October 31, 2008

Six in Paris: French mix tape

6 paris

Reviewer: Jeffrey M. Anderson
Rating (out of 5): ***

Anthology films are always a good idea, but for some mysterious reason, they very rarely ever work out. The French New Wave film Six in Paris, directed by superstar filmmakers Claude Chabrol, Eric Rohmer, Jean-Luc Godard and the lesser-known Jean Rouch, Jean Douchet and Jean-Danile Pollet, is no exception. Each of the six was assigned a different Paris neighborhood, not unlike last year's Paris je t'aime, though with more detailed results. Douchet, best known as a Cahiers du Cinema critic, kicks things off with a pretty traditional short, complete with an obligatory O. Henry-type twist. A girl sleeps with a handsome young man, and then discovers that he wasn't who she thought he was.

Rouch's segment was the only one to be singled out on the year-end Cahiers du Cinema top ten list. Rouch was better known as a documentary filmmaker, and he films his little sketch in perhaps two or three shots. A man (played by future director Barbet Schroeder) and a woman (Nadine Ballot) fight during their morning routine. The woman wants more than the man has resigned himself to. She storms out and takes the elevator down (Rouch may have cut once during this dark sequence). On the street, she meets a stranger (Gilles Quéant), who seems to want the same things she does, but with a price.

In Pollet's two-character segment, a prostitute (Micheline Dax) returns to the apartment of her meek customer, Leon (Claude Melki). They eat and talk, and she reads the paper, before they commence getting down to business. There's an interesting byplay here: the prostitute is fairly mean to Leon, emasculating him and making fun of his lack of humor and muscles, etc., but eventually entertains the idea of marrying him. Jonathan Rosenbuam pointed out that Melki has a Harry Langdon-like presence, but -- like Leon's pointless story about his vacation -- this never goes anywhere.

Rohmer promises to pick things up at the midpoint, with a curiously atypical story; Rohmer was not yet the major director he'd become with his films My Night at Maud's (1969) and Claire's Knee (1970). So for his segment, he turns to Hitchcock (about whom he and Chabrol had published a book). He also uses his Paris location, Place de l'Etoile, the tourist area around the Champs d'elysee, to marvelous effect; the stoplights there are timed for the traffic, but not pedestrians. A meek shop worker gets into a tussle with an aggressive passerby and leaves the man flat on his back on the ground, possibly dead. So the man must constantly find alternate routes around the difficult area (made even more difficult by construction) to avoid the scene of the "crime."

Godard turns in an oddly ordinary narrative, albeit one that borrows slightly from his great feature film A Woman Is a Woman (1961). Joanna Shimkus plays a woman who sends telegrams to her two boyfriends, but suddenly realizes that she switched the envelopes. So she visits them both in turn (one is a metal sculptor and the other is an auto body repairman) and tries to finesse the situation. Godard includes some interesting images of welded metal and metallic noises, but it seems a very minor work from him.

Chabrol winds things up with a nicely Chabrolian tale. A boy (Gilles Chusseau), sick of hearing his parents fight and sick of seeing his dad (played with gusto by Chabrol) flirting with the sexy blonde maid (Dany Saril), decides to wear earplugs around the house. Unfortunately this has some unforeseen and dire consequences. This was good, but it struck me that Chabrol's talents -- his sense of dread -- might have been better suited to some of the other tales.

Each director wrote his own segment and shot on 16mm, color film, and the overall film has a nice, warm feel; this was more of a lark than something with any kind of social agenda. New Yorker Video has released the DVD, and hard-core technophiles will probably find fault with it. The subtitles are not always clear and the transfer isn't as sharp as it might have been. Extras include interviews with Schroeder, editor Jackie Raynal and Albert Maysles, who shot Godard's segment, as well as film critic Richard Brody, who published a book on Godard. The interviews are pretty static and generally run longer than the segments, which average about 15 minutes apiece.



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Posted by cphillips at October 31, 2008 2:20 PM
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