Paris Belongs to Us (1961): Jacques Rivette’s Chronicle of Restless Outsiders in Paris Circa 1957, Starring Jean-Claude Brialy

From Our Vaults

Noted critic Jacques Rivette made his feature directing debut with Paris Belongs to Us (French: Paris nous appartient), a cerebral mystery, set in Paris in 1957 (when the script was originally written).

With references to Shakespeare’s play Pericles, the title is ironic because the characters are outsiders–immigrants or alienated–do not belong at all.

Paris Belongs to Us
Paris Belongs to Us poster.png

Film poster

The story centers on the innocent young university student Anne, who, through her older brother, encounters his friends, who are haunted by mysterious tensions and fears, leading two of them to commit suicide.

Among them is her opposite, Terry, a savvy femme who has had affairs with all the men.

The malaise affecting the group is never explained, leaving viewers to ponder–up to the end.  Do they suffer from existentialist anxiety, or more specific paranoia of the Cold War, driven by fear of nuclear annihilation.

The film opens with Anne, a literature student, reading Shakespeare when she hears sounds of distress in the next room. She finds a Spanish girl who says her brother has just been killed by dark forces. Anne then meets up with her brother Pierre, who takes her to a party held by his friends.

Initially bored and knowing nobody, she gradually becomes fascinated by mysterious interactions around her. Juan, an anti-Franco refugee from Spain, has recently died from a knife wound (was it suicide?). Philip, an American refugee from McCarthyism, gets drunk and slaps Terry, accusing her of causing Juan’s death by breaking up with him.

Anne then meets up with an aspiring actor and he takes her to a rehearsal of Shakespeare’s Pericles, whose director is Gérard, the host of last night’s party.

The part of Marina has not turned up, and Anne is asked to read it. Afterwards she runs into Philip, who recounts long tales in veiled language about sinister interests that have destroyed Juan and might get Gérard too.

Anne becomes determined to resolve the mystery and to save Gérard, but she fails in both; Gérard kills himself.

Relating an ambiguous tale (which mainstream critics dismissed as pretentious), Rivette may be suggesting that the real threats are not external, but internals, in the survivors’ minds.

Written in 1957, but not released until December 1961, it was Rivette’s first feature. Like fellow Cahiers du cinéma critic Éric Rohmer, Rivette did not find immediate popularity with his early films. Unlike many of the New Wave directors, he remained at Cahiers from 1958 to 1968, only making two more films in that time.

The film includes cameos by fellow directors Claude Chabrol (who co-produced the film), Jean-Luc Godard, Jacques Demy and Rivette himself.

The mood of apocalyptic menace is evoked by this idiosyncratic film through strangely haunting images and sounds, and dialogue that is deliberately literary and arch.

Signaling Rivette’s distinctive vision, manifest in future and better films, Paris Belongs to Us is marked by bold formal experimentation and thematically daring narratives.

 

Cast
Betty Schneider as Anne Goupil
François Maistre as Pierre Goupil
Giani Esposito as Gérard Lenz
Françoise Prévost as Terry Yordan
Daniel Crohem as Philip Kaufman
Jean-Claude Brialy as Jean-Marc
Jean-Marie Robain as Dr. de Georges

Credits:

Directed by Jacques Rivette
Produced by Claude Chabrol, Roland Nonin
Written by Jean Gruault, Jacques Rivette
Music by Philippe Arthuys
Cinematography Charles L. Bitsch
Edited by Denise de Casabianca

Release date: December 13, 1961

Running time: 141 minutes

TCM showed the movie on July 6, 2020.