Paris vu par Review
Eric Rohmer (1920-2010)
Eric Rohmer died on 11 January at the age of 89. The first review I ever wrote for this site, back in February 2000, was one of Fox Lorber's DVD of Chloe in the Afternoon and it's fair to say that he is the director whose work I have reviewed more comprehensively than any other. My reviews can be found in four groupings, one each for his three series, the Moral Tales, the Comedies and Proverbs, the Tales of the Four Seasons and one for his other films. There have been many tributes to this writer-director whom I consider of the greats of our time. Mine will be to review all the films of his that I have not reviewed before which are available on DVD in the UK or the USA. These are: Die Marquise von O, Perceval, Pauline at the Beach, Full Moon in Paris, The Lady and the Duke (which I reviewed on its cinema release but will be revisiting eight years later on DVD), and Artificial Eye's new release of Rohmer's sketch film Rendezvous in Paris, due out on 10 May. This only leaves Rohmer's other sketch film, 4 Adventures of Reinette and Mirabelle, which Artificial Eye previously released in the cinema and on VHS, but so far not on DVD. Two other films, The Tree, the Mayor and the Mediatheque and the TV film Catherine de Heilbronn, are available in France but to the best of my knowledge have no subtitles, not even French ones, which is the main reason why they are the two Rohmer features I have not yet seen. But I start with the six-director sketch film, Paris vu par.
Paris vu par
Paris vu par (released in the USA as 6 in Paris) is a portmanteau film, made up of six sketches filmed by six directors, each set in a different part of Paris (hence the title). In “Saint-Germaine-des-Prés” (directed by Jean Douchet), Katherine, a young American woman (Barbara Wilkin), and her lover Jean (Jean-François Chappey) spend a night together, though their expectations are different...he's in a hurry to get away to catch a flight. “Gare du Nord” (Jean Rouch): Odile (Nadine Ballot) argues with her husband Jean-Pierre (Barbet Schroeder) and walks out. In the street she meets a man (Gilles Quéant) who wants her to go away with him. “Rue Saint Denis” (Jean-Daniel Pollet) is a comic sketch about a prostitute (Micheline Dax) who goes home with a client, a dishwasher called Léon (Claude Melki). “Place de l'Etoile” (Eric Rohmer): a salesman (Jean-Michel Rouzière) believes he has killed a man with his umbrella. “Montparnasse et Levallois” (Jean-Luc Godard): Monica (Joanna Shimkus) sends letters to two lovers and thinks she has mixed them up. Finally, in “La Muette” (Claude Chabrol), a boy (Gilles Chusseau) tries to escape his constantly bickering parents (played by Chabrol and his then wife Stéphane Audran).
The film was originated and produced by Barbet Schroeder, shot quickly and cheaply (no-one took a fee) in Paris in 16mm, later blown up to 35mm for cinema release. As with any sketch film, the film is very uneven, with “Rue Saint Denis” the funniest. “Gare du Nord” is the most virtuosic, veteran documentary director Jean Rouch (the oldest of the six, forty-eight at the time), shooting the entire story in just three shots, the middle one being an unbroken handheld shot of over fifteen minutes. (There may be a disguised cut in the lift when the screen goes black. The DVD certainly has a chapter stop here.) This may be one of the longest takes in the pre-digital era in a commercial feature film, and would only have been possible in 16mm as 10 minutes is the maximum length of a reel of 35mm.
Rohmer's sketch is uncharacteristic, more in the style of Hitchcock (he had cowritten a book on the Master of Suspense with Chabrol) than that of his own later work. At forty-four, he was the second-oldest director on the project. Prior to this he had made several shorts, including the first two Moral Tales, and one feature, The Sign of Leo (1959).
A key name on the credits is that of Nestor Almendros, who shot all of Douchet's sketch and completed Rohmer's, as well as working on others. According to his book, A Man with a Camera, he had no work permit so could work for nothing, but had to have his name left off the credits. (That may have been changed later, as he is certainly credited in the version on this DVD.) He was critical of the use of 16mm, which was primarily a New Wave-style gesture towards spontaneity and verité, but was in fact less flexible than 35mm would have been. (The 16mm stock used was less sensitive, so extra lighting had to be used to compensate.) Almendros continued what would be a long association with Rohmer two years later, with Rohmer's second feature, the third Moral Tale, La collectionneuse. Another interesting name in the credits is that of the celebrated American documentarian Albert Maysles, who operated the camera for Godard's sketch.
Paris vu par is released by Artificial Eye on a dual-layered DVD encoded for all regions.
The DVD transfer is 4:3, faithful to the original Academy ratio of this film. As mentioned above, Paris vu par was shot in 16mm Ektachrome, and the grainy, rather overlit results are inevitable given the conditions the film was made in. The materials from which this DVD was transferred have undoubtedly faded a little, as pinkish tones are noticeable in some sequences.
The soundtrack is the original mono. As the film was recorded with direct sound, it's inevitable that it may sound a little rough and unpolished, though the dialogue is always clear. In any case, subtitles are available for non- French speakers.
The only extras are some trailers for other Artificial Eye releases: Three Colours: Blue, Three Colours: White, Three Colours: Red, Under the Sand and The Beat That My Heart Skipped.
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