Appellate Judge James A. Stewart likes watching numbers on holiday.
"This neighborhood! To think that some people live in Auteuil."
Even if you don't know Auteuil and Gare du Nord, it's not hard to figure out that Auteuil is wealthier and more prestigious. Both are neighborhoods in Paris, a city celebrated for its arrondissements. Most recently, the arrondissements were celebrated in Paris Je T'aime. The idea wasn't new, though. In 1965, producer Barbet Schroeder (who appeared in Paris Je T'aime) served up Six in Paris (Paris Vu Par), which tells six stories of life in Paris, told by directors Jean Douchet, Jean Rouch, Jean-Daniel Pollet, Eric Rohmer, Jean-Luc Godard, and Claude Chabrol.
Facts of the Case
Each of the six stories in Six in Paris is named after a neighborhood:
"Saint Germain Des Pres"
Director: Jean Douchet
After a night in her lover's apartment, Catherine awakens to hear that he's rushing to Orly airport for a trip to Mexico.
"Gare du Nord"
Director: Jean Rouch
Odile isn't satisfied with her unambitious husband and their tiny apartment in Gare du Nord, but she hesitates when a wealthy man from Auteuil proposes they fly away somewhere immediately. Barbet Schroeder appears.
"Rue Saint Denis"
Director: Jean-Daniel Pollet
A prostitute breaks her own rule and goes home with a client. She'll get down to business eventually, but there's always time for dinner and a chat.
"Place de L'Etoile"
Director: Eric Rohmer
Commuter Jean-Marc's routine is disrupted when he is attacked by a man he bumps into. When Jean-Marc defends himself, the man falls, apparently lifeless, to the ground.
"Montparnasse et Levallois"
Director: Jean-Luc Godard
A woman visits her sculptor boyfriend early for their date. The surprise isn't a pleasant one, since she sent him a love letter meant for another. What she can't understand is why he's upset.
Director: Claude Chabrol
A young boy wants to escape the noise from a mother who's always on the phone talking about her ailments and a father who's romping upstairs with the maid. He soon finds that earplugs aren't a good idea, though. Chabrol acts here as well.
To a certain extent, Six in Paris is a travelogue. Two of the sketches—"Saint Germain Des Pres" and "Place de L'Etoile"—even begin with narration done with a bland informativeness that comes through loud and clear, even through the language barrier. Jean Douchet uses it to start his story even before we meet the characters, while Eric Rohmer uses it to make observations about the way people go about Paris without really appreciating their beautiful city.
All of the sketches show off the city well. The best in this regard, perhaps, is "Gare du Nord," which is claustrophobic as the couple eats breakfast at a tiny kitchen table and Odile leaves through the dismal hallway of their apartment building, with its long takes becoming more expansive when she heads outside and meets a man who offers possibilities.
While the scenes are beautiful and may have had a romantic quality for overseas viewers in the '60s that belie the grim sense of humor in the stories. In two—"Place de L'Etoile" and "La Muette"—it's actually macabre. Elsewhere, it's a cynical attitude toward relationships: a lying lover in "Saint Germain des Pres"; a married woman's dissatisfaction in "Gare du Nord"; a prostitute's gradual softening toward a shy client in "Rue Saint Denis"; and the calculations of the two-timing lady in "Montparnasse et Levallois." The odd twists, like everything in Six in Paris, come gently rather than being hammered home like something in Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
The sketches tend to be done with a naturalistic quality, lingering lovingly over ordinary activity, such as getting shaved and dressed for work, or ordinary speech patterns. It slows things down, which might be fatal in longform movies, but makes the short sketches interesting.
The 16-millimeter look of the color film is rough. A woman's red hair, for example, is often lost in shadows, thanks to the natural light. You'll also see a lot of flecks and flaws that were quite likely there all along. The English captions are often hard to read, depending on the background. A couple of silences in "Montparnasse et Levallois" sounded accidental, but the movie mostly captures the street sounds of Paris effectively. The music has a lively, jazzy '60s beat.
There's no commentary, but film critic Richard Brody talks about each of the sketches and about the French New Wave, which was struggling when Six in Paris was released in 1965, in a 22-minute interview. An interview with producer Barbet Schroeder looks at the idea behind the film, with more information on "Gare du Nord," in which he appeared. Film editor Jackie Raynal and "Montparnasse et Levallois" cameraman Albert Maysles also get short interviews. The interview package, nearly an hour long, is informative. A booklet features statements from each of the directors in Six in Paris.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
When you take away the slightly exotic quality that geographic distance and the passage of time add to Six in Paris, the naturalistic pace might be a dealbreaker.
Fans or students of any of the directors (I'm partial to Claude Chabrol) or viewers with a wanderlust or nostalgia that could be quenched by an offbeat look at Sixties Paris will enjoy Six in Paris. As Barbet Schroeder says in his interview, the city shown here has largely disappeared in the last decade or two. This adds to the visual appeal.
Six in Paris also is a good introduction to the French New Wave and the directors featured.
Not guilty. Welcome to the arrondissement.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: New Yorker Films
• Interviews with Barbet Schroeder, Jackie Raynal, Albert Maysles, and Richard Brody
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