Breathless and 400 Blows were two hammer blows to the old world of film making.Although made before them, Paris Nous Appartient was released after in 1961.The film looks backwards to the paranoia of the 50s,the cold war,Fascism,Franco’s Spain, McCarthyism,world conspiracies. It shares with Breathless and 400 Blows the on-the-fly location shooting of lots of gorgeous Parisian locales like the Arc de Triomphe,the Seine,the Left Bank and a non-traditional narrative approach to its documentary-like portrait of a specific social and cultural moment in time.Anne(Betty Sneider)seems very naïve,a country girl who leads us into the labyrinth of a group of intellectuals through her brother Pierre.They sit around,full of malaise,ennui,existential despair, a bunch of arty bohemians,she in between doing her exams in literature,drawn into a vortex of mental shadows,background conspiracies, through slow tenuous movements as her naivete is stripped away,with multiple,coexisting strands,murder in the wings.
In the background there are suggestions of a world conspiracy,darker forces,the real masters rule in secret,pulling strings of the puppets we think are important.Anne is drawn to the suicide of Juan,a young Spaniard, following a discussion with his friends at the party.Taking the role in an amateur performance of Shakespeare’s Pericles, Anne uses the rehearsals to try to uncover the reason why Juan took his own life.She is looking for a missing sound tape,which creates the narrative thread.The film is crepuscular,full of noir gloom and shadow.Gerard(Esposito) thinks ‘theatre is not illusion,it’s reality’.He wants to stage Shakespeare’s play’because it’s unplayable’: ’it’s shreds,patches,yet it hangs together.It shows a chaotic but not absurd world… rather like our own,flying off in all directions,but with a purpose.’The making of the play,using different rehearsal spaces every day, is a metaphor for the film-making process,with the world itself as a stage,and the openendedness of people’s lives.
The title and Peguy’s introductory quote, “Paris belongs to those [actors] who spend the summer there preparing for the winter season.” It could also refer to the power mongers of the world, those who seek to control everything.But Rivette is also implying that the nouvelle vague directors taking film out into the streets of Paris are stealing impressions of life as it is,with imagination and improvised dialogue.Philip Kaufman(Daniel Crohem) a visiting American Pulitzer Prize author full of paranoid delusions, and Terry(Francoise Prevost),a femme fatale,who was the former lover of Juan,are the two people Anne passively pursues through suspicions provoked by their conspiratorial claims.She fears for the safety of Gerard,who she is led to believe is in danger,in the same way Juan was.She also falls in love with Gerard.The secret people know has led to their death.Gerard’s play is produced but he has to concede too much and so resigns.We are in a game played out on the streets of Paris with occultic references and karmic forces,in an unravelling noir plot from Kafka.
What makes this a great film that transcends its historical moment,reflecting contemporaneous concerns,in a way that holds up better than Godard and Truffaut is what the film reveals about Rivette’s thematic obsessions:we never get to find out how much of what we saw was a chess game with actors like pawns and whether or not the game was imagined or masking a sinister plot. There is the metaphor of theatre and performance,the stubborn resistance of Rivette’s alter-ego Gerard,(brilliant Esposito)refusing to give in to outside pressures and financiers, who want to commercialize and dumb down.The low-budget location-shooting around Paris’s less glamorous inner regions,the sense of urban space and social reality, the modern secularity of the multiple interior and exterior locations, the metaphysics of semi-deserted spaces,with Anne crossing streets, made both realistic and abstract with a post-synchronised soundtrack,and Arturys’s eerie, jarring,percussive score.All captured in brilliant b/w photography. The movie’s strength is the way it revolves around the lives of its characters,their aspirations, with Anne’s growing sense of entrapment in a maze.A pillar in the new wave’s Pantheon.