Director: Jacques Rivette
Screenplay: Jean Gruault & Jacques Rivette
Starring: Betty Schneider, Giani Esposito, Francois Maistre, Francoise Prevosy, Daniel Crohem
Country: France
Running Time: 142 min
Year: 1961
BBFC Certificate: 12

Paris Belongs To Us (or Paris Nous Appartient in French) was director Jacques Rivette’s first feature-length cinema release in December 1961. Filmed over a period of 13 months, and then overdubbed and edited the following year, in the words of Francois Truffaut (perhaps the most well known and influential of all the early French New Wave directors) this is a ‘river’ of a film. It is a mystery film, set in Paris in 1957. The opening of the film is iconic, a view from a train window coming into central Paris from the suburbs; evoking the sense of a drama that will be played out in the city and throughout the film. The camerawork of cinematographer Charles Bitsch is sublime. The fact that the film was shot in 16mm black and white, with limited access to lighting, in no way diminishes the quality, and on Blu-ray high definition presentation it looks fantastic.

As within so many of Rivette’s films, the central character is a woman, in this case Anne Goupil (Betty Schnieder) a student in Paris, who becomes distracted from her studies when she becomes involved in the lives of her brother Pierre’s (Francois Maistre) bohemian and arty friends. At a party he takes her to she is sucked into a mystery surrounding a Spanish activist named Juan, who has either been murdered or taken his life. Juan is the brother to an unnamed character who we meet at the beginning of the film, when Anne goes in to the flat next to her own, to console her distraught neighbour (a young Spanish woman, Juan’s sister). After meeting these people Anne goes on to take a part in a Shakespeare play (Pericles) which is being directed by a character named Gerard Lensz (Giani Esposito). Anne joins the play after being persuaded by Gerard, but she is also partly convinced to join as a way to understand more about the mystery surrounding Juan.

Central to this group of friends is a femme fatale type named Terry Yordan (Francoise Prevost). She was close to Juan, and seems to have rejected another key character, an American journalist named Philip Kaufman (Daniel Crohem). Philip seems suspicious and paranoid, preoccupied with conspiracy, but never quite telling his whole story. Anne goes to Philip to find out more information about the mystery, but by trying to warn her off, she becomes more enticed. Philip remains infatuated with Terry, and she has him under some kind of psychological control.

Further to this, Terry enters a relationship with the theatre director Gerard, who further still is very close to Anne, and turns to her as a confidant later in the film. Juan is thought to have recorded a piece of moody Spanish guitar music, which Gerard asks Anne to find a copy of the recording, so it can be used as a soundtrack to the play.

Already we can see the layering of plots, secrets, and opportunities for existential uncertainty – who killed Juan? where is the tape of lost music? what does Terry know? and why are all these men so infatuated with her? Anne’s story is the classic motif of the transition from innocence to experience, cast in the role of detective, where the streets and the rooftops of Paris act as the backdrop to the drama. It’s not hard to guess that the story is making wider allusions to notions of power, corruption, associated paranoia, who is in control? and who are the actors? what is the play being staged?

For anyone familiar with his films, this is classic Jacques Rivette. Throughout the film Anne is both persuaded by other characters, but then left with feelings of uncertainty the further she is drawn in to their confidence. The notion of being part of, or being in the know, and then, obversely, being thrown back in to ‘the wilds’ runs through the entire film. It’s a theme that can’t be resolved, which is key to the approach outlined in the film. This in turn begs the question, what compromises must Anne make to get back on track in her life generally (she didn’t bother taking her literature exam at University because she was too busy with the play)? But also, who are the us that Paris belongs to?

Unlike later films directed by Jacques Rivette, this film was fully scripted prior to shooting, it seems often later films involved developing the script on set, and encouraging actors to improvise as part of a collective creative group (think about the theatre troop in Out 1 reviewed previously on this website). This gives Paris Belongs To Us a different feel to other Rivette films, perhaps more organised and nuanced, in some regards. In the commentary provided with this Blu-ray disc, film critic Adrain Martin reports that later on his career Jacques Rivette wanted to distance himself from Paris Belongs To Us, it seem he found it too self celebrating in it’s approach. I personally did not find the film to come over in this way. I found it to be an engaging film, with wonderful shots of Paris. It’s both a journey around different parts of Paris, and another journey about power, control, society, and how people decide to operate when they realise these powers might be there.

Extra features on the disc include:

  • Newly commissioned feature-length commentary by film scholar Adrian Martin (2018)
  • Filmed introduction by Jonathan Romney on Rivette and Paris nous appartient (2006, 18 mins)
  • Le Coup du berger (Jacques Rivette, 1957, 29 mins)
  • Illustrated booklet with a new essay by So Mayer, Tom Milne’s 1962 review and a preview by Louis Marcorelles looking forward to the film’s release

In my view this is an essential film for anyone who is a lover of great cinema, and I would highly recommend obtaining a copy of the Blu ray version and watching it (perhaps several times).

BFI will release a Blu-ray version of Paris Nous Appartient (Paris Belongs To Us) Directed by Jacques Rivette on 24 September 2018

Paris Belongs To Us (a.k.a. Paris Nous Appartient)
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