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‘Paris Calligrammes’: Movie Overview


It might be an awesome mistake, sight unseen, to pigeonhole Ulrike Ottinger’s “Paris Calligrammes” as simply one other nostalgia-filled private documentary about how superb life was in Paris within the 1960s. The place others self-servingly wax lyrical about being within the nexus of the Left Financial institution’s Golden Age of hipness and activism, Ottinger takes us by way of this formative time of her life in a approach that deftly balances previous and current to color an image of a threshold period of each positives and negatives.

Recounted within the director’s personal measured voiceover (the English model options Jenny Agutter whereas the French model has Fanny Ardant) and largely composed of discovered footage, movie clips and residential films, the movie displays the director’s generosity of spirit in addition to the interval’s effervescent cauldron of syncretic and opposing actions. Promoted along with a good-looking guide tie-in, “Paris Calligrammes” ought to spark renewed curiosity in Ottinger’s work and is a pure for repertory homes.

“Calligram” signifies a textual content artistically organized to kind shapes that mirror the phrases’ that means. Ottinger intends her title to resonate in a number of methods: first as a result of Fritz Picard’s bookshop Librairie Calligrammes was her introduction to the town’s mental elite, but additionally as a result of she needs her photos and voiceover to behave as a form of reflexive mosaic that takes the viewer from the 1960s to the current and again once more. Firstly, she admits her activity is not possible: How can she make a movie from the angle of a younger artist when, 50 years later, she’s not that particular person? The documentary solutions the query by recounting her youthful pleasure whereas incorporating a extra measured understanding of what she skilled and whom she met, narrated from the seasoned vantage level of the 21st century and the tumultuous instances in between.

Like so many earlier than her, she arrived in Paris on the age of 20, decided to change into a part of the town’s artwork scene. Picard’s store within the Rue du Dragon was her pure vacation spot given its fame because the gathering place for the German-speaking intelligentsia, many nonetheless in self-imposed exile for the reason that conflict years. It was there that she hobnobbed with folks like Hans Richter, Raoul Hausmann and Tristan Tzara, towering figures within the artwork scene who (at the least in Ottinger’s recounting) had been open to together with youthful generations of their rarefied midst. From there, it was a two-minute stroll to La Hune, the long-lasting bookshop of France’s literati; subsequent to the latter is Café de Flore, the place one might rub shoulders with Simone de Beauvoir, Jean Rouch and Simone Signoret whereas trying amusedly out the home windows to see Isadora Duncan’s eccentric brother Raymond strolling the boulevard in his customary toga.

Who wouldn’t need to have been a part of that world? However then Ottinger does the editorial equal of dragging a gramophone needle throughout a vinyl document by discussing the Oct. 17, 1961 bloodbath, when Parisian police killed a nonetheless undetermined variety of demonstrators protesting the Algerian Struggle, for which nobody to this present day has been prosecuted. She talks of Jacques Panijel’s suppressed movie “Octobre à Paris,” of the brutal police chief Maurice Papon, of the legacy of racism and colonialism which might nonetheless be seen in the present day in buildings and monuments whose inherent magnificence could also be acknowledged on the similar time that the odious agenda behind their development is examined.

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Tradition as activism — a largely dormant notion in in the present day’s world — is exemplified by the 1966 staging of Jean Genet’s “The Screens” (“Les Paravents”), starring Jean-Louis Barrault and Madeleine Renaud; Ottinger consists of interview footage of the playwright and actors, reminding audiences of a time when towering performers like these efficiently defied entrenched conservatism within the title of justice.

“Paris Calligrammes” isn’t nearly social actions. It’s additionally Ottinger as flâneuse, strolling the teeming byways of Les Halles at evening, listening to Barbara within the nightclubs, attending screenings on the Cinémathèque Française, sitting in on lectures by Claude Lévi-Strauss. The documentary captures the zeitgeist as skilled by a younger lady keen to absorb the cultural riches round her, which she then distilled by way of her personal sensibility to create work reflecting the period’s upheavals. Although her model on the time was largely aligned with Pop Artwork, her influences had been various, springing from the older technology of Dadaists and Surrealists whom she met at events characterised by equal quantities of magnificence and eccentricity, but additionally essential to her creative formation had been the medieval tapestries on the Musée de Cluny and the hothouse phantasmagorias of Gustave Moreau.

When issues heated up in Could 1968, Ottinger needed to seal the home windows of her garret overlooking the Sorbonne to be able to maintain the tear fuel out, and within the following yr, she returned to Germany, maybe sensing the tip of an period. She continued to color, however in 1972, she expanded her output to incorporate movies, viewing them as a approach of synthesizing and reacting to the multitude of impressions she’d been imbibing. These early works, like Dadaist allegorical pageants, responded to the state of the world by way of the influences not simply of her friends however the work of Moreau, which seem in “Dorian Grey within the Mirror of the Yellow Press,” and the Goya prints she studied within the Print Room of the Nationwide Library, which resonate in “Freak Orlando.” Her Paris isn’t the empty, rose-tinted fantasy of Woody Allen: It’s important and contradictory, stimulating for constructive and unfavorable causes, and her willingness to discover her experiences from a number of angles, as suggested by the thinker Victor Segalen, is what makes this documentary so enriching.

Given simply how a lot materials she wrangles, it made sense to divide all of it into 10 chapters plus an epilogue. Anette Fleming does wonderful work enhancing the multitude of visible materials in numerous codecs, and the footage, whether or not licensed or newly shot, steers away from the hackneyed and commonplace. Ottinger ends with Piaf singing “Non, je ne regrette rien,” which regardless of its ubiquity feels deeply satisfying; then she reminds us that Piaf devoted the track to the pro-colonialist right-wing French International Legion, and out of the blue what appeared merely proper turns into, in a phrase, excellent.

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