A Cinematic Journey Through Paris, As Seen Through the Lens of Legendary Filmmaker Éric Rohmer: Watch Rohmer in Paris

Note: The film starts around the 30 sec­ond mark.

Site of so many his­toric screen­ings, cra­dle of so many inno­v­a­tive auteurs, set­ting of so many mem­o­rable scenes: does any city have a more cen­tral place in the cinephile’s con­scious­ness than Paris? Film­mak­er-pro­fes­sor Richard Mis­ek calls it “the city where cinephil­ia itself began.” It cer­tain­ly has a place in his own cinephilic jour­ney, begin­ning with a chance encounter, 24 years ago in the dis­trict of Mont­martre, with one of the lumi­nar­ies of French New Wave film: Éric Rohmer, who was then in the mid­dle of shoot­ing his pic­ture Ren­dezvous in Paris. “I only real­ized this four­teen years lat­er, when I saw the film late one night on tele­vi­sion,” Mis­ek says. “It was the first Rohmer film I’d ever seen — and I was in it.”

He tells this sto­ry ear­ly in Rohmer in Paris, his hour-long video essay on all the ways the auteur used the city in the course of his pro­lif­ic, more than fifty-year-long film­mak­ing career. Mis­ek describes Rohmer’s char­ac­ters, “always glanc­ing at each oth­er: on trains, on streets, in parks, in the two-way shop win­dows of cafes where they can see and be seen,” as flâneurs, those obser­vant strollers through the city whose type has its ori­gins in the Paris of the 19th cen­tu­ry. “But their walks are restrict­ed to lunch hours and evenings out. They form detours from less leisure­ly tra­jec­to­ries: the lines of a dai­ly com­mute.” With ever-increas­ing rig­or, the direc­tor “traces every step of his char­ac­ters’ jour­neys through the city with topo­graph­ic pre­ci­sion. His char­ac­ters fol­low actu­al paths through Paris, paths that can be drawn as lines on the city’s map.”

Though Rohmer did have his dif­fer­ences, aes­thet­i­cal­ly as well as polit­i­cal­ly, with his col­leagues in the French New Wave, “in one way, at least, he always stayed faith­ful to the spir­it of the nou­velle vague: through­out his life, Rohmer did­n’t just film Paris, he doc­u­ment­ed it.” Cut­ting up and delib­er­ate­ly re-arrang­ing thou­sands of pieces of image and sound in Rohmer’s dozens of shorts and fea­tures, plac­ing side-by-side shots of the same Parisian spaces years and even decades apart, Mis­ek shows us how Rohmer cin­e­mat­i­cal­ly illus­trates “one of the basic truths about urban exis­tence: in cities, humans’ lives inter­sect every day. But most of these inter­sec­tions are tran­si­to­ry, crossed paths between two peo­ple fol­low­ing dif­fer­ent tra­jec­to­ries.”

Rohmer did­n’t always film in Paris. As his career went on, he told more sto­ries that depart from the city, but then, those sto­ries also usu­al­ly return to it: ulti­mate­ly, almost all of his char­ac­ters find that “Paris can­not be tran­scend­ed.” Watch just one of Rohmer’s films, and you’ll see how lit­tle inter­est he has in roman­ti­ciz­ing the City of Light, yet the words of one char­ac­ter in Full Moon in Paris might also be his own: “The air is foul, but I can breathe,” he declares. “I need to be at the cen­ter, in the cen­ter of a coun­try, in a city cen­ter that’s almost the cen­ter of the world.”

Just as Rohmer demon­strates the inex­haustibil­i­ty of Paris with his fil­mog­ra­phy, Mis­ek demon­strates the inex­haustibil­i­ty of that fil­mog­ra­phy with Rohmer in Paris, which he has recent­ly released into the pub­lic domain and made free to watch online. It pro­vides real insight into the work of Éric Rohmer, the city in which he became a cinephile and then a film­mak­er, and how the two repeat­ed­ly inter­sect with one anoth­er over the sec­ond half of the 20th cen­tu­ry and the begin­ning of the 21st. But it also implies an answer, in the affir­ma­tive, to anoth­er, more gen­er­al propo­si­tion that Mis­ek rais­es ear­ly in the essay: “I can’t help but won­der if cinephil­ia is a jour­ney with­out end.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Tui­leries: The Coen Broth­ers’ Short Film About Steve Buscemi’s Very Bad Day in the Paris Metro

The City in Cin­e­ma Mini-Doc­u­men­taries Reveal the Los Ange­les of Blade Run­nerHerDri­veRepo Man, and More

Port­land, the City in Cin­e­ma: See the City of Ros­es as it Appears in 20 Dif­fer­ent Films

Van­cou­ver Nev­er Plays Itself

How the French New Wave Changed Cin­e­ma: A Video Intro­duc­tion to the Films of Godard, Truf­faut & Their Fel­low Rule-Break­ers

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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