Eric Rohmer’s early short film is a sweet, fresh postcard from 1960s Paris, written and narrated by American/Yugoslav exchange student Nadja Tesich who is preparing a thesis on Proust. Rohmer devotes the full 12 minutes to Nadja walking the streets of Paris, observing and connecting with its characters and surrounding herself with its ambience.
Student life in the 60s ‘golden era’ is expressed as something barely recognisable in the present day. On campus, Nadja rests in innocence and gentle muse. It’s a safe haven, a place ‘where everything I need for pleasure or work are within my reach.’ Yet, Nadja knows she must extend herself: ‘the danger is that we’re so comfortable that we don’t feel like leaving.’
So she steps out, a sponge, a doe, unprotected and committed to responding to what she sees. We see her in cafés observing Parisians doing nothing (‘I have no specific purpose, I just sit’), on the left bank watching old men smoking and reading, listening in on other people’s conversations, and having chats with people much older than herself in Montparnasse bars.
Nadja is a voice of reason: her narration is delivered with rational serenity, rather like a doctor telling you your illness is nothing to worry about, that life is beautiful and you should go out onto the street, and observe and appreciate it. After the recent attacks in Paris Nadja’s comments are even more poignant for the contemporary viewer: ‘People know I’m a foreigner, but they accept me. It’s a truly open city.’ Nothing surprises here, but that’s okay, as the film is more a reassuring ‘wave,’ and it still feels ‘new.’ Nadja à Paris reinforces all that is pleasurable in the simple things: a cup of coffee, a good conversation and the characters with which we share our cities.
Paris is Nadja’s first love and her wanderings are a solid indication of Rohmer’s interests, ones to which he remained faithful as a film-maker throughout his career: his adoration of the female voice, and its freedom to explore life without judgment. Truly meandering and a reflection of mind.
Director: Eric Rohmer (1964)