Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Paris Belongs to Us

Jacques Rivette's Paris Belongs To Us (Paris nous appartient) was an exhilirating experience. A very nice BFI print played to an appreciative crowd at the Siskel as part of the Rivette retrospective (I already have my tickets for Out 1). The first ten minutes of the film is packed with Hitchcock references: the credits roll over images of Paris shot from a train (which for Rivette is by definition Hitchcockian), the first post-credits shot is taken directly from Rear Window, a production of Shakespeare's Pericles keeps replaying a scene including the phrase "South by Southwest" (the title "North by Northwest" comes from Hamlet), and, of course, the heroine is immediately surrounding by paranoia-feeding conspiracies of murder, suicide and international intrigue. The heroine, Anne (Betty Schneider), is just on the periphery of a dense and convoluted web of mystery and violence, which seems to involve her brother and seems to involve a man with whom she's fallen in love. Everyone has secrets, except for Anne. Anne's a student who doesn't bother showing up for her exams. She tries acting, but ends up losing her part and losing interest in the whole endeavor. She tries to get to the bottom of these intrigues and secrets, but never quite figures it out and fails to save anyone (or even to accurately predict who's in danger).

Paris Belongs To Us, with Anne at its center, is like a Hitchcock film told from the perspective of the Pat Hitchcock character - the peripheral little sister figure not implicated in but curious about the mysteries and the dangers just to the side of her; acting nosey and butting into the complicated, enigmatic plots. Anne even looks like Pat Hitchock: slightly plump ("movie plump") but still pretty, poofy 50s hair, smiley and kind of bookish. (And I could swear that Rivette modeled Anne's wardrobe after Pat Hitchcock's.) She's never personally threatened, and never witnesses or finds evidence of any crimes. She finds herself frustratingly outside of the sinister elements swirling around her - like a film lover who walks into a movie, but she can't find the good parts on her own.

Betty Schneider, the actress who plays Anne, is wonderful. She only appeared in a handful of movies, but has one other major screen credit. Major to me, anyway. She was in Jacques Tati's Mon Oncle playing the daughter of Hulot's landlady. We see her grow up as the film progresses. Her seemingly innocent crush on Hulot at the beginning of the film provokes a paternal pat on the head. At the end of the film, she's mature enough (and dressing accordingly) that Hulot's too embarassed to treat her like a child (and definitely too embarassed to treat her like a woman...). He gives his customary paternal greeting to her mother instead.

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