Wide spaces and open ideas connect with paranoia and penned-in desire in Jacques Rivette’s first feature, the title of which is inspired by Charles Péguy’s reflection that Paris belongs to those who spend the summer there preparing for the winter season.
Filmed in 1961 and in black in white the story, reflective of the Cold War period, is seen through the eyes of Anne (Betty Schneider), a gentle student, who is in Paris for the summer. She joins a peculiar and compelling group of her brother’s friends: there’s Philip (Daniel Crohem), an American running from McCarthyism, Terry (Françoise Prévost), a femme-fatale and Gerard (Giani Esposito), a theatre director (rehearsing Shakespeare’s Pericles) and the mysterious Juan, a Spanish activist whom the group believe has committed suicide. Philip is convinced Gerard will do the same and so Anne, in good nature, decides to join the theatre group in an attempt to help the director.
Rivette presents them as marionettes in the summer heat (all the more stifling because it’s shot in black and white), unable to go far, and dangling by the strings of their paranoia and introspection. Much time is spent outside cafes (including a memorable cameo from Jean-Luc Godard), walking down the street with solemn expressions and pondering love and ‘other forces’ in studio flats; they all wear their solitude as a heavy coat in summer.
The characters are in torment: their movements are self-conscious and considered and there’s a loud, intense crackle in each one of their heads. Philip, the blonde American is the master, a ghost-like figure, spreading suspicion in a trance: ‘I speak in riddles, but some things can only be told in riddles.’ For Philip, there are ‘secret rulers,’ and ‘the world isn’t what it seems.’
Most affected is the vulnerable Gerard. His face is gentle and handsome and he looks like he could break. Anne is the calm rationalist, who eases him; she’s a smooth pebble against which he chooses to crash his waves.
Poignant and moving is the scene where the two sit by the Seine and discuss Gerard’s staging of Pericles. Gerard has invited Anne to play Marina. He asks Anne about the play:
‘It’s rather disconnected, but that doesn’t matter,’ Anne replies.
Gerard continues: ‘The reason I want to stage Pericles is because it is unplayable. It shreds and patches yet it hangs together over all.’ Gerard could be declaring his love for Anne, but here it is for art. ‘The heroes are dispersed, yet they can’t escape.’ His words are full of portent and he is investing too much of himself in the project.
Although Paris Nous Appartient refers consistently to plots, secrets and revolutions, it is more about absurdity and disconnection: the falling and turning of ideas in a city and in the minds of a group of friends who are looking to make sense of it all.
Pushing the boundaries and refusing to neatly categorise, Rivette captures the characters’ confusion and discontent like the smell of love in a damp room. It’s drawn out, but it cannot be sustained. The lingering is long, beautiful to watch. Eventually the strings that control Rivette’s puppets snap, resulting in conclusive collapse.
Director: Jacques Rivette (1961)