Paris Nous Appartient

By Robert Chilcott

paris-nous-appartient-jacques-rivette-1.jpgParis Nous Appartient, 1961

"Time was, in a so-called classical tradition of cinema, when the preparation of the film meant first of all finding a good story, developing it, scripting it and writing dialogue; with that done, you found actors who suited the characters and then you shot it. This is something I’ve done twice, with Paris Nous Appartient and La Religieuse, and I found the method totally unsatisfying, if only because it involves such boredom" – Rivette interviewed in April 1973

Paris Nous Appartient was officially the second Nouvelle Vague film to go into production, after Claude Chabrol’s Le Beau Serge, though its fractured two-year shoot, co-produced by Chabrol often with leftover stock from his films, delayed its release until 1961. Featuring Chabrol as a party guest, along with fellow new wave directors Jacques Demy and Jean-Luc Godard as a mysterious figure in a café who disseminates cryptic narrative information and flirts ineptly with a pretty girl, the film deals with a group of displaced bohemians searching for the meaning of life and hiding from a mysterious, never-explained menace.

paris-nous-appartient-jacques-rivette-2.jpgParis Nous Appartient, 1961

Anne is a student in Paris in 1957, though she has lost faith in her literature studies. She comes across her neighbour in a state of duress taking about someone called Juan, who she claims has recently been murdered, and that all Juan’s friends will go the same way. Anne’s brother Pierre takes her to a party where there is further debate about Juan and casual gory details of his suicide. At the party is Philip Kaufman, a Pulitzer prize winning journalist exiled from the US in the McCarthy witch hunts. He is drunk and insults them all, though he is just mad because Juan’s girl Terry had left him for Gerard the theatre director. He also talks about humanity being threatened. Everyone thinks he is paranoid

“Is the world mad or is it just in my head?”, asks Anne. Paris Nous… is on the surface a murder mystery, yet the detective fiction is by no means fully resolved. There is talk of the Juan being the new Garcia Lorca, having made a tape of the ‘Music of the Apocalypse’, shortly before he dies, though the tape is missing. Anne promises to find it for Gerard to use in his play, believing it will hold all the answers.

Rivette here begins his recurring obsession with actors rehearsing theatre, which would reach unprecedented lengths in his later work, the 12 hour Out One. Anne’s college friend, Jean-Claude Brialy, quits the play, seeing it as “One of those things where you work for art without getting paid”. All of Rivettes’ characters seem too aware of their situation, their fate. A doctor observes Juan’s condition “A specimen of a vanishing race – rabid individualists who want everything to be destroyed – but who destroy themselves first – a sort of biological fatalism”. He tells Anne the tape was rather poor. Rivette paints them as pessimistic idealists, all of whom discuss and dismiss each other, imploding from within.

paris-nous-appartient-jacques-rivette-3.jpgParis Nous Appartient, 1961

Whether the threat is an external one from “money, the police, parties – all the figures of fascism”, states Terry, who talks in riddles and carries a suicide pill, or whether the real danger is their own conspiring imaginations, we don’t really discover. Gerard wants to stage Shakespeare’s Pericles because it is unplayable, flying off in all directions with an unknown purpose, in a chaotic but not absurd world, though he fears it will ultimately be a flop. Everyone thinks he will go the way of Juan, yet no-one has any answers of how to stop this. Anne’s neighbour disappears. She gets drawn in, skips her exams, but when the play is picked up for thirty performances she is dropped in favour of a named actress and offered the role of the understudy. “Plays are pastimes for intellectuals” observes the exiled US journalist. Anne seeks advice from her brother Pierre, who tells her that mixing with geniuses is bad for her and screens her some silent films “They’ll cheer you up!”. Fritz Lang’s Babel is projected… Anne returns home – a note from Gerard reads – “if you don’t call before midnight, I’ll kill myself”. The clock reads 1215.

"I guess I like a lot of directors. Or at least I try to. I try to stay attentive to all the greats and also the less-than-greats. Which I do, more or less. I see a lot of movies, and I don't stay away from anything. Jean-Luc sees a lot too, but he doesn't always stay till the end. For me, the film has to be incredibly bad to make me want to pack up and leave. And the fact that I see so many films really seems to amaze certain people. Many filmmakers pretend that they never see anything, which has always seemed odd to me. Everyone accepts the fact that novelists read novels, that painters go to exhibitions and inevitably draw on the work of the great artists who came before them, that musicians listen to old music in addition to new music... so why do people think it's strange that filmmakers – or people who have the ambition to become filmmakers - should see movies? When you see the films of certain young directors, you get the impression that film history begins for them around 1980. Their films would probably be better if they'd seen a few more films, which runs counter to this idiotic theory that you run the risk of being influenced if you see too much. Actually, it's when you see too little that you run the risk of being influenced. If you see a lot, you can choose the films you want to be influenced by. Sometimes the choice isn't conscious, but there are some things in life that are far more powerful than we are, and that affect us profoundly. If I'm influenced by Hitchcock, Rossellini or Renoir without realizing it, so much the better. If I do something sub-Hitchcock, I'm already very happy. Cocteau used to say: ‘Imitate, and what is personal will eventually come despite yourself.’ You can always try" – Interview from March 1998


 

Paris Nous Appartient is a wonderful, impenetrable mess. A new print is currently on release from the BFI, accompanying an NFT retrospective in London.