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Paris in winter: 3 unexpected films PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sheila Seacroft   
16 12 2008

ImageA weekend in Paris in December sounds delightful, and it is, even if the Siberian wind is blowing sleety rain sideways along the Seine and the hand holding your (broken) umbrella is so cold you have to unpeel the fingers from round the handle with your other hand when you finally make it into a warm bar. Even the famously chic Parisians are not looking their best, with their chilled winter faces, red noses and hair either blown out of shape or crushed under woolly hats. (They don't half know how to wear scarves, though.) So what chance for the poor old English? The galleries are crowded out, and you can't spend all day sheltering from the weather in bars and bistros - well, not with the current exchange rate you can't. So, how to keep warm and dry yet still feel part of la vie parisienne? Go to the pictures!

I don't think I've seen a city centre with quite so many cinemas pressed so close together, so it wasn't hard to find an esoteric selection of acceptable films in English, even though they may not have been ones you would have gone out of your way for in normal circumstances.

ImageFirst up, the Action Christine Cinema, which we found up quiet little Rue Christine, at one end the building where Picasso painted Guernica, at the other our cheerful lunch café run by young people, where I feasted on poisson du jour with pommes de terre dauphinois, and before leaving we were introduced to the ‘petit chef', who'd cooked our meals, and the older ‘grand chef', coming in to see to the more serious night time menu.

A narrow frontage opened onto a tiny foyer with the two ‘salons' being accessed by a single door each. Queening it in the box office was a handsome rather louche scarlet-lipped lady of a certain age, and on offer two films in English: a Raoul Walsh cowboy film with Jane Russell, but we opted for the latest in their special programme of films about the sea - a seldom seen Bunuel:

The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1954)

Directed by Luis Bunuel

Odd, to say the least. Made during Bunuel's Mexican film making days, between EL and THE CRIMINAL LIFE OF ARCHIBALDO DE LA CRUZ, both stories of unbalanced men maintaining a front of quasi normality beneath which seethes a dangerous craziness. Crusoe (Dan O'Herlihy, with increasingly whimsical face hair) is at times mad, but has no need of a façade as he has no society to hide it from. Perhaps that's what makes this film so flat. It's a strangely monotone retelling of the story, with a subdued narrative, where even the dramatic bits - arrival of cannibals, storm, final battle and escape - hardly set the pulse racing. As an adventure film it does not do the business, but there are odd surreal moments, in particular a dream sequence and a moment or two with insects, both Bunuel specialities. The ironic relationship with Friday - a very blacked-up, one suspects, and smiley Jaime Fernandez - whose arrival is signalled by the famous single footprint which Bunuel comically makes no attempt to present as natural or credible, is clearly a poke at the hierarchical nature of class/race relations - is it human society Crusoe has been missing, or the chance to lord it over another being? Not much doubt which. But Bunuel in the fresh air and outside of society is not the Bunuel most of us love.

Later that very chilly night we made an expedition across the Ile St Louis and eastward down the Right Bank of the Seine, past the Friday night traffic, to the rapidly developing district of Bercy, where young crowds were beginning to throng to a new Imagearena (though no signs gave away who was playing there) and to the spanking new riverside development of the Cinematheque Francaise, the French equivalent of the BFI/National Film Theatre. An interesting building but a curiously quiet place, with a fine bookshop and public spaces but without character, and, very unexpectedly, no bar or café, so again a trek into the weather to the bar across the road for mulled wine and croque monsieur. Then back to a still somnulant cinematheque and into a pleasant auditorium where earnest looking, mostly middle-aged folk (what a treat, by the way, to be nowhere near the eldest person in a cinema, and so unlike home, where films seem to be mostly the preserve of the young) had gathered for a most unlikely film by the director of ZULU, Cy Endfield, a 50s victim of Hollywood blacklisting who subsequently worked in England.

Impulse (1954)

Directed by Cy Endfield

At 80 minutes and in black and white this was probably a B picture in its time, but it's more packed with plot, twists and turns and comic episodes than many of your average 2-hour efforts these days. Alan (Arthur Kennedy) is an American who works as an estate agent in the Home Counties. His work is dull and his domestic set-up, trim little house, Bridge every week, smart, proper wife, are boring him, so when she goes off to see Mother for a couple of days, his trip to the local pub sets him off on an adventure with a possibly criminal femme fatale (the effervescent Constance Smith, who surprisingly never made it to the big time, but was once married to Bryan Forbes). Part of the pleasure in watching this lively film for us now lies in its quaintness: what hats, what frocks, the weird social life, the dotty spinster next door (a nice comic turn by Jean St Clair, who seems to have spent all her life playing characters called Miss-- or ‘Spinster') shady guys in shabby macs, cocktail bars run by suave bounders, the customary torch song, and an amiable duffer with a tash. And my how they all smoked! Then there's the coy way in which a one-night stand is presented - night before scene immediately followed by breakfast, with our hero still in his sports jacket. An incidental pleasure is that it's Kenneth Cope's first film - he's the almost unseen hotel receptionist. Eighty minutes pleasurably spent.

The Filmotheque du Quartier Latin was our third port of call, late the following evening, a big name for a little cinema up a narrow street near the Odeon Metro with a frontage not much bigger than a small shop. Also showing - KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS (French title - Noblesse Oblige). Highlight of this visit was le patron, who served the tickets with pleasant gravitas and at one point called forth all those Messieurs et Dames waiting in the tiny foyer to be pleased to follow him outside into the street to make way for the previous audience to exit. He had the look, and the authority, of one of those actors who plays a marquis or a priest with an ‘interesting' hobby in a Bunuel film. Our miniscule tickets despite their size were in themselves a little labour of love, each bearing different photos of various stars of yesteryear - I had Jean Gabin and my companions Liz Taylor and - oooh! - Claudia Cardinale!

ImageThe Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds (1972)

Directed by Paul Newman

What a difference 36 years make. I saw this film when it came out, Newman's third go at directing, with his wife Joanne Woodward in the lead role as a monstrous widowed mother whose aggressive personality is destroying her daughters' lives. Woodward is far more strident and grotesque and unredeemable and less the tragic heroine than I remember, and the film's antecedents in a Pulitzer-prize-winning play far more evident. The heightened and too-artfully shaped dialogue is at times more alienating rather than involving, and though Woodward is splendidly appalling, her constant stridency doesn't quite get to the heart of a woman deeply troubled herself. There are great performances from Roberta Wallach as the damaged teenage daughter and 82-year old veteran actress Judith Lowry as a terrifyingly helpless mute old lady taken in for money, and especially 13-year-old Nell Potts with her still, intense performance as the gifted daughter Matilda who may escape the blight of her background, just like the occasionally beautiful results of the irradiated flowers in the school project she is working on.

So, out around midnight into almost dry streets, and onto the metro. Bonsoir Paris!


un autre regard - salon-de-casse-tete




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