 07:03 AM