Paris Nous Appartient (Jacques Rivette / France, 1961):

After credits seen through the window of a moving train, Feuillade rooftops and a Shakespearean recitation and an off-screen cry in rapid succession. The "girl with no opinions" (Betty Schneider) is a literature student rattling around in the bohemian city, suspended between taking a role in a production of Sophocles and investigating conspiracies. "Am I going crazy, or is the whole world?" "Both, kid." The exiled Yankee (Daniel Crohem) has his ravings and the dead Spaniard's fiancée (Françoise Prévost) keeps pistol and poison capsule in her pocket, the heroine's brother (François Maistre) isn't exactly reassuring. A quotidian surrealism of feints and red herrings for Jacques Rivette, the stage director (Giani Esposito) who proclaims that "theater is not illusion, but reality" is just the stand-in for the seeker of baleful-sublime "shreds and patches." À bout de souffle is filmed in these same streets at around the same time, yet Paris looks like Mabuse's Berlin—one strolls down the underpopulated Champs-Élysées and the Arc de Triomphe looms like an evil giant. (Lang's Tower of Babel clinches the connection, out of a whirring projector at a cinephile gathering.) Long corridors and half-open doors, a certain noir strain (Hawks' The Big Sleep), drawings of skulls and eyes on bare walls. Soirees that only accentuate the characters' loneliness, the Bressonian attention to sound that comes with shooting a film silently: A church bell, a siren in the distance, a phantom guitar, la musique de l'apocalypse. "Another riddle?" Virtually a Cahiers du Cinéma critique of Clouzot's Les Espions, with Chabrol at the cocktail party and Godard at the sidewalk café and Demy reprimanding a fellow paranoid for her histrionics. All of Rivette's pieces already in place, above all the complots we invent to explain away the saturnine uncertainty of the universe. "Nightmares are alibis," only flapping birds are left as they dissolve. Cinematography by Charles Bitsch. With Jean-Claude Brialy, Jean Martin, Paul Bisciglia, and Brigitte Juslin. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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