Paris nous appartient
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - British Film Institute
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (23rd September 2018).
The Film

"Paris nous appartient" (1961)

Anne (played by Betty Schneider) is a literature student living in Paris. Through her older brother Pierre (played by François Maistre) she meets an interesting group of people at a party. Gérard (played by Giani Esposito) is a theater director looking to stage performances of Shakespeare's tragedy "Pericles". Philip (played by Daniel Crohem) is an American prize-winning writer who left his country due to McCarthyism, having strong thoughts about corrupt and constantly monitoring governments. Terry (played by Françoise Prévost) is the femme fatale, who is currently in a relationship with Gérard and formerly the girlfriend of Philip seems to know something dealing with the mysterious figure Juan - a Spanish musician who was mysteriously died. Was it suicide? Was it murder? What had happened? What did he do? What did he know?

Anne gets caught up in the mystery of Juan and at the same time establishes relationships with various people. She joins Gérard's production of "Pericles", she listens to the seemingly paranoid yet straightforward opinions of Philip, while at the same time tracking clues including the last known place Juan was seen. But how far will she go? And is the truth really what she is looking for?

In 1957, Jacques Rivette was ready to make a feature film production. A film critic for Cahiers du Cinéma and a director of four short films plus additional work on shorts by other young independent filmmakers, Rivette was among his colleagues the one who watched the most films and knew about the most films. He would be part of the new generation of French filmmakers to emerge as part of the "French New Wave", but recognition would come at a later time than expected, as his first major work would take a lengthy time for production and release. "Paris nous appartient", or "Paris Belongs to Us" started production in 1957 with a tightly made script by Rivette. The filming consisted of whenever, wherever, and whoever was available at certain times making casting and scheduling quite difficult. Settings were made of available locations at the time, which meant there were no central locations. While there were a small cast of main characters, most of the sub characters were there for only certain periods. Help in casting did come from the friends of the director including other directors. Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Chabrol, Jacques Demy and even Rivette himself make appearances as characters in the production. It is frequently said that "Paris nous appartient" has "30 characters and 30 locations" - which is not an exaggeration nor is it accurate. Some characters are nameless (such as Juan's sister) and some characters are faceless (such as Juan). Locations may well be over 30 considering the length of the production and the many scenes of travel, as there are quite a lot of scenes with riding or walking, by car, by taxi, by train, etc. Production was mostly done in 1958, shot on 35mm with film stock that was mostly donated by fellow filmmakers.

By 1960 the French New Wave had taken the world by storm. 1958's "Le beau Serge" by Claude Chabrol was highly acclaimed. 1959's "The 400 Blows" by François Truffaut won various international awards and was even nominated for an Academy Award. 1960's "Breathless" by Jean-Luc Godard became one of the freshest and most influential films ever made. The style, the energy, the wit, and unconventional filmmaking techniques set the young French filmmakers apart from their older generation of filmmakers as well as what was coming from the rest of the world. But the one who started much before the others was still missing from the theaters. The other filmmakers tried to help with financing for Rivette to finish "Paris nous appartient" by using their new found fame to entice financiers, but Rivette was meticulous in his film's construction and production. The production took years, finally completed and screened in late 1961 - more than four years since the commencement of the production.

Running more than two and a half hours, "Paris nous appartient" was not exactly on the same scale as the other films in the early French New Wave. Dialogue was stilted compared to the freeform nature and at many time adlibbed dialogue of "The 400 Blows" or "Breathless". The spirit of youth and freedom was there, but overshadowed by political change, paranoia, and ambiguity, which were prominent feelings of the time, with the Cold War, the Algerian revolution, and the overall conservative nature of France at the time clashing with the new. Films in the early new wave were not all about highs, as "Breathless" had the unforgettable yet stylized "death" scene, "The 400 Blows" had the chilling and ambiguous last frame was very open-ended (though would culminate into sequel films years later). "Paris nous appartient" was no different, but instead the whole film could be made into a mystery with the question of "why?" being asked throughout with no concrete answers. The audience is never shown the supposed killing or suicide and never given even a glimpse at Juan as there are no flashbacks. The mystery aspect of the story will give more frustration than anything, as there sometimes are no puzzle pieces to insert. Were there no puzzle pieces in the first place and is the paranoia of the characters taking over?

As for the theater sequences of the group rehearsing "Pericles", it reflects quite a lot of the production - not in its story or plot, but how the director directs, how the crew of the production have to make ends meet with people leaving suddenly or locations for rehearsals being shifted around, these are main issues that the main production of the film faced and not only with the characters in the film. Like Shakespeare, the words are not to be changed for authenticity and Rivette felt the same with the film's dialogue. He has stated in later years that the strict dialogue is the weakest point in the film feeling unnatural and it is a bit of a weakness. Rivette worked at his own pace and with his own style, and was often not lumped in with the list of filmmakers in the French New Wave. In addition his films were not necessarily easy to watch. "The Nun" caused controversy on its release, leading to a ban. "Celine and Julie Go Boating" was over three hours long. "Out 1" was thirteen hours long and even the abridged version was over four hours. "Time" was never an issue with Rivette, and even though there were critics that championed his work, awareness of his name and work was less than his contemporaries. "Paris nous appartient" has its flaws with the narrative and execution, but the director's later known style and trademarks are certainly there.

Note this is a region B Blu-ray

Video

The BFI presents the film in the original 1.37:1 aspect ratio, in 1080p in the AVC MPEG-4 codec. The film was restored in 2K by MK2 from the original 35mm negative. The black and white transfer is a very good one but considering the source, there are some issues to be had. On the plus side, the greyscale looks well balanced, the film has been cleaned with minimal damage seen and film grain left intact. Detail in many scenes are also pinsharp, but depending on moments, things can change. There are portions that suddenly go slightly out of focus, blurs pop up, hairs suddenly caught in the gate, and slight damage marks in moments. But for the most part these shots look part of the original shooting rather than errors in post. Considering the source material, the restoration is very commendable.

The film's runtime is 141:45.

Audio

French LPCM 2.0 mono
The original French audio track is presented in uncompressed mono. As the film was basically shot without sound the post synchronized soundtrack have some moments of mouths and lips not moving in sync but for the most part since the actors were to go with the scripted dialogue, this does not become much of an issue. The bigger issue is the recording process and the track which has its flaws with some tinny sounds and low fidelity. On a positive not the track is fairly clear with no damage such as hiss or pops in the soundtrack.

There are optional English subtitles for the main feature in a white font. They are well timed, easy to read, and have no errors throughout. There are a few lines of English between Terry and Philip (with a very unconvincing American accent by his character) near the beginning of the film which have burned-in French subtitles.

Extras

Audio commentary by Adrian Martin
Film scholar Adrian Martin gives a new 2018 recorded commentary for the film, in which he talks about the production, gives scene specific anecdotes, the political climate of France at the tim,e and Rivette's methods, plus much more. He rarely has a breath to take in the lengthy runtime and yet still remains very informative and fascinating to hear.
in English LPCM 2.0 with no subtitles

"Jonathan Romney on Rivette and Paris nous appartient" featurette (17:31)
In this 2006 featurette featuring film critic Jonathan Romeny, he gives an introduction to Rivette, shares information on the production of the film and its release. This featurette was previously on the DVD edition, though it should be noted that the film clips used are newly restored and remastered versions rather than just a standard definition upscale. Romney's segments are upscaled though.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, in English LPCM 2.0 with no subtitles

"Le Coup du berger" Jacques Rivette's 1956 short film (29:00)
Also known as "The Scholar’s Mate", Rivette's fourth short film involves a young wife's intricate plan to conceal a lover's gift, but in the end gives a bit more trouble than bargained for. The picture quality is fairly good, but the audio is a little echoey and out of sync in portions.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, in French LPCM 2.0 with optional English subtitles

Stills Gallery (1:45)
An automated slideshow of behind the scenes stills of the film plus the original poster, with no narration or music accompaniment.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4

Booklet
A 32 page booklet with essays, credits, stills, and information is included. The first essay by So Mayer entitled "Well, I will go / But yet I have no desire to it: Walking in circles with Anne-Marina-La Flaneuse-Marianne-Antigone" looks at the character of Anne from the film with a few spoilers here and there. Next is "Paris nous apparient: Coming Soon", a short vintage article about the film while it was in production by Louis Marcorelles, written for Sight & Sound. "In the Picture: The BFI Award" is a short vintage article of the film's win for the Sutherland Trophy, and published in Sight & Sound. Two vintage reviews of the film are reprinted - one from Sight & Sound and one from Monthly Film Bulletin.


The film was previously released on Blu-ray in the United States by The Criterion Collection in 2016, which included the same short film but also had an exclusive interview with critic Richard Neupert.

Overall

"Paris nous appartient" being Jacques Rivette's debut feature divided critics and went fairly unnoticed by audiences in its initial run but has only grown in stature with years gone by. It certainly has its accomplished moments though the amateur quality did have its flaws in the dialogue hampered performances. It's still a fascinating look into the time period and the early method of the director's precision filmmaking techniques. The BFI gives the film a worthy upgrade with a great transfer and great extras. Very recommended.

The Film: B Video: A- Audio: B+ Extras: B Overall: B+

 


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