Paris in the Cinema: Be­yond the Flâneur

THE (Times Higher Education) - - BOOKS - Dav­ina Quin­li­van is a se­nior lec­turer in crit­i­cal and his­tor­i­cal stud­ies at Kingston School of Art, Kingston Univer­sity. She is the au­thor of Film­ing the Body in Cri­sis (2015) and The Place of Breath in Cinema (2012). She is work­ing on a study of the Brit

Edited by Alas­tair Phillips and Ginette Vin­cen­deau Bri­tish Film In­sti­tute 286pp, £24.99

ISBN 9781844578177 Pub­lished 30 Novem­ber 2017

In Mathieu Kasso­vitz’s ac­claimed film La Haine ( Hate, 1995), a group of young French men (played by Vin­cent Cas­sel, Saïd Tagh­maoui and Hu­bert Koundé) travel from the pre­dom­i­nantly work­ing-class sub­urbs of Paris to ex­plore the city not as in­hab­i­tants of its gen­tri­fied boule­vards but as marginalised spec­ta­tors, set­ting off car alarms and pok­ing fun at gallery-go­ers. Kasso­vitz’s film is mem­o­rable, and present on most film de­gree cour­ses, be­cause it of­fers a deeply politi­cised and youth-ori­ented view of Paris from the per­spec­tive of an un­der­rep­re­sented mi­lieu of mixed-race and work­ing-class Parisians in the pe­riph­eral zones of the city known as les ban­lieues.

The co-ed­i­tor of Paris in the Cinema, Ginette Vin­cen­deau, is well known for her work on

La Haine and her in­ci­sive treat­ment of its rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Paris as cin­e­matic land­scape and aes­thetic cre­ation (Kasso­vitz shot his en­tire film in black and white to re­in­force its style and rad­i­cal tone). Here, more than 10 years later, she and Alas­tair Phillips have in­vited other aca­demics to re­flect fur­ther on films such as La Haine (pic­tured be­low) which have in­deli­bly al­tered our con­cep­tion of Paris.

In­deed, as they re­mind us, Paris is “the ‘of­fi­cial’ birth­place of the cinema”, with “the first pub­lic screen­ing at the Grand Café, Boule­vard des Ca­pucines, on 28 De­cem­ber 1895”. Fur­ther­more, the book’s in­tro­duc­tion sug­gests, “Paris holds a spe­cial place within the de­vel­op­ment of stud­ies of cinema and the city, as the lo­ca­tion where, or about which, many of the sem­i­nal texts on ur­ban moder­nity and post-moder­nity have been writ­ten, no­tably by Charles Baude­laire, Wal­ter Ben­jamin, Guy De­bord, Henri Le­feb­vre, Michel de Certeau, Anne Fried­berg, Janet Wolff, El­iz­a­beth Wil­son and Marc Augé.”

The sub­ti­tle of Paris in the Cinema al­ludes to the no­tion of Baude­laire’s flâneur, in essence a priv­i­leged, mod­ern and typ­i­cally male con­sumer of the city, strolling and wan­der­ing freely while tak­ing in the plea­sures of the boule­vards and ar­cades.

Yet the book looks be­yond the flâneur, demon­strat­ing how the city is newly pre­sented to film view­ers from the po­si­tion of the other – the fe­male, the French-Al­ge­rian, the ho­tel worker, house­wives and wait­resses. While the fig­ure of the flâneur is a vividly evoked point of de­par­ture, the con­trib­u­tors go on to in­clude rich and valu­able re­flec­tions on a range of is­sues, such as Parisian ama­teur film-mak­ing, Charles Dick­ens’ debt to Paris and con­tem­po­rary cinema’s rep­re­sen­ta­tion of les ban­lieues.

In ad­di­tion to the re­mark­able es­says, this book in­cludes Is­abelle Van­der­schelden’s bril­liant in­ter­view with Jean-Pierre Je­unet (direc­tor of Amélie, 2001). In­deed, such an in­ter­view makes a fit­ting end to a book that opens with a fig­ure syn­ony­mous with male sub­jec­tiv­ity by evok­ing a wait­ress whose nu­anced ex­plo­ration of Paris marks her out as a flâneuse, a per­sona also per­fectly en­cap­su­lated in the fe­male singer de­scribed in Jen­nifer Wal­lace’s chap­ter on Agnès Varda’s Cléo de 5 à 7 ( Cleo from 5 to 7, 1962).

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