Screening the Paris suburbs: From the silent era to the 1990s 9781526107800

This expansive study brings to light a neglected history of suburban Paris as seen and reimagined by French filmmakers b

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Screening the Paris suburbs: From the silent era to the 1990s

Table of contents :
Front matter
List of illustrations
Notes on contributors
On the origins of the banlieue film, 1930–80
Lumière, Méliès, Pathé and Gaumont: French filmmaking in the suburbs, 1896–1920
Roads, rivers, canals: spaces of freedom from Epstein to Vigo
The banlieue in French cinema of the 1930s
Julien Duvivier and inter-war ‘banlieutopia’
Margins and thresholds of French cinema: Ménilmontant, Le Sang des bêtes, Colloque de chiens
Georges Franju and the grotesque genius of the banlieue
Tati, suburbia and modernity
A crucible of emotions: Maurice Pialat’s L’Amour existe
Godard’s suburban years
The banlieue wore black: post-war French polar, from Becker to Corneau
Erasing the suburbs: the grands ensembles in documentary film and television, 1950–80
Elusive happiness: screening France’s new towns after 1968
Towers of evil: Jean-Claude Brisseau
What’s left of the ‘red suburb’? Hervé Le Roux’s Reprise as case study

Citation preview

Screening the Paris suburbs

Screening the Paris suburbs From the silent era to the 1990s Edited by Philippe Met and Derek Schilling

Manchester University Press

Copyright © Manchester University Press 2018 While copyright in the volume as a whole is vested in Manchester University Press, copyright in individual chapters belongs to their respective authors, and no chapter may be reproduced wholly or in part without the express permission in writing of both author and publisher. Published by Manchester University Press Altrincham Street, Manchester M1 7JA British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

ISBN  978 1526 1 0685 8  hardback First published 2018 The publisher has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy of URLs for any external or third-party internet websites referred to in this book, and does not guarantee that any content on such websites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate.

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List of illustrations vii Notes on contributors x Acknowledgements xiii Introduction – Philippe Met and Derek Schilling 1 1 On the origins of the banlieue film, 1930–80 Annie Fourcaut 2 Lumière, Méliès, Pathé and Gaumont: French filmmaking in the suburbs, 1896–1920 Roland-François Lack



3 Roads, rivers, canals: spaces of freedom from Epstein to Vigo Jean-Louis Pautrot


4 The banlieue in French cinema of the 1930s Keith Reader


5 Julien Duvivier and inter-war ‘banlieutopia’ Margaret C. Flinn


6 Margins and thresholds of French cinema: Ménilmontant, Le Sang des bêtes, Colloque de chiens 77 Erik Bullot 7 Georges Franju and the grotesque genius of the banlieue Tristan Jean 8 Tati, suburbia and modernity Malcolm Turvey

90 101

9 A crucible of emotions: Maurice Pialat’s L’Amour existe 115 Elisabeth Cardonne-Arlyck


Contents 10 Godard’s suburban years Térésa Faucon


11 The banlieue wore black: post-war French polar, from Becker to Corneau Philippe Met


12 Erasing the suburbs: the grands ensembles in documentary film and television, 1950–80 Camille Canteux


13 Elusive happiness: screening France’s new towns after 1968 Derek Schilling


14 Towers of evil: Jean-Claude Brisseau David Vasse


15 What’s left of the ‘red suburb’? Hervé Le Roux’s Reprise as case study Guillaume Soulez 202 Index 213

List of illustrations

Every effort has been made to obtain permission to reproduce copyright material, and the publisher will be pleased to be informed of any errors and omissions for correction in future editions. 1 A street urchin in La Zone: Au pays des chiffonniers (Georges Lacombe, 1928) © Florent Matic/Les Documents Cinématographiques 2 ‘Kindly children of misery’: whistleblowing in Aubervilliers (Eli Lotar, 1945) © Fatras/Succession Jacques Prévert 3 Simone Signoret and Serge Reggiani escape Paris for a riverside tryst in Casque d’or (Jacques Becker, 1952) © STUDIOCANAL 4 Cruising American-style in La Belle Américaine (Robert Dhéry, 1961) © LJC Editions 5 Feuillade’s Villemomble residence doubles as Lady Beltham’s villa in Fantômas (Louis Feuillade, 1913–14) © Gaumont 6 Le Môme Réglisse and Little Jean cross the Zone in Judex (Louis Feuillade, 1916–17) © Gaumont 7 Unsettled life in the barge film L’Atalante (Jean Vigo, 1934) © Gaumont 8 Exiting Paris by motor car in La Glace à trois faces (The Three-Sided Mirror, Jean Epstein, 1927) © La Cinémathèque française 9 The Baron (Louis Jouvet) and thief Pépel (Jean Gabin) philosophise on the Marne in Les Bas-Fonds (The Lower Depths, Jean Renoir 1936) © Gaumont 10 The deceptively banal filling station of La Nuit du carrefour (Night at the Crossroads, Jean Renoir, 1932) courtesy Éditions René Chateau


List of illustrations 11 Suburbia as stage set: Alexander Trauner’s décors for Le Jour se lève (Daybreak, Marcel Carné, 1939) © STUDIOCANAL 12 The company excursion to l’Isle-Adam in Au Bonheur des Dames (Julien Duvivier, 1930) courtesy Arte Editions DVD 13 The unemployed workers’ collective makes plans in La Belle Équipe (They Were Five, Julien Duvivier, 1936), production still courtesy Bibliothèque du Film, Paris 14 Surrealist ‘found objects’ at the city’s margins in Le Sang des bêtes (Blood of the Beasts, Georges Franju, 1949) courtesy the Criterion Collection 15 Liminal wastelands as projective screen: Colloque de chiens (Dog’s Dialogue, Raúl Ruiz, 1977) © Filmoblic 16 Dr Génessier’s villa-cum-clinic in Les Yeux sans visage (Eyes Without a Face, Georges Franju, 1960) courtesy the Criterion Collection 17 A bricolage of 1920s domestic modernism: the Arpel residence in Mon Oncle (Jacques Tati, 1958) © Les Films de Mon Oncle - Specta Films C.E.P.E.C. 18 The old neighbourhood holds out against the new in Mon Oncle (Jacques Tati, 1958) © Les Films de Mon Oncle - Specta Films C.E.P.E.C. 19 Barred existence: the impoverished landscape of L’Amour existe (Love Exists, Maurice Pialat, 1961) © Les Films du Jeudi 20 Mass housing as closed horizon: L’Amour existe (Love Exists, Maurice Pialat, 1961) © Les Films du Jeudi 21 Spools of films no longer or yet to come: Claude Brasseur and Sami Frey in Bande à part (Band of Outsiders, Jean-Luc Godard, 1964) © Gaumont 22 A woman’s plight under neo-capitalism: Juliette (Marina Vlady) in Deux ou trois choses que je sais d’elle (Two or Three Things I Know about Her, Jean-Luc Godard, 1967) © Argos Films 23 A shadowy gangster by the tracks in Le Doulos (Jean-Pierre Melville, 1963) © STUDIOCANAL 24 ‘Agents’ on duty on a deserted footbridge in Le Samouraï (Jean-Pierre Melville, 1967) courtesy Éditions René Chateau 25 Getaways: the transitional landscape of Un Flic (A Cop, Jean-Pierre Melville, 1972) © STUDIOCANAL 26 Looking for change: Franck (Patrick Dewaere) in Série noire (Alain Corneau, 1979) © STUDIOCANAL 27 Sarcelles’ dehumanising geometry: Quarante mille voisins (Jacques Krier, 1960) courtesy RTF – Institut National de l’Audiovisuel

List of illustrations 28 Illicit loves: François (Jean-Claude Drouot) visits Émilie (Marie-France Boyer) in Le Bonheur (Agnès Varda, 1964) @ Ciné-Tamaris 29 Slated for renewal: Jean Gabin returns home in Le Chat (Pierre Granier-Deferre, 1971) © STUDIOCANAL 30 Muse Fiona (Bernadette Lafont) cruises the dumpsite in La Ville bidon (Jacques Baratier, 1976) all rights reserved Association Jacques Baratier 31 Administering the future: Jean-Michel (André Dussolier) and Claudine (Anémone) in Le Couple témoin (The Model Couple, William Klein, 1978) courtesy Institut National de l’Audiovisuel 32 Louise (Pascale Ogier) leaves the new town Marne-la-Vallée for Paris in Les Nuits de la pleine lune (Full Moon in Paris, Éric Rohmer, 1984) © Les Films du Losange 33 Outcries and crises: Jean-Roger (François Négret) and Bruno (Vincent Gasperitsch) in De bruit et de fureur (Sound and Fury, Jean-Claude Brisseau, 1988) © Les Films du Losange 34 Sacrificial rites: the dark lyricism of De bruit et de fureur (Sound and Fury, Jean-Claude Brisseau, 1988) © Les Films du Losange 35 The traces that remain: the labour of history in Reprise (Hervé Le Roux, 1997) © Les Films d’Ici 36 The reign of the multinational: layered spaces in Reprise (Hervé Le Roux, 1997) © Les Films d’Ici


Notes on contributors

Erik Bullot teaches cinema and photography at l’École nationale supérieure d’art de Bourges. He is the author of Sortir du cinéma: histoire virtuelle des relations de l’art et du cinéma (Musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain, 2013) and of the two-volume Renversements: notes sur le cinéma (Paris Expérimental, 2009 and 2013). The director of over thirty films, his work has been screened at the Jeu de Paume (Paris), the CCCB (Barcelona) and the Museum of Modern Art (New York). Camille Canteux is the author of Filmer les grands ensembles (Créaphis, 2014), the first comprehensive study of documentary films made for television, the industry or the parallel documentary circuit to promote and critique France’s great post-war experiment in social housing. She holds a doctorate from the University of Paris I – Panthéon Sorbonne and teaches history and geography in a secondary school outside Paris. Elisabeth Cardonne-Arlyck is Professor Emerita of French at Vassar College. The author of Véracités: Ponge, Jaccottet, Roubaud, Deguy (Belin, 2009) and two books on novelist Julien Gracq, she has published on French filmmakers Claire Denis, Georges Franju, Jean-Daniel Pollet and Alain Resnais among others. She was guest editor of two issues of Contemporary French and Francophone Studies entitled Writing/Filming (2005). Térésa Faucon teaches film theory and film aesthetics at the Université de Paris III – Sorbonne Nouvelle. The author of Théorie du montage: énergie, forces et fluides (Armand Colin, 2013) and Penser et expérimenter le montage (Presses de la Sorbonne Nouvelle, 2010), her research in progress examines the neglected audio-visual properties of Indian cinema as well as the relationship of cinema/video to photography and dance. Annie Fourcaut is Professor Emerita at the Université Paris I where she is associated with the Centre for Twentieth-Century Social History. The preeminent

Notes on contributors historian of the modern French suburbs, she is the author of La banlieue en morceaux: la crise des lotissements défectueux dans l’entre-deux-guerres (Créaphis, 2000) and Bobigny, banlieue rouge (Editions de l’Atelier, 1989), and the co-editor or editor of Agrandir Paris 1860–1970 (Publications de la Sorbonne, 2012), Paris/Banlieues: conflits et solidarités (Créaphis, 2007), Le monde des grands ensembles (Créaphis, 2004) and Banlieue rouge (1920–1970). Années Thorez, années Gabin: archetype du populaire, banc d’essai des modernités (Autrement, 1992). Margaret C. Flinn is Associate Professor of French at the Ohio State University. The author of The Social Architecture of French Cinema, 1929–39 (Liverpool University Press, 2014), she has published essays on filmmakers Georges Lacombe, René Clair, Jean-Luc Godard as well as on the multi-media art of Chris Marker. She is presently at work on a study on contemporary European documentary film and media practice entitled New Limits of the Real. Tristan Jean received his B.A. in French Literature from Reed College in 2004, and his M.A. and M.Phil. in the same subject from New York University in 2011 and 2014, respectively. He works as a language educator and independent scholar in Brooklyn, New York. Roland-François Lack teaches French and film at University College London. His research, showcased on the Cine-Tourist website, bears on the ways in which films map the places they show, and the knowledge that films produce about them. He has published essays on popular literature and early French film, on French New Wave directors (Godard, Rivette, Rohmer) as well as on actress Bernadette Lafont. He co-edited with Patrick Ffrench The Tel Quel Reader (Routledge, 1998). Co-editor Philippe Met is Professor of French and Cinema Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. He is Editor-in-Chief of French Forum and has written widely on literature and film, including several books (as author or editor) and some seventy articles. With Jean-Louis Leutrat and Suzanne Liandrat-Guigues he published Les aventures de Harry Dickson: scénario de Frédéric de Towarnicki, pour un film (non réalisé) par Alain Resnais (Capricci, 2007). He is completing a book on fantastic and horror cinema and editing The Cinema of Louis Malle, Transatlantic Auteur. Jean-Louis Pautrot is Professor of French and International Studies at Saint Louis University. His books include Pascal Quignard (Gallimard, 2014) and Pascal Quignard ou le fonds du monde (Rodopi, 2007) as well as La musique oubliée (Droz, 1994), which discusses the relations between music and literature in the work of Sartre, Vian, Proust and Duras. He has written on Jacques Tati and Alain Resnais and edited The André Hodeir Jazz Reader (University of Michigan Press, 2006). Keith Reader is Professor at the University of London Institute in Paris. He has published widely in the area of twentieth-century French cultural studies. Among his many books are The May 1968 Events in France (Palgrave Macmillan, 1993),



Notes on contributors Robert Bresson (Manchester University Press, 2000), La Règle du jeu (I.B. Tauris, 2010), The Place de la Bastille: The Story of a Quartier (Liverpool University Press, 2011) and, with Phil Powrie, French Cinema: A Student’s Guide (Bloomsbury, 2002). Co-editor Derek Schilling is Professor of French at Johns Hopkins University, where he teaches modern and contemporary literature and film. He is the author of Eric Rohmer (Manchester University Press, 2007), Mémoires du quotidien: les lieux de Perec (Septentrion, 2006) and of a forthcoming study on literary representations of the French suburbs between the wars, entitled Banlieues de mémoire: géopoétique du roman français de l’entre-deux-guerres. Guillaume Soulez is Professor at the Université Paris III – Sorbonne Nouvelle, where he teaches courses in film and media theory and the history of television, with an emphasis on serial forms. He is the author of Quand le film nous parle: rhétorique, cinéma, télévision (Presses universitaires de France, 2011) and, with Laurent Jullier, of Stendhal, le désir de cinéma (Séguier, 2006). Malcolm Turvey is Sol Gittleman Professor of Film and Media Studies at Tufts University. The author of The Filming of Modern Life: European Avant-Garde Film of the 1920s (MIT Press, 2011) and of Doubting Vision: Film and the Revelationist Tradition (Oxford University Press, 2008), he is completing a book entitled Play Time: Jacques Tati and Comedic Modernism. David Vasse teaches cinema studies at the Université de Caen. The author of a study on the return of auteur cinema in France, Le nouvel âge du cinéma d’auteur français (Klincksieck, 2008), he has published Catherine Breillat, un cinéma du rite et de la transgression (Éditions Arte/Complexe, 2004) and Jean-Claude Brisseau: entre deux infinis (Rouge Profond, 2015), the first monograph devoted to the filmmaker.


Portions of Chapter 1 appeared in French as ‘Aux origines du cinéma de banlieue: les banlieusards au cinéma (1930–1980)’, Sociétés et représentations (Dec. 1999): 113–27 and are translated with permission. Chapter 4, commissioned for this volume, has been published in French Cultural Studies 25.3/4 (2014): 387–95 and appears here by consent of the journal’s editor. Chapter 5 reworks by permission portions of Margaret C. Flinn, The Social Architecture of French Cinema 1929–1939 (Liverpool University Press, 2014). Edited by Philippe Met, Chapter 15 reprises passages from David Vasse, Jean-Claude Brisseau: entre deux infinis, Aix-en-Provence, Rouge Profond, 2015, with the express permission of the publisher. Translations: Chapters 1, 12 and 14 were translated from the French by Derek Schilling. Chapter 6 was translated by Nicole Dunham and revised by the editors. Chapter 10 was translated by Samuel Martin. Chapter 15 was translated with the support of Institut de Recherche sur le Cinéma et l’Audiovisuel (Université Sorbonne Nouvelle) by Christopher Roberston and revised by the editors.

Introduction Philippe Met and Derek Schilling

On the heels of the international hit La Haine (Hate, Mathieu Kassovitz, 1995), France at the close of the millennium saw a spate of bold, self-styled ‘hood’ films set in suburban council estates that critics were prompt to name – justifiably so – ‘films de banlieue’ (Jousse 1995; Vincendeau 2000). Heralded by the groundbreaking yet overlooked Le Thé au harem d’Archimède (Mehdi Charef, 1985) and illustrated by such features as Douce France (Malik Chibane, 1995), État des lieux (Jean-François Richet, 1995) and Wesh-wesh: qu’est-ce qui se passe? (Rabah AmeurZaïmeche, 2001), the distinctively French subgenre showcased multi-ethnic youth whose daily struggles and frustrations are compounded by rampant unemployment, disenfranchisement and conflicts with authority and the institutions of the State. Invariably, action unfolds in and around the graffiti-laden housing blocks of pauperised cités whose peripheral status exacerbates the protagonists’ ambivalence toward the French capital, which attracts even as it excludes. Highly mediatised and culturally resonant, this trend in contemporary cinema reflective of a pluri-ethnic European democracy in transition has garnered welldeserved critical attention. The film de banlieue – which the English term ‘suburb film’ largely fails to render – has been singled out for its crucial role in unveiling how spatial relegation and territorial confinement correlate to minority ethnic status, and by extension to an existence defined by sharply compromised, if not foreclosed futures. For Carrie Tarr, approaching France’s ‘cinema of difference’ entails a coincidental ‘double focus’ on Maghrebi-descendent beur and whiteauthored banlieue films (2005: 7; 49); the ethno-cultural position of ‘in-betweenness’ experienced by the French-born children of North African immigrants mirrors the banlieue’s own intermediate spatial character and concomitant ‘placelessness’ (21). Emphasising for his part the ‘mainstreaming’ of Maghrebi-French cinema, as well as a burgeoning North African émigré film culture, Will Higbee attests to the continued purchase of the banlieue film on France’s screens into the second


Screening the Paris suburbs decade of the new century. Even as directors seek to combat stereotype and to steer clear of caricature by moving ‘beyond the banlieue’ in critically self-aware fashion, they work within a recognisable set of themes, décors and social types that the trend-setting, independent films of the 1990s had put into wide circulation (Higbee 2013: 4; 17). One unintended effect of the banlieue film’s enduring critical and popular acclaim, then, has been to hide from view a longer history of French cinema’s engagement with the suburban milieu and its diverse landscapes. It is the aim of this book to present that longer history to an Anglophone audience in all its depth, scope and complexity. In point of reality, the composite record of cinematic forays into the suburb, we argue, offers far more than a prehistory of the postcolonial banlieue film. The blighted council estate or cité is but one of many cultural forms to have imprinted the collective imaginary in France through stories told on the big screen, and not all suburban narratives hew to the parameters of social realism. In place of a narrowly defined ‘film de banlieue’, the fifteen chapters in this volume conjoin diachronic and synchronic perspectives to advocate for a layered, multifaceted understanding of banlieue cinema across various film genres, modes and ideological perspectives. Indeed, from the medium’s inception at the turn of the twentieth century, filmmakers in France have looked beyond the city’s gates for inspiration and content. Screen representations of greater Paris in particular track the evolution of location shooting, extending from the single and multi-reel films of Pathé and Gaumont before World War I, to fiction features of the 1970s and 1980s shot in postmodern new towns. Across the century, the Paris region today known as Ile-de-France saw unprecedented growth as swaths of farmland, forests and brownfields were developed for industry, housing and infrastructure. In the suburbs, scriptwriters and directors found a vast reservoir of architectural forms, landscapes and human types – including the generic banlieusard, or suburbanite – through which to anchor their fictions and harness film’s unique potential to ‘record and reveal physical reality’, to recall the words of Siegfried Kracauer (1960: ix). From the villas and vacant lots of silent pre-war and wartime serials, to the bucolic riverside guinguettes featured in poetic realist works of the 1930s, and on to the shantytowns, motorways and outsized housing estates (grands ensembles) of the second post-war, the suburban milieu came to form a privileged site in the French cinematographic imaginary. For the likes of Louis Feuillade, Julien Duvivier and Marcel Carné in the first half of the century, as for Georges Franju, Maurice Pialat and Alain Corneau in the second, the Parisian banlieue is, in its dramatic impact and symbolic weight, arguably on a par with Paris itself, and this despite a steep anti-suburban bias brought about by centuries of state centralisation. No less than the streets of the capital, which have always featured prominently in French films (and in critical studies about them: see Binh 2003 and Block 2011), the banlieue – shot on location or, more rarely, recreated in the studio – can impart an impression

Introduction of reality or unreality, novelty or ordinariness, danger or enjoyment. Whether they are made to appear as idyllic or menacing, expansive or claustrophobic, the spaces that filmmakers selectively frame and recompose on the editing table are plural by definition, and are integrated to each narrative so as to convey diverse ‘structures of feeling’, a term Raymond Williams used to designate the manner in which cultural production mediates the particulars of the lived historical world (1973: 1–8). The rhythms, topographies and evolving patterns of sociability peculiar to the banlieue have accordingly prompted directors to question the material conditions and constraints that determine the shape and colour of modern life. How then to account for this heterogeneous filmic material, which reflects and reconfigures a no less heterogeneous social and topographical reality? Screening the Paris Suburbs makes no claim to exhaustiveness: Paris’ outskirts have inspired, in part or in whole, well over one hundred features and shorts, far too many for this selective account to cover in full.1 Our intent was to blend and to place into dialogue scholarly approaches that privilege, on the one hand, one or more works for the screen by a given director, and, on the other, transversal explorations of a genre (e.g. the crime film, the industrial documentary, the essay film) or a set of associated themes (mobility and freedom, community and class conflict, transgression and marginality, leisure and happiness, etc.). Collectively, these discussions of the ways in which film historically has registered and rendered meaningful the suburban habitat respond to the geocritical project described by Bertrand Westphal, one that ‘probes the human spaces that the mimetic arts arrange through, and in, the text, the image, and cultural interactions related to them’ (2011: 6). The fact that our chronological endpoint coincides with the emergence of the banlieue film as media phenomenon circa 1995 means furthermore that nearly all titles discussed were directed by the male professionals who for decades dominated the industry, setting high barriers to entry for female aspirants with a few remarkable exceptions, like Agnès Varda in her ironically titled Le Bonheur (1964) that turns around a suburban love triangle, and Dominique Cabrera, whose documentaries Chronique d’une banlieue ordinaire (1992) and Une Poste à La Courneuve (1994) highlight social conscience and the limits of local solidarity. The opening Chapter 1 by urban historian Annie Fourcaut, ‘On the origins of the banlieue film’, frames the full historical span of our volume. In her overview, Fourcaut traces the development of working-class suburbia from the 1920s to the 1970s, pointing to the mythical, derelict ‘Zone’ outlying Paris’s line of nineteenth-century fortifications as a creative social and spatial matrix from which subsequent film production would draw its types and themes, and highlighting the transformation of the industrialised, working-class ‘black belt’ of the inter-war into a politically active ‘red belt’ after World War II. Representational codes, Fourcaut argues, generally outlived the evolving material reality of greater Paris: well into the era of standardised, state-subsidised modern housing, filmmakers would continue to exploit stock images of suburban poverty and decrepitude



Screening the Paris suburbs alongside the popular longings for escape or respite, even as they gestured toward the ethnically diverse, embattled world of the banlieue film to come. The siting of early movie studios in and around the French capital had long-term consequences for the promotion of the suburban landscape as an object rich in visual interest and in narrative potential, observes Roland-François Lack whose focus in ‘Lumière, Méliès, Pathé and Gaumont’ (Chapter 2) lies on the forerunner years 1896 to 1920. Quick to capitalise on the diversity of views afforded by the half-urban, half-rural neighbourhoods outlying suburban studios at Vincennes, Montreuil and Joinville-le-Pont, directors of the silent era developed practices that, not without editing-room sleight of hand, creatively reconfigured actual topography to the ends of popular entertainment. Viewers of burlesque chase films and of crime serials proved largely indifferent to the precise real-world localisations of the streets, buildings and topographical features projected on screen; what mattered most to them, affirms Lack, was the rapport established between narrative form and mood, between a given character and a sense of place, as in the comic films of Max Linder and the serials of Louis Feuillade – works not coincidentally prized by the Surrealists, who themselves were fascinated by the ragged indeterminacy of the Paris outskirts. Tropes of movement and passage in works of the 1920s and 1930s qualified suburbia as a locus of temporary release from the constraints of the modern metropolis as well as from a cumbersome rural past, explains Jean-Louis Pautrot in ‘Roads, rivers, canals: spaces of freedom from Epstein to Vigo’ (Chapter 3). In the suburb, with its manifold roads and waterways, world-weary individuals momentarily reinvent themselves, finding a means of escape if not of outright liberation. The ‘transient space’ par excellence of inter-war cinema, the suburb proves integral to the forgotten subgenre of the river film (le film fluvial), of which Jean Vigo’s depression-era paean to sexual and social freedom, L’Atalante (1934), is one late example. Commenting on works by Jean Epstein, Jean Renoir and Marcel Carné, Pautrot highlights scenes in which movement – experienced, for instance, behind the wheel of a boat or motorcar – opens up the individual to phenomenological discovery and to psychological renegotiation of the sentiment of reality. Epstein’s silent masterwork La Glace à trois faces (1927) affords an understanding of the ‘accelerating transformation of the world’ in which the suburb is not simply a place one escapes to, but a place inescapably touched by death. In his broad assessment of popular comedies and dramas of the 1930s (Chapter 4), Keith Reader suggests that the banlieue of inter-war sound cinema is as much an ‘imagined community […] as one localisable on a map’. Its dual function as space of socio-economic relegation on the one hand, and as space of leisure and entertainment (song, dance) on the other, recalls a specifically Parisian social geography opposing an affluent, verdant west to the poorer industrial northeast. Examining Marcel Carné’s tale of proletarian downfall Le Jour se lève, Anatole Litvak’s murder mystery Cœur de Lilas and Jean Renoir’s more genteel Partie de

Introduction campagne, among other features that seduced audiences of the day, Reader underscores the tensions characteristic of suburban popular sociability separating work and play, poverty and riches, redemption and despoilment. The ‘progress’ of industry notwithstanding, idyllic or pastoral representations of the suburban milieu remained common across the 1930s, with the waterside guinguette as a leading topos.Yet escaping from the city to idealised sites of leisure was only temporary and the rewards tenuous, argues Margaret C. Flinn in ‘Julien Duvivier and inter-war “banlieutopia” ’ (Chapter 5). In her close analysis of La Belle Équipe (1936), Flinn points to the ‘narrative failure’ of community to take hold in the banlieue despite the best intentions of Duvivier’s protagonists: like all utopian projects, their attempt to establish a micro-society free of the ills of urban centre and provincial village is hampered by the vestiges of class structure and cultural allegiances. Rather than evaluate the workers’ collective enterprise in La Belle Équipe solely in terms of ‘failure’ or ‘success’, Flinn casts the very construction of the riverside dancehall as an architectural metaphor for community, in relation to the spatial theories of Louis Marin and Michel Foucault and in the context of themes that coalesced mid decade around France’s Popular Front. Departing from the strict social geographies of popular narrative filmmaking, Erik Bullot (Chapter 6) addresses marginality and transgression in three experimental or otherwise unclassifiable short films by Russian émigré Dimitri Kirsanoff, Frenchman Georges Franju and Chilean expatriate Raúl Ruiz. Bullot asks, with respect to the recurrent ‘identity crises’ of France’s film industry, whether directors who refuse the reassuring codes of an audience-ready cinema of the juste milieu might stake a claim to an art of the periphery. The three shorts on view each expose the internal and external borders of Paris as zones of now latent, now overt violence that contributes to the dissolution of film genre. Scenes of fragmentation, decapitation and dismemberment posit the suburb as ‘a trap door into which fragmented bodies disappear unimpeded’, thus negating any pretence to a balanced and harmonious cinema of the juste milieu. The unnerving, chilling potential of suburban locales was no secret to Franju, whose masterpiece Les Yeux sans visage (Eyes Without a Face, 1960) remains a unique gem in the horror genre. Tristan Jean (Chapter 7) sees a strong correlation between Franju’s directorial sensibility and eccentric position with respect to France’s film industry, and the ‘geographically and culturally peripheral status’ of the villa-cum-clinic where Dr Génessier subjects his unsuspecting victims to murderous experiments. If Franju’s work routinely defies generic classifications, it finds continuity in its recourse to nocturnal suburban settings that exploit ordinary motifs to fantastical effect. Portrayal of a secluded, economically privileged locale in proximity to the capital ‘cuts against the grain of contemporaneous representations of the banlieue’, notes Jean of Les Yeux sans visage, which rejects the nostalgic tone adopted in Casque d’or (Jacques Becker, 1952) and in Mon Oncle (Jacques Tati, 1958).



Screening the Paris suburbs This last picture, well known in the Anglophone world, has long been held as a negative critique of the bland, alienating qualities of modern suburbia. Malcolm Turvey (Chapter 8) takes issue with that prevailing assessment by distinguishing in Mon Oncle architectural function proper from the comic and ludic uses to which these built forms are put. The Arpel villa with its porthole windows and stacked cubes is itself less an exemplar of the architecture of the 1950s, argues Turvey, than a savvy parody of inter-war French high modernism. Tati thus strikes a balance between the mockery of conspicuous consumption attendant to France’s post-war economic boom and the comic re-enchantment of an unruly, unpredictable object world that is functional in name only. Changing angles, argues Elisabeth Cardonne-Arlyck in her reading of L’Amour existe, is precisely what Maurice Pialat aims to do in his depiction of the Paris outskirts circa 1960 (Chapter 9). By turns elegiac and polemical, Pialat’s documentary short encompasses an individual life from childhood to adulthood; the history of France from the pre-war period through World War II and the ‘Trente Glorieuses’; and visual representations of suburbia stretching from Impressionist painting to poetic realism. Cardonne-Arlyck underscores the formative qualities of an intimate, unseen space in which ‘impenetrable beauties’ lay hidden, and where love can and, indeed, does exist. Behind the forces of poverty, numbing routine and modernisation that it denounces, Pialat’s plangent film essay uncovers what in the banlieue could have been revealed but had remained unsaid, a content that the camera and voiceover narration can never recover in full. The layeredness of the suburban habitat – its peculiar manner of conjoining different textures, forms and histories so as to offer these up all at once to the eye – explains in part its lasting appeal to filmmakers. In her essay on Jean-Luc Godard (Chapter 10), Térésa Faucon ushers the reader through a host of suburban landscapes and locales, from the villas, cafés and roadways of Bande à part (1964) to the high-rises of La Courneuve in Deux ou trois choses que je sais d’elle (1967). She exposes the generative and transgressive capacity of a capitalist space in the throes of constant transformation that is shot through with fragments of a long cinema history reaching back to the silent era. In other contexts, like Alphaville (1965), Godard seeks out signs of futurity in present-day forms, showing Lemmy Caution moving through sleek, well-lit neighbourhoods of high-rise towers. Referencing Michel Foucault’s notion of heterotopia, Faucon underscores Godard’s insistence on indeterminate, liminal spaces where random movements and perspectival shifts complicate any clear-cut divisions between inside and outside. Traditionally one of the most popular genres on French screens, the polar is the object of ‘The banlieue wore black’ (Chapter 11), Philippe Met’s overview of the genre’s evolution from the 1950s to the 1980s.While proto-noir and poetic realist films shot before World War II as well as thrillers from the immediate post-war were primarily centred on Paris, from the 1950s onwards a gradual shift toward suburban locales – visible in the iconic career of Jean-Pierre Melville – was implemented through a number of genre conventions and motifs: hideouts,

Introduction shoot-outs, railway or subway stations and tracks, deserted roadways, half-built or abandoned villas. The next generation foregrounded the multifaceted reality of new council estates that encroached upon traditional allotments of single-family homes and surrounding wastelands. Even more decisively, Alain Corneau in Série noire (1979) and Le Choix des armes (1981) added to the genre an insightful sociological dimension by broaching issues of violence, alienation and devastation. The grands ensembles seized upon by feature film directors were present throughout metropolitan France, nowhere more so than in the Paris region. Camille Canteux (Chapter 12) explores a three-decade transformation in the televisual and documentary construction of these large-scale housing developments, which well before the riots of autumn 2005 had come to typify the blighted French suburb in the public eye. Early promotional films commissioned by the State housing ministry cast the historic working-class suburbs rimming Paris as overcrowded and unhealthy, in opposition to the rationally planned new estates further afield that promised order, modern comfort and hygiene. As early as the mid 1960s, however, negative aspects of the grands ensembles came to dominate French screens, and by 1970, the largest estates were portrayed as immigrant spaces deserted by the middle class and beset with poverty and petty crime. The French State’s attempt to redress this stigmatisation by launching the mixed-use villes nouvelles in the 1970s and 1980s proved largely unsuccessful, shows Canteux, so pervasive were the images of suburban blight. Modern French town planning discourse took it as a given that better – that is, rational – architecture would make for better, happier citizens. This position met with opposition in the 1970s as filmmakers looked to the burgeoning new towns to voice the ambiguities of rapid, top-down development. In ‘Elusive happiness’ (Chapter 13), Derek Schilling asks what sorts of individual and collective compromises the realisation of planned environments entailed in the wake of the failures of May 1968. Le Chat (Pierre Granier-Deferre, 1972) portrays an estranged couple who live their final days in a decrepit suburban villa slated for demolition; La Ville bidon (Jacques Baratier, 1976) the struggles of junkmen and their families to resist expropriation; and Le Couple témoin (William Klein, 1978) the gadgetobsessed excesses of aseptic, postmodern living. More ambivalent is the position of Éric Rohmer, whose protagonists in two installments of the Comédies et proverbes cycle (1981–87) laud the new town model for its felicitous conjunction of work and leisure even as they lament its programmed quality. Each of these pictures of the 1970s and 1980s expresses an imaginary solution – destructive in some cases, blithely euphoric in others – to the contradictions of suburban living. Little known to Anglophone audiences, Jean-Claude Brisseau has been singled out by French critics for having voiced, along with Mehdi Charef in Le Thé au harem d’Archimède (1985), themes that would form the core of the banlieue film a decade later. As David Vasse notes in his reading of La Vie comme ça (1978), Les Ombres (1981), L’Échangeur (1981) and De bruit et de fureur (1988) (Chapter 14), Brisseau mixes gritty, documentary-like authenticity with surreal flights of



Screening the Paris suburbs the imagination to create atmospheric narratives in which primal urges and paroxysmal violence are unleashed against the contemporary backdrop of home, school and workplace. In Brisseau’s critique of political and sexual economy, the concrete jungle of France’s devastated and maligned cités is exposed as the locus for contrary forces of subjugation and liberation across gender and generational lines. Vasse shows Brisseau to be both a precursor in his foregrounding of the systemic violence that is endemic to the cités, and a maverick whose idiosyncratic vision of human relations sat poorly with viewers and critics of the day. Suburban violence has imprinted itself upon the collective imaginary in other, less spectacular yet perhaps no less pervasive, ways, notably through labour and its gradual effacement. Our historical overview concludes with an investigation of the layered temporality of the Paris ‘red belt’ (ceinture rouge) immediately outlying Paris. These working-class bastions were a primary theatre for the struggles of May and June 1968, and encompassed the location of the storied, ten-minute direct film La Reprise du travail aux usines Wonder, in which a young woman is shown refusing to return to work despite the trade union’s vote to end the strike. Twenty-five years later, documentarian Hervé Le Roux ventures to track down this same woman in his aptly titled Reprise (1997) discussed by Guillaume Soulez (Chapter 15). Centred on the historically fraught site of Saint-Ouen where the Wonder battery factories once stood, Reprise stages an active negotiation among the neighbourhood’s past and present inhabitants and the film crew which has come to meet them in order to recover traces of a collective past. Understated in its visual style, Reprise qualifies as a ‘film de banlieue’ in the strongest possible sense: it is a film of and about the banlieue. Rather than revive a more or less faded ‘red suburb’, affirms Soulez, Le Roux allows actors in the history of working-class struggle to bear witness to the marginalisation of that same history, as well as to confer new meanings upon a site that lies just a stone’s throw from Montmartre. It would be up to another generation of filmmakers, including women like Yamina Benguigui in her made-for-television documentary 9–3, mémoire d’un territoire (2007) and Céline Sciamma in the César-nominated feature Bande de filles (2014), to mine further this territory from the perspective of the post-colony, emphasising concerns that before the early 1980s had largely gone unaddressed in the French political arena and onscreen: questions of national belonging, participation and citizenship, and various forms of exclusion and discrimination based on markers of racial or ethnic identity. Such issues are made only more acute by the underlying territorial divide, at once physical and symbolic, between the capital proper and so-called Paris extra muros – in reality, the hundreds of human communities living in the capital’s orbit. It is our wish that the present volume bring to light the extent to which that ‘outside’ space, regardless of its various monikers (outskirts, periphery, suburb or banlieue), has always informed the French filmic imaginary from within.

Introduction Note 1 Odile Daudet provides a representative filmography of some seventy-five titles in Millot and Glâtre (2003: 47–55).

References Binh, N.T. (2003), Paris au cinéma: la vie rêvée de la capitale de Méliès à Amélie Poulain, Paris, Parigramme. Block, Marcelline (ed.) (2011), World Film Locations: Paris, Bristol, Intellect. Higbee, Will (2013), Post-Beur Cinema: North African Émigré and Maghrebi-French Filmmaking in France since 2000, Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press. Jousse, Thierry (1995), ‘Prose combat’, Cahiers du cinéma 492 (June): 32–5. Kracauer, Siegfried (1960), Theory of Film: The Redemption of Physical Reality, Princeton, Princeton University Press. Millot, Olivier, and Patrick Glâtre (2003), Caméra plein champ: la banlieue au cinéma, le cinéma en banlieue, Grâne, Créaphis. Tarr, Carrie (2005), Reframing Difference: Beur and Banlieue Filmmaking in France, Manchester, Manchester University Press. Vincendeau, Ginette (2000), ‘Designs on the banlieue: Mathieu Kassovitz’s La Haine (1995)’, in Susan Hayward and Ginette Vincendeau (eds), French Film: Texts and Contexts, 2nd edn, London, Routledge: 310–27. Westphal, Bertrand (2011), Geocriticism: Real and Fictional Spaces [2007], trans. Robert T. Tally, New York, Palgrave Macmillan. Williams, Raymond (1973), The Country and the City, London, Chatto and Windus.



On the origins of the banlieue film, 1930–80 Annie Fourcaut

Growth of the contemporary suburb around the French capital came on the heels of the annexation in 1860 of outlying villages and the region’s subsequent industrialisation (Bourillon and Fourcaut 2012).Though other French cities displayed similar patterns of development, at the close of the nineteenth century the couple formed by Paris and its banlieue was unique in fashioning spatial perceptions on a national level. Henceforth, the banlieue was conceived exclusively in relation to Paris, which would remain the centre of political, economic and cultural power until the era of State decentralisation. The modernising efforts undertaken by the Baron Haussmann, who served as Prefect of Paris during the Second Empire (1852–70), as well as the enactment of turn-of-the-century hygienist legislation, drove factories, cemeteries, slaughterhouses and mental institutions out of the capital one by one. The effect across the better part of a century, from 1880 to 1960, was that the city lost its proletarian character. Low-cost housing came to typify the suburb, where many migrants from France’s regions and from abroad first landed before taking up semi-permanent residence. A popular, working-class belt characterised by heavy industry, hovels and rooming houses and housing estates built after World War II on a mass scale came to surround – if not to overshadow – the City of Light. A marked spatial rupture explains why the city and its outskirts were perceived in oppositional terms. Both a town and a French département, Paris assumed after 1860 distinct administrative status from its neighbouring municipalities1 from which it was physically separated by its fortifications and their outlying military zone non aedificandi. Military declassification and demolition of the ring of fortifications took place between the wars, although the last inhabitants of the Zone, known as ‘zoniers’, were expelled only under the Vichy government, in 1943. On the former site of the fortifications and the Zone sprung up blocks of low-cost social housing (Habitations à Bon Marché, or HBM), civic amenities and

On the origins of the banlieue film, 1930–80 infrastructure. After 1960, large-scale, modern subsidised housing estates known as HLM (Habitations à Loyer Modéré) were built on declassified land outlying the Paris ring road whose construction spanned the years 1957 to 1973. Thanks to the périphérique – now Europe’s most heavily trafficked motorway – the city’s threshold remained highly visible through the twentieth century. Physical proximity of Paris and its neighbouring municipalities did little to diminish the insurmountable symbolic distance that separated them. Cinema and suburb both appeared in France at the close of nineteenth century; as such, they should be treated as contemporaneous historical phenomena. The seventh art was uniquely positioned to forge representational codes for a space that as yet lacked a history. Over time, by highlighting successive spatiotemporal frames of reference, fiction films and documentaries constituted an imaginary of the urban periphery. The various layers of that peripheral imaginary include locales as diverse as the verdant banks of the slow-moving Marne River; the imposing fortifications and impoverished Zone just outside the capital; the popular, working-class districts with their factories that found unity under the Popular Front of 1936; the new towns which signalled the sudden arrival of modernity; and the crisis-ridden world of the contemporary cités. This dense layering could scarcely be transposed to another site; arguably, no other national cinema has represented the suburb with such consistency and tenacity as that of France. To be sure, suburb films have played a role in other national contexts. Tokyo Kids (Yasujiro Ozu, 1932) portrays two youths who take on a gang in a city suburb where traditional Japanese houses stand amid vacant lots. But Ozu’s film is an exception; Dodesukaden (Akira Kurosawa, 1970), which sites its action on a rubbish heap, is perhaps better described as a shantytown film. Pier Paolo Pasolini’s work for the screen underscores two facets of Rome’s industrialising periphery: Accattone (1961) portrays the suburban underclass in the borgate, while in Mamma Roma (1962), the former prostitute played by Anna Magnani hopes to save her son Ettore by moving to a new housing block in the Don Bosco neighbourhood, newly annexed to the capital. In the United States, where immigrants gravitated toward city centres, the equivalents of suburb films are pictures about the lower depths such as Man’s Castle (Frank Borzage, 1933), distributed in France under the revealing title Ceux de la zone (‘Those from the Zone’). France’s response to the likes of Angels with a Dirty Face (Michael Curtiz, 1938), which explores the attempts of a parish priest to save local children from a life of crime in New York’s lower depths, is arguably the missionary suburb film exemplified by Notre-Dame de la Mouise (Robert Péguy, 1941). Likewise, work by contemporary Franco-Maghrebi filmmakers owes not a little to ghetto or ‘‘hood films’ shot since the 1980s by African-American directors from the viewpoint of oppressed populations whose communities are beset with violence from within and without. The new British social cinema has likewise described urban misery in peripheral neighbourhoods devastated by unemployment, whether around Manchester as in



Screening the Paris suburbs Raining Stones (Ken Loach, 1993) or Sheffield as portrayed in the wildly popular The Full Monty (Peter Cattaneo, 1997). Proletarian children of misery: the Zone Outlying Paris’s fortifications was a zone non aedificandi 250 metres wide littered with lightweight constructions and inhabited by workers and ragpickers. Beginning in the 1920s, this belt of shantytowns encircling the capital was slowly razed, its last vestiges disappearing only in the 1970s upon completion of the ring road. Hemming in Paris, the ‘fortifs’ and the Zone enjoyed considerable literary fortune as a setting in works by the likes of Emile Zola, Joris-Karl Huysmans and the Goncourt brothers. ‘The zone sets the stage for an exotic travel literature devoted to a suburban jungle in which native savages speak street slang (la langue verte)’ (Cohen and Lortie 1991: 67). Gangs of young delinquents known as ‘Apaches’ who refused factory work despite their working-class origins terrorised bourgeois Parisians in exploits popularised by the press and in pulp fiction. Silent-era film directors found in the Zone and the ‘fortifs’ an ideal setting for burlesque chase scenes between thugs and policemen as well as for adaptations of nineteenth-century novels that included Eugène Sue’s Les Mystères de Paris (1842–43) and Adolphe d’Ennery and Eugène Cormon’s Les Deux Orphelines (1877). In the pre-war Gaumont feature L’Enfant de Paris (Léonce Perret, 1913), the act of crossing the fortifications has a key plot function. After World War I, images of a ‘black belt’ of filth and misery surrounding Paris surface in representations of the periphery in La Zone: Au pays des chiffonniers (Georges Lacombe, 1928). A former assistant of director René Clair, Lacombe shot this documentary – a documentaire romancé in the parlance of the period – in the Zone itself. Caravans, wood-plank cabins, sickly trees and stray animals form a fantastic backdrop for a screenplay that follows a ragpicker family through the workday and into evening. Children in tatters (Figure 1), gypsies, junkmen and fallen music-hall star La Goulue are each portrayed. Hailed by the critics of its time, La Zone became a classic of whistleblowing cinema. Writing for La Revue du cinéma in December 1928, Pierre Audard called it ‘a documentary where anecdote has no role to play, where events viewed with simplicity and quotidian cruelty take on an unsparing necessity to weave the chain of a whole life; where the screen itself is a glass eye’ (Association Paris expérimental 1985: n.p.). One astonishing sequence expresses the inhabitants’ desire to flee to a bucolic elsewhere: two lovers – a gypsy woman and a young man – embrace tenderly on the grassy fortifications holding a newspaper entitled La Vie à la campagne.2 The camera pans as the newspaper flies skyward and images of flowering apple trees against wide-open sky fill the screen. This dream of amorous escape prefigures Casque d’Or (Jacques Becker, 1952), where the trysts between Marie (Simone Signoret) and Manda (Serge Reggiani) unfold alongside the leafy Marne River, far from the city, which catches up with them all the same, in the person of Félix Leca (Claude Dauphin) (Burch and Sellier 2014: 288–9).

On the origins of the banlieue film, 1930–80 The sordid power of the Zone fuels a series of fiction films released at the onset of World War II, among them Les Musiciens du Ciel (Georges Lacombe, 1939) which was shot at the Saint-Ouen flea market. Focused on the plight of endangered shantytown children, L’Enfer des anges (Christian-Jacque, 1939) was banned by French censors for its portrayal of the Zone’s hovels, only to be authorised for release by the German occupation authority in 1940 for the same reasons.3 Set designer Roland Quignon, who was behind the archetypal 1930s faubourg film La Rue sans nom (Pierre Chenal, 1934), rebuilt the Zone in the studio for Notre-Dame de la Mouise (Robert Péguy, 1941). In all these cases, setting allowed spectators to engage in an archaic reading of societal problems: the Zone’s shacks are the hovels decried in the nineteenth century by philanthropists and public health advocates on account of the alarming rates of alcoholism, tuberculosis and prostitution observed there. The fictional characters uphold age-old perceptions of the periphery as a space for the fallen and downtrodden: burglars, elderly plagued with consumption, old hags and streetwalkers, pimps and madams are the rule, and the few characters who have managed to stay pure the exception. Amid such misery, salvation can come only from outside. The poor’s fate always depends on this external logic, even if the spread of virtue requires the cooperation of a native figure as mediator. Thus in Notre-Dame de la Mouise Michèle Morgan, playing a young Salvationist who has come to help the zoniers, dies from tuberculosis, but not before saving the little thug Victor who in turn dedicates himself to saving souls. The priest character similarly wins over and converts Bibi-le-mal-loti (roughly, ‘Bibi the slumdweller’), a formerly dangerous revolutionary who responds to his calls by joining the priesthood. Following the Allied Liberation, Aubervilliers (Eli Lotar, 1946) signals a return to the documentary form. Its director Lotar, screenwriter Jacques Prévert and composer Joseph Kosma leave their avant-garde artistic stamp on classic images of suburban misery. Prévert’s lyrics recall the spoken manner of the October Group with whom he worked in the 1930s; Kosma punctuates his score after the manner of Kurt Weil; while Lotar, who had shot Luis Buñuel’s Las Hurdes: tierra sin pan (Land Without Bread, 1933), borrows deliberately from social filmmakers’ repertoire: the face of a sleeping baby covered with flies and a smiling girl, her clothing in tatters, recall in equal measure Eisenstein, Borzage and Henri Storck and Joris Ivens’ Misère au Borinage (1933). An activist work by all accounts, Lotar’s post-war documentary is furthermore a political curiosity. Commissioned by the newly elected mayor of the northeast inner suburb of Aubervilliers, Charles Tillon,4 and shot with equipment supplied by the Ministry of Air which Tillon himself headed, it denounces capitalism by showing, among other images, the burnt hands and spent lungs of a factory worker. But the quasi-entirety of Prévert’s voice-over heaps blame on ‘former mayor Pierre Laval’ for the sorry state of the Landy neighbourhood, which had been slated for demolition and renovation. At the time, Laval, who had been sentenced to death for collaboration with the Germans and shot in October 1945, was doubtless the most hated man in all of France – a fact that renders problematic Lotar’s emphasis on his ineptitude in governing the town of Aubervilliers.



Screening the Paris suburbs Modelled after the Zone film, Aubervilliers shows caravans and picket fences, fleabag hotels and cabins, and the encampment of a large family surrounded by what appears to be the rubble of the demolished fortifications. What the film does not say, save at the very end when voiceover commentary invites workers to pull up their sleeves, is that the housing crisis has spread across France and that millions are now camping out on the ruins of destroyed cities. Aubervilliers innovates by portraying the zoniers largely as honest workers, the elderly poor and abandoned children (Figure 2). In the model family shown in the closing sequence, the men are all gainfully employed and the mother keeps her kids free from grime, even though the family lives among ruins. Central to Lotar’s film, then, is a discordance between classic representations of misery – fly-covered infants, children in tatters likened to a litter of famished pups, old folks left behind in their shacks – and the voiceover commentary, which drives home the message that only honest workers dwell in these parts, rather than nomadic populations who would take up in their caravans and leave the premises. The ‘black belt’ represented visually, on the one hand, and the world of honest labour evoked in voiceover, on the other, are commingled, particularly in the emblematic refrain of one of the celebrated songs that pepper Lotar’s film: […] Gentils Gentils Gentils Gentils […]

enfants enfants enfants enfants

d’Aubervilliers des prolétaires de la misère du monde entier

(Kindly children of Aubervilliers/Kindly proletarian children/ Kindly children of misery/Kindly children the world over) Jacques Prévert, ‘Aubervilliers-Chanson des enfants’ in Spectacle © Éditions Gallimard

This routine conflation of misery and the proletarian condition had become politically incorrect after the Liberation, a fact that explains why some working-class spectators booed Aubervillers when it was shown as the short accompanying the French Resistance docu-fiction La Bataille du rail (René Clément, 1946). So great, in fact, was the uproar that Lotar’s documentary was removed from Saturday and Sunday screenings (Marion 1946). Even after the Zone’s physical disappearance, the genre lived on. Casque d’Or (Jacques Becker, 1952) owes to it little more than highly codified characters such as the ‘Apaches’ and immoral gigolettes; it otherwise alternates between the décors of Belleville – a faubourg annexed to Paris in 1860 – and the airy environs of Joinville-le-Pont, in the meanders of the Marne River (Figure 3). Porte des Lilas (René Clair, 1957) perhaps marks the end of the genre: a setting at the city’s edge symbolises at once the Zone, the city gates, the faubourg and a popular neighbourhood with its bistro run by the ubiquitous character actor Raymond

On the origins of the banlieue film, 1930–80 Bussières. The screenplay, which adapts René Fallet’s novel La grande ceinture (1956), squarely situates the action near a suburban junk heap. An impossible conflation of popular visual motifs, Léon Barsacq’s nocturnal set is unveiled in the first scene where an aged ragpicker couple push a cart through thick fog. Truer than life, this studio-bound representation of a bygone world stifles Clair’s mise en scene. The filmmaker explained set designer Barsacq’s contribution as follows: He had built a whole series of streets and alleys the reality of which few spectators, I think, doubted. But when we tried to place the image of a real city street amidst artificial staged images, we had to give up. The styles were too different. You could say that the truth paled alongside its imitation. (qtd in Niney 1994: 10)

In this no man’s land, sentimental ragpicker-cum-alcoholic Juju (Pierre Brasseur), Artiste Georges Brassens (playing himself) and the ingénue Maria (Dany Carrel) – who runs her father’s bistro – must defend themselves against a gangster who intrudes from the outside. Awkwardly mixing popular and marginal social types, the screenplay of Porte des Lilas strikes critic Joël Magny as a ‘purely cinematographic mime show that makes no reference to external reality, save that of the personal mythology, itself cinematographic, of the filmmaker – the famous little world of René Clair’ (1995: 128). Such powerful and lasting images die hard, and never do they disappear altogether. Laisse béton (Serge Le Péron, 1983) takes place on the site of the demolished Zone, in HLM housing built just beyond the peripheral ring road. The film mixes spaces from different stages of urban development, such as a tunnel from a disaffected intra-urban trainline, vacant lots, factory sheds and chimneys; a pickup scene on a grassy knoll alongside the Paris ring road recalls the love scene from Lacombe’s La Zone a half-century earlier. In Le Péron’s picture, the Zone’s vestiges prefigure the burgeoning themes of the banlieue film that would surface in the mid-1990s: young delinquents, Franco-Maghrebi Beurs as well as would-be ethnic French, meet up in the cellars of housing projects; the Arab big brother, who keeps out of trouble by boxing, does his best to protect the youngest. By equating ragpickers and the popular classes, woodworkers and ‘Apaches’, misery and the people, the zonier film perpetuated themes of poverty and pauperisation up until the second half of the twentieth century. At the very gates of Paris lay a setting whose dramatic potential and symbolic value the French movie-going public recognised instantly. This explains the longevity of these representations which subsist as traces, surfacing for instance in provincial newspaper reports about villainous crimes occurring near Paris: Roger Salengro Boulevard […] lies outside Noisy-le-Sec in a deserted spot bordering a vacant lot. In this solitary setting, a few hundred meters from the Noisy Fort where bands of gypsies and North Africans camp out in rudimentary shelters made of poorly sealed planks, the assassins did their deed. Adding to the sinister look of the place, thick fog covered the entire region that night. (‘Deux chauffeurs’, 1963)



Screening the Paris suburbs Indeed, French cinema of the 1930s all but established the look of the banlieue, which little by little became a separate diegetic reality from the worlds of the Parisian faubourgs and the historic Zone. Popular cinema takes to the suburban streets in keeping with the call issued by Marcel Carné in Cinématographe in November 1933, ‘Quand le cinéma descendra-t-il dans la rue?’ (When will cinema take to the streets?): Populism, you say. What of it? Neither the word nor the thing scares me a bit. Isn’t describing the simple lives of modest folk and rendering the atmosphere of working humanity that belongs to them far better than reconstructing the sultry hothouse atmosphere of dance halls and the unreal aristocracy of nightclubs from which the cinema has profited to date? Paris, a two-faced city! … Is there any name better suited to stirring up a host of images of popular sentiment? (qtd in Boujut 1987: 309)

For thirty years, the suburb allowed filmmakers to depict the ‘simple life of modest folk’ and so became one of the popular visages of Paris. On Sundays, the popular classes flee the capital. In evoking weekend getaways along the Marne, filmmakers renewed the inheritance of Maupassant, Zola and their Impressionist contemporaries. Nogent, Eldorado du dimanche (Marcel Carné, 1929) adopts the model of Menschen am Sonntag (People on Sunday, Robert Siodmak, 1929; screenplay Billy Wilder). The seven-minute musical short A La Varenne, java chantée (Jean Dréville, 1933) features watering holes and lovers embracing on the grass or rowing. Inspired by Maupassant’s short story, Partie de campagne (Jean Renoir, 1936) saw release only in 1946, its dialogues rewritten by Jacques Prévert.5 As was the case with Casque d’Or, which Becker shot at Annet to portray Joinville circa 1900, in Le Diable au corps (Claude Autant-Laura, 1946) the banks of the Marne River – where novelist Raymond Radiguet had spent his childhood – play a central role. Generic differences aside, the narrative function of these spaces outside the capital changes little. The idea is either to leave the capital for the afternoon on an amorous escapade, or to flee and hide out. The city proper is the space of social convention, feverish and debilitating work, but also of danger and surveillance, whether by the Paris police or the neighbours. By contrast, the banks of the Marne are doubly attractive: as a natural space with flowing water that shimmers in the sunlight and trees bordering each bank, but also as a site fashioned by popular sociability, with its countless drinking holes, open-air balls, riverside pastimes and sports. The site for lovers’ rendezvous in Partie de campagne, Casque d’or and Le Diable au corps, this green suburb offers up bodily pleasures: dancing, rowing or finding love. Yet such pleasures are fleeting and fragile: Sunday must come to an end, and the Parisians who that morning had left the city smiling, return to the capital on the same railway line downcast. It’s a cinematic suburb of fancy, the Sunday of Life. In La Belle Équipe (Julien Duvivier, 1936), the suburb arguably plays a more complex role (Bosséno 1992: 242–51). ‘Chez nous’, the watering hole purchased

On the origins of the banlieue film, 1930–80 by a group of unemployed men who have won the lottery, is an ambiguous place rife with possibility. For Spanish refugee Mario, the suburb provides temporary refuge from the police menace. City air is unhealthy: one shot shows Jean and Mario underneath a poster for winter sports that entices them to leave the city.The suburb is furthermore a healthful antidote to the sordid Parisian hotel ironically named ‘Au Roi d’Angleterre’ where the group of friends had roomed. In a long sequence filmed in a dark staircase – a convenient metonym for working-class lodgings – Jean (Jean Gabin) confronts the hotel’s rapacious, reactionary proprietor (Charles Granval), a transposition of the traditional predatory figure Monsieur Vautour (‘Mister Vulture’). Leaving the city for the suburb and becoming a property owner is a way to escape social and economic determinism. The suburban guinguette is organised as a workers’ cooperative that allows unemployed men to become bosses. This suburban utopia is endangered on all sides all the same. As in F.W. Murnau’s Sunrise, evil emanates from the city: a woman of easy virtue from Pigalle (Viviane Romance) tries to separate the two friends. The return of Monsieur Jubette (Jacques Baumer) in his signature bowler hat spells the end of the adventure, which culminates in the death of Tintin, who falls to his death from a roof just after having planted the French flag and invoked the spirit of socialist leader Léon Gambetta. Even in the suburb, not everything is possible.6 This failure recalls that of the printers’ collective in Le Crime de Monsieur Lange, where an innocent intermediary, Lange (René Lefèvre), pushes the print shop workers to kill their hateful boss Batala (Jules Berry). In Renoir and Prévert’s libertarian vision, as in Duvivier’s, the working-class utopia can only last so long, and ends badly. Alexander Trauner’s set for Le Jour se lève (1939) has become the other dark emblem of the suburban landscape, despite the fact that nothing in the narrative situates the action precisely. The shooting script composed after Jacques Prévert’s screenplay, which had set the action in Boulogne-Billancourt just west of Paris, opens simply with the indication ‘a suburban street and square – daytime. Highangle medium shot of a suburban street with the rails of a tramway visible in the middle. Enter into the same shot two horse-drawn carts, one of them mounted by a worker. A pan unveils the street and a square in the late afternoon’ (qtd in Kermabon 1995: 22). The vertical building in which a besieged Jean Gabin dies was reportedly modelled by Trauner on a building on Paris’s Rue Lafayette, while the factory where Françoise (Jacqueline Laurent) meets the sand-blower Gabin outfitted in his protective suit references the big metalworks and foundries. This peripheral hodgepodge stands for the suburb, whereas the décors built by Trauner the previous year for Hôtel du Nord (Marcel Carné, 1938) show the properly urban landscape of the Canal Saint-Martin inside Paris. A pessimistic narrative that condemns Gabin from the start; complex, dark sets;7 and the work’s critical reception in 1939 as the expression of the destiny of France’s new misérables all make Le Jour se lève a film about the suburb, a journey into the end of the night that closes at daybreak.



Screening the Paris suburbs French cinema of the 1930s had begun to single out the Paris suburbs as a specific backdrop on the brink of becoming an autonomous urban reality with the rise of the ‘Red Belt’, the growth of estate housing tracts and post-war industrialisation. In a country whose urban population exceeded the rural only in 1931, two stereotypes slowly evolved: that of the guinguettes on the banks of the Marne and that of a more or less tragic faubourg where working-class loves are always imperilled. The suburb gradually took on the identity of a space in which members of the working class attempt first to subvert, then to confront, their destiny. Filming modernity Extremely rapid change in urban forms affected the suburban landscape around Paris from the adoption in 1953 of the Plan Courant to the Guichard Circular of 1973, which partly halted construction of large-scale housing projects. In just twenty years more than a million new residences were built, primarily as part of grands ensembles.The suburb became a vast construction site where manual labourers from France’s regions and from outside metropolitan France came to settle. Named as the head of the Paris Region in 1962, Paul Delouvrier was tasked with creating order in the chaos.The regional master plan of 1965 (Schéma directeur d’aménagement et d’urbanisme de la région parisienne, or SDAURP) set up a use plan and foresaw the construction of new towns for a region which planners estimated would, by the year 2000, reach fourteen million inhabitants. The enormous housing blocks of several thousand apartments each that cropped up in just a few years in such locales as Sarcelles, Massy-Antony and La Grande Borne were presented as laboratories for modernity, ‘radiant cities’ in which the newly prosperous post-war society would take shape. In light of these upheavals, the cinema looked to historic suburban neighbourhoods and to the outer districts of Paris as possible refuges for a threatened popular happiness. Rue des Prairies (Denys de La Patellière, 1959) throws into stark relief the urban contrasts of the nascent Fifth Republic. Its protagonist (Jean Gabin) is a construction foreman in his 50s who is raising three grown children alone in Rue des Prairies, in Paris’ twentieth arrondissement. Lively and congested, the street where he lives along with his drinking mates and shopkeepers is the polar opposite of the faraway, inaccessible worksite he oversees at Sarcelles, which was under construction at the time of shooting. His daughter Odette (Marie-Josée Nat) has just left Rue des Prairies and fallen for an older man from the posh districts of Paris; the capital’s chic West End thus threatens the working-class East. Through the codes of 1930s populism, De La Patellière’s melodrama takes note of the key transformations under France’s post-war boom, namely the emergence of a generational divide and the creation ex nihilo of would-be urban spaces. In Quai du Point-du-Jour (Jean Faurez, 1959), the Renault car factory metalworker Emile Dupont (Raymond Bussières) saves the kind Madeleine (Dany Carrel) who

On the origins of the banlieue film, 1930–80 is pressured by gangsters to work as a prostitute; the workers of Billancourt – the bastion of automobile manufacturing immediately west of Paris – chase the pimps out of Pigalle. In La Belle Américaine (Robert Dhéry, 1961), the rush of wealth and modernity symbolised by an American motorcar (Figure 4) disturbs the peace in the Plaine-Saint-Denis district where hero Marcel, employed at a vacuum tube factory, lives an otherwise happy family life in a socially homogenous neighbourhood. The decade following, Corps à cœur (Paul Vecchiali, 1978) places in opposition the capital and a forlorn suburb that is no more. South of Paris in Le KremlinBicêtre, an enclave populated by old-fashioned types and the elderly, a young auto repairman falls hopelessly in love with a druggist from Paris’ adjacent thirteenth district, a woman some thirty years older than he. The suburbanite lays siege to the Parisienne and camps out in front of her pharmacy, recreating on the sidewalk a laughable suburban cottage of sorts. To be sure, the apotheosis of the genre is Mon Oncle (Jacques Tati, 1958), which manifestly builds on the contradiction between two urban spaces that engender wholly distinct social relations. Represented through the codes of the inter-war popular neighbourhood, Monsieur Hulot’s Saint-Maur opposes point by point the Arpels’ functionalist bunker.8 Viewed onscreen, the popular neighbourhood, which never quite dies off (and never should have disappeared in the first place), is threatened on all sides – by Paris, by the wealthy, by modernity or by new development. Its primary traits having been set in the 1930s, subsequent representations, rather than eliminate this mythic neighbourhood outright, layer themselves atop it. Reactionary in the strictest sense, French fiction films save from oblivion images of the city that are both mythic, in that the realities they paint never existed, and archaic, in that the spaces from which they drew their inspiration from afar had long since disappeared. Debates opposing collective housing on the one hand, and the single-family dwelling (pavillon) on the other, crisscrossed French society from the 1930s to the 1980s. They explain why, in the Paris suburbs, neighbourhoods of detached homes can be found right alongside blocks of mass housing. French cinema did not take sides in this debate, rejecting in sum both of these forms of lodging for suburban dwellers. All but absent from French cinema between the wars, the scarcely photogenic detached house fills particular functions in the periurban décors of the second post-war. Home to an individual or a household, it emblematises isolation, confinement, solitude and marginality. In a house in Courbevoie threatened with demolition, Jean Gabin and Simone Signoret tear each other apart (Le Chat, Pierre Granier-Deferre, 1971); a home in Bagnolet harbours the queer loves of Michel Blanc and Gérard Depardieu (Tenue de soirée, Bertrand Blier, 1986); in Série noire (Bertrand Blier, 1979), death and filth characterise the house where Frank Poupart (Patrick Dewaere) strangles his wife. Even Jean Gabin looks pathetic in his cottage, playing the lead in Le Jardinier d’Argenteuil (Jean-Paul Le Chanois, 1966). Here, cinema isn’t inventing things: rather, it is translating into images the contempt of



Screening the Paris suburbs political elites, planners, architects and technocrats for the single-family homes that, as they multiply, are increasingly blamed for the suburbs’ defacement. French filmmakers were quick to take up the aesthetically spectacular grands ensembles. Jean Gabin’s character in Rue des Prairies oversees construction of Les Sablons, the first part of the massive Sarcelles housing project. Marcel Carné situates the disputes of leather-clad blousons noirs outside the inhospitable HLM blocks of Alfortville (Terrain vague, 1960). Screen comedies likewise paint the housing projects as wholly dehumanised (Elle court, elle court la banlieue, Gérard Pirès, 1973). The first French feature explicitly to take as its subject the regional planning of Paris, Deux ou trois choses que je sais d’elle (Two or Three Things I Know About Her, Jean-Luc Godard, 1967) portrays the grands ensembles in radically negative terms: products of the ‘cruelty of neo-capitalism’, the horizontal blocks at La Courneuve foster prostitution, while the suburb itself is a worksite full of sound and fury. As Godard announces at the outset, the nomination of Paul Delouvrier as Prefect of the Paris Region explains the ‘terrible law of the grands ensembles’. From Carné to Godard, divergent aesthetic programmes coincide in their common denunciation of new forms of peripheral organisation. With notable exceptions (La Belle Équipe; Mon Oncle or Deux ou trois choses que je sais d’elle), French filmmakers of the sound era have chosen to film bygone urban forms: as Jean-Louis Comolli notes, ‘Filming the city is ultimately about filming what, in the city, looks like cinema; or, better, making it look like cinema’ (Comolli 1994: 17). In the filmic geography of the suburbs, spaces of differing ages overlap and intersect as the cinema compresses or distends images of the city. Hence the fabled Zone lasts more than a half-century; the popular neighbourhood never quite dies off; and both single-family dwellings and council estates are mixed up in the same wash of contempt. Yet these films also prefigure a city yet to come: the Manhattan-like studio set built by set designer Jacques Lagrange for Play Time (Jacques Tati, 1967) recalls perhaps nothing so much as La Défense, the business district northwest of Paris which was under construction at the time of shooting. The American tourists who have just arrived at the Orly airport never do reach the capital, glimpsed only through reflections caught in the buildings’ glass façades. An outright commercial failure that nearly ruined its director, Tati’s film on urban form gone global was incomprehensible to the movie-going public of 1967. Decades later, taking cues from American screenwriters, the uninspired Luc Besson spinoff Banlieue 13 (Pierre Morel, 2004) unfolds in the Paris suburbs in the year 2013: set in a ghetto surrounded by high concrete walls, its action prefigures the gang wars that would later tear asunder neighbourhoods around housing projects in Marseilles. Thus the banlieue film avant la lettre serves as a crystal ball within which spectators can glimpse the urban past and future at once. The space of fiction imprisons characters in a destiny known in advance: doomed love affairs, prostitution, social failure or suicide. Social determinism is inscribed in the décors themselves, those made by Trauner for Le Jour se lève or

On the origins of the banlieue film, 1930–80 by Barsacq for Porte des Lilas, or the Debussy housing block that Godard filmed in 1967. In some cases the diegetic suburb is little more than a décor used to connote populist nostalgia for a bygone world. Jean Gabin’s title character in Le Pacha (Georges Lautner, 1968) is a police inspector who, approaching retirement, returns to the site of his suburban childhood only to find that everything has changed. The dry goods shop where he used to buy candy has become a seedy bar run by an immigrant, while the site of factories in the meanders of the Seine recalls his childhood friend Gouvion (Robert Dalban), a crooked cop whose inability to adapt to modern life resulted in his death. The suburb can be a structuring element: the screenplay of Le Choix des armes (Alain Corneau, 1981) turns on the meeting between a wealthy, wizened gangster (Yves Montand) who owns a stud farm west of Paris in the Yvelines département and a delinquent from the housing projects (Gérard Depardieu) who, having escaped from jail, enters a world of suburban wealth that he aims to destroy. Corneau’s earlier Série noire (1979) could only take place in the desert-like, fragmented spaces – houses, telephone booths, and housing estates erected in the middle of nowhere – that the errant hero (Patrick Dewaere) crosses. Already in the 1930s this spatial logic was arguably in place. Indeed, La Belle Équipe makes sense only in the suburbs, in particular the theme of flight and the rejection of the capital, from which all danger comes. In Le Bonheur (Marcel L’Herbier, 1935), the despair of anarchist Lutcher (Charles Boyer), who has attempted to kill the star Clara Stuart (Gaby Morlay), stems from the fact that he lives alone in a forlorn shack in suburban Arcueil. Peripheral spaces and their inhabitants can form the very subject of a film: as we have seen, as a documentary classic of social critique, Lacombe’s La Zone of 1928 is equal to Storck and Ivens’s Misère au Borinage (1933) in Belgium or to John Grierson’s Housing Problems (1935) in the United Kingdom. This inheritance explains in part the emergence between 1985 and 1995 of the film de cité (Milleliri 2011) and the beur film made by a new generation of filmmakers raised on large suburban housing estates and whose earliest works coincided with the appearance of postcolonial analysis of French society in public debates. From the silent years to the close of the twentieth century, the point has, in a way, always been to film the popular classes, whether working or unemployed, migrant or settled, delinquent or law-abiding. Action most often unfolds on the urban periphery, a space that continues to overpower the French national imaginary even as the riots of October/November 2005 proved the national, rather than strictly Parisian, character of that crisis. A handful of comedies aside, screenplays take after film noir, such that viewers all but expect a tragic end for heroes and heroines imprisoned in suburban spaces that metaphorise their state of deep social disquiet. Notes 1 See the exhibition Accessed 3 June 2016.



Screening the Paris suburbs 2 La vie à la campagne (Countryside Living) was one of many publications to appear as early as 1914 that extolled building individual homes in the suburb as a way of going back to the land. 3 The screenplay was taken from the novel by René Lefèvre, the popular actor who had played the assassin hero in Le Crime de monsieur Lange (Jean Renoir, 1936) and who here takes the male lead as Victor. 4 Well established in Aubervilliers by 1935 when he was elected to the town council, Charles Tillon later served as general counselor of the Aubervilliers canton for the Seine department. He was first elected mayor in 1945 and reelected in 1947. 5 See Keith Reader’s discussion of these films of the 1930s in Chapter 4 below. 6 See Margaret C. Flinn’s discussion of La Belle Équipe in Chapter 5 below. 7 Trauner explained that ‘Nothing is harder to make concrete than poverty’; quoted by Jacques Leenhardt in the preface to the exhibition catalogue Alexandre Trauner (Various 1986). 8 See Malcolm Turvey’s contribution in Chapter 8 below.

References Association Paris Expérimental (1985), Paris vue par le cinéma d’avant-garde, 1923–1983, Paris, Paris Expérimental. Bosséno, Christian-Marc (1992), ‘Les environs de Paris au fil du cinéma’, in Annie Fourcaut (ed.), Banlieue rouge 1920–1960: Années Thorez, années Gabin: archétype du populaire, banc d’essai des modernités, Paris, Autrement. Boujut, Michel et al. (eds) (1987), Cités-cinés, Paris, Ramsay/La Villette. Bourillon, Florence and Annie Fourcaut (eds) (2012), Agrandir Paris 1860–1970, Paris, Presses de la Sorbonne. Burch, Noël and Geneviève Sellier (2014), The Battle of the Sexes in French Cinema, 1930–1956 [1996], trans. Peter Graham, Durham, Duke University Press. Cohen, Jean-Louis and André Lortie (1991), Des fortifs au périf: Paris, les seuils de la ville. Paris, Pavillon de l’Arsenal/Picard. Comolli, Jean-Louis (1994), Regards sur la ville, Paris, Editions du Centre Georges Pompidou. ‘Deux chauffeurs de taxi assassinés, l’un à Noisy-le-Sec, l’autre à Marseille’ (1963), Dernières nouvelles d’Alsace, 9 Feb. Kermabon, Jacques (ed.) (1995), Parcours de cinéma en Ile-de-France, Paris, Textuel. Magny, Joël (1995), ‘Paris et la Nouvelle Vague’, CinémAction 75: Architecture, décor et cinéma: 126–33. Marion, Denis (1946), ‘Aubervilliers’, Combat, 30 March. Milleliri, Carole (2011), ‘Le cinéma de banlieue: un genre instable’, Mise au point 3. http:// Accessed 3 June 2016. Niney, François (1994), Visions urbaines: villes d’Europe à l’écran, Paris, Centre Georges Pompidou. Various (1986), Alexandre Trauner: cinquante ans de cinéma, Paris, Cinémathèque française/ Ecole Nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts and Lyon, Institut Lumière.


Lumière, Méliès, Pathé and Gaumont: French filmmaking in the suburbs, 1896–1920 Roland-François Lack

American cinema began in the suburbs, with Edison in West Orange, New Jersey; English cinema also began in the suburbs, with Birt Acres in Barnet, north of London (Koszarski 2008: 8; Barnes 1983: 25). French cinema, if it began with the Lumière brothers, began in a city, Lyon, though its first famous film was a train pulling into La Ciotat, outside Marseille. The symbolic first film of banlieue cinema is not that film of a train bringing Madame Lumière to a comfortable suburb where she and her husband will feed their baby in a comfortable suburban villa, even if trains at suburban stations or meals in suburban gardens do become recurrent tropes when French cinema later ventures beyond the city’s confines. The symbolic foundation of French suburban filmmaking is, rather, a Méliès film from 1898, a phantom ride from atop a train heading out of Paris and into the suburbs. The train is on the Vincennes line, passing Bel Air station and running under the petite ceinture rail line that circled Paris within city limits, then under the fortifications that were the city’s outer limits. While the rail line continues into Saint Mandé, Vincennes and beyond, Méliès’ film closes on a view of the banlieue immediately beyond the fortifications.1 This train journey stands for a movement of Paris’s first filmmakers out from the city and into the suburbs.2 Méliès made most of his earliest films in and for the theatre he ran on Paris’s Boulevard des Italiens, filming also in the streets around there, but he soon shifted his activity from the boulevards to a purpose-built studio in Montreuil-sous-Bois, a small town east of Paris. Thanks to Méliès, from 1897 until 1912 Montreuil competed on the world stage as a centre of film production. At around the same time, Charles Pathé took the same train out from Paris and established a factory in Vincennes, next to Montreuil. With facilities added in Montreuil and Joinville-le-Pont, Pathé made his suburban operation into a dominant player in the worldwide film industry.3 The story of further implantations of the film industry into suburbs around Paris (Eclipse at Courbevoie,


Screening the Paris suburbs Eclair at Epernay, then the big studio complexes at Boulogne-Billancourt and Joinville), won’t be told in this chapter, but it reminds us that early representations of the suburbs were inseparable from film production in the suburbs. While Méliès’s company was small scale, centred on the creativity of one man, the scale of the Pathé operation was industrial. In 1908, the company employed more than 1500 people at Vincennes and Joinville (Le Forestier 2006: 119). Where Méliès would have been just a curio for those who lived in the vicinity of his studio, Pathé had a major impact on the life of the surrounding community, all the way into the 1980s when the last of the factory buildings was demolished (Sauteron 2008: 180).The loss of these last vestiges provoked nostalgic reminiscence, and even some protest. A complex of offices and housing was built on the site, with new streets named after pioneers of photography and cinema: Niépce, Daguerre, Nadar, Lumière and Méliès – but not Charles Pathé, who had already had a street in Vincennes named after him in the 1970s.Vestiges of Méliès’s studio in Montreuil survived until demolition in the 1940s.4 For the first twenty years of filmmaking in France, we can gauge the interaction of film production and suburban surroundings from visual evidence in the films themselves. Méliès used his studio to create imaginary spaces and places. In the 500 or so surviving films he made there, glimpses of the real world beyond are rare. In 1906, he used the dramatic landscape of the Montreuil chalk quarries as a spectacular setting for the atypical Les Incendiaires. Otherwise he never ventured far beyond his own property. We sometimes see an exterior that appears to be a street but is in fact a part of his studio lot (La Marche funèbre de Chopin, 1907; Il y a un dieu pour les ivrognes, 1908). He filmed some exteriors in his garden (Robert Macaire et Bertrand, 1907; Le Jugement du garde champêtre, 1908), and there are occasional glimpses of the studio buildings themselves (L’Agent gelé, 1908; A La Conquête du pôle, 1912). All told, the visual record of Montreuil between 1897 and 1912 to be found in surviving films by Méliès is negligible. By contrast, the presence of Pathé studios in the suburbs of Paris resulted in an extensive body of visual documentation. Like Méliès, Pathé built studios for the creation of imaginary spaces, but his filmmakers also considered the real places around them as a legitimate resource to draw on. It was Pathé filmmakers, not Méliès, who exploited Montreuil as a location and, in passing, documented this modest, largely residential suburb for posterity. More exactly, they filmed in the immediate vicinity of the Pathé studio on the rue du Sergent Bobillot, offering to worldwide audiences recurrent views of the same small, otherwise anonymous, section of Montreuil. Of course it wasn’t as documentarists that they filmed these streets. In La Course au parasol (1907), for instance, the eight or nine views of Montreuil among its fifteen locations are not there to show how interestingly varied in aspect this particular place is (it isn’t), but to answer the chase film’s generic requirement for spatial and kinetic variety. When the parasol is chased up a ladder and through the scaffolding of a half-built apartment building at the junction of the rue du Sergent

Lumière, Méliès, Pathé and Gaumont, 1896–1920 Bobillot and the rue de la Tourelle, the film is developing contrasts of horizontal and vertical movement, but is also showing us something of the construction process of suburban housing at this time.5 Four years later, in Mes Filles portent la jupe culotte (1911), we get to see the completed building. On a larger scale, Pathé filmmakers documented the streets around the larger studio in neighbouring Vincennes. Every one of the nine streets north, east, south and west of the Pathé establishment serves as a location in some film or other, mostly multiple times. As a town, Vincennes overall is a richer resource than Montreuil, with wider shopping streets and at least three further features readily exploited by filmmakers: the railway, the Château and above all the Bois de Vincennes, with its lakes, woodland and open spaces.Vincennes also had, of course, that ‘veritable town within the town’ (Kermabon 1994: 139), the Pathé complex of factories, workshops, offices and studios, all of which made appearances in Pathé films. Vincennes and its environs were known to cinema audiences across the globe, if not by name at least by aspect. Those audiences would not have realised that they were being shown the streets of a small suburban town just east of Paris, rather than the city itself; nonetheless, Pathé filmmaking in Vincennes and Montreuil constitutes Paris’s first cinéma de banlieue. The convenient proximity of anonymous streets was not peculiar to the Pathé studios. Only 6 kilometres away, but across the divide separating city and suburb, was the Cité Elgé, the complex of factories, workshops and studios created by the Gaumont company. Gaumont filmmakers did exactly the same thing as their rivals in Vincennes, finding real décors in the immediate surroundings of the studio to serve as background to their comedies and melodramas. Close study of the streets shown in Gaumont and Pathé films in this period reveals differences in style and scale corresponding to an urban–suburban divide. Gaumont filmmakers had broad, tree-lined boulevards and eight-storey apartment buildings close by, while Pathé filmmakers had to content themselves with narrower streets and lower-rise housing. Local geography dictated that Gaumont films would feature more slopes and staircases, especially significant in chase films and comedies of serial misadventure; the world of Pathé comedy was somewhat flatter. Both companies, however, purported to be showing the same thing: a generic, topographically unspecified urban environment. These are city films and, if you were asked which city, you would say it was Paris. But, to begin with at least, that question wouldn’t be asked. When in La Course au parasol a man’s umbrella is blown away by the wind, it is of no consequence to spectators that the streets down which he and a motley crowd chase it are in Vincennes and Montreuil. In La Course à la perruque (1906), an elderly woman’s wig is attached to balloons and flies off from her head. That the chase takes us from the parks and streets of Vincennes to the top of the Eiffel Tower, then to a boat on the Seine, is for the audience of no topographical consequence; the park, streets, tower and river all function semantically as part of the same urban space, understood to be Paris.



Screening the Paris suburbs Sometimes, however, the films trade on the incongruity of dislocation. In J’ai gagné un cochon (Pathé, 1908), a man wins a pig at a fair and is then seen struggling with it in a Montreuil street, before thinking about throwing it from a bridge into the Seine, with the cathedral of Notre Dame as backdrop. He gets drunk with the pig at a café before bringing it home to his wife. The view of the man in the centre of Paris with a pig in his arms is an effective sight gag, but there isn’t an explicit contrast made between the city centre and the other spaces of the diegesis, even the semi-rural fair at the beginning. They are part of the same spatial continuity. By contrast, Un Achat embarrassant (Gaumont, 1908) shows city dwellers buying a cow in the countryside and bringing it, incongruously, into Paris. They pay a fee at a city gate in the fortifications and then attempt to get the cow home, first by bus, then by Métro, finally by taxicab. This urban–rural opposition is an obvious and recurrent trope in early cinema, but the irony in this case is that every space shown in Un Achat embarrassant is in the vicinity of the Gaumont studios, i.e. in Paris, even the field full of cows where the film opens. Though the villages of Belleville and Ménilmontant had been incorporated into Paris almost fifty years prior, in 1860, the rural vestiges that they retained marked them as sub-urban. If there are streets in Belleville and Vincennes that pass equally well for Paris, there are also streets in both districts that signify the countryside, as well as semi-rural streets characteristic of that space between city and country which we recognise as the banlieue. Marco Bertozzi has argued that the succession of various spaces in certain Pathé films reveals another city ‘exterior to the city centre’, a distinctive urban space where the City of Light is contaminated by the landscape of the periphery, its perfection undone by the ‘porous limit between city and countryside’ (2004: 287). A distinction needs to be made, however, among different figurations of the city. The City of Light remains intact and uncontaminated in films that show it from the perspective of a visitor, such as L’Odyssée d’un paysan à Paris (Pathé, 1905) or Le Tic (Gaumont, 1908), even when, as in the latter, places that purport to be the city centre are in fact local to the Belleville film studio, close to the periphery. The same is true when, in La Course à la perruque, the streets of Vincennes and the Eiffel Tower appear to be topographically contiguous, with Vincennes successfully passing as the centre of Paris. On the other hand, where there is no narrative premise, no landmark shown or no frontier crossed that would identify the space as Paris, the ordinary streets around the Gaumont or Pathé studios do belong to a new configuration of the urban. This other city that Bertozzi points to is suburban in the broadest sense, with its bourgeois and working-class homes, its commercial and industrial streets, its railway lines and canals, but also its vestigial rurality – narrow winding lanes, isolated villas, open fields and wasteland. In sum, every kind of suburban space, along a scale from industrial to rural, is present in the Pathé–Gaumont corpus of this period. This is not from some mission to represent modernity but simply from a need to vary the settings of

Lumière, Méliès, Pathé and Gaumont, 1896–1920 the action. Some films seek that variety within a small radius of the production base, such as La Course des sergents de ville (Pathé, 1907), with its thirteen different street views of Vincennes. Others exploit the suburban hinterland’s extension into the countryside, as in Onésime, tu l’épouseras quand même (Gaumont, 1913), which takes the hero, by foot and by penny-farthing bicycle, from central Paris to a rural brasserie at Clichy-sous-Bois 15 kilometres away. Close attention to topography reveals that urban spaces in surrounding towns are sometimes resorted to even when similar spaces are available nearer the studios. Une Dame vraiment bien (Gaumont, 1908), following the havoc caused by an attractive woman as she takes a walk around town, was filmed entirely in Romainville, 4 kilometres from the Belleville studio, even though the spaces shown – wide boulevard, sloping streets, shop, café, park gates and park – all had their equivalents in Belleville. That other Gaumont films were made in Romainville, such as L’Agent a le bras long (1909) and La Nuit de noces de Calino (1909), suggests some stronger connection with that suburb, as there was with Villemomble to the east, where head of production Louis Feuillade had a villa. This personal connection meant that the town appeared in several Gaumont productions. That Feuillade lived in Villemomble did not, however, make it the exclusive territory of the Gaumont company. Territorial claims seem to have been confined to the vicinity of the studios, in that I have found no instance of Gaumont filmmakers shooting in Vincennes or Montreuil, on Pathé territory. Pathé filmmakers occasionally went to the Buttes-Chaumont park, next to Gaumont’s Cité Elgé, and when they filmed on the Avenue de l’Opéra they were also at a favoured Gaumont location, next to the company’s offices in rue Saint-Roch. But Paris, as Charles Péguy said in 1910, belongs to no one. The same is true of the suburbs, a vast and varied backlot of settings available to all filmmakers from all studios. A bridge over the canal in Bondy seen in Pathé’s 1905 film Vot’permis? Viens l’chercher! appears the next year in Gaumont’s Le Billet de banque; the railway line at Villemomble crossed in Pathé’s Les Chiens policiers (1907) is crossed again in Gaumont’s Zigoto promène ses amis (1912); a restaurant at La Varenne visited in L’Assommoir (Pathé, 1909) is revisited in Barrabas (Gaumont, 1919). Writing about filmmaking in the suburbs more generally, Patrick Glâtre characterises the ‘diversity of landscapes and sites’ in Ile de France as a marvellous ‘storeroom of décors’, and identifies the relative calm and isolation of these suburban locations as a reason why filmmakers were drawn to them (2003: 35). It is likely that, similarly, Gaumont filmmakers sometimes sought out urban settings in the suburbs because they were easier to work in than their equivalents near the studio in Belleville. I would guess that the sequence in Bout de Zan vole un éléphant (Gaumont, 1913) – where the 5-year-old hero is pushed in a wheelchair by an elephant across a large square – would have been hard to shoot on the square nearest the studio, the Place Armand Carrel, a busy junction of five streets in Paris’s nineteenth district. The sequence was shot instead extra muros, on the Place de la Mairie at Le Pré Saint Gervais. And if Gaumont films were made in



Screening the Paris suburbs Romainville, it might simply be because Romainville was a calmer, more manageable urban environment than Belleville. The park gates seen in Une Dame vraiment bien (Gaumont, 1908) are adorned with a large wrought-iron letter ‘R’, for Romainville, but usually the generic urban space seen in these films comes with no labels attached and features no landmarks. If a railway station is seen, care is taken not to show its name. In Zigoto et l’affaire du collier (Gaumont, 1911) the unnamed station is at Villemomble; narrative logic suggests it is somewhere near the Boulevard des Capucines in Paris. This same suburban station appears the same year in La Tare (Gaumont, 1911), but there it is supposed to be in the South of France. In this instance, the eagle-eyed local must suspend disbelief. It would appear, then, that in these early films no specific suburban location can be itself. The extreme instance of identity loss is when Max Linder, whom Ginette Vincendeau describes as ‘the first international film star’ (2000: 42), appears on the streets of Vincennes. After his early roles in generic films on generic streets, Max quickly developed the persona of an elegant man about town – a town that must necessarily be Paris. Mostly, the location is left as an assumption, even if in more developed storylines addresses are given. In Mariage forcé (1914), Max visits his uncle at rue de la Fontaine au Roi in Paris, though the street we see is Vincennes’s rue du Donjon. In Mari jaloux (Pathé, 1914) Max goes to the avenue de l’Opéra; when he arrives at that address we are again presented with a street in Vincennes.6 The loss of topographical identity is most keenly felt regarding one particular street, rue Louis Besquel, which was laid out next to the Pathé factories in 1903. Most of the street was designed by local architect–entrepreneur Georges Malo, who also worked on industrial buildings and cinemas for the Pathé company. Rue Louis Besquel was an eclectic collection of fanciful modern-style façades, manifesting a characteristically suburban quirkiness. It provides an assortment of distinctive architectural backgrounds to Linder’s urbane comedies, often contributing to the sense of incongruity from which the humour derives. However, the assumption that Max’s misadventures occur in the streets of Paris serves to efface the particularity of Vincennes and, perhaps a greater irony, presents to the world a false image of Parisian domestic architecture as quirkily suburban.7 The filmmakers appear to have been aware of the mixed message the use of these backgrounds might be sending, and were able where necessary to frame the doorways from which Max emerged closely enough such that the substitution of Vincennes for Paris could pass unremarked. On at least one occasion, however, no effort is made to hide the fact that we are in Vincennes. In Les Débuts de Max au cinéma (1910), Linder goes to the Pathé offices in Vincennes and is engaged by Charles Pathé himself to appear in films. We see him in the studio and then in the streets, including the rue Louis Besquel. On one other occasion we may sense a topographical irony in the use of Vincennes as location. When, in Entente cordiale (1912), Max’s friend Harry Fragson comes from London to stay with him,

Lumière, Méliès, Pathé and Gaumont, 1896–1920 Max meets Harry at the Gare du Nord in Paris, or at least the film tells us so. What we see, however, is the Gare de Vincennes with a sign attached to its front reading ‘Gare du Nord’. The railway station at Vincennes is in itself distinctive, but only a Vincennois would recognise it in Linder’s film. What any Parisian would know straightway, however, is that the modest, suburban-scale station onscreen was certainly not the architecturally massive, internationally known Gare du Nord. The substitution of suburb for city, here, is a gag.8 The development of Max Linder’s persona across multiple films brings with it the specificities of place. Whenever he leaves Paris (in reality Vincennes) for somewhere else in France, the train takes him to real places, not studio confections or suburbs in disguise: Max en convalescence takes him to Saint Loubès in the Dordogne; in L’Amour tenace he really is at Le Fayet in the Alps; when he goes to the seaside we recognise that he is truly in Nice (Max a peur de l’eau). But in no film that I have seen does he take a train from Paris to a destination in the suburbs, or from the suburbs back to Paris. In the substantial corpus of Vincennois cinema that is the Linder oeuvre, the banlieue has no name and no identity. A parallel development in French film of this period was the growth in scale of narrative films, which brought with it a similar focus on the specificities of place. Topographical variety in a five-minute chase film c.1907 relies on the visual aspect of those places, and not on their identification: a railway bridge is different from a canal, which is different from a café terrace, and it wouldn’t matter if one were in Villemomble, the next in Bondy and the next in Romainville. But in a melodramatic narrative stretching over several episodes, such as Léonce Perret’s L’Enfant de Paris (Gaumont, 1913), variety is more exactly topographical. In that film, the big difference is between Paris and Nice, though for the Paris-set first half more local distinctions are brought into play, opposing the upper-class west of the city to a working-class district in the east. The latter is constructed as a liminal space around a gateway through the fortifications, though it is never clear on which side of the city’s limits we are. This unnamed setting functions as a generic construction rather than as an actual, identified place. The same year, however, a topographical opposition between identified urban and suburban settings inaugurated the period’s most famous large-scale narrative enterprise, Feuillade’s Fantômas films. The first setting of the first episode is named as Paris’s Royal Palace Hotel, the second as a villa in Neuilly-sur-Seine, a suburb west of Paris. This use of specific place names sets a pattern for all of Feuillade’s large-scale narratives in this period, though I am chiefly interested in those centred on Paris and environs: Fantômas (1913–14), Les Vampires (1915–16), Judex (1916–17), La Nouvelle Mission de Judex (1918) and Barrabas (1919). The later episodes of Judex and Barrabas (like the climax of Perret’s L’Enfant de Paris) were made at the Gaumont studios in Nice, which became Feuillade’s base over this period. In these films, in Feuillade’s Tih Minh (1919) and in numerous shorter dramas by Perret, we find represented a Mediterranean suburbia much like the Lumières’ La



Screening the Paris suburbs Ciotat. Nonetheless, our focus will be on the Paris-centred films, because they illustrate more clearly what kind of suburban imaginary evolves over the course of this decade. A topographical pattern for large-scale narratives begins to be established around 1911. Film historian Richard Abel dates the change in scale to the period 1911–14, and among the changes in narrative strategy that he analyses is a shift from provincial and sometimes rural settings to more urban and bourgeois milieus (1994: 326–88). The suburbs of Paris play a dual role at this juncture, either as a location that can pass for the provinces or as a locale that in its own right is distinct from the city. The former is the more common, convenience dictating, for example, that in Le Faux Magistrat, the fifth part of Feuillade’s Fantômas, locations in nearby Bobigny and Pantin stand in for a town nearly 200 kilometres distant, or that, in the first episode of Les Vampires (1915), locations in suburban Rueil and Vaucresson represent a town more than 170 kilometres away. Picturesque settings from the French Midi or the Mediterranean coast could not adequately be represented by locations in the Paris suburbs. More feasible was the substitution of suburb for provincial town, as in La Glu (Pathé, 1913), where suburban houses near Paris represent houses in Douai, or in La Lutte pour la vie (1914), where a factory in Nantes is represented by factories at Vincennes and Joinville-le-Pont (Pathé’s own factories).9 These substitutions depend on the attribution of place names, since there is no visual evidence to say that what we see is Douai or Nantes rather than the suburbs of Paris. The same is true when one suburb stands for another – in Fantômas (Figure 5), Lady Beltham’s villa in ‘Neuilly-sur-Seine’ is in fact a villa in Villemomble (Feuillade’s own home) – or when a suburb is itself – in Judex, ‘Neuilly’ is in fact Neuilly. Neuilly-sur-Seine is exceptional among the suburbs that border Paris in having a distinctly upper-class identity, which is why, in Judex, Neuilly is referred to by name but Le-Pré-Saint-Gervais is not. Named or identifiable places tend to be landmark features like bridges or monuments or substantial edifices for the privileged: villas, hotels, clinics. These can still be passed off as places other than themselves, but more proletarian locations are always themselves, because they are always anonymous, unidentified and generic. The topographical specificity that is the norm in the banlieue cinema to come, from the 1930s to the present, is in 1914 rare and confined to the higher end of the social scale. Named or recognisable suburbs in Feuillade’s films, if they are not Neuilly, tend to be at a greater distance from the city. Gaumont director Henri Fescourt, in his memoir of filmmaking in this period La foi et les montagnes, described the typical approach to location shooting in the region around Paris: The director never, as we do today, went on expedition in search of sites suited to the dramatic situation. He would set out of a morning with his troupe, headed somewhere decided upon at the last minute. Versailles, Villers-Cotterêts, La Varenne, Fontainebleau. Then we trusted to chance. We’d find on the way a convenient place. And we’d film. (qtd in d’Hugues and Muller 1986: 41)

Lumière, Méliès, Pathé and Gaumont, 1896–1920 In episode 7 of Les Vampires, Irma Vep and Moreno need a convenient place to dispose of the man they’ve just murdered. A one-shot sequence shows them stop their car on the picturesque bridge at La Varenne-Chennevières and drop the body into the Marne. This looks like the kind of shoot described by Fescourt – a suitable location encountered by chance – though the type of location is part of a signifying pattern in Feuillade. He likes suburban bridges. In Juve contre Fantômas, the train-robbing gang join their getaway car on the banks of the Seine at Villeneuve-le-Roi then cross the distinctive suspension bridge towards the picturesquely situated Villeneuve-Saint-Georges. A magistrate’s body is thrown into the Marne from a speeding train as it crosses the bridge at Isles-lès-Villenoy (Le Faux Magistrat). A woman is thrown into the same river as she walks across a bridge at Bry-sur-Marne (Judex episode 4). At Brunoy the poisoner Venenos (Les Vampires episode 9) escapes by jumping from a bridge onto a moving train; from this same bridge a victim of the Barrabas organisation attempts suicide by jumping in front of a speeding train (Barrabas episode 5).10 A genteel Marne-side resort noted for fishing, swimming, rowing and strolling,11 La Varenne-Chennevières returns as a setting for Barrabas but is transformed by Feuillade into a place of terrible danger, where the heroine is sequestered in a sinister villa. Since the villa filmed was actually, once again, Feuillade’s own home in Villemomble, Fescourt’s account of spontaneous location-finding doesn’t quite fit that part of the shoot, though once the heroine is rescued she is brought to a picturesque riverside restaurant that actually is in La Varenne. The shooting of this sequence, we can suppose, was one of those leisurely excursions into the suburban countryside described by Fescourt. Fontainebleau, another habitual destination mentioned by Fescourt, is particularly significant for the spread of filmmaking from the city into the more rural suburbs. In her memoirs, Alice Guy describes a filmmaking excursion there in 1904: We also made some films outdoors. Having discovered, during a walk in Barbizon, an old coach, I decided to use it to represent the mailcoach from Lyon […] Supplied with a copious home-made lunch, costumes and necessary accessories, almost all of us with bicycles, we took the train as far as Melun. At the station two or three carriages, whose drivers called themselves guides to the forest of Fontainebleau, took the baggage and the less sportive young ladies and we rolled towards Barbizon where the stage waited for us. Then the guides led us to a site they thought suitable […] The enterprise was a success. (Guy 1996: 29–30)

The Fontainebleau experience was often repeated. Sometimes the location passed as another place, such as the Biblical settings of Guy’s La Vie du Christ (1906) and Feuillade’s Les Sept Péchés capitaux (1910), or the Wild West in Jean Durand’s Les Deux Trappeurs (1911) or the Transvaal in his Sous la griffe (1912). In Onésime et le pas de l’ours (1913) the forest’s distinctive sandstone boulders were meant to pass for the Tyrolean Alps, as they had earlier in Pathé’s 1910 film Le Guide. Or the



Screening the Paris suburbs forest could be itself, as in Guy’s Le Fils du garde-chasse in 1906 and Feuillade’s Les Vampires. The action in episode 6 of Les Vampires turns on stolen money hidden in the forest and discovered, thanks to a map, by residents at a hotel in the town of Fontainebleau. It is not actually Fontainebleau that we see but Marlotte, a town on the forest’s southern edge that had been long popular with artists.12 It was used again by Feuillade for the last episode of Les Vampires, where it is supposed to be a different place, possibly itself. Marlotte had already been a location for the comedies Onésime et le chien bienveillant (1912) and Onésime et le pas de l’ours (1913). Excursions of the kind described by Fescourt, if not always as unplanned as he suggests, frequently had the forest’s riverside resorts as destination. Gaumont’s filmmakers were like open-air painters in search of the picturesque, but they were also like typical bourgeois Parisians, on holiday in the more rustic recesses of their city’s suburbs. In 1912, Feuillade made Le Coeur et l’argent at Grez-sur-Loing, setting the drama in and around an inn that was popular with landscape painters from Scandinavia and Japan. In 1913, Perret holidayed at Samois-sur-Seine and made films there about holidaying Parisians: in Léonce aime les morilles he is there to pick mushrooms in the forest while staying at a riverside hotel; in Léonce et sa tante he is a jaded Parisian painter who has come to Samois for inspiration, in the footsteps of Seurat and Signac.13 Perret’s ‘Léonce’ series relied heavily on his protagonist’s holiday excursions from Paris, which were chiefly to the coast, Mediterranean or Atlantic, or to Perret’s home town of Niort. In his Samois films, French cinema narrativised for the first time the enthusiasm it shared with Parisians for the riverbanks of the Seine, Marne and Oise, anticipating the many excursions to riverside resorts in films of the late 1920s and 1930s.14 By then these places are associated in French cinema with the distractions of the working-classes, but Perret at Samois-sur-Seine in 1913 is a bourgeois gentleman at leisure in a bourgeois resort. Before 1923, when the hero of Feuillade’s Le Gamin de Paris leaves Belleville to go fishing at Poissy,15 films depicting the working class at leisure in the suburbs are limited to Capellani’s 1909 version of Zola’s L’Assommoir, with the wedding party of Gervaise and Coupeau filmed at the Auberge de L’Ecu de France in La Varenne. This is the same riverside restaurant seen in Barrabas ten years later, but as filmed by Feuillade and company it is a place for the respectable bourgeoisie. With a few exceptions, then, Feuillade’s suburbia is the territory of the privileged classes. Sometimes they are at hotels or restaurants, but chiefly they are at home, in villas or châteaux. On at least four occasions that home is Feuillade’s home in Villemomble. Otherwise we see villas in nearby Gagny, in more distant ChatenayMalabry,Vaucresson and Brunoy, or in places as yet unidentified.16 It is proximity to the city that informs the meaning that attaches to these locations, whether as places of refuge from the city’s violence (‘Saint Léonard’ in Barrabas episode 2) or, more commonly, as places already infected by that violence (‘Les Sablons’ in the Prologue to Judex). This distinction is neatly expressed in the difference

Lumière, Méliès, Pathé and Gaumont, 1896–1920 between two clinics. After Kerjean has been run over and left for dead by the evil banker Favraux, Judex takes the old man to Dr Saugrain’s clinic in Melun, where he fully recovers (Judex episode 3). Noelle Maupré, on the other hand, victim of the evil banker Strelitz, is taken to Dr Lucius’s clinic in Vaucresson, where she is drugged and seduced (Barrabas episode 5). The death of the bank clerk Métadier, in episode 4 of Les Vampires, illustrates well how the city’s violence threatens the comforts of suburbia. After an evening at the cinema, Métadier catches his train home to the suburbs, but he is brutally murdered along the way by the Vampires (with a hatpin) and his body thrown from the train. The body is discovered near a level crossing by Moreno, who has just burgled a wealthy suburban villa. He heaves the body onto his back and carries it to where his accomplices are waiting in a car, next to another level crossing. These two railway crossings are among the rare suburban locations in Feuillade that don’t denote bourgeois comfort. Like bridges, though lacking their picturesque quality, they mark the crossing of two trajectories. Anonymous, generic sites, they characterise the proletarian, underclass or criminal-class suburbia that Feuillade occasionally shows us. In Fantômas contre Fantômas the ‘Apaches’ assemble at a disused quarry; in Le Faux Magistrat the meeting place is a railyard littered with abandoned rolling stock. A hideout in episode 2 of Les Vampires is somewhere near the fortifications, but underground; another hideout (in episode 3) is accessible via a well in the countryside, though its principal entrance shows a dilapidated house in an urban milieu, which is then shown to be near the gate of a villa on a semi-rural road. The internal arrangement of this space is impossible and the external signs of place are contradictory. Such topographical hybrids are only possible when the component places are generic and anonymous. Cinema doesn’t always have to invent these hybrid spaces. A recurrent location in French cinema during its first twenty years is that not quite urban, not quite suburban, area known as la zone.17 The fortifications surrounding Paris and the cleared ground to each side had become the territory of the lower classes, hence associated with poverty, misery and crime (Figure 6).The space was well documented by the photographers Eugène Atget (c.1910–13) and Charles Lansiaux (1919–20), but also by contemporary filmmakers. Georges Hatot, working for the Lumière company, was in 1897 the first of many to stage comical exploits there, though several filmmakers also drew on the Zone’s more sinister associations. In the tragic melodrama Deux Petits Jésus (Pathé, 1910) a destitute mother, wandering near the fortifications, is tempted to abandon her child there. The comic counterpart of this is Onésime et le nourrisson (Gaumont, 1912), in which a woman in the Zone abandons a baby in the hero’s lap, prompting a series of misadventures as he tries to dispose of it. The common association of the Zone with the criminal classes is explicit in La Grève des apaches (Gaumont, 1907) but made light of, as we see the striking criminals dancing on the slopes.This is where, in the comedy Bébé apache (Gaumont, 1910), Bébé comes in disguise to associate with and entrap the underclass villains



Screening the Paris suburbs who have thwarted his policeman father. It is near the fortifications that, in Bébé court après sa montre (1911), Bébé has his watch stolen by a much higher-class thief, so respectable-looking that no one believes Bébé when he denounces him. The dilapidated dwellings of the Zone’s inhabitants, famously documented by Atget, occasionally appear in the cinema of the period, chiefly in melodramas. Le Violon brisé (Gaumont, 1909) begins in the Zone with a violent father sending his five children out into the city to beg or steal. La Femme fatale (Pathé, 1912) ends with the weary, diseased adventuress given shelter in a sordid shack; there, tormented by guilt and regrets, she dies a terrible death. In L’Enfant de Paris the area comes into its own as a place of danger and violence, when the child’s kidnapper assumes the role of a Zone-dwelling ragpicker to escape, with his victim in the basket on his back. The initial contact with the victim’s father had been made by bringing him to one of the gateways in the fortifications, figuring Paris’s criminal class as, literally, marginal. Pathé’s Les Dessous de Paris had done the same thing in 1906, where burglars commit crimes in the city and retire to the fortifications to divide up the spoils. This dangerous Zone is the identifiable place where the proletarian suburbs are first narrativised in French cinema. But of course the Zone is not quite the suburbs. As we saw in Méliès’s train film from 1898, it is only the liminal space between city and suburb. And it is not quite a place either. Each stretch of fortification is very much like any other stretch. Occasionally we can tell one gateway from another,18 but generally it is anonymous, generic – no place in particular. When, in Les Vampires, the hero is taken from the fortifications to his captors’ hideout, they spin him round and cover his head lest he should work out where they are taking him. They needn’t have worried; as soon as he reaches the fortifications he is nowhere, lost. Later, his mother is lured to her brother’s house in Passy (at 67 Boulevard de Montmorency). On finding him not at home, she wanders near the fortifications, is kidnapped by the Vampires and taken to that illogical place described above, the impossibly hybrid hideout that is urban, suburban and rural all at once. The opposition between real place and non-place – between a real street in Passy and a topographically impossible location – is an extreme version of an opposition that informs this chapter, with on the one hand anonymous, generic places and, on the other, places that can be identified and which, once identified, signify differently. How places signified at the time of production, for the filmmakers and for their spectators, differs furthermore from how they signify now, for historians of cinema and for historians of greater Paris upon which early filmmaking left its mark. As a hybrid of these two types of historian, I have insisted here on knowing, as exactly as possible, the name of the place on the screen. In closing, I have to acknowledge that, for French cinema in its first twenty-five years, being exact about place is not always a priority, all the more so when that place is somewhere just beyond the city walls. We can see the banlieue there onscreen, but we can’t always know its name.

Lumière, Méliès, Pathé and Gaumont, 1896–1920 Notes 1 This is number 151 in Méliès’s 1899 catalogue; an 1896 film is listed showing the train arriving at the Gare de Vincennes. See Malthète and Mannoni (2002: 132–3). 2 For the purposes of this chapter, Paris is everything within the circling fortifications (1840–44), including vestigially suburban districts such as Auteuil, Passy, Montmartre, Belleville and Ménilmontant, while the Paris suburbs includes the whole of the three departments nearest the capital in 1910: Seine, Seine-et-Oise and Seine-et-Marne. 3 For illuminating discussion of studios in Montreuil and Vincennes, see Jacobson (2015: ch. 2 and 4). 4 The filmmaker is commemorated in the community by plaques at the site of his house and his studio, and in the name of Montreuil’s principal cinema, Le Méliès. 5 For a discussion of this film’s articulation of spaces, see Abel (1994: 111). 6 For details on the locations of Linder films, see The Cine-Tourist, ‘Où est Max?’: www. . Accessed 27 July 2017. 7 Though set in Manchester, Les Faux-monnayeurs (Pathé, 1907) shows us English policemen outside 28 rue Louis Besquel, a building of architectural oddity unimaginable in Edwardian England. 8 Another Pathé film of 1912, L’Attrait de Paris has the hero arrive from the provinces at the immediately recognisable Gare du Nord. I like to imagine these two films on the same bill, ensuring that the audience gets the joke in Entente cordiale. 9 The suburban can also, on occasion, represent the rural: the bridge from which the old peasant in Feuillade’s Le Roi Lear au village (Gaumont, 1911) means to throw himself is in the middle of Sevran-Livry, a thriving suburban town, not a village. 10 Brunoy was Feuillade’s favoured location for train-related sequences. Musidora describes in detail his discussions with the station manager before shooting the scene where she drops from the undercarriage of a passing train, in episode 6 of Les Vampires. See Cazals (1978: 43). 11 Bournon (1900: 231). The resort in the years before World War I is remembered with nostalgia in the popular song ‘La Java de La Varenne’, set to images by Jean Dréville in 1933 (see Keith Reader’s discussion in Chapter 4). 12 See especially several paintings by Sisley and Renoir. In 1924, Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s son Jean shot La Fille de l’eau in the area, revisiting locations favoured not only by the Impressionists but also by Gaumont filmmakers in the previous decade. Renoir would return here in 1936 for Partie de campagne. 13 Perret made three other Samois films at this time: Coeur de poupée, Léonce papillonne and Léonce à la campagne. See Taillé (2006: 48) and Bastide and Gili (2003: 53). 14 See Joinville-le-Pont in L’Effet d’un rayon de soleil sur Paris (Jean Gourguet, 1928), Nogent-sur-Marne in Nogent, Eldorado du dimanche (Marcel Carné, 1929) and Cœur de Lilas (Anatole Litvak, 1932); L’Isle-Adam in Au Bonheur des dames (Julien Duvivier, 1930) and Mauvaise Graine (Alexander Esway and Billy Wilder, 1934); Chennevièressur-Marne in La Belle Équipe (Julien Duvivier, 1936) and Poissy in Fric-Frac (Maurice Lehmann and Claude Autant-Lara, 1939). In such films, ‘the immediate or more distant surroundings of Paris appear only as places of leisure, of relaxation’ (Bosséno 1994: 27). Several of these titles are discussed below in Chapters 4 and 5. 15 By this time Feuillade had a home in Poissy, where he would go for the fishing (Lacassin, 1995: 68). 16 See Le Destin des mères (Gaumont, 1911), L’Oubliette (Gaumont, 1912) and Un Scandale au village (Gaumont, 1913), all by Feuillade. For a detailed identification of these locations see: Accessed 13 July 2017.



Screening the Paris suburbs 17 Annie Fourcaut discusses the legacy of the fortifications onscreen in Chapter 1 above. 18 In L’Enfant de Paris it is the Porte du Pré Saint Gervais, the nearest gateway to the Gaumont studios. It also appears in Judex episode 2 (1916). The fortifications we see in Gaumont films would be the nearest, those between the Porte du Pré-Saint-Gervais and the Porte de Pantin. Those in Pathé films would be between the Porte de Montempoivre and the Porte de Montreuil.

References Abel, Richard (1994), The Ciné Goes to Town: French Cinema 1986–1914, Berkeley, University of California Press. Barnes, John (1983), The Rise of the Cinema in Great Britain, London, Bishopsgate. Bastide, Bernard and Jean A. Gili (eds) (2003), Léonce Perret, Paris, AFRHC. Bertozzi, Marco (2004), ‘Pathé “ville ouverte”: l’imaginaire urbain, de la vue au film’, in Michel Marie and Laurent Le Forestier (eds), La firme Pathé frères 1896–1914, Paris, AFRHC. Bosséno, Christian-Marc (1994), ‘Années 30–60: le cinéma français invente la banlieue’, Les Cahiers de la Cinémathèque 59–60: 27–32. Bournon, Fernand (1900), Paris Atlas, Paris, Larousse. Cazals, Patrick (1978), Musidora, la dixième muse, Paris, Henri Veyrier. d’Hugues, Philippe and Dominique Muller (eds) (1986), Gaumont, 90 ans de cinéma, Paris, Ramsay. Glâtre, Patrick (2003), ‘Le cinéma en banlieue’, in Olivier Millot and Patrick Glâtre, Caméra plein champ: la banlieue au cinéma, le cinéma en banlieue, Grâne, Créaphis. Guy, Alice (1996), The Memoirs of Alice Guy, Lanham, MD, Scarecrow Press. Jacobson, Brian R. (2015) Studios Before the System, New York: Columbia University Press. Kermabon, Jacques (1994), Pathé: premier empire du cinéma, Paris, Centre Georges Pompidou. Koszarski, Richard (2008), Hollywood on the Hudson, Piscataway, NJ, Rutgers University Press. Lacassin, Francis (1995), Maître des Lions et des Vampires: Louis Feuillade, Paris, Bordas. Le Forestier, Laurent (2006), Aux sources de l’industrie du cinéma: le modèle Pathé, 1905–1908, Paris, L’Harmattan. Malthète, Jacques and Laurent Mannoni (eds) (2002), Méliès: magie et cinéma, Paris, Paris-Musées. Sauteron, François (2008), Une si jolie usine: Kodak-Pathé Vincennes, Paris, L’Harmattan. Taillé, Daniel (2006), Léonce Perret, cinématographiste, Niort, Cinémathèque en Deux-Sèvres. Vincendeau, Ginette (2002), Stars and Stardom in French Cinema, London, Continuum.


Roads, rivers, canals: spaces of freedom from Epstein to Vigo Jean-Louis Pautrot

The cinematograph allows for a unique form of knowledge inasmuch as it presents the world in its continuous mobility. (Epstein 1974: 224)1

In pre-Golden Age French cinema the banlieue is a distinctively recurrent, albeit intermittent, presence. Contrary to critical views regarding its representations after World War I as picturesque, artificial or as lacking in realism and social import (Icart 1994), it can be shown to derive meaning from the social consciousness and the collective imaginary of the times. Reflecting key changes in civilisation, a screen topos runs from the early 1920s to the mid 1930s that portrays the suburbs as a locus of freedom, release or escape through which individuals endowed with mobility may invent themselves, shielded as they are from a burdensome past and an ominous modernity. Only at the close of the inter-war period does this topos of suburban freedom exhaust its course and does the banlieue become a bleak, static place of entrapment and oppression that renders people murderous or suicidal. The impetus to film the suburbs is inseparable from a larger trend, born after World War I of practical and aesthetic reasons, to leave the studios and the city of Paris and to go and film remote parts of France. Éric Thouvenel documents this ‘reinvention of the national territory’ as originating in a double desire to depict reality and to nourish the imaginary of newly urban populations displaced by the rural exodus (2010: 14–31). Filmmakers between the wars thus travelled to the outer limits of the French nation: its mountain ranges and its coasts. But they often also depicted intermediary spaces in ways that combine social realism and individual aspirations to freedom exempt from any nostalgia. Filming the banlieue follows the same rules of attraction as the filming of various corners of France, namely a predilection for water in all its forms, as Gilles Deleuze (1986) and Éric Thouvenel (2010) have observed. This translates into an attraction felt for rivers and canals as well as into a depiction of life on


Screening the Paris suburbs and by waterways. Barges, riverbanks, typical riverside sites such as the guinguettes and waterside activities thus figure prominently. This drive to capture water on film is indicative of a wider fascination with mobility that coincides, according to Deleuze, with a period in cinema history when filmmakers were inventing the motor-sensory based ‘image-movement’ and exploring its narrative, perceptive and affective possibilities. It further coincides with an attraction for speed and motor vehicles in the 1920s in that railroads and motorways are also striking traits of the suburban landscape. More generally, these are spaces of mobility and passage, seen ‘en route’ as characters set out for other places and other lives, often leaving or entering Paris or another big city. The banlieue is thus often the transient space of the cinema of that period. For Michel de Certeau, a village or neighbourhood is not an inert entity but a living one made up of heterogeneous ‘strata’ which, like a palimpsest, merge past and present amid change (1980: 337). This applies to the suburbanisation of greater Paris in the 1920s, a process that greatly transforms the countryside. The resulting banlieue is then an intermediary, mutable space that enjoys a unique status: ‘off-centre’, it stands in proximity with, but removed from, fast-paced urban modernity and tight social conventions, yet is no longer associated with the ‘provinces’, their agricultural lifestyle, traditions and connotations of backwardness or immobility. It is a realm of juxtaposition and flexibility, in which countryside and city reverberate and spill over one into another so as to lose their character, as well as an elsewhere in which different social norms apply – hence its appeal to filmmakers. It can be travelled, especially since its spread coincided with the development of transportation (Clozier 1945: 446; Paquot 2008: 13). In the banlieue the city-dweller can enjoy a ‘perambulation without taboos’ (Paquot 2008: 3). Inner, pent-up drives find there a unique locus to exteriorise, and defined social identities can be temporarily relinquished or renegotiated in the movement of passing through. French realism between the wars and the film fluvial In assessing filmmakers’ output in the period, if one expects to discover a realism akin to that of the Golden Age of French filmmaking, one is likely to be disappointed. Carné’s réalisme poétique, which sprung from realism only to end in fatalism (Comolli 2011), and Jean Renoir’s militant output do not come into focus until the mid 1930s, paralleling the evolution of French society towards the Front Populaire (1935–36) and dissolving thereafter with its disillusions. Film production at mid decade was largely shaped by filmmakers close to the Communist Party, which in the 1920s was only in its infancy. Yet the term réalisme applies to diverse styles of representing reality. Tellingly, Richard Abel considers in this vein several films that take place in the banlieue and on barges, entirely or in part. Renoir’s second film, La Fille de l’eau (1924), begins aboard a barge. Shot mostly in the Fontainebleau forest near Renoir’s

Spaces of freedom from Epstein to Vigo residence in Marlotte (Renoir 1974: 48), it opens with a barge moving along a tree-lined canal. The heroine’s subsequent misadventures result from the loss of the ambulatory lifestyle and its relative freedom, a loss symbolised by her marinier father being knocked off the boat early on. Like his painter father Pierre-Auguste, Jean Renoir felt a strong kinship with fluidity. In his autobiography he equates cinema and navigating rivers as means of liberation: ‘For me, a good film is like being caressed by foliage and vegetation during a rowing outing with a friend’ (Renoir 1974: 60). This notion recurs in his films, but he is not the only silent film director to be fascinated by the aquatic element: as Deleuze remarked, ‘this predilection for running water was common to all the members of the French School’ (1986: 77). One such director was Jean Epstein, who was to make a series of magnificent films in remote areas, in particular the islands off Brittany. Epstein’s early effort La Belle Nivernaise (1924) is also a barge story, set on the Seine between Paris and Rouen and shot on location (Williams 1992: 123). In this ‘tale of an orphan boy adopted by a river barge family’ (Abel 1984: 114), a life of fulfilment seems inseparable from living on a barge, an ideal that the hero Victor eventually achieves when he acquires his own. As Abel notes, more than narrating a story, the film documents a way of life and a character’s emotional state in the context of a particular space and time (Abel 1984: 115). This qualifies as an early instance of a filmed social reality connected to the imaginary it conveys. As Thouvenel remarks, La Belle Nivernaise makes the barge the site both of fiction and of vision; as such, it belongs to the film fluvial or ‘river film’ subgenre that aims at the study of movement, making point of view essential (Thouvenel 2010: 47; 50). L’œil-péniche, where camera movements seem like ‘an extension of the river itself ’ (Abel 1984: 116), is that of someone travelling down a waterway and in the process observing a static humanity and landscapes, a good part of which is suburban. Editing generates a feeling of relative freedom, suggesting that the world is now in motion and will never be stable again on account of progress and history (Thouvenel 2010: 12). In a sense, early examples of the film fluvial from the 1920s document the first slow movements of a society that is destined to move faster and faster.2 Thouvenel remarks that these films seem to hark back to an idyllic, simpler form of life that urban viewers have lost, if ever it had existed (2010: 38). However, the urge behind them arose from the era of rapid urbanisation. That mobile waterway shots could be so fascinating and soothing for filmmakers and viewers alike testifies to the fact that the impulse they convey is one of departure, of exit, of leaving behind not only the city, the land and their accompanying constraints, but also physical limitations imposed on the human body, as if to stage a return to the womb. The imaginary at work here is a dual one of progression and regression, into uncharted – or at least unfamiliar – zones of the world and the self which the subject aspires to enter. The epitome of the barge film is Jean Vigo’s L’Atalante (1934), praised for its gorgeous canal landscapes. Filmed between Maurecourt, near what is now



Screening the Paris suburbs Cergy-Pontoise, the Canal de l’Ourcq at la Villette, the first section of the MarneRhin canal near Paris and Corbeil to the southeast, with other locations in Maisons-Alfort (164),3 it offers a number of shots not only of peaceful canals, but also of industrial banlieues (Figure 7). Critic and film historian Georges Sadoul praised its images of vacant lots and triage tracks, ‘dominated by the steel of electric pylons’ for their ‘dramatic scope’ (1962: 60); for Michael Temple, the comprehensive suburban settings make L’Atalante powerful and directly contribute to its social connotations (2005: 97–124). The worldview offered therein is rooted in a social conscience. We see lines of unemployed workers seeking jobs (Jean comes close to losing his); the mariniers are fully aware, as one tells Père Jules in the company office in Le Havre, that they are ‘good-for-nothings’. These elements allow Vigo to enrich the bland screenplay proposed initially by his producer, with what he termed a ‘documented point of view’ capable of expanding the consciousness of spectators at the same time as fuelling their imaginary. Indeed,Vigo’s vision can also be termed naturaliste, in keeping with definitions of the word proposed by both Abel and Thouvenel.4 Yet the barge in L’Atalante, compared with earlier river films, is no longer the vehicle of freedom it once was. Moving shots from on board are often replaced by shots from the bank, suggesting that the point of view from the barge – l’œilpéniche – is no longer the more satisfying. For Juliette, who obviously married Jules to get out of a village she had never left, and in spite of honeymoon bliss, the barge quickly becomes confining. She dreams of Paris and is lured by shop windows, by the flashy attire and dazzling talk of the travelling salesman or camelot. This, added to a concern for documenting the harsh life of mariners and portions of Paris’ industrialised banlieue outskirts, results in a lack of the same kind of escape offered by previous films fluviaux. However, the narrative’s conclusion is no less blissful: escape exists materialised in the love shared by Jean and Juliette, after the latter has experienced the realities of the capital. The barge continues moving, and leaves behind not only the village but also the gloom and danger of the city, its worries and hard times (this will not be the case of barge films from the late 1930s). L’Atalante is striking in that it conjoins all three French spaces of the time: the ‘provinces’, in the form of Juliette’s native village, still rooted in peasant tradition; the rapidly changing banlieue; and Paris. Overall, emphasis lies on the transitional banlieue (Temple 2005: 97). Ultimately, however, none of these are pure spaces of freedom, and the barge, although entailing a number of chores and constraints, remains a relative shelter and escape from settled life on the land. Life on the banks One place of attraction for L’Atalante’s Juliette is the ‘Quatre nations’ guinguette, offering ‘fish, mussels, fries’ and ‘dancing’, situated in reality 15 kilometres southeast of Paris in Maisons-Alfort. There the camelot, first encountered along the Canal

Spaces of freedom from Epstein to Vigo Saint-Martin, puts the moves on Juliette, before being kicked out by Jean and, later, the establishment’s owner. Consistent with other contemporary portrayals, Vigo depicts the guinguette as a privileged space of pleasure and temporary freedom, with Gilles Margaritis’ camelot bringing anarchistic mayhem to what is already a rowdy place for letting loose. Originally referring in the eighteenth century both to dance hall and to country house, and thus bringing together city and country, the guinguette moved away from Paris in synchrony with suburban expansion. Popular guinguettes of the early nineteenth century were located on the outskirts of Paris, beyond the Tax Farmers’ General fiscal wall in Belleville, Montrouge, Bercy, before moving further to the banks of the Marne and the Seine after 1860. They furnished people indulging in popular waterside leisure activities – rowing, swimming, fishing – a convenient place to eat and drink. Another of their functions was as a meeting place for romance or sex and as a space in which to enjoy temporary solace from ordinary, routine life in Paris. This is made obvious in Maupassant’s short story ‘Une partie de campagne’, famously filmed by Jean Renoir in 1936. The guinguette lies ‘outside’ of town and its regimented life, where one can get away from oppressive schedules, devote time and attention to one’s own body and its demands and find the necessary amount of moral license. Documenting such waterside activities is Nogent, Eldorado du dimanche (Marcel Carné, 1929). Supposedly inspired in its depiction of Sunday leisure and escape by Menschen am Sonntag (Robert Siodmak, 1929), but filmed that same summer of 1929, and by The Crowd (King Vidor, 1928) (Pérez 1994: 14), it might also have been influenced by La Glace à trois faces (Jean Epstein, 1927). Nogent follows Parisian crowds on a Sunday who board trains at the Gare de la Bastille to spend the day by the water. The fifteen-minute film shows constant movement: at first trains, trolleys and busses transporting passengers out of Paris, then people just off the train perambulating and heading for the riverbanks. Early on, a contrast is established between the moving crowds and the stillness of Paris, its workshops and factories silent. Returning to Nogent, we see people queuing up to rent boats, guinguettes with dances going full steam, and the gestures of musicians and dancers. When someone is motionless, it merely emphasises motion around them, for instance the man shown napping near a rotating gramophone. We see more cars departing, people rowing and tracking shots of the riverbanks taken from boats. Even seduction is ambulatory, as men approach women on sidewalks and court them in conversation en route to a guinguette or a secluded spot. Sun sparkling on its surface, the water itself seems perpetually to be in motion. We see the hurried gestures of cooks in kitchens, street musicians, children on swings and playing games of skill. As evening falls, the camera focuses on the water and on human motion slowing down, but not stopping. Up to the final shot of an accordionist, rapid editing reinforces this fluidity. Nogent has a documentary dimension, but as Michel Pérez points out – and as Vigo would have remarked – there is more to it: a thoughtful message suggesting



Screening the Paris suburbs that the ephemeral satisfactions offered by the Marne are fragile and easily threatened, whether by weather, the need for private space, or ultimately the flight of time. Nogent speaks of anxious unrest, of the swift enjoyment of ‘authorized and strictly codified leisure’ (Pérez 1994: 16). It conveys that, for working- and middle-class Parisians, short-lived pleasures and freedoms, and the momentary forgetting of routine, are tightly measured and made to fit into one day, or just a few hours of it.5 Nogent thus offers a social as well as poetic reading. More than a vision of bliss, by its insistence on movement it implies the repetitive, monotonous quality of urban life the rest of the week, despite the animation of Paris. The banlieue is the space where people can loosen their ties – in all senses of the expression – for a limited time. Two years before Nogent, Epstein’s La Glace à trois faces approached the banlieue in a similar manner. The forty-minute film was adapted from a short story of 1925 by Paul Morand in which three women tell an unnamed narrator about the man in their life. The resulting portraits are highly different: Pearl, the daughter of a wealthy British industrialist, describes a boorish seducer who likes to humiliate her; the Russian sculptor Athalia Roubinovitch describes a puny, vulnerable and sentimental man who is also well read and tactful; Lucie, a shy, discreet working-class young woman, describes him as an aristocrat whom she worships. Only at the end do Morand’s readers learn that all three descriptions apply to the same character, who has just died – calling out the names of his mistresses – in an automobile accident on the so-called ‘route des quarante sous’ or forty-penny road, a section of the Nationale 13 west of Paris between St-Germain-en-Laye and Mantes-la-Jolie (Morand 1965: 97–104). Epstein considerably enriches Morand’s short story by turning the three narratives into flashbacks and the automobile accident into the outcome of an obsession with escape and speed (Figure 8). What it introduces foremost is the banlieue, which except for the location of the man’s death is neither depicted nor mentioned in the short story. A guinguette is assigned an important role. After Lucie is shown longing for her lover whose visits are few and far between, the unnamed hero shows up at her doorstep on a Sunday morning and takes her by car to a waterside site that resembles the Marne River near Nogent.6 Lucie and the hero smile at each other profusely, embrace, rush to the water and board a rowboat. A tracking shot of the banks recalls barge films and prefigures Carné’s Nogent. The male lover removes his jacket and rows, while at his side she lets her hand dangle in the water. He seems genuinely in love and oblivious of everything else. As they near a beach, we see people swimming and playing in the water in a slow, 360-degree panning shot. An orchestra plays under the bowers. However, as soon as they step onto firm ground and reach the open-air café where a crowd of Parisians is enjoying the day, his demeanour changes. He straightens his jacket, buttons it, and readjusts his tie, looking around. It is easy to see both the seducer on the prowl and the homme du monde reasserting social

Spaces of freedom from Epstein to Vigo convention. He suddenly looks at her as a stranger, visibly disapproving of the uneducated manner in which she holds her cup, which causes her to tremble and drop it to the ground where it breaks. His transformation is striking as Epstein’s images make visible the re-emergence of the man’s other roles. It seems meaningful that in adapting a story of multiple identities Epstein chose to enrich it with episodes taking place in the suburb, which he also makes Lucie’s residence – another detail absent from the short story. The director’s reflection on the secrets of personality is enhanced by the suggestion that the banlieue is the locus of struggle or negotiation between different selves, between the social and the intimate, the raw and the civilised, the extrovert and the introvert, the caring and the egotistical. With such additions, and in a distinctly impressionistic style that makes generous use of superimpositions and editing, Epstein produced a masterpiece out of a rather mediocre short story. Three films from the 1930s depict the riverbanks and their guinguettes with similarly symbolic stakes. Commented on elsewhere in this volume is La Belle Équipe (Julien Duvivier 1936), in which a group of unemployed Parisians united by strong feelings of popular solidarity band together in order to build happiness outside of society, and decide to acquire … a guinguette, a venture that, while ultimately unsuccessful, materialises ideas of brotherhood, self-management, financial freedom and ‘marginality’. In Boudu sauvé des eaux (Jean Renoir, 1932), riverbanks also function as a place of escape: it is there that Boudu, barely married to his rescuer–benefactor’s maid, having at last found a place in society, chooses to disappear by pretending to drown in the Marne, and returns to his vagabond life. Before his flight, the viewer is treated to familiar waterside tropes in scenes shot at Champigny-sur-Marne, not far from Nogent: the guinguette with its drinking and dancing under the bowers, its orchestra playing a Viennese waltz and rowers on the river. An extraordinary tracking shot that slowly backs away from the band and patrons and moves further and further away on the water’s surface prefigures Boudu’s sudden and unexpected break for total freedom. The riverside suburban setting functions for Boudu – as it did fleetingly for the unnamed hero of La Glace à trois faces – as a point of escape where one can let go of all bourgeois rules and conventions about attire, posture, mores, manners or speech. One can go back to being a human alone, or, as Renoir pushes the idea to its limit, a creature that is barely human.7 It is astounding how quickly Boudu transforms back into a bum as he walks down the riverbank. All that was necessary for his exit was a little wine, the Marne and the banlieue. The banks of the Marne reappear, unpredictably, in Renoir’s Les Bas-Fonds (1936), the story of which, adapted from Maxim Gorky’s play The Lower Depths (1902), is supposed to take place in Russia. But Renoir was adamant that ‘Russia without the banks of the Marne would have appeared much falser’ (2005: 135). It is there – near gypsy encampments and industrial sites, high on the banks of a river overlooking barges moored or slowly moving and on a nearby road – that



Screening the Paris suburbs three crucial scenes take place. The first is the dialogue between the gambler baronet (Louis Jouvet) and the thief Pépel (Jean Gabin) that cements their friendship and signals their farewell to one another. As in Boudu, complicity between the prince-brigand and the anarchist is achieved at the expense of bourgeois values and order: Pépel hates big-city hypocrisy and its ‘cockroaches’, such that his only option in life is thievery unless Natasha consents to leave the slums with him; the baronet, for his part, never really understood an existential game defined by others and sees his life as a series of meaningless costume changes. Both characters find fulfilment in each other’s company and in an instinctive impulse to reconnect with nature, materialised by the snail crawling up Jouvet’s hand and wrist as well as by the bucolic suburban setting. Indeed the snail’s slow movement seems just as obstinate and inescapable as that of the barges moving toward an offscreen destination (Figure 9). The viewer understands that both characters will soon leave the city behind. This riverside encounter is followed by a guinguette scene strongly reminiscent of both those in Boudu and in La Glace à trois faces. A tracking shot of the orchestra and patrons is followed by the scene of a private dinner between Natasha and the police inspector who courts her and from whose grip Pépel will free her. The third scene closes out the film by showing Pépel and Natasha walking down a road together towards a brighter future, reflecting Renoir’s adherence, at the time, to a common belief of ‘a collectivity “en route” for better tomorrows’ (Mérigeau 2012: 300). The couple move away from the city, from its misery and ‘crud’, its laws, police and jails, and – like the snail and barges – to an offscreen destination. Pépel’s last words express the urge for mobility: ‘Allez, en route!’ (Let’s hit the road!). Often in Renoir, the suburb is this intermediary space of letting go. But that trope was shared and declined in various manners by other directors before him. ‘En route’: trains and automobiles As we have seen, the guinguettes and waterside activities constituted major tropes of banlieue films of the 1920s and early-to-mid 1930s, a locus where various sorts of aspirations to liberation, independence or escape come to light in a clash with social expectations. But to get there required transportation. Development of the Parisian banlieue was made possible by the growth of public transport, the expansion of railroads and the lines of trolleys, buses and later the Métropolitain. Not surprisingly, the banlieue is present if only discreetly in railroad films of the era, which included such key works as La Roue (Abel Gance, 1923) and La Bête humaine (Jean Renoir, 1938), followed by Pacific 231 (Jean Mitry, 1949). In such films, scattered views or extensive tracking shots reinforce the notion of the banlieue as a not-quite-outside but already ‘other’ space distinct from Paris, and provide a view of the world yet unseen. Private transportation also figures prominently in these suburban views. During the 1920s, the French automobile fleet increased drastically. From 100,000 in

Spaces of freedom from Epstein to Vigo 1914, it jumped to 445,000 by 1923, to 650,000 in 1925 (Rouxel 2007: 88). Roads also changed in a few years’ span. The innovation of the 1920s was the installation, all over France, of gasoline pumps, making it possible to refuel at the roadside and increasing autonomy. Introduced to France in 1921 by Standard Oil from the USA, where they were already prevalent, pumping stations spread rapidly to number 45,000 by 1926, as other distributors quickly adopted them out of fierce competition. Scores were located at the periphery of cities (Rouxel 2007: 89). The road network was also developed between the wars as the government endeavoured to provide asphalt coating first on routes nationales, then on routes départementales. Renoir’s La Fille de l’eau had briefly documented ‘the passion for automobile expressed by the bourgeoisie’ (Mérigeau 2012: 79). Yet it is another work by Renoir that springs to mind: La Nuit du carrefour (1932), which the director adapted from a Georges Simenon mystery, and shot according to Mérigeau 32 kilometres north of Paris at the ‘carrefour de la croix verte’ in Bouffémont (164). Noted for its gloomy atmosphere, convoluted plot, narrative inconsistencies and shabby editing, it is generally considered a minor Renoir work. The opening scenes describe the transformation the suburban landscape was undergoing at the time: a motorcycle policeman arrives at a gas station, which is also a garage (Figure 10). We see gasoline pumps and company advertisements for Motricine, Mobiloil, Castrol and Texaco; heaps of tyres; automobiles being repaired: in short, the daily life of a suburban garage in the early 1930s. We even see the butcher delivering his meat in a motorised truck, a novelty at the time. The plot turns on the idea that a gas station has become so ordinary that it is the ideal place for smugglers to do their business without attracting attention. In this way La Nuit du carrefour not only documents changes affecting suburban roads but makes them central to its narrative. Epstein’s earlier La Glace à trois faces provides a most striking look at suburban roadways in the 1920s. Like many artists of his time, including the short story’s author Paul Morand, Epstein himself felt ‘inebriated’ by speed (Thibault 1992; Guigueno 2003: 20). A revealing paragraph from Epstein’s novel L’Or des mers (1932) describes the imaginary conveyed in La Glace à trois faces: Even if one lives in a city, one does not know it until one has taken aim at it through the visor atop the radiator, approached it, penetrated it, developed it in space and time, and after seeing it ahead, until one leaves it behind, aside, above, below, in an order always renewed. Who said distances can be abolished? They multiply […]. This is a call as irresistible as that of daylight […] With every turn of the wheels, at every mile, at every hour, I feel more loved by what I leave behind. (Epstein 1939: 9)

How better to express the ‘irresistible call’ of the outside and speed that originates from living in a big city? This movement, which by definition entails travel through suburban space, is that of the whole of 1920s French cinema whose peculiar dynamic Epstein captures onscreen.



Screening the Paris suburbs For the hero of La Glace à trois faces, driving a convertible on open roads is liberating and addictive, an ‘urgent affair’ as one intertitle claims, something he seeks in order to escape social, sentimental and sexual boredom. During his visits to each of his three lovers, we see him thinking of the road in superimposed shots. His passion for driving, and the risks he takes, ultimately prove fatal when he is struck on the forehead by a bird at high speed and goes off the road to his death near Ecquevilly. As he experiences them, suburban roadways are liberatory, inviting him to follow his impulses after stifling stays in Paris spent juggling the ‘faces’ he shows his three mistresses – faces which each leave him feeling imprisoned. His sports car is the only place where he is ‘as if on vacation, alone and free’ (Epstein 1974: 181), where he can be his true self, or perhaps nobody at all. No one can approach him or even make out his face as he speeds by. In one of the most memorable shots of 1920s French silent cinema, we see the journey from the driver’s point of view, from behind the wheel and through the windshield, as he gets into his car and descends the levels of a parking garage in Paris, round and round, level after level, and finally hits the city streets, then the suburban road. Later shots of banlieue roads appear when he leaves for his final drive, stops to pay the customs tax at one of Paris’ gates, and embarks on a rendezvous with death. At Ivry-le-Temple he writes a final telegram to Lucie, then heads for Ecquevilly, ignoring road signs advising not to pass, to watch one’s speed, to keep to one’s right, to slow down. Transfixed by his own liberation, he accelerates, and the car’s speed increases dangerously on the Nationale 13, bringing about his demise. One is reminded of Epstein’s words in the film’s hypnotic, last six minutes. Perhaps the anonymous central character, in spite of a tumultuous love life that did not satisfy him, was merely seeking to be loved from a distance. Again, as for Renoir’s Boudu and Pépel, Vigo’s Juliette, Duvivier’s comrades or Carné’s anonymous Parisians, the banlieue is the locus of negotiation between social ties and deep personal longings. At the same time as they convey subjective states, Epstein’s images document a broader mutation of the 1920s. What the viewer also witnesses through the bound-for-doom plot and through aesthetic devices (superimpositions, rapid editing, unusual camera angles) that render the hero’s addiction for high speeds, are the transformations in logistics brought about by the automobile: gas pumps, garages, road signs, roadside advertisements for gasoline, motor-oil or beverages (Cinzano, Perrier, Gaillard), and the road surface itself, properly graded, tarred and inviting. It is the whole nascent car culture that Epstein shows in passing. As if to stress this emergence and the stronger attraction of a new, modern form of transportation over an older one, the hero drives straight through several railroad crossings during his final outing. La Glace à trois faces thus makes the banlieue the locus of the accelerating transformation of the world with increases in speed, logistics, commercialisation and social mixing, as well as of the liberation of sexual mores in the aftermath of World War I. At the same time, the banlieue preserves as if in archival form

Spaces of freedom from Epstein to Vigo the immemorial ‘provincial’ lifestyles and the Catholic traditions epitomised by those who watch the hero speed by from the roadside, like the women who hang their linen to dry, or the man who, scared by the rocketing racecar, tumbles onto the pavement. Places of yesteryear such as the parish church, the village town hall, the Ivry-le-Temple post office or cemeteries are seen only fleetingly as the car speeds on. If such coexistence of elements foreshadows the hero’s brutal rendez-vous with destiny, it also reasserts the dual nature of the banlieue as a palimpsest and as a symbol of changes in society and in worldview between the wars. To reprise Epstein’s remark quoted in the epigraph to this chapter, like the cinema itself, the banlieue in La Glace à trois faces presents the world in its ‘continuous mobility’.The above tendencies originated in the 1920s and carried over into the next decade. They disappeared by the late 1930s due to the general climate of impending doom, fatalism and imprisonment as totalitarianism sprung up across Europe and war appeared increasingly inevitable. In Le Jour se lève (Marcel Carné, 1939), the banlieue came to be felt as an inescapable trap of social and personal despair. The pessimism and aimless nostalgia that are so much a part of its texture – enhanced as they are by the flashback structure – were absent from earlier suburban representations which were preoccupied with a present in movement and the possibility of escape. By the late 1930s, the topos of suburban mobility seems to have run its course, and Carné’s film is not alone in suggesting this. Le Dernier tournant (Pierre Chenal, 1940), which takes place in the suburbs of Marseilles, is equally gloomy; another film made one year prior to Carné’s, La Goualeuse (Fernand River, 1938), also offers a bleak perspective even as it serves as a vehicle for the acting and singing talents of music-hall star Lys Gauty (who in 1933 famously sang Le Chaland qui passe – the riverboat song that lent its tune and its title to the initial producer’s cut of L’Atalante). However, in the process, La Goualeuse recycled a number of clichéd characters and situations typical of the dark end of French poetic realism. Strikingly, this last film reverses the mobility trope through various instances of immobilisation, most notably the fact that barges are permanently moored and people have no hope of leaving. It would remain to be seen whether, after World War II and through the 1950s and 1960s, the banlieue as depicted by French film directors could ever regain the degree of movement, openness and possibility that it had known at the turn of the 1930s. For a few short years, to paraphrase Deleuze’s remark on why water is so central to 1920s cinema (1986: 77), the banlieue was the environment where mobility could be extracted from movement itself. Notes 1 Translations of works listed in French in the reference section are mine. 2 Abel describes the emergence of ‘realist films’ in the late 1910s and early 1920s, ‘all of which challenged the prominence of class-conscious, studio-bound evasions of the bourgeois melodrama’ (1984: 94). Some differed from nineteenth-century realist and naturalistic fiction by introducing a tempering element to the critical or fatalistic depiction



Screening the Paris suburbs

3 4

5 6 7

of the social order: the celebration, influenced by painting, of ‘natural landscape as a presence that encompassed and affected the characters’ (97). Such films according to Abel have ‘two broadly different subjects’ reflecting France’s cleavage between modernity and tradition: ‘life in the city, usually Paris, and life in the country’ (97). Abel does not create a specific category for the banlieue.Yet in some films, between city and country, a third landscape appears in reaction against bourgeois codes, a suburban space where other modes of living can be explored or imagined. In films of the 1920s by Antoine, Delluc, Renoir, Poirier, Carné and Epstein, Thouvenel also sees a ‘bent towards naturalism’ (2010: 37), in Abel’s sense: a connection with nature while depicting modest social classes. As attested respectively in Salles Gomes (1971: 157; 171; 171; 169 and 164). Vigo’s notion of realism entails ‘putting a certain group on trial’ (Vigo 2011: 226). Presenting his biting satire of wealth À Propos de Nice (1929), Vigo calls for a cinéma social that would depart from entertainment or formalism.Yet his notion of documentaire social rests on the author’s ‘documented’ point of view, not on a search for objectivity along the lines of documentaries or newsreels. It is exemplified by the surrealist Un Chien andalou (Luis Buñuel, 1929), an ‘inner drama developed in the form of a poem’ (225). For Vigo, the goal will be achieved when one manages to extract underlying reasons for gestures and behaviours, as well as to reveal the motivations of a group based on physical expression (226).Vigo’s realism thus lies in revealing through subjective and poetic depictions the imaginary at work in individuals or groups. French workers would wait seven years, until summer 1936, for paid vacations, and decades before receiving Saturdays off. Richard Abel, who had access to the script, places the episode at the restaurant of the Isle-Adam park on the Oise River, 25 kilometres west of Paris, north of Pontoise (1984: 458). Renoir explored this theme recurrently, for example in his play Orvet (1955), which stages the ‘impossible transplantation to Paris’ of an almost-wild young (female) poacher (Mérigeau 2012: 756).

References Abel, Richard (1984), French Cinema: The First Wave, 1915–1929, Princeton, Princeton University Press. Clozier, René (1945), ‘Essai sur la banlieue’, La Pensée 4 (juillet–septembre): 49–57. Comolli, Jean-Louis (2011), ‘Réalisme poétique, cinéma français’, Encyclopaedia universalis. De Certeau, Michel (1980), Arts de faire I: l’invention du quotidien, Paris, Union Générale d’Éditions. Deleuze, Gilles (1986), Cinéma 1:The Movement-Image, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press. Epstein, Jean (1974), Écrits sur le cinéma 1921–1953, vol. 1, Paris, Seghers. Guigueno, Vincent (2003), Jean Epstein, cinéaste des îles, Paris, Jean-Michel Place. Icart, Roger (1994), ‘Des origines à 1930: la banlieue dans le cinéma français muet’, Les Cahiers de la Cinémathèque 59–60 (Feb.): 14–25. Mérigeau, Pascal (2012), Jean Renoir, Paris, Flammarion. Morand, Paul (1965), ‘La glace à trois faces’ [1925], Nouvelles d’une vie II: nouvelles des yeux, Paris, Gallimard. Paquot, Thierry (2008), ‘Banlieues, un singulier pluriel’, in Thierry Paquot (ed.), Banlieues: une anthologie, Lausanne, Presses polytechniques et universitaires romandes: 1–20. Pérez, Michel (1994), Les films de Marcel Carné, Paris, Ramsay.

Spaces of freedom from Epstein to Vigo Renoir, Jean (2005), Entretiens et propos, Paris, Cahiers du cinéma. Renoir, Jean (1974), Ma vie et mes films, Paris, Flammarion. Rouxel, Christian (2007), D’azur à total: Desmarais frères, le premier grand pétrolier français, Toulouse, Drivers. Sadoul, Georges (1962), Le cinéma français, Paris, Flammarion. Salles Gomes, P.E. (1971), Jean Vigo, trans. Allan Francovich, Berkeley and Los Angeles, University of California Press. Temple, Michael (2005), Jean Vigo, Manchester, Manchester University Press. Thibault, Bruno (1992), L’allure de Morand, Birmingham, Alabama, Summa Publications. Thouvenel, Éric (2010), Les images de l’eau dans le cinéma français des années 20, Rennes, Presses universitaires de Rennes. Vigo, Jean (2011), ‘Vers un cinéma social’, in Daniel Banda and José Moure (eds), Le cinéma: l’art d’une civilisation, Paris, Flammarion: 224–6. Williams, Alan (1992), Republic of Images: A History of French Filmmaking, Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press.



The banlieue in French cinema of the 1930s Keith Reader

La banlieue est multiple. Le film de banlieue ne constitue pas un genre. Il n’a ni règles, ni codes. Il se définit par un décor, un climat, c’est un cinéma de situations.1 (Narvalo 1981: 3)

The above was written, in a magazine published by the Maison Populaire de Montreuil, well before the cinéma de banlieue symptomatised by La Haine (Mathieu Kassovitz, 1995) emerged as a genre in its own right. Films de banlieue, indeed, have a history almost as long as that of cinema itself, as Annie Fourcaut notes in Chapter 1 above with its stress on the ‘imaginary of the urban periphery’. The anonymous editorialist for Narvalo states: ‘Cinéma et banlieue ont sensiblement le même âge, nés l’un et l’autre avec l’industrie’ (Cinema and banlieue have broadly speaking the same age, both born along with industry) (1981: 3), and one of the first major film theorists, Siegfried Kracauer, relates his response to the first, and frustratingly unidentified, film he ever saw as follows: What thrilled me so deeply was an ordinary suburban street, filled with lights and shadows which transfigured it. Several trees stood about, and there was in the foreground a puddle reflecting invisible house façades and a piece of the sky. Then a breeze moved the shadows, and the façades with the sky below began to waver. The trembling upper world in the dirty puddle – this image has never left me. (Kracauer 1960: xi)

It was between 1924 and 1936, the year of the Popular Front government, that the banlieue rouge, home territory for the Communist Party and located primarily but not exclusively in the present-day département Seine-Saint-Denis, became a key concept in the political geography of France, one which will be extremely influential (though not all-determining) in what follows. To quote historian Tyler Stovall:

The banlieue in French cinema of the 1930s The C20 suburbs of Paris have often remained beyond the boundaries of popular imagination. In few of the world’s great cities is the contrast between urb and suburb so dramatic as in Paris; as soon as one crosses the périphérique […] one abruptly leaves the elegant row houses of the capital behind to enter a world of architectural disarray. (Stovall 1990: 1)

This is nowhere truer than of the banlieue rouge, the antithesis of the AngloAmerican suburb since ‘[i]nstead of “moralizing” the working class suburbanization created the Red Belt, menacingly encircling the city that no longer had room for its working-class inhabitants’ (169–70). Stovall’s remarks suggest how the banlieue has been perceived above all, especially between the wars, as the ‘other’ of Paris, as ambiguously threatening and enticing, home to the classes laborieuses et classes dangereuses dear to Louis Chevalier but also a source of distraction or divertissements of variously hedonistic and bucolic kinds. In both these guises, as Stovall and, with particular reference to the cinema, José Baldizzone suggest in opposing the banlieue’s emptiness and disorder (‘le vide et le désordre’) to the city’s ‘densité régulière et organisée’ (Baldizzone 1994: 11), it is very different to the ordered gentility associated with the ‘suburb’ of the United Kingdom or the United States. That is not to say that genteel Parisian banlieues do not exist, some of them, such as Nicolas Sarkozy’s erstwhile fief of Neuilly-sur-Seine, among the best addresses in France; but that their cinematic presence appears to be a decidedly muted one. There is no real equivalent in French cinema to Blue Velvet (David Lynch, 1987) or to Happiness (Todd Solondz, 1998), whose power to shock derives from their peeling back the glib veneer of American suburbia to disclose the depravity suppurating beneath. Perhaps the closest equivalent is a film by a director of an altogether different stripe, Jean Renoir, who adapted Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde in his Le Testament du Docteur Cordelier (1959), starring Jean-Louis Barrault. Renoir’s Cordelier – a Jekyll figure – lives a respectable existence in a large and eerie house situated in a western Paris residential suburb. His Hydean alter ego Opale, conversely, haunts a sordid-looking building at 38, rue Pigalle, in an area abutting Montmartre long associated with crime and the sex industry. The banlieue here is counterposed to the more raffish Paris intra muros, as Cordelier is to Opale. By and large, however, the French filmic banlieue is an altogether less schizophrenic place than its American counterpart, one where ‘what you see is what you get’, but perhaps not always what everybody would like to have. Not all the films I shall consider will be set in what nowadays constitutes the banlieue. Set in the late nineteenth century, Partie de campagne (Jean Renoir, 1936/1946), as its title indicates, takes place in the countryside, within a day’s carriage-drive from Paris. Its idyllic setting notwithstanding, the film makes apparent the ‘disorder’ mentioned by Baldizzone in the erotic transgressions of the two main female characters. Some films are topographically imprecise, conceivably set, not in the banlieue, but in its close relation, the faubourg (etymologically ‘outside the city’, but generally referring to former stretches of the banlieue



Screening the Paris suburbs incorporated into it). Others straddle the intra muros/extra muros dividing-line or are set just within it – and we should in any event remember that the administrative Paris we know today goes back only to 1860, before which the villages now contained in the seventeenth, eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth arrondissements formed part of the proche banlieue just beyond city limits. That banlieue was as much an ‘imagined community’ (Anderson 1983/1991) – a ‘décor and an atmosphere’, to reprise my opening quotation – as one localisable on a map. Olivier Millot and Patrick Glâtre, in their Caméra en plein champ: la banlieue au cinéma/le cinéma en banlieue, emphasise the contrast between the ‘univers de relégation et d’exclusion, au-delà des fortifications’ (world of relegation and exclusion, beyond the fortifications) (2003: 22) and the ‘espace du loisir parisien, du divertissement canaille’ (Parisian leisure space for raffish entertainment) (23), a contrast that structures the present overview. The ‘divertissement canaille’ aspect is characterised, note Millot and Glâtre, by the ‘prolétaire à casquette, fréquentant les guinguettes’ (23), or the cloth-capped worker who goes to riverside cafés, generally situated just outside the customs barriers of Paris to keep prices down, and particularly prevalent in the more working-class eastern suburbs. Around this figure, memorably incarnated on the screen by Jean Gabin, was often to be found in the popular imaginary an at once exotic and menacing supporting cast of police, villains and the violent street-robbing ‘Apaches’ who enjoyed their heyday during the Belle Époque. The fortifications referred to by Millot and Glâtre were a ring of forts built in the early 1840s which enclosed the capital.2 Destroyed after the World War I, the fortifications appear as locus and décor for a curious, perhaps even counter-intuitive, nostalgie de la boue in ‘La Chanson des Fortifs’, written by Georges van Parys and Michel Vaucaire (later to be celebrated as composer of Édith Piaf ’s ‘Milord’) and recorded in 1938 by the chanteuse réaliste Fréhel.3 Que sont devenues les fortifications Et les p’tits bistrots des barrières C’était l’décor de toutes les chansons Des jolies chansons de naguère Où sont donc Julot Nini, Casque d’or Et P’tit Louis l’costaud Si célèbre alors Que sont devenues les fortifications Et tous les héros des chansons.4

Surrounding the fortifications lay a 250-metre stretch of land on which no permanent building was permitted – the zone non aedificandi familiarly abbreviated to ‘la Zone’. The Zone became an area of ill repute under the Second Empire, teeming with shantytowns whose inhabitants were often manual workers driven there by rising rents.5 The documentary short La Zone (Georges Lacombe, 1928), also commented on herein by Annie Fourcaut, gives a grim portrayal of the lives

The banlieue in French cinema of the 1930s of the ragpickers living there, among their number the former Moulin Rouge dancer Louise Weber, celebrated as ‘La Goulue’ in paintings by Toulouse-Lautrec. She was to die in drunken Montmartre destitution the following year.The banlieue as space of relegation and exclusion, to reprise Millot and Glâtre’s words, has an unbroken history going back more than a century and a half, figuring in the literature of the 1930s via the work of Eugène Dabit (on whose eponymous novel Marcel Carné based his Hôtel du Nord of 1938) and, more resonantly for a contemporary readership, that of Louis-Ferdinand Céline. The banlieue as habitat is a place of poverty and often violent passions, as shown to differing degrees by La Chienne (Jean Renoir, 1931), Cœur de Lilas (Anatole Litvak, 1932), La Rue sans nom (Pierre Chenal, 1934), Le Jour se lève (Marcel Carné, 1939) and much later Terrain vague (Carné, 1960), or Casque d’or (Jacques Becker, 1952). Casque d’or’s eponymous central character, played by Simone Signoret (Figure 3), is loosely modelled on the prostitute Amélie Élie, centre of a notorious love triangle involving in 1902 two racketeers (Manda and Léca, played by Serge Reggiani and Claude Dauphin respectively). It is set in Belleville – most iconic of (erstwhile) Parisian working-class suburbs, and the birthplace of Édith Piaf, supposedly in the street but in fact in the nearby Hôpital Tenon. It is generally the eastern suburbs of Paris that spring to mind when one thinks of the banlieue in this harsh if periodically sentimentalised light, nowadays above all what is now the Seine-Saint-Denis département. The better air quality in the west is often cited as a reason for this, as in London; Paris’s most costly and desirable suburbs, such as the aforementioned Neuilly-sur-Seine, are situated to that side of the city. The Bois de Boulogne, to the west and abutting onto the upscale sixteenth arrondissement, has a far more select profile than its larger eastern counterpart the Bois de Vincennes, whose open-air prostitution caters for a less well-off clientele. Similarly, while the Seine is the river invariably associated with Paris, the ‘people’s river’ – as we shall see shortly when we consider Nogent, Eldorado du dimanche (Marcel Carné, 1929) – is rather the Marne, to the east. Jean-Paul Dollé links the two rivers as constituting a ‘fond inépuisable aux évocations de l’impressionnisme’ (inexhaustible backdrop with impressionist overtones), thereby reminding us how important painting (including of course the work of Renoir père) is to their cultural resonance, but seemingly privileging the Marne in his evocation of a ‘communisme de l’apéro, sportif et bon enfant, des bords de la Marne […] qui n’a rien à voir avec celui plus sectaire et dur de la banlieue Nord’ (the athletic, good-natured communism of the aperitif […] which has nothing to do with the more sectarian, hard-core communism of [the capital’s] north suburbs) (Dollé 1994: 77). By and large, however, the banlieue as would-be bucolic retreat from the hurly-burly of urban life and favoured site of slumming is more generally associated with the west, as in Renoir’s Partie de campagne – one of the two films, along with Le Jour se lève, I shall be analysing in some detail. Yet the east appears as a benign ‘lung’ for the weary city-dweller not only in Nogent, Eldorado du dimanche but in Boudu sauvé des eaux (Jean Renoir, 1932), where



Screening the Paris suburbs Boudu (Michel Simon) escapes the city via the Marne, and in La Belle Équipe (Julien Duvivier, 1936), set in a Marneside café or guinguette. La Belle Équipe’s two alternative endings may well suggest two alternative views of the Paris suburb – both very different from the perception that since the appearance of the film de banlieue in the mid 1990s has been hegemonic. Not all suburbs of Paris lend themselves so readily to pigeon-holing as the above might seem to suggest. Boulogne-Billancourt, a western suburb abutting onto the Bois de Boulogne and wealthier in per capita terms even than Paris, was for some sixty years home to the Renault car factory, lynchpin of industrial working-class militancy as evidenced in the old Leftist injunction not to ‘désespérer Billancourt’ or to discourage the labouring class. It is also the setting for scenes of the first film by Marcel Carné to have been scripted by Jacques Prévert, Jenny (1936), whose eponymous central character played by Françoise Rosay lives there in a lavish hôtel particulier. Jenny maintains her affluent standard of living by running a brothel (in the adjacent sixteenth arrondissement) which is thinly disguised as a deluxe nightclub. Jenny’s ingénue daughter Danielle is horrified to discover the true nature of her mother’s business from a brochure advertising ‘Chez Jenny – à deux pas du bois galant’. The galanterie in question clearly stems from the Bois de Boulogne’s longstanding reputation as a locale for alfresco amours, notably of a venal kind. Boulogne is also sometimes described as the setting for Le Jour se lève, which was shot in its cinema studios. Although today Boulogne-Billancourt indeed boasts an Avenue Le Jour-se-lève, incongruously lined with modern plate-glass buildings, nothing in Le Jour se lève itself suggests that this, or anywhere specific, is its location, which could be either faubourg or banlieue (Figure 11). Edward Baron Turk indeed places it, following two earlier and markedly less stimulating writers on Carné, Robert Chazal and Bernard-G. Landry, in the Picardy capital and industrial city of Amiens (Turk 1989: 154). I include the film here because it is so archetypal a work of its period and milieu: it is banlieue rouge in spirit unquestionably, if not necessarily in reality. Nor is the banlieue rouge a place of all work and no play: the caper comedy Circonstances atténuantes (Jean Boyer, 1939), starring Michel Simon and Arletty in one of their surprisingly few screen pairings, takes place in the southern suburb of Bagneux – then as uninterruptedly to the present day a municipality held by the French Communist Party. The banlieue was little in evidence in silent cinema, and then generally as backdrop for crime dramas set amid wasteground and shantytowns. Its more salubrious incarnation is most prominently represented by Nogent, Eldorado du dimanche, which depicts workers on their Sunday outing to Nogent-sur-Marne, hard by the Bois de Vincennes. They are seen fishing, swimming, picking flowers, listening to a band playing gypsy music and even enjoying open-air gymnastics, complete with a try-your-strength machine. The film acts, quasi-Rousseauistically, as ‘a glorification of the countryside’s capacity to reinstate workers’ health and vitality’ (Turk 1989: 22). One of the first sound features with a suburban setting,

The banlieue in French cinema of the 1930s Prix de beauté (Augusto Genina, 1930), from a screenplay by René Clair, deploys similar imagery. The Marne and its guinguettes again provide the setting for popular entertainments, including a beauty contest won by Lucienne Garnier – played by Louise Brooks. The narrative ends, however, on a sombre note evocative of the films to come of Marcel Carné, rather than of those of René Clair, for Lucienne is killed by her jealous fiancé just after she has accepted a film contract. Jean Dréville, a journeyman director whose career spanned more than forty years, made a seven-minute film entitled A La Varenne (Java chantée) in 1933 showcasing the erstwhile racing-cyclist André Perchicot, who reinvented himself as a highly successful popular singer. La Varenne – in point of fact La Varenne-Saint-Hilaire – is the name of a small town beside the Marne absorbed into Saint-Maur-des Fossés as far back as 1791. The ‘java’ of the song – later reprised by Georges Brassens and by Philippe Clay – refers to a bal-musette dance that became extremely popular in the 1930s, enshrined in the title of Fréhel’s ‘La Java bleue’ (1938) and name-checked in Piaf ’s celebrated ‘L’Accordéoniste’, written by Michel Emer in 1942, though both these songs are in fact waltzes. That of La Varenne is described in the film’s eponymous song as ‘la reine des javas’ – further illustration of the connection between the ‘people’s river’ and the popular entertainments of chanson and cinema. The feature Jeunesse (Georges Lacombe, 1934), with Lisette Lanvin who was to play Danielle in Jenny, likewise uses a guinguette as a ‘fantasized escape’ (Crisp 2002: 92) from its working-class milieu; two years later Marinella (Pierre Caron, 1936) was to give Tino Rossi his first major film role, singing a number of songs in a guinguette. The murder mystery Cœur de Lilas (Anatole Litvak, 1932), starring Jean Gabin and Fréhel, is set in the ‘other’ banlieue of the fortifications. Its title evokes the metro station Porte des Lilas (at the boundary of the nineteenth arrondissement in which it is situated, and the working-class suburb of Les Lilas), which gave its name to a film of 1957 directed by René Clair and showcasing Georges Brassens; but this is misleading, for in fact it refers to the central female character played by Marcelle Romée, who committed suicide shortly after Cœur de Lilas was made. Litvak’s fairly unremarkable film noir may nowadays be of interest primarily to rubber fetishists, including as it does duets between Gabin and Fréhel entitled ‘La môme caoutchouc’, ‘Élastique’ and ‘Elle est en gutta-percha’. A more cosmopolitan banlieue appears in La Rue sans nom (Pierre Chenal, 1934), adapted from a 1930 novel of the same name by Marcel Aymé.The ‘nameless street’ of the title is located in a poor working-class suburb – presumably of Paris, though this is never made explicit – and its run-down housing and dismal drainage are shot in a manner that recalls old photographs of Glasgow’s Gorbals, at the time among the worst slums in Europe. The street is home to Italian immigrant workers as well as to French families, though only one French worker, Vanoël, expresses overt hostility to the incomers. It is surely no coincidence that Vanoël is played by Robert Le Vigan, who was notorious for his fascistic attitudes and was forced to flee France at the end of World War II.



Screening the Paris suburbs The banlieue is a setting for humour as well as mystery and drama – something well illustrated by two films of 1939 both starring Michel Simon and Arletty, the aforementioned Circonstances atténuantes and Fric-Frac (a slang term denoting breaking and entering), co-directed by Maurice Lehmann and the better-known Claude Autant-Lara. Circonstances atténuantes pitches Simon’s tough, retired magistrate Gaston Le Sentencier (whose name is clearly not inadvertent) into the midst of a gang of ne’er-do-wells when his car breaks down in Bagneux. Le Sentencier is accompanied by his wife, but that does not preclude mild flirtation with ‘Marie qu’a d’ça’ (roughly, ‘Mary who’s got it’, played by Arletty), with whom along with other denizens of the café-restaurant Aux bons vivants he sings ‘Comme de bien entendu’, a classic of French chanson. He is prevailed upon by his new friends to help in organising a series of thefts – a reprise of Simon’s role in Boulot aviateur/Fripons, voleurs et cie (Maurice de Canonge, 1937), where he plays a baron (!) who organises insurance fraud from a garage in the then-as-now highly respectable suburb of Charenton-le-Pont. Le Sentencier is, however, recognised – during a burglary he stages in his own house – by the sultry La Panthère (Mila Parély, who played Geneviève in Renoir’s La Règle du jeu that same year), and Marie too remembers him as the judge before whom she appeared some years before. ‘Grâce à moi, vous comprendrez que le crime ne paie pas’ (thanks to me, you’ll understand that crime doesn’t pay), he observes with apposite sententiousness, and the miscreants are duly chastened, Marie winding up as the acme of respectability running a market-stall with the owner of Aux bons vivants. The potentially menacing banlieusard is recuperated as what Bosséno calls a ‘faubourien hâbleur mais amendable, prêt à rentrer dans le droit chemin’ (boastful but mindful workingclass Parisian, ready to get back on the straight and narrow) (1994: 29), but the words of ‘Comme de bien entendu’ suggest a darker, less jovial world. The song’s catchy valse-musette rhythm is at odds with its tale of drunkenness, infidelity and perhaps even prostitution, which evokes what Ginette Vincendeau in an article on chanteuses réalistes such as Fréhel and Édith Piaf calls ‘a city of working-class faubourgs, rainy streets, and tall buildings […] in which proletariat and underworld, pimps and prostitutes, enact a scenario of crime and doomed passion’ (Vincendeau 1987: 107). The good humour of the banlieue exists, then, in often uncomfortable proximity with its grimmer side. Circonstances atténuantes, like much unjustly-derided French features associated with ‘Tradition of Quality’, is often reliant on verbal humour, as when Marie corrects the supposed misattribution of a statue by saying: ‘On ne dit pas Rodin, on dit radin’ (One doesn’t say Rodin, but ‘radin’ [a slang term for tight-fisted]). Fric-Frac, adapted from a stage play by Édouard Bourdet, takes this further with the celebrated remark by the jeweller Marcel (Fernandel): ‘J’eusse préféré que vous vinssiez seule’ (I would have preferred you come alone) – doubly incongruous since the archetypal Provençal klutz Fernandel is playing a Parisian as well as suavely deploying two imperfect subjunctives. The film features an abortive jewel robbery and several drunken scenes, in the mould of the Hollywood caper

The banlieue in French cinema of the 1930s movie much as Circonstances atténuantes resembles the Hollywood ‘screwball’ comedy. It opens at a cycle-race in the suburb of Montrouge, just to the south of Paris, and while Michel Simon’s Jo is from La Villette and Arletty’s Loulou from Barbès – both in those days working-class faubourgs – much of the action takes place in Poissy, an industrial town in what is today the generally affluent Yvelines département. Jo’s response when it is suggested that he take part in a heist in Poissy (‘Pourquoi pas Rouen ou Cherbourg?’ [Why not Rouen or Cherbourg?]) evokes the gulf between the proletarian quartiers of Paris and its more distant suburbs. The banlieue here is less a continuation of the metropolis than another world. That world, particularly in films from the very end of the decade or the beginning of the next, is sometimes seen as being in need of redemption. Both Les Musiciens du ciel (Georges Lacombe, 1938/1940) and Notre-Dame de la Mouise (Robert Péguy, 1939/1941) proffer a religious solution to its woes. Les Musiciens du ciel stars Michèle Morgan as a Salvation Army lieutenant whose ministrations convert the petty criminal Victor (René Lefèvre, best known as Renoir’s Monsieur Lange).Victor is distraught when she dies of exhaustion, but resolves to continue her good work. Notre-Dame de la Mouise – the latter word a slang term denoting ‘misery’ – was later to give its title to a song by Léo Ferré, but Péguy’s film is far removed from Ferré’s staunch anti-clericalism, recalling – as Annie Fourcaut notes – Angels With Dirty Faces (Michael Curtiz, 1938) whose hero is the priest played by Pat O’Brien. Péguy’s inspiration is the Jesuit priest Pierre Lhande, whose Le Christ dans la banlieue (1927–31) brought home to the French Catholic Church how far removed it had become from the realities of working-class banlieue life. The film opens with a wedding scene in the Zone, called in would-be humorous vein ‘La Californie’. Annie Fourcaut, however, points out the wilful confusion between the ‘honnêtes banlieusards’ (law-abiding suburbanites), frequently living in bungalows built without formal planning permission, and the ‘zoniers’ – an avatar of the distinction between the deserving and the undeserving poor still perceptible nowadays in much conservative discourse. The film thus ‘rajeunit la vieille opposition entre classes laborieuses et classes dangereuses en la transposant dans la banlieue, rouge et noire à la fois’ (updates the old opposition between working classes and dangerous classes by transposing it to the banlieue, at once red and black) (Fourcaut 1994: 122) – the two-pronged threat of communism and anarchy to which Péguy’s priest incarnates a would-be alternative. The priest, played by Édouard Delmont, has to contend with aggressively atheistic hostility, most cogently articulated by the local barkeeper Père Didier who favours political revolution. He nevertheless builds a church single-handed (!) and manages to win over the village by his example. The film’s religioso kitsch reaches its apogee when the priest talks the ‘tortured soul’ Père Didier (une grande âme torturée) out of his cynicism on his deathbed, to the accompaniment of an angelic choir. When the Cardinal comes to consecrate the church, the entire village is there, and the priest demonstrates his liberality by drinking champagne with them.



Screening the Paris suburbs Cinematically it is difficult to find much to say in the film’s favour, but its one hundred per cent Pétainism makes it a valuable document of its time. Le Jour se lève and Partie de campagne will be far more familiar to readers of this chapter – unsurprisingly since they are signed by the two canonical French directors of the 1930s, Marcel Carné and Jean Renoir. Action in Le Jour se lève takes place around a cobbled square traversed by tramlines, which may go some way towards supporting Turk’s localisation of the film in Amiens, for that city still had a tramway in 1939 whereas the Paris banlieue had lost its last route the previous year. The narrative’s emotional power derives in large part from the manner in which Jean Gabin’s François, who has killed his rival in love Valentin (Jules Berry), systematically isolates himself from the working-class community of which he is a well-liked member, immuring himself in his room on the top floor of an apartment building and shooting himself rather than be captured by the police. The fatalism suggested here is underscored by the story being told in a series of flashbacks, François in his room thinking back to happier times with the flower-seller Françoise (Jacqueline Laurent) and Valentin’s disabused ex-lover and stage partner Clara (Arletty). One recurrent shot depicts François cycling to work at dawn, as the film’s title suggests, through what appears to be a generic Paris suburban or conceivably Northern French setting – neat working-class bungalows of the kind favoured by ‘honnêtes banlieusards’ (Fourcaut), cheek-by-jowl with a railway line and, lowering in the background, a factory of almost Expressionist grimness where François works as a sandblaster in appalling conditions. His neat but modest, even cramped, room contrasts with on the one hand the spruce and seemingly well-equipped bungalow, complete with greenhouse, where Françoise lives, and on the other Clara’s hotel room, redolent of a life without attachment. Valentin’s performing-dog act, whose cruelty is described by Clara in terms that might have shocked audiences of the time but will probably come as no surprise now, appears in the local café-concert or music-hall – the major form of popular entertainment, along of course with the cinema, in the Parisian and suburban world of the time.Valentin describes himself as ‘un nomade’ – clearly a fairly well off one, for whereas François rides a bicycle he drives a motorcar and dresses with self-conscious nattiness (hat, waistcoat and on stage at least knee-breeches rather than François’s cloth cap, pullover and working trousers). It would be difficult to imagine Valentin as a dweller of the banlieue, and much of the film’s power as a story of erotic rivalry derives from the contrast between Gabin/François’s ‘virilité prolétaire’ (Vincendeau 1993: 190) and ‘the camply mincing mannerisms of Berry who provides him with an ideal foil’ (Reader 2001: 68) – an opposition obviously overdetermined by social class, implicitly counterposing to Gabin’s banlieue functionality a more contrived urban sophistication. That opposition is still more marked when it comes to the women, largely owing to the insipid performance of Jacqueline Laurent. Cinematic ingénues rarely wear well (Lilian Gish and Mary Pickford excepted), and Laurent here is

The banlieue in French cinema of the 1930s no exception. The ingénue is frequently contrasted with the garce or ‘bad girl’, but much of the strength and ambiguity of Le Jour se lève stems from the way in which Arletty eludes this dichotomy, embodying ‘an appealing independence and complexity’ (Conway 2004: 2) that are nothing if not urban. In point of fact Arletty (real name Léonie Bathiat) was a child of the then working-class inner suburb of Courbevoie, but she spent the bulk of her ninety-four years in Paris, and the sardonically throaty gouaille or repartee habitually associated with her is quintessentially Parisian. Knowingness – accompanied to be sure by vulnerability, as in the scene where she sobs at Françoise’s bedside – is her trademark, potently reinforced by the contrast with Jacqueline Laurent’s flower-bearing innocence. The urban and the suburban play off each other in very different ways via the central male and female couples. I discuss Partie de campagne after Le Jour se lève because, although shot in 1936, Renoir’s film was not released until 1946. This was the result of execrable weather conditions which impeded shooting (it is a matter for debate whether and how far the film was originally meant to run beyond its current forty minutes), so that not until after the war was producer Pierre Braunberger able to edit the existing footage into the film we know today. Renoir adapts a Maupassant short story which relates the annual visit to the countryside near Paris of the Dufour family – M. Dufour, an ironmonger in the Rue des Martyrs near Montmartre, his wife Juliette, their daughter Henriette, her grandmother and M. Dufour’s clerk, Anatole, engaged to be married to Henriette. At a guinguette they make the acquaintance of two rakish Parisian males who take the two women boating and evidently seduce them. Henriette’s beau, in both story and film, is called Henri, as if to suggest an affinity between them; Juliette’s seducer, nameless for Maupassant, becomes Rodolphe for Renoir, clearly an allusion to Emma’s first adulterous love in Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. Film and story end with an elegiac coda in which Henriette, now married to the fatuous Anatole, encounters Henri on a return visit to the riverside, and the two wistfully muse on what might have been. Maupassant set his story in the suburb of Bezons, on the banks of the Seine to the northwest of Paris. It was not far from there, in the much more affluent village of Chatou, that Renoir’s father, the painter Pierre-Auguste, had courted his wife-to-be Aline Charigot, whose name serendipitously rhymes with ‘Parigot’ – a familiar term for a Parisian. Renoir shot his film further from the capital, doubtless because of the encroachment of urbanisation – beside the rivers of the Essonne (which gives its name to a département) and the Loing, to the east of Paris. Technically this places it at the intersection of the banlieue parisienne and the larger Ile-de-France region. Topographical questions, however, are unlikely to loom very large in a viewing of the film, taking a back seat to its bucolic atmosphere. As Roger Viry-Babel says: Cette histoire de bourgeois à la campagne permet à Renoir de retrouver, au-delà des lieux et de la transposition d’époque, les émotions, les palpitations du monde de son



Screening the Paris suburbs père: l’eau, la guinguette comparable à celle du père Fournaise où Auguste emmenait Aline Charigot. 6(Viry-Babel 1986/1994: 84)

The visual quality of Partie de campagne calls to mind, as Viry-Babel’s observation may suggest, the Impressionist paintings of Renoir’s father, or those of Manet – notably Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe, which in 1959 was to give its name to a less-thaninspired film by the director. What Jean Renoir gives us is a generic Parisian’s-eye view of the rural banlieue, its Parisianness emphasised by the fact that not only the Dufour family but Henri and Rodolphe are on villeggiatura from the capital. The most authentically non-urban character is thus the guinguette owner Poulain, but he is played by the Parisian director himself. The Dufours bestow lavish, and largely unmerited, praise on the innkeeper’s oily fish and the bitter cherries they pluck from his tree, which evokes a touristic enchantment more erotically vehicled by Madame Dufour’s friskiness and Henriette’s curious, and initially unfocused, excitement at their surroundings. Partie de campagne, for all that its action takes place no more than 40 miles from Paris, recounts what we would nowadays call a holiday romance, or rather two holiday romances – one more disabused and sceptical than the other, but neither destined to last. The aphrodisiac Rousseauism of the riverside setting, however short lived, is a long way from the connotations that most readily suggest themselves when the banlieue comes to mind. Yet its effect is quite as subversive of the traditional social and sexual order. Olivier Curchod does not exaggerate in saying that ‘Renoir met ici en scène, sous les allures riantes du libertinage, l’échec de la famille bourgeoise qui porte en soi les germes de sa propre destruction’ (underneath the pleasantries of libertinage, Renoir stages the failure of the bourgeois family, which carries in it the seeds of its own destruction) (Curchod 2012: 108). The absence of rules and codes noted at the outset of this chapter is clearly, if beguilingly, staged by Renoir’s film, in a manner suggestive of the Bakhtinian carnival since, as the coda tells us, the ‘normal’ social order in the end re-imposes itself, but not without an all too palpable sense of grief and loss. As a site for Parisian sociability in the 1930s the guinguette proves no less important for our analysis than the factory or the Zone. It could indeed be argued that it is through the contrast, even the tension, between the two spaces that filmic representations of the banlieue can most fruitfully be interrogated, at least in the period discussed here. The inferno of the factory and the riverside idyll turn out to have more in common than we might initially have expected. Notes 1 ‘The banlieue is manifold. The banlieue film is not a genre. It has no rules or codes. It is defined by a décor and an atmosphere; it is a cinema of situations.’ 2 Annie Fourcaut deals with these and their wider social and cultural significance in Chapter 1; ‘On the origins of the banlieue film’. 3 The song features in its entirety in La Maman et la putain (Jean Eustache, 1973).

The banlieue in French cinema of the 1930s 4 ‘What happened to the fortifications/And the little bars by the customs barriers/The setting for all the songs,/The pretty songs of yesteryear.//Where are Julot,/Nini, Casque d’or/And tough little Louis,/So famous back then?/What’s happened to the fortifications/ And all the heroes of the songs?’ (Julot, Nini and Casque d’or would appear to be generic names for figures to be found around the fortifications.) See Cannon (2015). 5 The term ‘zonard’ came into use in about 1970, well after the Zone itself had disappeared, to refer to marginal banlieusard youth, forerunners of the characters portrayed in La Haine. 6 This story of bourgeois off in the countryside allows Renoir to rediscover, beyond the sites and the historical transposition, the emotions and heartthrobs of the world of his father: the water, the guinguette comparable to Père Fournaise’s own where Auguste [Renoir] used to take Aline Charigot.

References Anderson, Benedict (1983/1991), Imagined Communities, London, Verso. Baldizzone, José (1994), ‘Y a-t-il une vie au-delà du périphérique?’ Les Cahiers de la Cinémathèque 59–60 (Feb.): 9–12. Bosséno, Christian-Marc (1994), ‘Années 30–60: le cinéma français invente la banlieue’, Les Cahiers de la Cinémathèque 59–60: 27–32. Cannon, James (2015), The Paris Zone: A Cultural History, 1840–1944, Farnham, Ashgate. Conway, Kelley (2004), Chanteuse in the City: The Realist Singer in French Film, Berkeley and Los Angeles, University of California Press. Crisp, Colin (2002), Genre, Myth and Convention in the French Cinema, 1929–1939, Bloomington, Indiana University Press. Curchod, Olivier (2012), La ‘méthode Renoir’: pleins feux sur Partie de campagne (1936) et La Grande Illusion (1937), Paris, Armand Colin. Dollé, Jean-Paul (1994), ‘Villes et banlieues dans la cinéma français’, Les Cahiers de la Cinémathèque 59–60 (Feb.): 75–80. Fourcaut, Annie (1994), ‘La banlieue et la grâce: autour de Notre-Dame de la Mouise’, Les Cahiers de la Cinémathèque 59–60 (Feb.): 117–23. Kracauer, Siegfried (1960), Theory of Film, Oxford, Oxford University Press. Millot, Olivier and Patrick Glâtre (2003), Caméra plein champ: la banlieue au cinéma/le cinéma en banlieue, Grâne, Créaphis. Narvalo: magazine d’information de la maison populaire 15 (1981), Montreuil. Reader, Keith (2001), ‘“Mon cul est intersexuel?”: Arletty’s Performance of Gender’, in Alex Hughes and James S. Williams (eds), Gender and French Cinema, Oxford, Berg, 63–76. Stovall, Tyler (1990), The Rise of the Paris Red Belt, Berkeley and Los Angeles, University of California Press. Turk, Edward Baron (1989), Child of Paradise: Marcel Carné and the Golden Age of French Cinema, Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press. Vincendeau, Ginette (1987), ‘The mise-en-scène of suffering: French chanteuses réalistes’, New Formations 3 (Winter): 107–28. Vincendeau, Ginette (1993), ‘Gabin unique’, in Claude Gauteur and Ginette Vincendeau, Jean Gabin: anatomie d’un mythe, Paris, Nathan: 95–203. Viry-Babel, Roger (1986/1994), Jean Renoir: le jeu et la règle, Paris, Denoël/Ramsay.



Julien Duvivier and inter-war ‘banlieutopia’ Margaret C. Flinn

Compared to the discontents of the post-war banlieue, from the ill-considered spread of low-income housing to the inability of the French nation to satisfactorily reckon with the ‘postcolonial’ immigrant citizens consigned to it, the idyllic image of the inter-war suburb as a showcase for outdoor, working-class leisure plausibly constitutes a prelapsarian state, a democratisation of ancien régime pastoral. The first degree of my neologism ‘banlieutopia’ corresponds to this idealised, picturesque landscape. Centred on the guinguette, or outdoor café, the pastoral banlieue would seem to be the antidote to the tribulations of industrialised urban life. Exemplary of this tendency to idealise the verdant suburb are Au Bonheur des Dames (1930) and La Belle Équipe (1936), both directed by Julien Duvivier (1896–1967). These films furnish a particularly useful lens through which to view representations of the suburb in the inter-war period, as they correspond to turning points in the socio-cultural landscape of French cinema. Au Bonheur des Dames was one of the last silent French productions and shares the aesthetic strategies of the city symphonies contemporary to it, while La Belle Équipe overtly engages themes that qualify it as one of the Popular Front-era films par excellence.The prominence of Julien Duvivier as a poetic realist also situates his work in proximity to the darker, more melancholic strain of filmed urban and suburban representations for which French cinema of the 1930s would become famous.1 In spite of its idealisation, what I propose to call ‘banlieutopia’ does not exist as an unproblematised space but pushes in two directions. In the city film Au Bonheur des Dames, the realm is that of seemingly unproblematic escapism, where escape is folded into the narrative’s marriage plot. In the case of La Belle Équipe, the ‘other space’ to which the characters escape is trapped between the city and a space beyond it (death, and internationalism being signified by a Spanish refugee member of the collective, as well as the departure of another member for Canada). In this chapter, I will measure the utopian qualities of the banlieue as pastoral

Julien Duvivier and inter-war ‘banlieutopia’ idyll against the definition of heterotopia proposed by Michel Foucault in 'Of Other Spaces' to conclude that potentially utopian spaces in film are critiqued through recourse to action or plot, because of the ambiguously ‘real’ nature of cinematographic representation. In other words, to the extent that the ‘no place’ of utopia itself exists as a profilmic reality, to maintain its status as no place ‘banlieutopia’ must be relegated to non-existence via the failure of the human community that establishes itself within that space.The ambivalent critical reception of La Belle Équipe bears out this claim. Banlieue pastoral from Zola to Duvivier The work of art historians such as T. J. Clark and Robert Herbert in the 1990s brought particular attention to the fact that the banlieue as painted by the Impressionists depicted a mixture of industrialisation and lower-class leisure space.2 Activities such as rowing, dining and sailing are juxtaposed to railroads, sand quarries, barges, docks and warehouses, although Clark qualifies that for the most part, ‘Industry can be recognized and represented, but not labour; the factories have to be kept still, as if that were the guarantee of their belonging to the landscape’ (189). The general lack of working bodies, we can then conclude, emphasises the space in which they are depicted as being representatively dedicated to leisure – a similar dichotomy occurs in inter-war cinema, where workers abound onscreen, but very rarely are they shown at work (Jean Gabin’s performances as a welder in Carné’s Le Jour se lève [1939] and train engineer in Renoir’s La Bête humaine [1938] are notable exceptions). The inter-war period can thus be considered an extension of the mélange of industry, workers and leisure, but our interest here lies on the specifically utopian status and character of the filmed banlieue long before the crystallisation of a cinéma de banlieue and other journalistic or literary narratives conditioned contemporary viewers to see it in a predominantly negative way. Julien Duvivier’s adaptation of Émile Zola’s eponymous novel of 1883, Au Bonheur des Dames, can certainly be seen as extending late nineteenth-century representations of the suburb. Part of Zola’s twenty-volume Rougon-Macquart saga, Au Bonheur des Dames tells the story of an orphaned provincial woman’s struggle to support herself and her two younger brothers as a salesgirl in the capital, amid the tumult of the revolution being wrought upon commerce by the new and ever larger department stores as well as on commercial and residential quarters reconfigured by the Baron Haussmann in Second Empire Paris. While the old world of Denise’s uncle and his small shopkeeper colleagues crumbles, the honest, innocent and forthright heroine overcomes various types of adversity to rise in the ranks, and the novel closes with her imminent marriage to the store’s visionary owner, the reformed ladies’ man Octave Mouret. As is necessarily the case with adaptations of massive nineteenth-century tomes, Duvivier condensed and streamlined the tentacular plot of Zola’s novel,



Screening the Paris suburbs transposing the action from the Second Empire to the Roaring Twenties, along with all that meant for style and technological modernity. Although now regarded as a masterpiece, the film was a flop on its release and spent the better part of the twentieth century in the celluloid dustbin until its revival in a restored print in 2001. In fact, a look at contemporary reception shows that the only real reproach original audiences had for the film was its timing: released in 1930, Au Bonheur des Dames suffered the fate of so many late silent films which, despite their qualities, simply could not compete at the box office against the novelty of sound, particularly when producers imposed last-minute sonorisations that in all accounts did not suit the existing footage. Duvivier was, however, already a successful director and went on to major successes in the sound cinema of the 1930s and beyond, including La Bandera (1935), Pépé le Moko (1937), Panique (1946) and Diaboliquement vôtre (1967). The fifth chapter of Zola’s novel is dedicated to two simultaneous outings to the Parisian banlieue. In a pointed snub, the department manager takes all of her salesgirls but Denise for a picnic in Rambouillet; meanwhile, Denise joins her one friend Pauline and Pauline’s paramour for the day in Joinville. The function and place of the Joinville outing – narrated in some detail in contrast to the store outing, which is merely referenced – puts Denise’s innocence and purity into sharp relief. The ingénue heroine decisively declines the opportunity to take a lover who might supplement her inadequate income, as Pauline has kindly suggested she do. As this episode in the Zola novel suggests, the nineteenth-century banlieue was an accessible, if not necessarily frequently accessed, leisure area for workers and petty bourgeois residents alike, the literary traces of which can also be found in Guy de Maupassant’s short story ‘Une partie de campagne’ (1881) as well as in Zola’s Rougon-Macquart saga. Its accessibility increased in the first decades of the twentieth century with the further development of transportation networks, and the timeliness and continued relevance of such narratives may be seen in Jean Renoir’s 1936/46 Partie de campagne, not to mention the inter-war populist literature of Eugène Dabit (notably La zone verte, 1935). For his part, Pierre Mac Orlan, novelist and poet of the fantastique social, in his 1927 essay ‘Seine’ qualified the course of the river in the Parisian banlieue out to Poissy as an area that ‘appartient encore aux Parisiens, qui profitent du week-end pour se reposer dans un des plus coquets et des plus caractéristiques paysages de l’Ile-de-France’ (1970: 423).3 Mac Orlan continues on to evoke ‘seductive little Parisiennes’ who would be returning to work come Monday (424). Narratives such as these testify to the value placed during the inter-war period on the relatively cleaner suburban air by denizens of the densely populated and increasingly polluted capital. In Duvivier’s cinema, outside the confines of the city limits various constraints may be broken: the wealthy patron may declare his passion for a lowly worker and a collective endeavour may raise unemployed workers to the middle classes or succeed in running a would-be socialist cooperative.

Julien Duvivier and inter-war ‘banlieutopia’ In fact, the idealised film image of the inter-war banlieue arose in tandem with a body of films that are about the specifically urban experience of modernity: the city symphony.This is not at all a strictly Parisian or even French phenomenon: oft-cited exemplars of the genre included Berlin: Die Sinfonie der Großstadt/Berlin, Symphony of a Great City (Walter Ruttmann, 1927) and Man with a Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov, 1929). Notable French city symphonies include Rien que les heures (Alberto Cavalcanti, 1926), Montparnasse (Eugène Deslaw, 1929) and À Propos de Nice (Jean Vigo, 1930). These avant-garde films associated with the documentary tradition experimented formally with self-reflexive montage while exploring thematically the quotidian experience of city life. Integrating images of work and of leisure, city symphonies showcase the technologies of modern life, but while they revel in the glories of speed and intensity, the relentlessness of urban existence is tinged with the melancholy of alienation.4 Duvivier’s Au Bonheur des Dames shares the city symphony’s preoccupation with the speed of modern life. In the opening sequence, the provincial Denise arrives in Paris and must make her way, perilously, from the Saint-Lazare railway station to her uncle’s boutique – a small business failing to stay afloat due to the increasing dominance of the behemoth department store across the street. The sequence is characterised by rapid montage of automobiles, pedestrians, airplanes and buildings, so many urban features noteworthy for their, speed, number or size. Photographic superimposition further emphasises the degree to which the Norman Denise is out of place in the capital. Less the establishment and development of the protagonist, the sequence could have been lifted from any city symphony. A similar replication of city symphony style appears in the company outing sequence. Duvivier transforms Zola’s small party outings into a company excursion, a vacation-day party in verdant l’Isle-Adam (just outside of the Ile-de-France in the Val d’Oise) to celebrate the store’s founding. This celebratory event bears a striking resemblance to footage of lower-class suburban leisure in Marcel Carné’s documentary short Nogent, El Dorado du dimanche (1929). Such activities as swimming, boating, picnicking, dancing are all replicated by Duvivier, with higher production values of course. Like the better known Menschen am Sonntag/People on Sunday featuring scenes of weekend leisure in greater Berlin (Robert Siodmak, 1930), Nogent celebrates the banlieue as the flipside of the lower- and lower-middle class daily grind through the ‘symphonic’ montage typical of city symphonies. The organised athletic games of the company picnic in Au Bonheur des Dames (Figure 12) also bear an uncanny resemblance to the sporting events in Bertolt Brecht and Slatan Dudow’s Kuhle Wampe oder: wem gehört die Welt?/Kuhle Wampe: To Whom does the World Belong?/Whither Germany? (1932). Kuhle Wampe was a lakeside camp outside of Berlin for dispossessed families at the height of the Depression. The similarity between the events in the Communist vehicle Kuhle Wampe and Duvivier’s hymn to individual entrepreneurial vision in Au Bonheur des Dames – albeit a kinder and gentler one, thanks to the heroine – extends beyond the organised sporting events to the fates of the heroines, who both fall



Screening the Paris suburbs in love. At the picnic Duvivier’s Denise shares her first kiss with storeowner Octave Mouret, although she immediately reproaches him for taking advantage of her and for initiating a relationship they both know to be impossible. The out-of-bounds nature of the suburban outing serves the purpose of momentarily freeing Denise and Octave from the social constraints that limit them when they are within the city proper. It is this momentary removal of restraint that provides the opening for the pair later to rethink the supposed ‘impossibility’ of their marriage. There is – certainly from a gender perspective – a marked conservatism to Au Bonheur des Dames in that the endgame is the triumph of high-risk capitalism and the safe integration of an individualistic heroine to the marriage plot. Moreover, the scene of the first kiss between Denise and Octave adheres to the formal codes of Hollywood: soft focus close-ups and glamorous lighting signal the perfect banality of the fairy-tale dream of an impoverished heroine being raised to wealth and power through her eventual marriage to the handsome hero. The aesthetic coherence and underlying sexism are both logical if we remember Louis Marin’s observation in Utopics: Spatial Play about the rather remarkable relationship between utopia and ideology: ‘[utopic practice] is an ideological critique of the dominant ideology’ (Marin 1984: xiv). The Zola/Duvivier narratives are thus unsurprisingly complicit with dominant ideology even in their social progressivism or moments of transgression. Up until this point the idyllic and bucolic suburb has been at the foreground of this discussion. While its function as Sunday’s El Dorado may seem frankly utopian, it would be paradoxical to consider the suburb to be a utopia in the strict sense: unlike More’s Utopia, or the lost city of gold for that matter, the banlieue as a site for working-class leisure did in fact exist. Thus it is perhaps more useful to consider the banlieutopia as not utopia, but something else again, which is where the Foucauldian heterotopia becomes useful for this analysis. In ‘Of Other Spaces’, Foucault wrote that There are also, probably in every culture, in every civilization, real places – places that do exist and that are formed in the very founding of society – which are something like counter sites, a kind of effectively enacted utopia in which the real sites, all the other real sites that can be found within the culture, are simultaneously represented, contested and inverted. Places of this kind are outside of all places, even though it may be possible to indicate their location in reality. Because these places are absolutely different from all the sites that they reflect and speak about, I shall call them, by way of contrast to utopias, heterotopias. (1986: 24)

After defining heterotopia, Foucault lists a number of principles characterising them that are instructive for our purposes here. According to Foucault’s third principle (‘the heterotopia is capable of juxtaposing in a single real place several spaces, several sites that are in themselves incompatible’ [25]), the cinema itself is a heterotopia: it is ‘a very odd rectangular room, at the end of which on a twodimensional screen, one sees the projection of a three-dimensional space’ (25).

Julien Duvivier and inter-war ‘banlieutopia’ But if we consider the question from within representation, we find that in the inter-war period, the proximate space beyond city borders is made up of at least two incompatible types of place. Indeed, to be historically accurate, the banlieue is a Foucauldian ‘simultaneously one and another space’ insofar as it may be collapsed in one’s imaginary cinémathèque to an apparent singularity: in the inter-war period as in present-day France, the towns and neighbourhoods encircling Paris were just as filled with luxurious villas and bourgeois houses as they were with workers’ housing or factories, depending upon which way one walked from any given point. Similarly, the filmed representations of inter-war banlieue show internal incompatibilities that are not adequately encompassed by the examples examined thus far. While the Parisian banlieue represented in Au Bonheur des Dames and as it occasionally appears in French city symphonies is pastoral and idyllic, another important strain of inter-war imagery associates suburban spaces primarily with the dark, melancholic films that came to be known under the aegis of ‘poetic realism’. Thus, Georges Lacombe’s 1928 documentaire romancé entitled La Zone: au pays des chiffonniers/The Zone: In the Land of the Ragpickers chronicles life in the impoverished shantytowns outlying Paris’s last fortifications – essentially the first ring of inner suburbs (‘proche banlieue’).5 As it is seen in La Zone, the hardscrabble grasses on the fortifs do not offer a lush environment, but nonetheless they do offer a zone of relative greenery for spending leisure time. L’Atalante (Jean Vigo, 1934) features empty industrial yards that offer no relief or redemption for any of the characters, while Le Jour se lève (Marcel Carné, 1939) presents fatally dark locales in which the Jean Gabin character commits a crime of passion then, over the course of a long night of flashbacks, works his way around to suicide.6 Jean Renoir’s description of the Parisian suburbs where he found the ‘perfect’ location for his adaptation of Emile Zola’s La Bête humaine provides insight into just how negatively the banlieue might have appeared in the 1930s: Vous les connaissez bien, n’est-ce pas, ces terrains vagues qui n’en finissent pas, semés de papiers gras et de boîtes de conserves, ces canaux géométriques et glauques, avec leurs estaminets couleurs de misère et ces pauvres chevaux de bois qui tournent aux carrefours, l’œil peint et stupide, et ces cheminées d’usines qui enfument le ciel? 7(qtd in Gorel 1936: 731)

Renoir’s presumption that his reader ‘knows well’ the impoverished, industrial wasteland of the city limits situates these dark and dangerous zones as being at the forefront of popular consciousness. Indeed, it suggests that these areas laden with wretchedness if not outright criminality are just as much a part of a commonly shared view of the suburb as the guinguette and Sunday in the country offering verdant repose for urban labourers. And thus, in that it contains two contradictory versions of itself, the inter-war banlieue satisfies the heterotopian principal of contradiction.



Screening the Paris suburbs The fundamental variability of the filmed banlieue is coupled with an ambiguous relationship to the city’s central quarters – a contrast played up for socio-political critique in films like La Zone or Rien que les heures, but present in the pastoral symphony of Nogent and the narrative fiction of Au Bonheur des Dames as well. This ambiguity and constant give-and-take between centre and periphery make it useful to recall Foucault’s fifth principle, according to which ‘heterotopias always presuppose a system of opening and closing that both isolates them and makes them penetrable’ (26). The suburbs’ relative isolation from the city centre permits social transgression. But close proximity to Paris means that characters shuttle from centre to periphery, inevitably leading to a sort of cross-contamination through the give-and-take between the spaces in which they have acted, such as Denise and Octave’s love affair in Au Bonheur des Dames (Mouret initiates their socially-transgressive physical relationship in the countryside, as mentioned above). The inevitable return is even more prominent in the city symphony – in Carné’s Nogent, El Dorado du dimanche the day in the country is framed by the trajectory to and from the city itself. The cast-offs or human refuse of modern industrial society are thus allowed a pastoral idyll but in the end are folded back into a social order, albeit one that they have caused to evolve somewhat through the very act of transgression. A banlieutopian guingette In La Belle Équipe five working-class friends win the lottery on a shared ticket and decide on the suggestion of Jean (Jean Gabin) that they should pool their resources in the interest of a common residence and create a business of some sort – as one of the characters says, ‘un petit bout de terrain, avec de l’eau au bord, histoire d’embêter les poissons!’ (a little bit of land on the water, so that we can bug the fish). The five-some composed of Jean, Charlot, Tintin, Mario and Jacques settle on rebuilding a ruined house to open a guinguette outside Paris (Figure 13). While it is not impossible to run a guinguette within city limits, these popular café and dance venues where patrons could order drinks, coffee and light meals were for the most part open-air establishments situated on the banks of the Seine, Marne and Oise rivers in greater Paris. The eighteenth-century origins of the guinguettes as drinking establishments sited beyond city limits arose from the purpose of avoiding customs taxes (l’octroi) on alcohol. With their heyday in the 1920s and 1930s (along with a present-day popular revival), these locales are a crucial part of the history of the Parisian outskirts; indeed, the word ‘guinguette’ itself is believed to be a derivation of the name of a cheap, acidic wine made in Ile-de-France.8 Work on the five-some’s suburban guinguette progresses steadily until three of the men in succession leave the collective: Jacques, who is in love with Mario’s girlfriend Huguette, leaves for Canada rather than disrupt the group’s harmony; Mario, a Spanish refugee, is expelled from France, taking Huguette with him; and

Julien Duvivier and inter-war ‘banlieutopia’ Tintin dies from accidentally falling off of the roof while raising the French flag. Meanwhile, friendships are severely strained when Charles’ estranged wife, Gina, starts an affair with Charles’ friend, Jean. The two men finally resolve to drop Gina totally and the guinguette opens on schedule in an ending that is more or less happy though bittersweet due to the dissolution of the original group – the onetime belle équipe of the title – as well as to Gina’s continued attempts to seduce either of the two remaining friends. In spite of the fair categorisation of Duvivier as an apolitical filmmaker with rightist tendencies, in La Belle Équipe we see a cinematographic delineation of space in keeping with that visible in other films about ‘building’ community at the time of the Popular Front. Duvivier’s work of 1936 thus provides evidence that the discourse allegorising the building of community through acts of architectural construction is not the exclusive territory of the engaged Left (Flinn 2014). Formally, we will see, La Belle Équipe establishes the guinguette as a utopian French national space, raising questions as to the exclusive or exclusionary nature of these suburban landmarks. From the film’s appearance in September 1936 forward, there has been a noticeable tendency to analyse La Belle Équipe by focusing on the narrative ‘success’ or ‘failure’ of the worker’s collective. The earliest reviewers were immediately and acutely aware of possible allegorical and political readings, while later scholars have been more cautious about negotiating this territory, concurring with Duvivier’s oft-cited claim made in 1959 that the film was neither political nor Leftist,9 and also invoking the well-known ‘double’ ending: the producers and director disagreed about the original ending where Jean shoots Charles on account of Gina’s treachery. The two endings were shown to a test audience, who preferred the ‘happier ending’ by a vote of 305 to 61! At the time of release, the actors were highly praised and Duvivier’s mise en scène generally appreciated. By contrast, screenwriter Charles Spaak was strongly criticised for not making events conform to what, in one reviewer’s mind, was the ‘correct’ position to take on collective enterprise (Dumas 1996: 84). In contrast, for Odile Cambier, writing in the cultural weekly Hebdo, the ambiguity seems to have been far more frustrating.The critic introduces her review by stressing that she found herself so perplexed by the eagerly awaited work of an established director that she understood why ‘je ne sais plus quel dictateur – est-ce Hitler, est-ce Mussolini?’ (I forget which dictator – was it Hitler or Mussolini?) imposed a twenty-four hour delay on film reviewers (Cambier 1936: 70). After allowing her ideas to percolate, Cambier was ready to conclude that La Belle Équipe, film parfaitement réalisé, est un film raté dans sa conception […] Au point de vue du film, ses auteurs n’ont pas su choisir ni prendre parti […] Pourquoi ces concessions à certaines doctrines du Front populaire, je dirais même de servilité, puisque le sujet même de La Belle Équipe, est […] un tableau amer de la désagrégation qui menace fatalement toute œuvre collective? 10 (70–1)



Screening the Paris suburbs If the community’s narrative success remains questionable, one reviewer provides a clue that might steer us towards an alternative measure of what here constitutes success for the collective. In the pages of Le Matin, Gilbert Bernard noted that the story amounted to ‘la démolition d’une amitié commune par la construction d’une commune maison’ (the demolition of a shared friendship by the construction of a shared home) (qtd in Dumas 1996: 82). What if we were to consider the spatial representation of the guinguette itself rather than basing all analysis on whether the men who built it seem to be getting along? La Belle Équipe’s one hundred-minute duration is punctuated with ample study of the construction of the guinguette, which after much debate its builders name Chez Nous (our place). The group falls in love with the building at first sight, notwithstanding the dilapidated interior and exterior – surveyed in lengthy tracking shots – which would certainly discourage any weekend do-it-yourselfer. Jean erases any reticence on the part of his pals, by reminding them that this is, after all, their field of expertise: ‘On va construire une guinguette et puis on va la construire nous-mêmes! Le bâtiment, ça nous connaît!’ (We’re going to build a guinguette, and we’re going to build it ourselves! If there’s one thing we know, it’s construction work!). Up until this point, the audience knew only that the men are unemployed workers, but here it seems clear that they have at least at some point worked in construction – a supposition supported by Tintin’s ability rapidly to do the math for the cost of supplies for various tasks (although somewhat contradicted by the pre-opening party for the ‘copains de l’usine’ – perhaps they were engaged in both construction and factory work at different times). As the film unfolds, the audience takes in various stages of the construction – including detailed examination of the exterior during the Sunday picnic for their factory mates. And at last, we have the final product: nestled in a wooded area the gleamingly whitewashed building opens to a trellis-fenced exterior that extends down a gentle slope to the water. While the collective does diminish in number, the opening of ‘Chez Nous’ brings their commercial project to fruition. Nonetheless, a major setback occurs near the film’s narrative midpoint. Cracks have just begun to show in the social relations between the men in that Gina has appeared (claiming she owns a portion of the guinguette on the basis that she and Charles are still legally married) and begun flirting with Jean, who himself has noticed Jacques silently pining for Huguette. Right after Jean issues a brotherly warning that women should not be allowed to come between friends, a horrible storm strikes, causing serious damage to the building. Not only does Jacques leave the group for Canada the next morning, but the damage wrought by the storm brings to light the fact that Charles has dipped into the reserve to give Gina money, hence setting up the meeting that initiates Jean and Gina’s affair. The storm sequence thus literalises fractures already occurring in the group and indeed foreshadows future ruptures. In the chaotic storm sequence a beam is shown crashing through a glass sunroom; the same sound of breaking glass will accompany

Julien Duvivier and inter-war ‘banlieutopia’ Tintin as he crashes through the same glass some time later, tying the departure of group members to damage of the building through the audio repetition. The friends ride out the storm on the guinguette’s roof, lying down on the tiles ‘pour les empêcher de partir’ (to keep them from leaving/flying off). In this water-logged scene, the men’s bodies are plastered to the building itself – literally holding it together, while they sing (of all things) Le Chant du départ. The song title – literally the ‘song of departure’11 – serves both as a joke about the departure of the roof tiles and as a call to arms issued to the men who strive desperately to preserve their dream house. The narrative does not prevent individuals from leaving the collective, but most of the tiles are retained: the architectural construction seemed to be a stronger signifier of community than the group’s actions. Instead, it is as if the group members’ bodies have been incorporated into the architectural space itself – an incorporation symbolised in the closing sequence by images of each of the five men grafted onto the guinguette. Inside, framed photographs of Mario and Jacques hang on the wall alongside a sketch of Tintin, while outside, wooden cut-outs of the two remaining owners welcome customers. Insofar as its storyline deploys the construction of a building as an allegory for constructing community, then, La Belle Équipe echoes the discourse of Leftist films of the Popular Front – particularly those that are overtly militant such as Jean Epstein’s Les Bâtisseurs (1938) or Jean-Paul Le Chanois’s Le Temps des cerises (1937).12 In such films, the social structure of the nation is explicitly compared to that of its architecture. Even when a physical structure is not present, I argue, the crowd or the mass is ‘built’ through camera movement and montage. Editing thus becomes a structural equivalent of the architectural object. In La Belle Équipe, we see a similar filmic construction of the collective in the scene where the group’s factory friends visit the half-finished guinguette for a picnic in the country. At this point, Jean sings the song ‘On s’promène au bord de l’eau’ for the assembled guests. Commenting on Jean Gabin and French masculinity, Ginette Vincendeau contrasts the filming of Gabin’s character in La Belle Équipe with that of the eponymous gangster of Duvivier’s Pépé le Moko, released just five months later in January 1937. In the latter film, argues Vincendeau, the audience has no competing point of identification within the image whereas identification with Jean in La Belle Équipe is always set against identification with the collective (Vincendeau 1985: 25, 30, 34). While Vincendeau centres her reading on the Jean Gabin figure, I would argue that in terms of the filming of the crowd during the ‘On s’promène’ sequence, Duvivier depicts the working-class audience in a way that is consistent with the portrayal of the mass in militant films of the Left at the time. Over the course of the song, the camera follows Gabin around the yard in two tracking shots of long duration. Though as the singer he is unarguably a prime focal point, he does not dominate the image. In the first of the two shots, he is ‘doubled’ by a drunkard who mimics his gestures and is followed by the accordionist and a group of women. Moreover, he singles out individuals in the



Screening the Paris suburbs crowd as he passes, interacting with them by gestures and expressions as he sings. In the second shot, the spectators and indeed the water’s edge setting take over as the camera drifts away from Gabin: now as in both of the earlier arrival sequences (the picnic day and the official opening day) emphasis lies on workingclass leisure. Strolling along tree-lined paths, boating and other activities chime with the song’s lyrics: ‘Le dimanch’ viv’ment /On file à Nogent’ (Long live Sunday when we make a break for Nogent). At the tail end of the scene, a shift takes place from the long mobile takes to montage of successively closer images of members of the crowd who join in the song’s final refrain. This instance of portraiture within the collectivity echoes the building-block montage tactics present in all of the militant Leftist films I study in Social Architecture (2014: chapters four and six). Individuals are singled out within the crowd and then reinserted in the mass – this in direct opposition to Denise in Au Bonheur des Dames, who eventually reigns over the crowd, but is not integrated within it. On remembering Fritz Lang’s mob scenes in Metropolis (1927), M (1931) and Fury (1936); King Vidor’s alienated individual struggling to stand out in The Crowd (1928); or the horrifying, overpowering mass of Abel Gance’s dead soldiers in J’accuse (1939), the viewer notes the stark contrast to the orderly metaphor of the constructed collectivity. The Popular Front crowd is equally unlike that of what Siegfried Kracauer has called the ‘mass ornament’: the decorative representation of choreographed movement wherein the spectator is lost in such a way as to negate active thought, as occurs in Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will (1935) or Olympia (1938) (Kracauer 1995). A further crucial difference to fascist portraits of the crowd in the era is that not only are the individuals folded into the collectivity, but that collectivity is in turn subjected to the omnipotent gaze of the single charismatic leader.The respect of individuality that characterises Popular Front crowd portraiture sets it apart. Through aspects of plot as much as through form, La Belle Équipe raises certain questions about the nature of French national space. The Spanish refugee Mario, for instance, becomes the occasion to show a group of working-class French women as proudly – if comically – ignorant of the world outside of their borders. In the film’s opening sequence, Huguette’s co-workers in an artificial flower shop debate whether Barcelona is in Italy or Portugal. The false conclusion – Portugal – is never contradicted, as the final word on the matter arrives when one of the young women asks in all sincerity: ‘C’est vrai que les Portuguais ont la plante de pied toute rose?’ (Is it true that the bottoms of Portuguese feet are pink?). The outsider status of Mario is solidified by his appearance at the end of the scene, when he arrives to see Huguette and must wait outside for her, their physical separation maintained by a glass wall very similar to the one the men will build at their guinguette. In the scenes immediately following the flower shop sequence, Mario is thrice more associated with national questions. First, he and Jean stop to discuss his situation in front of a poster that reads ‘Pourquoi se morfondre à Paris, stockez de

Julien Duvivier and inter-war ‘banlieutopia’ la santé …’ (Why waste away in Paris, stock up on good health …), a nod to working-class leisure and plausibly a gesture towards the paid vacations just voted by the Popular Front. Next, in the restaurant, when the funny little man fiddles with the radio dial, the audio cuts to La Marseillaise as the image cuts to and lingers on a close up of Mario. Finally, the day of Mario’s expulsion coincides with Tintin’s death while planting the tricolour flag (which he calls ‘the workers’ flag’) on the roof of the guinguette. The friendly policeman whose job it is to be certain Mario respects the order of expulsion reports the death to Jean. The planting of the tricolour-turned tragedy in fact links all three departures: Tintin falls through the same glass that was broken by a beam during the storm the night before Jacques’s departure. Though Duvivier’s film of 1936 is far from the interventionist propaganda that would become widespread by 1937, the year of Malraux’s novel L’Espoir, it is still important to note Mario’s close connection to the major symbols of French Republican mythology. This association raises the question of whom exactly the ‘banlieutopia’ as a French national space will accommodate and what will be the political consequences of those accommodations. The question was very much in the public eye as the Spanish Civil War officially broke out during the same month as La Belle Équipe began shooting and vivid debates about intervention rose to prominence in the public sphere.13 France’s socialist Prime Minister Léon Blum had initially responded favourably to a request to sell arms to the Spanish Republic – sales that would have been legal under international law. But members of the Spanish embassy sympathetic to the rebellion leaked the information to the Right-wing French press, thereby contributing significantly to the official policy of non-intervention adopted shortly thereafter and maintained until Franco’s victory in 1939. The lack of a back-story on Mario’s refugee status can easily be taken as another example of Duvivier’s apolitical stance. But in this respect La Belle Équipe is again in keeping with films of the militant left where a call to ‘solidarity’ is often unaccompanied by any explicit call to arms. In fact, in La Belle Équipe, the men practise an even more politically charged solidarity than that shown by Spanish Civil War orphans being welcomed at a union-sponsored summer camp in the union-organising film Les Métallos (Jacques Lemare, 1938). Duvivier had an obvious penchant for representing microcosmic social organisations, from the Prague ghetto in The Golem (1936) and the Spanish Foreign Legion in La Bandera, to the retirement home for actors of La Fin du jour (1938), to evoke a few. As an allegorical space, La Belle Équipe is also microcosmic: the équipe and its guinguette correspond to the phantasm of a certain working-class imaginary. But the phantasm that leads to the construction of the guinguette is born of no small dose of utopian impulse. La Belle Équipe, ‘dysfunctional’ as its collective is, returns us to the question of the cinematographic utopia and how it is produced in film. For an instructive literary counterpoint, we can turn to Utopiques, jeux d’espaces, a book in which Louis Marin situated utopia as originating



Screening the Paris suburbs from the textual production of space. According to Marin, Thomas More cannot say where Utopia lies because the place is nothing but a name. And the name is all that can be said about the place. The name is a ‘non-place’, i.e. the very place of the text: Utopia is not a topography but a topic. It is often said that it is an imaginary place. Rather, it is an indetermined place. Better yet, it is the very indetermination of place. (Marin 1984: 11)

But what happens if the text is cinematographic rather than linguistic? The idea of non-naming creates a problem for the interpretation of film: because cinematic space is necessarily visually perceived by the spectator, rather than only being linguistically and therefore imaginarily enunciated, we cannot say it is not ‘named’. The place is still imaginary, but it is visible, bearing a material presence, at the least through the indexical quality of the cinematographic image. This could be why potentially utopian spaces in film are frequently critiqued through recourse to plot devices, as I have argued here in the case of La Belle Équipe. In other words, the place itself ‘exists’: the utopia has been constructed, through studio sets and locations, such that in order to maintain its status as ‘no place’, the utopia must be relegated to non-existence via the narrative failure of the human community that establishes itself within that space. To conclude, we can now return to Foucault. I would suggest that the building of sets and montage re-construction of locations make filmed utopias ‘heterotopian’, in that they are alternately embedded in virtual and in actual spaces. The cinematic screen, and its relationship to the real world it documents – whether through location shooting or on studio sets – becomes the equivalent of Foucault’s mirror, which is both utopia and heterotopia. The mirror is a utopia, writes Foucault, because ‘it is a placeless place. In the mirror I see myself there where I am not, in an unreal, virtual space that opens upon behind the surface’ (24). Perceiving subjects can thus see themselves in a space from which they are in fact absent – the body is on one side of the mirror, but not the side where it is perceived to be. Yet a mirror is at the same time a heterotopia because ‘the mirror does exist in reality’: its flat materiality ‘exerts a sort of counteraction on the position I occupy’ (24). By the same logic, Duvivier’s inter-war banlieutopia weaves back and forth between the realities of the Parisian suburbs it has been called upon to represent, and the screen narratives it has created. Notes 1 For a significant account of poetic realism, see Andrew (1995). For a discussion of poetic realist films of the banlieue, see Keith Reader’s Chapter 4 in this volume. 2 See Clark (1984/1999), especially chapter three, ‘The Environs of Paris’, and Herbert (1988), especially chapter six, ‘Suburban Leisure’. For a sociological approach, see also Papieau (1996). 3 ‘still belonging to Parisians who take advantage of the weekend to relax in one of the prettiest and most typical of Ile-de-France landscapes.’

Julien Duvivier and inter-war ‘banlieutopia’ 4 Questions about the relationship between film, modernity and urban life have generated a very significant body of scholarship in recent years, much of it engaged with the theoretical texts of Walter Benjamin and Siegfried Kracauer. See, among many others, Turvey (2011: 332–50), Schwartz (1999) and Gunning (1994). 5 A long obsolete subgenre, the documentaire romancé is an important but neglected precursor of poetic realism, as I have argued in Flinn (2009). 6 See Keith Reader’s Chapter 4 in this volume for further consideration of these films. 7 ‘You know them well, those endless empty lots strewn with greasy papers and tin cans, those geometrical and grim canals with their misery-tinged dives and poor wooden horses with dull, painted eyes that turn at the intersections, and those factory smokestacks belching smoke into the sky?’ 8 So, a ‘guinguette’ was a place where one could drink ‘guinguet’ (or ‘ginglet’, ‘ginglard’). See the Trésor de la langue française informatisé,, and Oliver Maître-Allain ‘Les Guinguettes au fil du temps’, Accessed 14 February 2016. 9 ‘La Belle Équipe n’avait aucun caractère politique. Ou bien alors, tous les films qui mettraient en scène des ouvriers seraient des œuvres de gauche?’ Julien Duvivier, in a 1959 Cinémonde interview quoted in Desrichard (2001: 44) and in Vincendeau (1985: 20). 10 ‘La Belle Équipe, while a perfectly executed film, is flawed from its conception […] From the point of view of the film, its authors couldn’t figure out how to choose or to take a stand […] Why these concessions, or even servility, to certain Popular Front doctrines since the very subject of La Belle Équipe is […] a bitter picture of the dissolution that inevitably threatens every collective work?’ 11 Written in 1794, the revolutionary Chant du départ was known as the ‘frère de la Marseillaise’ (brother of the Marseillaise). In 1804, Napoleon made it the official anthem of the first French Empire. 12 See Flinn (2014: chapters four and six). 13 July 1936, according to Pascal Ory (1994: 467). On 20 July, Spanish Premier José Giral directly requested arms and planes from Léon Blum. While historians assert that ‘Blum’s immediate instinct was to respond favorably’, within three weeks, the Blum government had put into place the policy of non-intervention, which remained in effect until Franco’s victory. While the French government could legally sell arms to Spain, because of right-wing opposition Blum tried to have arms sales agreements take place in a relatively discreet fashion. A very public debate ensued in the press between those in favour of intervention and those opposed, in the wake of the press leaks by rebel sympathisers (Jackson 1988: 202).

References Andrew, Dudley (1995), Mists of Regret: Culture and Sensibility in Classic French Film, Princeton, Princeton University Press. Cambier, Odile D. (1936), ‘La Belle Équipe’, Hebdo 251, 25 (Sept.): 70–1. Clark, T.J. (1984/1999), The Painting of Modern Life, Princeton, N.J., Princeton University Press. Desrichard, Yves (2001), Julien Duvivier, Paris, BiFi/Durante. Dumas, Danielle (1996), ‘Revue de presse’, L’Avant-scène cinéma 450 (March): ‘Julien Duvivier, La Belle Équipe’: 752–62. Flinn, Margaret C. (2009), ‘Documenting limits and the limits of socumentary: Georges Lacombe’s La Zone and the “documentaire romancé”’, Contemporary French and Francophone Studies 13.4 (Sept.): 405–13.



Screening the Paris suburbs Flinn, Margaret C. (2014), The Social Architecture of French Cinema, 1929–1939, Liverpool, Liverpool University Press. Foucault, Michel (1986), ‘Of Other Spaces’, trans. Jay Miskowiec, Diacritics 16.1 (Spring): 22–7. Gorel, Michel (1936), ‘Les Bas-Fonds: poème réaliste’, Cinémonde 417 (15 Oct.): 730–1. Gunning, Tom (1994), ‘The whole town’s gawking: early cinema and the visual experience of modernity’, Yale Journal of Criticism 7.2 (Fall): 189–201. Herbert, Robert L. (1988), Impressionism: Art, Leisure, and Parisian Society, New Haven,Yale University Press. Jackson, Julian (1988), The Popular Front in France: Defending Democracy, 1934–38, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press. Kracauer, Siegfried (1995), The Mass Ornament: Weimar Essays, trans. Thomas Y. Levin, Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press. Mac Orlan, Pierre (1970), Œuvres complètes vol. 7, ed. Gilbert Signaux, Paris & Geneva, Édito-Service/Cercle du bibliophile. Marin, Louis (1984), Utopics: Spatial Play [1973], trans. Robert A.Vollrath, Atlantic Highlands, N.J., Humanities Press. Ory, Pascal (1994), La belle illusion: culture et politique sous le signe du Front Populaire 1935–1938, Paris, Plon. Papieau, Isabelle (1996), La construction des images dans les discours sur la banlieue parisienne, Paris, L’Harmattan. Schwartz, Vanessa (1999), Spectacular Realities, Berkeley and Los Angeles, University of California Press. Turvey, Malcolm (2011), The Filming of Modern Life: European Avant-Garde Film of the 1920s, Cambridge, Mass., MIT Press. Vincendeau, Ginette (1985), ‘Community, nostalgia and the spectacle of masculinity’, Screen 25.5 (Sept.–Oct.): 18–38.


Margins and thresholds of French cinema: Ménilmontant, Le Sang des bêtes, Colloque de chiens Erik Bullot

French cinema since the New Wave has repeatedly manifested a desire for a juste milieu by seeking to strike a balance between artistic ambition and the ability to connect with a wider audience. This balance contributed in part to its singular wealth. As recently as the mid 1970s idiosyncratic filmmakers working on the margins of the industry, such as Philippe Garrel or Jean Eustache, had been able to create radical, almost experimental films, and into the early 1980s France boasted shamelessly commercial films along with auteur films.1 Does the hypothesis of a diversified, balanced French cinema cover up exclusions and disentitlements, divisions and lapses – slums and suburbs, in a word? Is the figure of the juste milieu simply functioning as an ideological illusion? In French, the term milieu signifies a point that is equidistant from the edges (middle), as well as the physical or material environment surrounding a body (medium). It also carries the meaning of a social group, not to mention the colloquial, slang connotation of the underworld, or gangland. Since French cinema has often been theorised as a centralised, hierarchical territory separated into regions, we may ask what function its outskirts and edges – which compose key elements of its history – serve.2 Does a dialectic between centre and periphery determine French cinema in a decisive way and, viewed from this angle, is this periphery or margin of French cinema analogous to a suburb? The present chapter explores this hypothesis through three singular short films each of which were influenced by avant-garde and documentary filmmaking: Ménilmontant (Dimitri Kirsanoff, 1926), Le Sang des bêtes (Blood of the Beasts, Georges Franju, 1949) and Colloque de chiens (Dog’s Dialogue, Raúl Ruiz, 1977). All three works bear a strong relation to the suburbs of Paris: Ménilmontant and La Villette are featured as well as other anonymous areas at the margins of the city. Ménilmontant tells the story of two sisters who are living in the city a few years after enduring the violent deaths of their parents. Both sisters are seduced


Screening the Paris suburbs in turn by the same young man, who then dies a violent death; one sister learns that she is pregnant while the other turns to prostitution. Le Sang des bêtes explores the world of the slaughterhouses on the outskirts of Paris and the ritual elements associated with it.The narrator of Colloque de chiens recounts a number of picaresque stories dealing with the themes of crime and shifting identities. It would be difficult to establish an a priori common ground linking these eminently unique works due to the atypical character of the filmmakers themselves within the French film industry and within French cinema history. All three films transgress the genres on which they draw. Ménilmontant reconciles a relatively audacious and free avant-garde technique with the codes of melodrama; the style of Le Sang des bêtes – defined by Franju as ‘aesthetic realism’ – arises from an encounter between documentary and the fantastique; finally, the humorous, distanced mood of Colloque de chiens, drawing on romance magazines, is the result of the ‘laying bare of the device’ by which the Russian Formalists defined parody (Shklovskii 1993: 147–70). The filmmakers’ careers are just as surprising and sinuous, if a bit solitary. Born Marc David Kaplan in 1899 in Tartu, Estonia, Dimitri Kirsanoff arrived in Paris in the early 1920s and authored a small but important body of avant-garde works for the screen. After his death in 1957, apart from Ménilmontant and Brumes d’automne (1929) he remained absent from histories of cinema, only to be rehabilitated in the new century (Trebuil, 2003). Heavily influenced by early cinema and by his experience as the co-founder of the Cinémathèque française, and enamoured with Louis Feuillade’s serials as well as German expressionist cinema, Georges Franju (1912–87) made a name for himself in the mid 1950s for his documentary shorts. He then made some of the most prominent films of the cinéma fantastique, or would-be French horror: Les Yeux sans visage (Eyes Without a Face, 1959), Judex (1963), and Nuits rouges (Shadowman, 1974). Notwithstanding, his works are characterised by a generic instability that makes Franju difficult to situate: he lies on the periphery of the New Wave somewhere between auteur cinema and genre film (Ince 2005; Lafond 2012). Raúl Ruiz (1941–2011) was born in Chile and came to France in 1973 after the military coup d’état. Playing on the diversity of available formats, spoken languages, production models and genres, his rich filmography stands at the juncture between auteur cinema, genre and experimental film. It explores in combinatory fashion the rules of fiction, systematically confuses dream with reality and samples from multiple cultural traditions. Although their careers more or less associated Kirsanoff, Franju and Ruiz with the French film industry, their works are clearly too eclectic or radical to be considered as belonging to a juste milieu cinema. Their relationship to questions of auteurism is made ambiguous by their stubborn relation to genre filmmaking. Is it possible to associate this geometrical junction point, at a crossroads of avantgarde, experimental film, documentary, auteur and genre cinema, to a suburb within French cinema? In what way might the actual suburbs in which the three

Margins and thresholds of French cinema short films are set offer a framework for genre transgression? In analysing the social and political imaginary attached to the Parisian suburbs here, we will see here how the form of Ménilmontant, Le Sang des bêtes and Colloque de chiens reflects the relation of French cinema to its own geographic and symbolic margins. Description of a suburb Although annexed to the capital in 1860, Ménilmontant in northeastern Paris was in the 1920s still a working-class neighbourhood associated with the memory of the Paris Commune. As such, in Kirsanoff ’s thirty-seven minute film, it functions as a suburb within city limits. Annexation of Ménilmontant has not eliminated the signs of its difference, nor has it modified its marginal relation to the urban centre for which it embodies a pastoral, rustic city exterior. As its identifiable features – squares, boutiques, signage – do not appear onscreen, the onetime village is more of a set or façade characterised by such picturesque images as glimmering cobblestones and street lamps and by faceless, shady hotels that let rooms by the hour.This general atmosphere is reinforced by images of dingy windows, run-down metal gates, staircases and walls that accentuate feelings of enclosure and solitude. It calls to mind the troubling universe of photographer Eugène Atget, a world that Walter Benjamin compared to a ‘crime scene’ (1972: 20). The younger sister in Ménilmontant makes incisions in the walls to count the days her seducer has been absent; a pierced heart recalls the central motif from Jean Epstein’s Cœur fidèle (1923). These cuts and wounds reveal the abject misery of the place and attest to the existence of a wavering social margin. The anonymous décor is propitious to situations of dramatic hiatus and suspense. The sisters observe and intercept each other on the threshold of a building’s entryway. Kirsanoff ’s mise en scène plays on the relation between seeing and being seen: several scenes are observed from a road’s intersection, while people and objects disappear or are concealed from view in an abstract web of buildings and alleyways. In contrast with the indeterminate, dubious underground activities that characterise the working-class neighbourhood, the buzz of activity in the heart of Paris lends itself to various avant-garde techniques such as double-exposure, handheld camera-work and blurring. As such, the city’s margins are the revealing medium of the unfolding drama. Ménilmontant is known for its opening scene in which the viewer witnesses the violent murder of the sisters’ parents. It is a short, masterful montage sequence composed of close-ups against a white curtain, a face behind a window, a door handle, a hatchet, a frightened face, an open mouth and frantic eyes.3 The sequence is echoed at the end of Ménilmontant when a female rival murders the male seducer. She beats him with a cobblestone pulled from the street, highlighting the criminal dimension characteristic of the enclosed space of the inner suburb. Le Sang des bêtes similarly links crime to the suburban milieu. Although its main theme appears to be the world of abattoirs and the ritual of slaughter, the



Screening the Paris suburbs outskirts of Paris are not a simple backdrop to the action. The first Paris abattoirs were created between 1810 and 1818 under Napoleon; due to public health concerns they were located at the city gates outside the Farmers-General tax wall. Starting in 1867, these first slaughterhouses were replaced by the main abattoirs in La Villette in northeast Paris, between the Ourcq Canal and the Paris fortifications. Annexed by the city in 1930 as the last fortifications were being demolished, the slaughterhouse zone can still be considered as an inner suburb, characterised by its light industry, brownfield sites and working-class habitat. The first part of Le Sang des bêtes focuses on the Vaugirard abattoirs specialised in the quartering of horses, followed by those in La Villette. Franju’s film calls attention to the space that separates the scalding tanks from the city, a territory formed by vacant lots, construction zones, landscapes suffocating in haze, flat building façades and canals beneath grey skies and white plumes of smoke. ‘I tried to restore the artificial appearance of documentary reality and the contrived aspect [décor planté] of natural décors. In order to do this, we “framed” the full façades of buildings (the Pantin millworks) and chose profiled houses [maisons profilées] (Pont de Flandre), avoiding all depth’ (Franju 1992: 13). Interestingly, the opening scene focuses on the Vaugirard flea market, a desolate landscape not far from railroad tracks where bargain-hunters can find a collection of perfectly aligned radios, a phonograph cylinder, a mannequin bust or a chandelier (Figure 14). This bizarre atmosphere of curiosities recalls the meandering surrealist strolls of André Breton’s Nadja and L’Amour fou. The Surrealists were attracted to Parisian flea markets in the capital’s margins – at Clignancourt, Montreuil, Batignolles and Vanves – because of the many good finds (trouvailles) that could be ‘discovered’ there. Such mysterious and unfamiliar objects are the ‘catalysts’ of the unconscious mind’s workings. Do the flea markets at the threshold of Paris act in Franju’s mind as a passageway, as an access point to the tremendous surreality of the capital’s slaughterhouses? ‘The finding of an object’, writes Breton in L’Amour fou, ‘serves here exactly the same purpose as the dream, in the sense that it frees the individual from paralyzing affective scruples, comforts him and makes him understand that the obstacle he might have thought insurmountable is cleared’ (Breton 1987: 32). Witness the gripping effect of the white horse killed in the early morning, its body crumpling under its own weight from the shock of the air gun. Following the poetic detour among curiosities and musty knick-knacks, this scene announces the abrupt arrival of Franju’s camera in the universe of the slaughterhouse. Franju deploys images full of contrasts and formalist techniques such as rays of light, airy landscapes and haze effects to underline the mysterious, even fantastical, relation between the suburban décor – nondescript façades, empty avenues, a canal boat that seems to float against a painted background – and the uncompromising universe of the abattoirs. Focusing on the tools and the technical mastery of the slaughterhouse workers who dismember and quarter animal carcasses at great risk, Le Sang des bêtes provides a precise description of the trade. This precision, in complete contrast with the brutal violence of the images, is reinforced by the

Margins and thresholds of French cinema detached tone of the voiceover commentary, one reminiscent of Luis Buñuel’s Las Hurdes/Tierra sin pan (Land Without Bread, 1932). Franju wished to strike a formal balance between the unreal and poetic décor of the suburbs on the one hand and the drama of the slaughterhouses on the other: ‘On par with the slaughterhouses, the Ourcq Canal reflects an admirable décor, shifting and tragic, in harmony with the spectacle of the scalding tanks. The work to be done in Le Sang des Bêtes was to achieve stylistic unity between the document as such (slaughterhouses) and the surrounding scenery’ (Franju 1992: 13). At the threshold of the great city of Paris, at the juncture between canals and buildings, death and crime are hidden from view behind the abattoirs’ heavy gates: horses are stunned; cows skinned in steam rooms; sheep lined up, their throats to be cut one by one, their hooves still trembling after death; the decapitated heads of calves are lined up against a wall; streams of blood flow on the pavement. The obstacle has been overcome. Flea market and slaughterhouse partake of the same fascination by revealing what lies behind our everyday lives. In this way the suburbs in Le Sang des bêtes actualise the return of the repressed. Playing on the imaginary of the fotonovela filled with implausible twists and turns, sudden transformations and dramatic turns of events, the anonymous Parisian outskirts serve as the backdrop for Colloque de chiens. Ruiz’s twenty-two minute colour short tells the story of the calamities befalling several characters as their lives intersect through comings and goings between provincial cities (Bordeaux, Marseille) and the Parisian suburbs. Situations repeat and loop in a manner akin to the French word game of ‘kyrielles’:4 Monique meets Alice who meets Henri who, in turn, transforms into Henri-Odile who adopts Luigi … Each situation turns upon itself according to a play of systematic oppositions: meeting vs. suicide, love vs. crime. Like Le Sang des bêtes, the film opens on a vacant lot surrounded by housing subdivisions where stray dogs wander around ripped open suitcases, an old photograph and rubbish. Although the suburban setting is immediately recognisable, the scenes never take place in areas with distinctly identifiable geographies, apart from the imagined geography of the Café Joli-Mont and the village of Montsouris. At several moments brief sequences of live footage are introduced into Colloque de chiens, which like Chris Marker’s La Jetée (1962) is otherwise entirely composed of still photographs. The filmed sequences show fragments of suburban reality: apartment complexes, cranes looming over construction sites, an ordinary street with a mail carrier passing by on his bicycle, a phone booth, a yellow mailbox, the word ‘GAZ’ (gas) inscribed on a metal plaque, the offices of local and national social services. If one sign that we glimpse reads ‘Gennevilliers’ (the name of a suburban town to the north of Paris), the overall urban geography of Colloque de chiens is characterised by its anonymity and lack of orientation or reference points, but also by its interchangeability (Figure 15). This holds also for the characters’ changing identities and gender, as well as the recurring situations: many episodes repeat themselves, and the film’s opening parameters reappear at the end. Ruiz’s characters circle around an empty centre



Screening the Paris suburbs like a magnet. After Henri murders Alice and cuts up and disperses her body parts, the police investigator declares: ‘Find the centre.’ ‘The centre of the circle is indeed the Café Joli-Mont’, the narrator’s voice asserts. ‘The orderliness that had dominated Henri’s life had led him to place the pieces in regular intervals from the crime scene. The eternal laws of geometry had turned against him’ (Muchnik and Ruiz 1983). Colloque de chiens thus plays on the geometrisation of stories in a space devoid of centre, save the site of the murder itself. Although criminality still lurks behind the anonymous margins of the city, it is portrayed as something commonplace through the use of a certain macabre humour inspired by romance magazines. Dramatic stereotypes – seduction, degradation, poverty, crime, metamorphosis – allow tongue-in-cheek combinatory play with narrative forms. In Ruiz’s work, the picturesque aspect of the rough neighbourhood as well as references to melodrama in Kirsanoff ’s film and to Franju’s ‘réalisme fantastique’ have become rhetorical tools. Throughout these three films, we witness a kind of distancing of the suburbs: a working-class neighbourhood annexed to the capital (Ménilmontant), light industry on the city’s edge (Le Sang des bêtes), modern residential areas with their apartment complexes and public housing (Colloque de chiens). Above all, the suburbs act as a projective screen or reflective surface, and as a means of disclosure, revealing their own hidden faces like a watermark exposed to light: social inequality, the presence of crime, the slaughter of animals, the law of metamorphosis, the tragic inexorability of adversity. The suburbs appear to be split in two, and dual by nature. Between projection and disclosure, décor and drama, centre and margin, the backdrop and motif of the city margins encourage reflection on the very idea of the genres within which these films seem to be operating. The law of genre In his manifesto published in 1960, Essai sur le jeune cinéma français, André S. Labarthe points to the dissolution of genres set into motion by New Wave filmmakers. He notes that by working on the relation between fiction and documentary, modern auteur cinema typically invalidates the place of genre: ‘If they want to make their mark on history, genres must, like societies, evolve. And, just like societies which have attained their maximal openness to historical time, genres must erode in favour of a true auteur cinema’ (Labarthe 2010: 88). Surprisingly, the three films studied here do not contribute in any significant way to a complete dissolution of genre in modern cinema. Although they exaggerate, by ‘laying bare the device’, the generic codes to which they refer (melodrama, documentary, fotonovela), their transgressive tone still affirms the persistence of genre. Indeed, it is a matter more of transgression than of dissolution. Whence their equivocal, amphibious aesthetics, not unlike pastiche or parody, which explains in part the peripheral place in auteur cinema of filmmakers who resist attempts at classification.

Margins and thresholds of French cinema ‘[A]s soon as genre announces itself, one must respect a norm, one must not cross a line of demarcation, one must not risk impurity, anomaly, or monstrosity’, writes Jacques Derrida in ‘The Law of Genre’ (1980: 57). The mark defining genre and its enclosed nature simultaneously reveals its own exterior. The very boundary marker enclosing and defining genre is unceasingly overflowing and stretching beyond itself, thereby altering its own horizons. ‘With the inevitable dividing of the trait that marks membership, the boundary of the set comes to form, by invagination, an internal pocket larger than the whole; and the outcome of this division and of this abounding remains as singular as it is limitless’ (59). This explains, according to Derrida, the impossibility of genre’s belonging to itself, producing ‘internal division of the trait, impurity, corruption, contamination, decomposition, perversion, deformation, even cancerization, generous proliferation, or degenerescence’ (57). As soon as a particular marker is chosen as a genre’s distinctive trait, genre immediately dissociates itself from it. If genre is indeed subject to such a law of internal division and overflowing, then these three films demonstrate such a process through the motif of the border separating the city’s margins from the social body; through the dissociation of sound and image; through narrative discontinuity; through the confusion of genres and the use of parody. The suburbs have become the framework for questioning the categorisation of genres and of subjects themselves – margins and centre, human and animal, feminine and masculine. This is also true of the aesthetic domain of Kirsanoff ’s poetical lyricism, Franju’s poetic documentary and Ruiz’s narrative experimentation. Indeed, genre has not been completely dissolved, but insists or persists, divided and distorted, corrupted and transformed so as to displace its own belonging, its own defining marks. Ménilmontant has often been defined as a pastiche because of its curious combination of melodrama with avant-gardist form, as if its numerous styles and techniques lent it a catalogue- or inventory-like quality inimical to the very concept of authorship. Richard Abel describes it as ‘a mixture of styles or modes, a pastiche of techniques’, citing Kirsanoff ’s rapid editing, dream sequences, documentary tone and narrative continuity (Abel 1984: 396). Contrary to other avant-garde films such as Ballet mécanique (Fernand Léger and Dudley Murphy, 1923) or Emak Bakia (Man Ray, 1926), which opted for formalist or abstract styles, Ménilmontant is a narrative film that makes clear reference to melodrama by featuring the ill-treatment of an innocent young woman, stereotyped characters, predictable plot developments, strong emotions and a preponderance of social context. It is from inside this tradition that Kirsanoff, through corruption and imitation, develops various experimental sequences that situate Ménilmontant at the intersection of documentary, avant-garde filmmaking and melodrama. In this sense, it is similar to Epstein’s Cœur fidèle (1923). Narrative discontinuity, breaks in tone and visual effects serve to divide the melodramatic axis and to favour the bifurcation of storylines. Remarkable too, for 1926, is the absence of intertitles, which supposes the development of an autonomous visual language. Narrative instabilities, ellipses, changes of viewpoint, the use of a subjective point of view



Screening the Paris suburbs in the strolling and dream sequences recall a handful of ‘hieroglyphic’ works from the late 1920s before the arrival of talking pictures. La Glace à trois faces (The Three-Sided Mirror, Jean Epstein, 1927), Borderline (Kenneth Macpherson, 1930) and Limite (Mário Peixoto, 1931) are likewise marked by abstruse formal and dramatic writing where shifting viewpoints and backtracking abound. They all aim for a filmic discourse close to a Joycean ‘stream of consciousness’, a record of the thought process itself. Additionally, these films are haunted by the motif of the border, threshold or, as their titles make apparent, the limit. They destabilise genre not only in the aesthetic domain, but also in the social, racial and sexual realms. Franju asserts in reference to Le Sang des bêtes: ‘If I obtained a result it is because, rather than expressing realism by lyricism as was customary at the time, I revealed the cruel and dark lyricism of an original subject, through the use of realism, rigor and documentary truth’ (Brumagne 1977: 22–23). Beyond the relation between the poetic suburban décor and the concealed cruelty of the abattoirs, the balancing act between the aesthetic registers of documentary and of lyricism presupposes on the part of the filmmaker a corruption of genre in relation to various axes: documentary, lyrical, fantastical and critical. The documentary axis is amplified by the tone of the commentary, which outlines the craft of the slaughterhouse workers, the motions, gestures and techniques associated with the industry. This expository tone stands in total contrast with the violence of the images presented. The lyrical axis for its part is marked by the use of formal photography akin to a certain photogénie, which lends itself to chiaroscuro and foggy landscapes. The unreal décor composes the fantastical axis while the critical or ironical axis consists in the distance taken by the commentary and the unsettling illustration of the lyrics of Charles Trenet’s song ‘La Mer’: the ‘reflets d’argent sous la pluie’ (silver reflections in the rain), the ‘blancs moutons’ (white caps, literally white sheep) and the ‘roseaux mouillés’ (wet reeds) become pools of blood, sheep waiting to be slaughtered and flowers (rushes) resting in a pail. Generic instability is indeed characteristic of all Franju’s works.5 Furthermore, the filmmaker has defined fantastic cinema by describing his emotional response to Thierry Martel’s Trépanation pour crise d’épilepsie, a scientific film on trepanation in which the spectator sees the surgeon remove the brain from the skull of a still-smiling patient. ‘Those who were unable to stand up to leave the theatre fainted in their seats. Now that’s a horror film. I will add that formally, the film exhibited true formal beauty’, noted Franju (Brumagne 1977: 48). The mix of documentary rigour and lyrical spark calls to mind the link between the surrealists and photography, particularly the iconographic work done in the journal Documents (1929–31) spearheaded by Georges Bataille, Georges Henri Rivière and Carl Einstein. Contrary to the idealist tradition, the photographic image is conjured to produce effects of dissemblance, close to rapture and amorphousness, by playing on the critical powers of the documentary style and of editing; as Georges Didi-Huberman (1995) notes, a reversal of values ensues. In Franju’s films, a number of the iconographical themes explored in Documents are present: the place of animals, monstrosity and metamorphosis, and

Margins and thresholds of French cinema in 1929, three images of the abattoirs in La Villette taken by the photographer Eli Lotar were published in the sixth issue of the journal.6 Was this possibly a direct source for Franju’s film? Significantly, Lotar’s images are reproduced in the journal opposite photographs of crustaceans by filmmaker Jean Painlevé, who would author the commentary for Le Sang des bêtes.7 With their mix of sacred horror, disfiguration and documentary objectivity, the atmosphere of these photographs is strikingly close to that of Le Sang des bêtes. Such examples are evidence of Franju’s affinity with poetic surrealism, as made apparent in the twenty-minute short by the play on the dissociation between the rational, technical discourse of the commentary and the lyrical violence of the images. This work of dredging out aesthetic, political and philosophical categories comes together in Le Sang des bêtes’ generic instability. It is a documentary but one that is fantastical, critical, ironic even. Colloque de chiens is also characterised by a pronounced instability of genre. The title recalls Cervantes’ short story of the same title (El coloquio de los perros), composed as early as 1590 and published in 1613 in the Novelas ejemplares. Cervantes’s story stages a dialogue between two dogs, Scipio and Berganza. Close to the picaresque tradition, it is the story of Berganza who is, by turns, employed as a butcher’s dog, a sheep dog, a wise dog and a bohemian dog, moving from one master to another and accompanied by a poet and a theatre director. Each episode provides an opportunity to describe worlds that are dramatically different. At issue is the dog’s improbable status as a speaking subject. This results in the recurrent play on the plausibility of the episodes and on the story’s rhetorical character. These different elements are at work in Ruiz’s film. Both the narrative disparity of the episodes, which move from one character to another as in a relay race, and the abundant transformations and plot twists, are in keeping with the picaresque tradition. Even the comings and goings pursued from various narrative angles (voiceover commentary, still images, live action shots) act to trouble the film’s rhetoric: the images presented do not always illustrate the story and indeed occasionally contradict it; substitutions of objects and characters lead us to believe that the effects are a sham, and episodes repeat each other like so many narrative loops.8 This formal dissociation greatly adds to genre instability, Colloque de chiens ravages genre – a term which in French signifies both ‘genre’ and ‘gender’ – in several ways by drawing on the fotonovela, romance magazines and the picaresque, and having Henri undergo a sex change to become Henri-Odile. Surrealism is a further intertext for Ruiz. The opening words of Colloque de chiens, ‘The woman you call your mom isn’t your real mother’, echo the sequence in Luis Buñuel’s Charme discret de la bourgeoisie (The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, 1967) in which the mother’s ghost reveals the painful truth to her son: ‘The man who lives in this house and who calls you his son is not your father.’ However, surrealism is treated in Colloque de chiens as just another style to add to the fotonovela aesthetic or the picaresque tradition, hence reinforcing the film’s parodic dimension (Richardson 2006: 149–63).



Screening the Paris suburbs The persistence of surrealism seems to be both decisive and marginal. Its influence can be explained in part by the historical context linking the surrealist group’s activities to those of the 1920s avant-garde. Furthermore, there is the surrealists’ interest in genre films, serials and scientific documentaries, an approach wholly distinct from the credo of auteur cinema predominant in the French criticism of the early 1950s. Neither Kirsanoff, Franju nor Ruiz are, as we have noted, particularly associated with the auteur tradition. In this regard, their transgressive relationship with genre aligns with the surrealist line of thinking. In this respect, the Paris suburbs – a margin marked by social disruption – act as an ideal projective screen by virtue of which it is possible to strive for a confusion of genres. The question remains to be asked of what status the suburbs gain throughout these varied manifestations. The headless body Although in these three singular films the Paris outskirts are characterised by an abundance of drama and social exclusion, they are, oddly, traversed by an implicit red line: that of the decapitated head. The violence of decapitation reinforces their transgressive dimension. Metaphorically it translates not only into a menacing relation to suburban areas associated with violent crime but also into a liberating one of transformation, projection, burgeoning and rupture. The decapitated head thus circulates as a symptom in these works. Beginning with the masterful opening sequence of Ménilmontant, the struggle among the three protagonists, shown in a series of short close-ups, concludes with an axe wielded on the bodies offscreen. Discarded in the mud at the end of the fight, the axe suggests murder, lacerated or mutilated bodies and decapitation. Rarely has a film so swiftly – from its very opening scenes – figured the violence of laceration and incision, with the notable exception of the prologue to Buñuel and Dalí’s Un Chien andalou (1929) and the image of the razor slicing an eyeball. There is an important link between the axe that wounds and cuts bodies on the one hand, and, on the other, the visual operation of framing, which segments and fragments the visual world in a manner that recalls Walter Benjamin’s parallel between the surgeon and the cinematographer. The cinematographer ‘deeply penetrates into the structure’, notes Benjamin, just as in ‘the operation of a cataract, where the steel instrument has to struggle with almost fluid tissues …’ (2008: 35; trans. modified).The motif of the decapitated head calls attention to the Ménilmontant’s dramatic intent. The parents’ death following a violent crime, the trials and tribulations of a poor suburban neighbourhood, the play on the different modes of visibility in the anonymous streets and hectic city centre are all experiences of separation, of being cut-off. There is no need to underline what the emotion felt by the spectators of Le Sang des bêtes owes to intolerable images of wide-eyed calves with slit throats, or to sheep’s throats being cut assembly-line style, the animals lined up on a trestle,

Margins and thresholds of French cinema passive and trusting, their feet continuing to jerk long after being put to death. ‘The dead animal is still animated by reflexes, manifestation of a purely vegetative life’, the commentary tersely pronounces the better to attenuate – or exacerbate – the contrasting violence of the images. Kate Ince points to the motif of the head separated from the face as a key figure in Franju’s filmmaking, particularly in her analysis of the shots of faces masked during surgical operations in Les Yeux sans visage and the birds’ heads of the costume ball in Judex. ‘Facialisation as a photographic and framing device’, she writes, ‘reveals a further dimension of Franju’s deployment of the face and its appurtenances, one that goes beyond its role as a signifier of the human’ (2005: 107). Significantly, Le Sang des bêtes has often been interpreted as a metaphor of World War II’s concentration camps. Numerous aspects of the film support this parallel: the date of its filming at a time when memory of the camps’ liberation was still fresh; the comings and goings of trains recalling prisoner convoys; the gates opening onto a yard; sheep being led to slaughter; finally the routine killing and the closing scene of a train disappearing into the smoke. Even the presence of Charles Trenet’s song could, in the liberated France of 1948, still conjure up memories of the suspicion surrounding the singer, who had possibly collaborated with the German occupier. Even so, this thesis – brought up by Jean-Louis Leutrat on the occasion of a commentary on Kracauer’s critical works (Leutrat 2001) – remains marginal or discreet, even latent. In his Theory of Film, Kracauer hypothesises that, in order to confront horror, it is best to make use of a reflection. The example Kracauer cites is the shield that allowed Perseus to combat Medusa: ‘Now of all the existing media the cinema alone holds up a mirror to nature. Hence our dependence on it for the reflection of happenings which would petrify us were we to encounter them in real life. The film screen is Athena’s polished shield’ (1960: 305). To illustrate his point, he uses Franju’s Le Sang des bêtes. Leutrat ponders whether Le Sang des bêtes serves as a metaphor for the concentration camps, in the manner of Perseus’ shield. According to Nia Perivolaropoulou (2004), who refutes this interpretation, Kracauer holds up Franju’s film as a model of our relation with history not by its metaphorical qualities, but by the exact manner in which the images deconstruct the spectators’ historical knowledge. It seems symptomatic that it is precisely the motif of decapitation that Kracauer uses to analyse Le Sang des bêtes.9 ‘Perhaps Perseus’ greatest achievement was not to cut off Medusa’s head but to overcome his fears and look at its reflection in the shield. And was it not precisely this feat which permitted him to behead the monster?’ (Kracauer 1960: 306). With this in mind, the motif of the French suburbs might well also function as ‘Athena’s polished shield’. Suburbs: metaphor and/or symptom? The persistence of the decapitation motif reinforces the dimensions of anxiety and liberation with often sacrificial or tragic themes linked to social alienation, crime and corruption, themes that underline the inevitability of catastrophe. On the other hand, formal transgressions



Screening the Paris suburbs take place via stylistic parody, narrative discontinuity, genre confusion and the dissociation of image and sound. Considered as both metaphor (projective surface, fantasy) and as symptom (manifestation of a lack or gap), the suburbs reveal the difficulty that French cinema has had in thinking about its margins, be they aesthetic, social, animal or political. The characteristic singularity of Ménilmontant, Le Sang des bêtes and Colloque de chiens at the margins of French cinema, by their exploitation of genres, their taste for the unfamiliar and their use of rhetorical devices (metaphor, pastiche, parody) prompts a critical and detached portrayal of the Parisian outskirts. This, in addition to including in their mise en scène stereotypical aspects of our own relationship to the suburbs, lends itself to the deconstruction of the illusion of a cinema of the juste milieu, both balanced and harmonious. Notes 1 See the critical note ‘Au cœur des paradoxes’ (Comolli 1967: 18) which introduces the interview ‘François Truffaut ou le juste milieu’. The expression juste milieu is taken up again and developed in Daney et al. (1980). 2 In 1954, the critic and screenwriter Jacques B. Brunius published an essay entitled En marge du cinéma français (Paris: Arcanes, 1954, written in 1947), describing the evolution of the avant-garde within French cinema. During the 1987 César awards, the host referred to Godard as a marginal filmmaker, to which the director retorted: ‘Books are held together by their margins.’ 3 For a detailed commentary of this sequence, see Abel (1984: 395–402). 4 A game which mimics a litany by stringing together words or phrases such that the last syllable of the first word becomes the first syllable of the second, and so on. An English variant exists wherein the last letter of a word becomes the first letter of the following word. 5 On genre in Franju’s films, see Kate Ince’s chapter ‘Beyond cinéma fantastique: genre in Franju’s longs métrages’ (Ince 2005: 46–94). 6 Documents, no 6, 1929. The photographs are reproduced on pages 328, 330–31. In 1946, Eli Lotar made a remarkable film about the Parisian suburbs, Aubervilliers. 7 Painlevé made films that were both scientific and poetic and elicited the admiration of members of the surrealist group. On Painlevé, see Bellows and McDougall (2000) as well as Hamery (2008). 8 See Sébastien Sipat, ‘La multiplication des instances narratives dans Colloque de chiens’. Accessed 21 March 2016. 9 The aligned calf heads in particular struck Kracauer: ‘there is the unfathomable shot of the calves’ heads being arranged into a rustic pattern which breathes the peace of a geometrical ornament’ (1960: 305).

References Abel, Richard (1984), French Cinema: The First Wave 1915–1929, Princeton, Princeton University Press. Bellows, Andy Masaki and Marina McDougall, with Brigitte Berg (eds) (2000), Science is Fiction, Cambridge, Mass., Brico Press/MIT Press.

Margins and thresholds of French cinema Benjamin, Walter (1972), ‘A short history of photography’, trans. Stanley Mitchell, Screen 13.1 (Spring): 5–26. ——— (2008), The Work of Art in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility, and Other Writings on Media, Michael W. Jennings, Brigid Doherty and Thomas Y. Levin (eds), Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press. Breton, André (1987), Mad Love, trans. Mary Ann Caws, Lincoln, University of Nebraska Press. Brumagne, Marie-Magdeleine (1977), Franju: impressions et aveux, Lausanne, L’Âge d’homme. Comolli, Jean-Louis (1967), ‘Au cœur des paradoxes’, Cahiers du cinéma 190 (May): 18–19. Daney, Serge, Jean Narboni and Serge Toubiana (1980), ‘Truffaut ou le juste milieu comme expérience limite’, Cahiers du cinéma 315 (Sept.): 7–17. Derrida, Jacques (1980), ‘The law of genre’, trans. Avital Ronell, Critical Inquiry 7.1 (Autumn): 55–81. Didi-Huberman, Georges (1995), La Ressemblance informe ou le gai savoir visuel selon Georges Bataille, Paris, Macula. Franju, Georges (1992), ‘Intérieurs/extérieurs’, in Georges Franju cinéaste, Paris, Maison de la Villette: 13–15. Hamery, Roxanne (2008), Jean Painlevé: le cinéma au cœur de la vie, Rennes, Presses universitaires de Rennes. Ince, Kate (2005), Georges Franju, Manchester, Manchester University Press. Kracauer, Siegfried (1960), Theory of Film: The Redemption of Physical Reality, Princeton, Princeton University Press. Labarthe, André S. (2010), Essai sur le jeune cinéma français [1960], Lézignan-Corbières: Cinergon, 2010. Lafond, Frank (ed.) (2012), Le mystère Franju: CinémAction 141 (Dec.). Leutrat, Jean-Louis (2001), ‘Comme dans un miroir, confusément’, in Nia Perivolaropoulou and Philippe Despoix (eds), Culture de masse et modernité: Siegfried Kracauer sociologue, critique, écrivain, Paris, Éditions de la Maison des sciences de l’homme, 233–46. Muchnik, Nicole and Ruiz, Raúl (1983), ‘Colloque de chiens’, Positif 274 (Dec.): 45–7. Perivolaropoulou, Nia (2004), ‘Le travail de la mémoire dans Theory of film de Siegfried Kracauer’, Protée 12.1 (Spring): 39–48. Richardson, Michael (2006), Surrealism and Cinema, Oxford, Berg. Shklovskii,Viktor (1993), Theory of Prose, trans. Benjamin Sher, Urbana-Champaign, Dalkey Archive Press. Trebuil, Christophe (2003), L’œuvre singulière de Dimitri Kirsanoff, Paris, L’Harmattan.



Georges Franju and the grotesque genius of the banlieue Tristan Jean

Georges Franju’s current prestige rests on his having been the creator of brutal, brilliantly uncompromising films on which he brought to bear a sophisticated, ‘poetic’ sensibility. None of the terms of this description seem, at first glance at least, to apply to the Parisian suburbs of the 1950s and early 60s, so it may come as a surprise to learn that Franju chose this location as the setting of some of his best-known feature films and short films. A perusal of the critical literature about Franju reveals that the specifically suburban nature of much of his work does not form an integral part of his reputation; the word ‘banlieue’, for instance, crops up far less often than, say, ‘surrealism’ in writing on his works. In her excellent book Georges Franju, to cite just one example, Kate Ince begins and ends her consideration of the role of the Paris suburbs in Franju’s oeuvre with the observation that several of Franju’s feature films create ‘noir atmospheres […] although their locations are predominantly suburban and rural rather than urban’ (Ince 2005: 69–70). Other critics of Franju discuss the setting of his films even less. We shall see, however, that this generally overlooked predilection for settings outside central Paris is not only an essential part of Franju’s body of work, but that the very uniqueness of his approach to the region is key to his overall aesthetic project. During his career, Franju occupied a somewhat marginal position in the world of French cinema by most measures – a position which, fittingly, mirrored the Parisian banlieue’s own geographically and culturally peripheral status, as Eric Bullot shows in Chapter 6. For instance, Franju’s reputation is commonly linked to the genre of le fantastique,1 a particularly Gallic generic category which, as Ince explains, encompasses ‘science fiction, horror, pure fantasy and the fairy tale’ (2005: 48), all of which were seen as far less prestigious than the high-brow literary adaptations of the tradition de qualité which dominated the French cinema while Franju was making a name for himself as a maker of courts métrages in the 1950s. The peripheral status of the genre with which he was most associated was perhaps

Franju and the grotesque genius of the banlieue somewhat to blame for the lack of respect that Franju bemoaned at the end of his life. As Adam Lowenstein notes, when the director died in 1987, ‘he felt bitterly dissatisfied with the spotty critical reception of his film career’ (1998: 17). And yet, despite the fact that Franju’s name is indelibly linked with le fantastique, his filmography is much more multifaceted than his reputation perhaps suggests. During a film career spanning twenty-five years,2 Franju’s features included a thriller about escaping from a mental asylum, an adaptation of an anti-clerical novel by Émile Zola and a grim World War I film, among many others, while his work as a documentarian in the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s included diverse shorts on institutions such as the Hôtel des Invalides, industrial films about the health hazards of dust inhalation and biographies of important artistic and scientific figures. Other details of Franju’s biography make him even more resistant to neat, facile statements about his career: for although cinema was evidently a life-long passion for him, as evidenced by his founding of the Cinémathèque Française with Henri Langlois in 1937, he only fully committed himself to directing rather late in life, at the age of 37, and spent long years dedicated to serving roles in the film industry which were administrative or bureaucratic rather than artistic, such as his position as secretary-general of the Institut de Cinématographie Scientifique (1944–54). Indeed, what Ince says of Franju’s feature films – namely, that they ‘all refuse an easy “fit” within one coherent and self-identical generic type’ and instead ‘question cinematic genre(s) and generic identity from within by mixing up the characteristics of different types and styles of film, or by appearing to belong predominantly to a single genre when they in fact participate in several’ (Ince 2005: 86) – applies equally to Franju’s career itself. As we have hinted, though, one common motif uniting several strands of Franju’s varied body of work is his use of the Parisian banlieue as a location. In his early short films of the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s, for instance, it is the site of the abattoir in Le Sang des bêtes (1949), the home to Georges Méliès’ studio in Le Grand Méliès (1952) and the scene of the prestigious Théâtre National Populaire’s rehearsals in the film which bears the troupe’s name (1956). In Franju’s fiction features, the banlieue reappears as the location for Dr Génessier’s villa and clinic in Les Yeux sans visage (1960), and as the backdrop to the climactic battle between nefarious evil-doers and Judex in the eponymous film (1963). Of course, many of Franju’s films are set elsewhere, but the persistence with which Franju returns to the suburbs is noteworthy nonetheless, especially given that his two most famous works, Les Yeux sans visage and Le Sang des bêtes, are both set there. What is it about the banlieue that drew him to it repeatedly? What qualities do Franju’s films set in the suburbs gain from their location that would have otherwise been missing? To answer this question, one must take into account the conflicting aspects of the director’s portrayal of the banlieue. In Les Yeux sans visage, the Paris suburbs are, as we have stated, the location of both the clinic run by Dr Génessier and his adjoining villa. Dr Génessier attempts to achieve in secret the world’s first



Screening the Paris suburbs successful face transplant in order to restore the looks of his daughter Christiane, whose face has been destroyed in a car accident caused by Dr Génessier’s own carelessness. While the outside world believes her to be dead, Christiane mopes around her father’s estate wearing a white mask to prevent her from shocking herself or others with the view of her disfigured face. Meanwhile, Dr Génessier’s assistant and former patient, Louise, procures several women as guinea pigs for the experimental face transplant procedure. Midway through the film, Dr Génessier seems to have finally succeeded in bestowing a new, undamaged face to his daughter, but Christiane’s body soon rejects her new face and the whole grisly process must start over. The last young woman abducted by Louise, however, turns out to be a police informant, and both Dr Génessier and Louise are killed when in a brutal final act the police arrive at Dr Génessier’s estate and Christiane rebels against her father and his assistant. Although the estate is sited in the banlieue, geographical details in the film are scarce. The precise town in which Génessier resides is never named, and few traditional markers of the Parisian suburbs are present. The environment around the villa is wooded and rural, and it seems at first that it may be located in the countryside, although references in the dialogue eventually clearly establish its suburban bona fides. For instance, the luckless victim whose face will be semisuccessfully grafted onto Christiane’s, Edna Gruber, is lured to the villa by Louise’s promises of cheap rent, a definite selling-point for a college student of limited means such as herself, and is told that the neighbourhood is attractive and ‘full of trees’. En route to the villa, she remarks that ‘it seems very far’ and is reassured that it is only twenty minutes from Paris by bus. Upon arrival at Dr Génessier’s estate, though, Edna tells him that ‘the suburbs aren’t very convenient’. The doctor then assures her that the suburbs are in fact very convenient in a sinister tone of voice immediately before serving her a sedative-laced drink.The only other reference to the location of Dr Génessier’s villa or clinic comes later when the last girl to be abducted by Louise for experimental surgery, Paulette Mérodon, is reassured by the secretary at the clinic adjoining the doctor’s estate that the nearest bus stop leading to Paris is fifteen minutes away by foot. Franju here cuts against the grain of contemporaneous representations of the banlieue in several ways. Les Yeux sans visage is almost unique among French films of the late 1950s and early 1960s in presenting a vision of the suburbs that is at once bourgeois, secluded, contemporary, and yet blithely unconcerned with modern trends of development. The fact that its action takes place in the time period in which the film was made, for instance, sets it apart from the 1950s trend of presenting French audiences with a nostalgic vision harking back to the poetic realist cinema of the 1930s. Jacques Becker’s masterpiece Casque d’or (1952), for instance, portrayed a Belle Époque banlieue filled with charming ‘Apaches’, lively music-halls and working-class men wearing the type of iconic cap sported by Jean Gabin in his many roles of the 1930s. Jacques Tati’s Mon Oncle (1958) offered a vision of traditional life Saint-Maur whose general outline was similar, albeit much less violent.

Franju and the grotesque genius of the banlieue Although the Saint-Maur of Mon Oncle is nominally located in the present day, the nostalgic impulse of the accordion-heavy scenes in which it is shown is clear, and it participates in what Laurence Moinereau refers to as ‘the original myth’ of the banlieue in the French cinema, a ‘golden age’ of neighbourhood life which is both ‘friendly and populist, [and] founded on a traditional urban structure’ (1994: 37). Obviously, Franju’s vision of an isolated mad scientist’s estate is diametrically opposed to this nostalgic tableau of proletarian life in the suburbs,3 but it is also opposed to other, more topical, treatments which graced French screens in the late 1950s. When Olivier Millot, for instance, speaks of the 1950s cinematic trend of films in which ‘the banlieue is no longer simply a setting but sometimes becomes the lead actor of certain films’ (Millot and Glâtre 2003: 24), he is referring to films where the process of urban development on the outskirts of Paris is treated directly. The example he gives, that of Rue des Prairies (Denys de La Patellière, 1959) in which Jean Gabin portrays a foreman on the construction site of a grand ensemble of Sarcelles, is just as distinct from Les Yeux sans visage as was Casque d’or, albeit in an opposite sense, since de La Patellière’s film is more timely and topical than Franju’s, at least on an explicit level. Indeed, aside from Louis Feuillade’s serials of the 1910s one would be hardpressed to find a setting less representative of popular conceptions of the Parisian banlieue than the palatial, semi-rural estate of a rich mad scientist living in seclusion. The critical literature itself has little to say of French suburbanites of Dr Génessier’s social status; as Jean-Claude Boyer notes, affluent suburbs ‘have been much less studied than working-class banlieues’, a reality he attributes in large part to the fact that affluent suburbs simply demand less attention than the ‘troubled’ ones typically associated with the Paris region in the new millenium (2000: 54). The vast majority of popular representations of the banlieue concern people who are forced to live there through economic circumstance – people, that is, in similar conditions as poor Edna Gruber, the college student whose face is grafted onto Christiane’s – whereas Dr Génessier chooses to live there so as to conduct his nefarious business in private. When another doctor lists Génessier’s accomplishments by ticking off the terms ‘Paris, glory, fortune’, the capital clearly stands in as a metonym for success, a statement which only emphasises the perversity of Dr Génessier’s conscious decision to live outside its walls. Nor does Les Yeux sans visage quite fit in with the tradition of the banlieue as a site of bucolic idylls in the vein of 1930s films such as La Belle Équipe (Julien Duvivier, 1936) or Partie de campagne (Jean Renoir, 1936/1946), due both to the darkness and disfigurement which dominate the scenes of suburban life in Franju’s film and the large socio-economic disparity between Génessier and the proletarian characters of Duvivier’s and Renoir’s films.4 The uniqueness of the representation of the suburbs in Les Yeux sans visage is perhaps best brought to light by David Leyval’s insightful etymological analysis of the close linguistic relatives of the French word banlieue, which literally means the area surrounding a city within a radius of one lieue or league over which the



Screening the Paris suburbs municipal government can exercise its judicial authority (le ban). Leyval specifies that the ban of banlieue is also at the heart of the word banalité, which, etymologically speaking, means ‘the space of the periphery, in relation to the center, with a pejorative nuance in modern usage’ (2009: 25). The etymology speaks a valid truth, for Génessier’s class of banlieusards are most likely habitually omitted from representations of Parisian suburbs not because they are taboo or unsettling, but rather because they are so banal: compared to the colourful ‘Apaches’ and guinguettefrequenting proletarians of most French films made prior to Les Yeux sans visage, the suburban bourgeoisie is quite simply boring. Leyval, however, also draws an etymological link between the ban and related notion of bannissement (banishment), which raises a set of quite different associations that resonate with different aspects of Les Yeux sans visage. Shifting our attention from Dr Génessier to Christiane, it must be emphasised that the film is equally about a rich mad scientist as about a marginalised, disfigured girl who lives in seclusion so as to not disturb others with her hideous appearance. As a living embodiment of the type of disturbingly gory phenomena Parisian society would rather push to its margins than contemplate, Christiane is very much in the same class of cinematic figures as the slaughtered beasts of Le Sang des bêtes’ peripheral abattoir. Although the real Parisian banlieue was of course not populated solely by disfigured girls and slaughterhouses, this constellation of marginal figures does capture many aspects of both the real life experience of banlieusards of Franju’s time and longstanding artistic traditions of how to depict it. When Les Yeux sans visage came out in 1959, the banlieue was in the middle of a population explosion, with the inner and outer rings going from accounting for 55.7% of the ‘central zone’ of the Ile-de-France region in 1954, to 61.7% of this region’s population in 1962; in concrete terms, this shift represents a net gain of 885,000 people in eight years (Soulignac 1993: 34–36). The make-up of this population was rapidly shifting as well: in 1950, immigrants represented only 4.5% of the entire Paris region, with internal migration from within France accounting for the bulk of newcomers to the area; but this trend reversed itself at some point during the period 1954–62, with an influx of foreign-born residents finally surpassing native French movements into the area (Soulignac 1993: 37–38). In the immediate post-war period, the housing situation in the banlieue was, according to Soulignac, ‘truly catastrophic,’ with ‘enormous shantytowns’ filling the outskirts of Paris, but by 1955, suburban construction had entered a ‘massive phase’ (1993: 67). The HLM housing projects for which the banlieue is now so well known were then beginning to proliferate, and 1958 also saw the official birth of the development districts known as Zones à urbaniser en priorité (ZUP), which facilitated the creation of more and more of the housing developments known as grands ensembles. The result of all this urbanisation was far from homogenous, though, with the banlieue coming to resemble a ‘patchwork of social spaces’ (Bastien 1988: 212) where private houses constructed in the 1920s and 1930s stood next to housing projects and to apartment complexes representing widely varying social strata.

Franju and the grotesque genius of the banlieue However, none of this tumultuous urban development is directly seen in Franju’s films. What is reflected there, and in Les Yeux sans visage especially, are the social and psychological effects of these upheavals, which find expression in totally different contexts than the sociological ones with which they are associated in real life. Alienation, lack of solidarity, anonymity and powerlessness – all these sentiments which came progressively to be associated with life in the banlieue find prescient expression in Franju’s oeuvre, but they seem to have been sublimated into an entirely different milieu. The rows of barking dogs trapped in uniform cages in Génessier’s cellar, the immensity of his wooded estate, the de-humanising disfigurement of Christiane – do not all these elements resonate with the disillusionment of the early residents of the grands ensembles who were by all accounts appalled by their ‘uniformity, gigantism, [and] de-humanization of space’ (Chauveau 1988: 140)? ‘The retreat into private space’ engendered by the ‘social heterogeneity’ of the banlieue and the ‘break in class solidarities’ identified by Bernard Bastien (1988: 217), are these not echoed by Christiane’s withdrawal from life in Les Yeux sans visage and her fatal lack of solidarity with Louise, whom she will stab to death? And what metaphor could better express the faceless anonymity of waves of immigrant labourers arriving in the suburbs than the literal facelessness of Christiane? Long before Série noire (Alain Corneau, 1979) or La Haine (Mathieu Kassovitz, 1995), Franju had put his finger on the pulse of a type of suburban despair which was still just emerging. Of course, it is far-fetched to imagine that Franju intended such things as Christiane’s lack of a face as a literal, specific metaphor for suburban anomie.5 It is more likely that such connections are made possible by Franju’s sensitivity to a more general trend identified by David Leyval, namely the process by which the banlieue is made up of ‘everything the city rejects’ (2009: 12). Long before Franju ever made a film, the Parisian suburbs already had similar connotations, thanks in part to the presence of the pioneering prison-cum-hospice-cum-asylum, Bicêtre. In an article on the ‘spatial poetics’ of representations of the Parisian banlieue throughout history, Jacques van Waerbeke invokes a Gustave Doré engraving of 1859, ‘Le puits de Bicêtre’, in which several haggard-looking people dressed in paupers’ rags – evidently residents of the asylum – examine a well while a few well-dressed members of the bourgeoisie look at it from a different angle. These nineteenth-century ‘specimens of the social fringe which the capital deems desirable to reject to its margins’ (van Waerbeke 1996: 54) prefigure the outcasts of Franju’s vision of suburbia by almost exactly a century, while the co-presence of the dregs of society with middle-class sightseers foreshadows the radically heterogeneous class make-up of twentieth-century suburbs where impoverished HLMs rub shoulders with more affluent examples of the middle-class tract housing. Van Waerbeke points out that the clash of opposing elements of suburban society depicted by Doré would go on to inspire Impressionists of the 1880s, such as Seurat, who appreciated ‘the violence of contrasts provoked by the brutal juxtaposition of disparate spatial elements’ (1996: 57). Meanwhile, the filth and poverty of



Screening the Paris suburbs Doré’s asylum residents would find their counterparts in Céline’s novels Voyage au bout de la nuit (1932) and Mort à crédit (1936), where the banlieue is generally presented as dark, dirty and depressing. However, several of Franju’s films that take place outside the Parisian banlieue evince similar geographical tensions. Both La Tête contre les murs (1958), for example, and Thérèse Desqueyroux (1962) are set in the countryside of southeastern France, in the Charente-Maritime6 and Landes regions respectively, and both feature protagonists who feel marginalised by their distance from Paris. François Gérane, the hero of La Tête contre les murs, is unjustly imprisoned in a mental institution despite being sane, and constantly seeks to escape to his girlfriend in Paris; he briefly succeeds, but is caught and is in the process of being dragged back to the asylum as the film ends. Thérèse Desqueyroux, meanwhile, feels trapped in a loveless marriage with a man much less intelligent than herself in a region she finds to be a cultural wasteland, and wants so badly to escape to Paris that she poisons her husband in an attempt to gain her freedom. In both works, the same feelings of entrapment, isolation, anonymity and hopelessness we saw in Les Yeux sans visage are present. In the symbolic economy of Franju’s cinema, are the suburbs to be seen as interchangeable with the countryside? Put another way, how can Christiane’s condition be seen as emblematic of the suburbs if her fate would have had the same dramatic resonance in the countryside? The key to the specificity of the condition of the banlieue in Les Yeux sans visage lies in its duality. Unlike La Tête contre les murs and Thérèse Desqueyroux, each of which features one clear, definitive protagonist at odds with his or her surroundings, Les Yeux sans visage is just as much about Dr Génessier as it is about Christiane. Therefore, the suburban villa central to the plot (Figure 16) is equally presented as both the refuge of someone who is essentially a victim of circumstance and the lair of a vicious madman. Christiane’s desire to regain her face is, ultimately, an implicit desire to be reunited in Paris with the boyfriend whom she still occasionally calls on the telephone; her father, meanwhile, sees the capital as a never-ending supply of fresh bodies to be mutilated for his own purposes. Innocence and violence, good and evil, the white doves released by Christiane at the end of the film and the vicious dogs that maul Génessier – the banlieue for Franju is above all the space where opposing forces such as these coexist. The story of Franju’s countryside in La Tête contre les murs and Thérèse Desqueyroux is fundamentally one of people who are oppressed by their surroundings, whereas his banlieue is shared equally between oppressor and oppressed.This ‘two-faced’ union of opposites is of course completely in keeping with the longstanding traditional motif of the banlieue’s heterogeneity. In fact, it also brings to mind Mikhail Bakhtin’s definition of the grotesque in his magisterial study of Rabelais. Bakhtin traces the etymology of the word ‘grotesque’ back to the ancient Roman grotto, the Domus Aurea, which was rediscovered in the Renaissance and whose frescoes shocked fifteenth-century sensibilities through their wanton disregard for the accepted generic categories

Franju and the grotesque genius of the banlieue of Christian art: there, ‘the borderlines that divide the kingdoms of nature in the usual picture of the world were boldly infringed’, writes Bakhtin (1984: 32). Bakhtin goes on to relate this aesthetic category to an entire, life-affirming medieval frame of mind he refers to as the ‘carnivalesque’, but the important point for our purposes is that the grotesque is for Bakhtin at heart a union of opposites that takes place in flagrant violation of conventional boundaries between genres. He speaks, for instance, of the grotesque trope of ‘pregnant death’ (1984: 25) and clarifies that grotesque imagery is fundamentally ambivalent in its refusal to emphasise one pole of the contradiction more than another.Tellingly, he also stresses that grotesque imagery very often portrays the body in states of ‘disintegration [and] dismemberment’ (1984: 25) in order to stress the unfinished, constantly changing aspect of the material world. Thus, beyond the everyday, modern sense, one can clearly see that this film, rife with ambivalent contradictions and bodies in various states of dismemberment and disintegration, is furthermore grotesque in the classical, Bakhtinian sense. There is, however, no evidence of any influence of Bakhtin’s thought on Franju, making such an influence extremely unlikely. A much less anachronistic lens through which to examine Franju’s love of contradictions is Surrealism. Henri Langlois claimed that the film journal he founded in the 1930s with Franju, Cinematograph, was ‘as much a surrealist review as a cinema journal’ (Ince 2005: 3), and Franju later went on record as saying that he ‘had always been in full agreement with the Surrealists’ (qtd in Ince 2005: 118) and dreamed of collaborating with André Breton on a talk concerning ‘those fragments of bad films which correspond to Surrealist notions’ (qtd in Lowenstein 1998: 38). Moreover, he shared with the Surrealists an evident love for Louis Feuillade and pulp icons of the Belle Époque such as Fantômas. Nonetheless, Franju never actually joined Breton’s group or collaborated on any artistic projects with any members of his inner circle. Lowenstein draws parallels between Franju’s cinema and Surrealism’s propensity to shock and what Walter Benjamin termed its ‘cult of evil’, whereas Ince claims that the main element of Surrealism detectable in Franju’s art is his embrace of ‘the aesthetic of the “insolite”’, or unusual, which involves ‘an eruption of the discontinuous in familiar continuity’ (2005: 118–19). While Ince’s assessment of this matter seems generally correct, I would clarify that the Surrealist technique that seems most fundamental to Franju’s aesthetic would more precisely be that of radical juxtapositions. Pierre Reverdy defined this aesthetic with his assertion that an ‘image will be stronger to the extent that the relationships between the two realities brought together [in the image] are both distant and just’ (qtd in Breton 1969: 31). This principle finds perhaps its most famous manifestation in that phrase of Lautréamont’s for which the Surrealists had a famous, fetishistic attachment: the ‘chance encounter on a dissection table of an umbrella and a sewing machine’. Franju was of course conscious of this principle, as shown by his analysis of a short educational film he considered to be one of the most terrifying films he



Screening the Paris suburbs had ever seen. Trépanation pour crise d’épilepsie bravais-jacksonienne (Thierry de Martel, 1940) unflinchingly depicts a trepanation – i.e. a medical procedure in which a hole is drilled into a man’s skull – but for Franju, what makes it truly terrifying is the disconnect between the horror of the operation and the expression on the face of the patient, who is both conscious and smiling, since, as it turns out, the trepanation procedure is painless. ‘The suffering of the spectator’, according to Franju, ‘was intolerable because it was not shared’ (Brumagne 1977: 12). Thus, by Franju’s logic, if the patient had been shown to be sharing the viewer’s discomfort, the power of the images would have been greatly lessened, for truly strong emotions emerge from dichotomous juxtapositions such as this one between viewer and subject. Franju’s application of this principle in his own work sometimes takes the form of sound/image dissonances, as in the infamous sequence in which a cheerful song by Charles Trenet accompanies images of slaughter in Le Sang des bêtes. At other times it manifests itself more directly in a film’s diegesis, as in the famous scene in which Diana Monti strips off her stolen nun’s habit in Judex to reveal an incongruously sexy bodysuit underneath. This principle undergirds the entire dramatic structure of Les Yeux sans visage. As many have noted,7 Génessier is in fact not a wholly villainous character, since he is ultimately motivated to mutilate and murder innocent girls out of a desire to help his daughter rather than any selfish motivation.8 Just as the trepanation film mixes a placid smile with a horrifying incision into a man’s skull, it is in the same spirit that Les Yeux sans visage presents the viewer with: a cold-blooded murderer who is also a loving father; a young woman who is alternately beautiful and so hideous as to send others into fits of terror; and a suburban home which is at once banal and an extraordinary den of horror. This dissonance between setting and affect doesn’t hold true in La Tête contre les murs or Thérèse Desqueyroux since the desire to escape a provincial life of boredom or confinement to achieve true freedom in Paris is an age-old trope in French culture, and entirely appropriate to the environment of these films. In Les Yeux sans visage, though, as we have seen, the mood of the film is rendered even more surreal through the fact that the emotional disturbance associated with the type of suburb being created at the time of the film’s release is in fact sublimated into an entirely different type of suburb devoid of such pre-established negative cultural connotations. One last thing that should be noted about Les Yeux sans visage’s presentation of the suburbs is that it is entirely in keeping with the vision presented in Franju’s earlier short films such as Le Sang des bêtes, Le Grand Méliès and Le Théâtre National Populaire. The similarities with Le Sang des bêtes should be obvious, and we have already touched on some of them, such as the grotesque juxtapositions between sound and image, but the affinities with Franju’s film on the prestigious national theatre troupe and his biographical study of the great cinema pioneer are subtler. The thread uniting Génessier, Méliès and the actors and directors of the Théâtre National Populaire, though, is the motif of genius flowering in the suburbs. The hagiographic ambitions of Le Grand Méliès should be apparent from the opening

Franju and the grotesque genius of the banlieue title card billing Méliès as ‘[the] director of the Robert Houdin Theater, Author, Actor, Decorator, Director, Innovator of Modern Cinematic Special Effects, [and] Creator of the Cinematic Spectacle’. The film that follows makes good on the promise of this laudatory preface, and shows how Méliès developed his studio and made films at his home in suburban Montreuil in painstaking detail. The banlieue here functions as a privileged site of research and development, sheltered from the prying eyes of the Parisian society which will reap the benefits of this laborious work of craftsmanship when Méliès’ films make their debut on urban movie screens. Le Théâtre National Populaire operates on a similar logic: rehearsals in the suburban town of Genevilliers, a town where the famous theatre troupe under the direction of Jean Vilar don’t even give a performance, are the laboratory in which brilliant art is created for the benefit of urban audiences at a later date. Dr Génessier, of course, fits squarely within this tradition, since he, too, is a suburban genius making medical advances far beyond the abilities of his peers. However, unlike the motif of the banlieue as the site of exile of Paris’ undesirable elements, this theme of the suburbs as the laboratory of works of genius is not in keeping with any well-known representational tradition. Both urban environments and rural ones have had long-established traditions as birthplaces of works of genius, but, in the early 1960s at least, there had been no pedigree of suburban brilliance in the popular consciousness to serve as a counterpart to either the lyric tradition of pastoral muses or the post-Baudelairean urban poetry of modernity. The fact that this motif running through Franju’s work seems to be unprecedented is precisely the point, since the incongruous nature of the banlieue as a cradle of great advances in science or art only adds to the grotesque contradictions pervading Franju’s vision of it. However, the overlap between this theme and the other motif we have examined in Franju’s work – that of the suburb as a place of exile of those elements of society rejected by Paris – would seem to suggest that genius itself may be something which must be exiled from the capital. This conclusion is perhaps not as far-fetched as it might seem at first glance, for such an attitude has a long and illustrious pedigree in Romantic aesthetics. More than a mere mad scientist, Dr Génessier, in this view, is another avatar of the poète maudit who must seek solitude because his work cannot be comprehended by his fellow man. Maudit or not, Franju emerges as a unique figure in the cinematic history of the banlieue, someone who resisted prevailing trends to focus on an aspect of the Parisian suburbs no one else depicted in order to create films like none other. In his emphasis on contradictions, radical juxtapositions and extreme heterogeneity, Franju’s suburban oeuvre ultimately proves to be just as sui generis as the smile on a trepanation patient. Notes 1 Franju was one of only two French directors to be included in a list of the top fifty masters of the genre in a 1995 issue of the French journal CinémAction (Ince 2005: 47).



Screening the Paris suburbs 2 Not counting the short film he directed with Henri Langlois in 1935, Le Métro, which is seldom seen and rarely discussed. 3 It should be noted, however, that his vision of the banlieue is perhaps less opposed to the other vision of suburban life presented by Tati in Mon Oncle, that of the Arpel family whose hyper-modern house equipped with bewildering technology offers a sketch of the same cautionary tale about the powers of science as Génessier’s laboratory of horrors in Les Yeux sans visage. Malcolm Turvey discusses Tati in Chapter 8 of this volume. 4 One could argue that La Belle Équipe also presents a dark view of the banlieue, but the fact that the working-class lottery-winners of that film initially enjoy it in an atmosphere of convivial camaraderie is a crucial distinction between the two films. See Margaret C. Flinn’s analysis in Chapter 5 of this volume. 5 It is, however, just as plausible as the suggestion made by Lowenstein (1998) that both Le Sang des bêtes and Les Yeux sans visage can be read as allegories of World War II and the Holocaust. 6 Though several references in La Tête contre les murs locate the asylum in which most of the action takes place in ‘la campagne’, its specific location of Sainte-Gemmes is mentioned only in the Hervé Bazin novel on which Franju’s film is based. 7 For a summary of different moral assessments of Génessier by modern critics, see Pharr (2008: 110–11). 8 In fact, as Franju explains in a video supplement to the Criterion Collection edition of Eyes Without a Face, he was expressly forbidden from including a stereotypical ‘mad scientist’ by the producer for fear of displeasing the German market.

References Bakhtin, Mikhail (1984), Rabelais and His World, trans. Hélène Iswolsky, Bloomington, Indiana University Press. Bastien, Bernard (1988), ‘Sociabilités populaires dans l’espace de la banlieue parisienne’, in Annie Fourcaut (ed.), Un siècle de banlieue parisienne: 1859–1964, Paris, L’Harmattan. Boyer, Jean-Claude (2000), Les banlieues en France: territoires et sociétés, Paris, Armand Colin. Breton, André (1969), Manifestes du surréalisme, Paris, Gallimard. Brumagne, Marie-Magdeleine (1977), Franju: impressions et aveux, Lausanne, L’Age d’homme. Chauveau, Geneviève (1988), ‘Logement et habitat populaires de la fin de la Deuxième Guerre mondiale aux années soixante’, in Annie Fourcaut (ed.), Un siècle de banlieue parisienne, 1859–1964, Paris, L’Harmattan. Ince, Kate (2005), Georges Franju, Manchester, Manchester University Press. Leyval, David (2009), La banlieue, l’épreuve de l’utopie, Paris, Publibook. Lowenstein, Adam (1998), ‘Films without a face: shock horror in the cinema of Georges Franju’, Cinema Journal 37.4 (Summer): 37–58. Moinereau, Laurence (1994), ‘Paysages de cinéma: les figures emblématiques d’une banlieue imaginaire’, Les Cahiers de la Cinémathèque 59/60: 34–46. Millot, Olivier, and Patrick Glâtre (2003), Caméra plein champ: la banlieue au cinéma, le cinéma en banlieue, Grâne, Créaphis. Pharr, Mary (2008), ‘The lab and the woods: science and myth in Les Yeux sans visage’, Science Fiction Film and Television 1.1 (Spring): 105–14. Soulignac, Françoise (1993), La banlieue parisienne: cent cinquante ans de transformations, Paris, La Documentation Française. Van Waerbeke, Jacques (1996), ‘La poétique spatiale des représentations de la banlieue de Paris’, Géographies et cultures 19: 51–78.


Tati, suburbia and modernity Malcolm Turvey

France experienced rapid economic growth from the end of World War II until the mid 1970s.1 Consumption and incomes rose by a third between 1949, the year that saw the release of Jacques Tati’s first feature film, Jour de fête, and 1958, when his third, Mon Oncle, appeared. During these same years, the number of privately owned cars more than doubled, and the stock of home appliances such as refrigerators and vacuum cleaners increased by 400% (Kuisel 1993: 104–5). As Kristin Ross puts it in her influential account of post-war French modernisation, France was transformed with ‘unusual swiftness’ from a ‘rural, empire-oriented, Catholic country’ into an ‘industrialized, decolonized, and urban one’ (Ross 1995: 4). According to Ross, in France, ‘unlike in the United States, [modernization] is experienced for the most part as highly destructive’ (1995: 21–2). For her, Tati is the ‘greatest analyst of postwar French modernization’ in part because his films register the ‘suffering and destruction’ (30) that ‘inevitably accompanied’ it (63). Ross is hardly alone in holding this view. The prevailing opinion of Tati’s films is that modernity is their central theme and that they are unambiguously critical of the changes it wrought in post-war France, particularly suburbanisation, mechanisation, the widespread adoption of architectural modernism and the burgeoning car and consumer cultures. ‘The foes in all five Tati feature films are modernity, inhuman efficiency, deadening routine’, states Gerald Mast (1979: 294). For some, this is one of their defects. Jean-André Fieschi decries their ‘worn-out’, ‘reactionary’ ideology, which he characterises as the ‘classic world vision of the petite bourgeoisie française (that of the films of René Clair), flattering and catering to the most suspicious sort of individualism, the most maudlin sentimentality’ (1980: 1001). For most, it is a virtue. ‘Mon Oncle is to progress what the pacifist film is to war’, writes Armand Cauliez: ‘a defense and illustration of individual liberties, the humble pleasures of existence and simple human happiness. This cry of revolt is the profound song of a humane person, a small crack in the edifice of logic’ (1968: 17).


Screening the Paris suburbs Tati’s stated view of modernisation, however, was more complex, even contradictory to that which this critical consensus might lead one to expect. To be sure, he often railed against what he saw as the uniformity and authoritarianism of modern environments; the anonymity and lack of communication they fostered; the passivity engendered by the automation of everyday life; and the standardised, mechanical behaviour of modern people.2 He also frequently expressed nostalgia for the way things used to be. In a Cahiers du cinéma interview of 1958 with André Bazin and François Truffaut, he inveighed: ‘what I condemn in the “new” life is precisely the disappearance of any respect for the individual’ (Bazin and Truffaut 2002: 294). Yet, Tati rejected the charge that his films were unequivocally critical of modernisation. ‘Hulot is not a reactionary’, he insisted about the character he played in four of his six features. ‘He is not against progress’ (qtd in Gilliat 1976: 23). And Tati often acknowledged the benefits of modernity while pointing to its costs: All over the world, people are now living in surroundings which make everything more comfortable for them – work, home life, holidays. This greater ease makes for more efficiency. The trouble is, though, that the top people seem to have forgotten to leave room for adjustment and for spare time. (qtd in Jacob and Clouzot 1965: 163)

In a later interview with Cahiers du cinéma, from 1968, Tati dismissed the accusation that he was opposed to modern architecture. If he was, he demurred, he would have modelled Tativille, his elaborate and expensive set for Play Time, on the most ugly modern buildings. Instead, he deliberately designed it ‘so that no architect could say anything against it’, using the ‘most beautiful’ buildings he could find. ‘My job is not to criticize’, he concluded, but instead ‘to bring a smile’ to people’s faces (Fieschi and Narboni 1968: 11).Yet, a few years later, when asked by Jonathan Rosenbaum about the buildings in Play Time, criticise modern architecture he did while still acknowledging its beauty: In New York sometimes, when you’re very high up and look out the window, you have a marvelous vista of lights – it’s very impressive. But if you go down the elevator at say, six in the morning, what you see isn’t so impressive. It looks like you’re not allowed to laugh or whistle or be yourself: you have to push the button where it says ‘push’, there’s not much way of expressing yourself. (Rosenbaum 1973: 40)

Such shifting statements suggest that Tati’s view of modernisation was more ambivalent, even conflicted, than is usually acknowledged. While it would take an analysis of Tati’s depiction of modernity in general to fully disentangle its many threads, here I aim to convey some of its complexity, nuance and even ambiguity through a consideration of the representation of suburban Paris in Mon Oncle. The film juxtaposes the old quarter where Hulot lives, the exteriors for which were filmed in Saint-Maur just beyond the Bois de Vincennes southeast of Paris, and a nearby redevelopment, where Hulot’s sister, Madame Arpel, and her

Tati, suburbia and modernity family reside in a pseudo-modernist house. Ross, like other critics, argues that the scenes of the Arpels in their suburban home offer a ‘critique of the kind of life it is possible to live inside hypermodern suburban architecture’ (1995: 192). Tati, however, objected that ‘it is not about the house’: I am sure if a young couple were married and went to live in that house, they would be happy because they would put down a little ground and they would play football with their children. They would have the big window for the sun to come into their home; they would cook with all the modern facilities and they would be happy. It is not the architecture I am complaining about in My Uncle, it is the way the people use it that is the problem. (Woodside 1969: 8)

Is Tati right that it is the particular use of the suburban home by the Arpels that he criticises in his film, or is the house itself, and the modern suburb of which it is a part, his target, as Ross and other critics maintain? By the mid 1950s, the housing shortage in the Paris region was both acute and well publicised. A 1954 study found that 36% of families begun in 1948 remained unhoused, and 29% of married couples under the age of 25 lived with their parents. Of the housing stock in the city, 80% had been built before 1914, and most of it was overcrowded and primitive: 65% of residences only had one or two rooms, and more than half lacked services such as a toilet and four-fifths a bathtub or shower. The îlots insalubres – the seventeen areas designated as slums in the early part of the century due to their high rates of tuberculosis – still existed, and dotted around Paris were impoverished shantytowns (Evenson 1979: 232–6). As the economy expanded after the war, Paris was rapidly redeveloped, and between the mid 1950s and mid 1970s one quarter of the surface of the city was demolished and rebuilt (Evenson 1979: 310). In some cases, whole neighbourhoods were razed and replaced by modern high-rise office and apartment buildings of the sort mimicked by Tativille in Play Time, such as the slum area around the Place d’Italie in the thirteenth arrondissement and the Front de Seine to the south of the Eiffel Tower in the fifteenth. Most of the new housing, however, was private and expensive, with subsidised accommodation accounting for only about a fifth. This was nowhere near enough to meet the increasing demand for affordable homes due to population growth, immigration and the expanding economy, which drove up rents and property values in the city. The result was an exodus of the working-class and young families to the suburbs, and a decline in the residential population of Paris, which increasingly consisted of the affluent (Evenson 1979: 236–8). In order to accommodate the growing suburban population, the state constructed huge housing projects (grands ensembles) outside the city. These collections of high-rise towers and five- or six-storey buildings typically housed thirty to forty thousand people each and were connected to Paris via new motorways and a suburban railway. The surrounding region was also redeveloped. ‘New towns’ were planned and suburban centres reconstructed, including Créteil, adjacent



Screening the Paris suburbs to Saint-Maur, where Tati shot some exteriors for the modern suburb in which the Arpels reside in Mon Oncle. Grey, concrete slabs typical of the new accommodations being erected at the time can be seen in the background whenever characters travel between the old and new quarters in the film. Redeveloped suburban centres such as Créteil were also intended to reduce congestion in the city by creating employment, and in addition to new housing they included office buildings, factories for the industry that was increasingly migrating out of the city and shopping malls (Evenson 1979: 339). Facilities tended to be dispersed, and residents were dependent on cars to access them. In Mon Oncle, Monsieur Arpel drives his son, Gerard, to school before continuing on to his plastics factory, and he and his wife drive to a restaurant (Rington’s) to celebrate their anniversary. When he and Gerard drive Hulot to the airport at the end of the film, industrial parks and office buildings are visible along the way. It is striking, however, that in most other respects, as David Bellos has astutely noted (1999: 207), the Arpels’ home is not at all representative of suburbanisation as it was occurring in the Paris region in the mid-to-late 1950s. Monsieur Arpel is a bourgeois industrialist who lives with his wife and son in a recently built, detached, single-family house with a large, walled garden on a street of similar homes, whereas the vast majority of suburban accommodation being constructed during this period consisted of apartments in towers and blocks intended for the less affluent who could not afford to live in the city.3 While such housing became the object of widespread criticism in the 1960s for being dehumanising, it is glimpsed only occasionally in Mon Oncle and remains very much in the background. Instead, as the architectural historian Dietrich Neumann has pointed out (1996: 136), the design of the Arpels’ home alludes to the cubic houses built by Le Corbusier and other modernist architects between the wars and is hardly typical of the small number of single-family suburban homes constructed after World War II. Why, then, did Tati invoke pre-war modernist architecture in a post-war context? Neumann argues that it was in order to lampoon the bourgeois appropriation of once revolutionary modernist architecture as a status symbol. As he puts it, ‘With sharp irony, Tati revealed the transformation in meaning of the forms of classical modernism from avant-garde statement to petit-bourgeois fashion item’ (1996: 136). This suggests that it is not post-war suburbanisation per se that Tati is attacking in Mon Oncle, but rather a particular, and atypical, bourgeois form of it. Indeed, a number of Tati’s comments from the period show that he was not opposed to the construction of new towns and suburban centres to alleviate the housing shortage in Paris. In the interview of 1958 with Bazin and Truffaut, for example, he opines: What bothers me most today is that Paris itself is being destroyed. This really aggravates me. If we need additional housing, and God knows we do, let’s build new cities; there is enough room. But we should not demolish nice old buildings in Paris for the sake of new apartment buildings. (2002: 296)

Tati, suburbia and modernity Moreover, Tati sometimes characterised his comedy as anti-elitist, claiming it was designed to make fun of powerful people and thereby give ordinary folk a feeling of superiority over them. ‘I’m always … trying to defend the simple man’, he told Jonathan Rosenbaum in the early 1970s: I can make Hulot do all the jokes because I come from the music hall and I can do it quite well, but it’s not my way. I’d rather show an important man doing something funny, because then people will look around and say, ‘Why is he speaking so loud? He isn’t really that important’. I mean, comedy can put a lot of people down. (1973: 40)

This claim is to some extent borne out by Tati’s Hulot films, which, rather than taking aim at people indiscriminately, tend to ridicule the bourgeoisie, such as the German businessman and other seaside vacationers in Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot, the Arpels and their friends in Mon Oncle, and the diners at the upscale restaurant in Play Time. That Tati is targeting the Arpels’ use of their home as a bourgeois fashion statement, rather than contemporary suburbanisation in general, is also suggested by the ways in which the design of their house betrays only a superficial understanding of pre-war modernist domestic architecture. Le Corbusier’s residences of the later 1920s and 1930s, such as the exquisite Villa Savoye (1928–31), tended to consist of single geometrical volumes resting on slender columns. Horizontal strip windows were set flush with unadorned, planar white or coloured façades, making the latter appear like thin membranes and creating the appearance of weightlessness. Symmetrical exteriors partly concealed free, asymmetrical interiors in which unconventionally situated rooms were ingeniously positioned in order to create a play of space and light along what Le Corbusier called an architectural promenade. The Arpels’ home, by contrast, is an asymmetrical pyramid of cubes. Vertical, rectangular windows and doorways punctuate large expanses of thick wall on the ground floor, creating the impression of mass that architects of the International Style attempted to dispense with and minimising natural light in the interior. Inside, the plan is relatively open, but none of the rooms are unconventionally situated and there is no play with space or light, let alone an architectural promenade. If anything, the house (Figure 17) resembles the irregular, vertical aggregations of cubes first explored by Theo van Doesburg in his effort to translate De Stijl principles into architecture in the late 1910s, and subsequently taken up by Robert Mallet-Stevens in his designs for the Villa Noailles (1924–33) and other houses in the mid 1920s. However, whereas rectangular planes of primary colour were essential to De Stijl architecture, as evidenced by the exteriors of van Doesburg’s plans and the interior of the extraordinary Rietveld Schroder House (1924), the walls of the Arpels’ home, both inside and out, are a monochromatic grey, except for what appear to be blue girders running up one side of the house. Meanwhile, although the walls are largely unadorned, on the second floor the façade is corrugated, as is part of the ground floor wall to the right of the entrance. Both the corrugation and the blue girders seem purely decorative,



Screening the Paris suburbs violating the modernist prohibition on ornament exemplified by the outside of Mallet-Stevens’ Villa Noailles. Finally, on the second floor are two portholes, which unbalance the building and look incongruous relative to the vertical rectangular windows of the ground floor, and which become the basis of a gag that allows Tati to mock the building: when Monsieur and Madame Arpel look out of them at night, their silhouettes make the round windows look like eyes with moving pupils. Rather than expressing a coherent functional or aesthetic rationale, the Arpels’ house seems more like a bricolage of improperly understood stylistic elements associated with 1920s domestic modernist architecture that have been chosen because they are fashionable. Indeed,Tati’s artistic collaborator, Jacques Lagrange, who helped design the set of the house that was built in the Victorine studio in Nice, described the Arpels’ home as a ‘montage’, an ‘architectural potpourri’ consisting of features he had cut and pasted together from a variety of magazines (qtd in Sichère 1985: 88). Further evidence for the view that Tati is criticising a particular bourgeois form of suburbanisation can be found in his satire of the Arpels’ behaviour in and around their house, which he directs at their stereotypically bourgeois attitudes, particularly their concern with status. Most of the scenes at their home take place in their walled garden in which a large, metallic, urinary-sounding fountain in the shape of a fish is prominently on display. The Arpels turn it on whenever they are visited by someone whom they wish to impress, and this becomes the occasion for a running gag which is repeated and varied seven times before Hulot accidentally breaks the fountain at a garden party. Madame Arpel switches on the fountain erroneously the second, fourth and fifth times when her husband returns from work; Hulot visits; and a grocer delivers food for the party. On each of these occasions she turns it off once she realises that the person at the door is not someone she needs to make an impression upon. She also fails to switch on the fountain when before the garden party she misidentifies her neighbour, whom she does wish to impress, as a salesperson, an error she quickly rectifies when she realises who is at the door. Moreover, the fountain is just one example of the Arpels’ conspicuous consumption. Madame Arpel derives great satisfaction from showing off her new house and its latest gadgets to visitors, and for her and Monsieur Arpel’s anniversary she has their manual garage door replaced by an automatic one, while he buys her a new American car, a pink and lime green 1956 Chevrolet Bel Air. Tati also associates the Arpels with other putatively bourgeois attitudes that have long been mocked by the modernist avant-garde. As Peter Gay has argued, ‘an elemental urge […] toward the rationalization of life, away from […] unresisted impulse’ became a major hallmark of bourgeois culture in the nineteenth century, and it manifested itself, among other ways, in the ‘rejection of the direct expression and public gratification of bodily needs’ and the embrace of ‘delay, modulation, control’ (1984: 58). The Arpels are, of course, obsessed with control, and one form this takes is their concern with cleanliness. The first time we encounter Madame

Tati, suburbia and modernity Arpel we see not her but the wand of her vacuum cleaner, and she is constantly shown cleaning her home, garden and car. Her kitchen gadgets and rubber gloves enable her to avoid touching food – as if in a direct satire of Norbert Elias’s famous contention that the civilising process consisted in part of increasing prohibitions on physical contact with food (Elias 1994) – and she is distressed when her husband takes Hulot to the airport without his gloves. Her white kitchen, which looks like a sterilised dentist’s office, is also reminiscent of a factory due to the (over-)rationalised production of food enabled by its machines. Indeed, Madame Arpel informs a visitor that the contents of her sparsely furnished home were designed in her husband’s factory, and the loud clicking of her shoes on the concrete floor of her living room is identical to the sound made by the shoes of Monsieur Arpel’s secretary on his factory’s cement floor. Conversely, what Gay calls ‘unresisted impulse’ appears to be absent from the Arpels’ lives, as is painfully evident in their relationship with their son. Neither plays with him, and Gerard is usually positioned in shots away from his parents in the background or off to one side, forced to amuse himself. Nor do they say much to him except to harangue him about tidying his room and staying clean, and at one point, when Gerard runs into the house to talk to his mother, he is confronted by a loud, automatic vacuum cleaner in her stead. On the one occasion Monsieur Arpel presents him with a gift, a toy train, he puts it down in front of the boy and immediately walks away. Gerard’s nonplussed reaction is in sharp contrast to the howl of laughter he later emits when Hulot gives him a paper mannequin. In general, it is with the spontaneous and carefree Hulot, rather than his parents, that Gerard enjoys a close relationship and has fun in and around the old quarter, where Hulot benevolently watches over him as he plays with his friends. Finally, the first part of the film’s ending seems to support, albeit indirectly, Tati’s contention that it is the use of their home by the Arpels – a use we have characterised as stereotypically bourgeois – that is the object of his criticism rather than modern suburbia itself. In part out of jealousy at Hulot’s close relationship with his son, Monsieur Arpel sends his brother-in-law to work in the provinces, and Hulot’s departure occasions the first moment of genuine intimacy and fun between Arpel and Gerard in the film. They drive Hulot to the airport, and as he is swept into the terminal by the throng of passengers, Hulot and several others appear to be dancing in time to the upbeat extra-diegetic jazz music on the soundtrack. Standing in the car park, Arpel whistles at Hulot and unwittingly distracts a passerby, who walks into a lamppost. Gerard, who often deliberately plays this whistling trick on pedestrians with his friends from the old quarter, hides from the angry victim with his father behind their car, and in a gesture of affection he had previously reserved exclusively for Hulot, takes his father’s hand. They turn to each other smiling, jump in their pink and green car and, laughing, exit the car park the wrong way. Perhaps Gerard and his father can after all enjoy the warm, playful relationship that existed between nephew and uncle, the viewer



Screening the Paris suburbs is left wondering, as the celebratory jazz music continues and a pack of dogs from the old quarter run into the car park. Here, no abandonment, destruction or modification of modern suburbia has been required in order for Arpel and his son to become closer. The scene was shot, according to Marc Dondey, at Orly airport, and the grey façade of the airport terminal is consistent with the modern architecture seen throughout the film (2009: 139). Rather, it is Arpel’s attitude that has, if only momentarily, changed, from one of bourgeois ‘delay, modulation, control’ to the anti-bourgeois enjoyment of ‘unresisted impulse’. All that is needed is a transformation of consciousness, Tati seems to be suggesting, in order for people to come together and have fun – ‘I feel sad because I have the impression that people are having less and less fun’, Tati told Bazin and Truffaut (2002: 295) – and this can happen anywhere, even in the car park of a busy modern airport. And if this is true of an airport parking lot, surely it is also true of the Arpels’ suburban house, implying that a family with a different, non-bourgeois attitude could indeed ‘be happy’ in it, as Tati suggested. And yet, Tati’s claim that he is taking aim only at the Arpels’ use of their suburban home, and not the house itself, is ultimately implausible. This is because the bourgeois attitudes he satirises in the film are reinforced by certain features of the modern suburban environment the Arpels inhabit, features he consistently draws the viewer’s attention to. Indeed, some of these features embody the Arpels’ bourgeois values, thereby making a clear distinction between the Arpels and their suburban surroundings difficult if not impossible to maintain. We have already noted that the Arpels neither play nor converse much with their son, and that he tends to be isolated in the frame away from them. This theme of separation is introduced in the film’s first scene when a pack of small dogs roams through the old quarter of Saint-Maur, exploring and urinating on the trash on the side of the road before running into the sanitised new quarter. A dachshund wearing a black and red waistcoat breaks away from the other, less well-bred dogs, and squeezes through the railings of a gate to what we soon discover is the Arpels’ residence. As the others forlornly watch their compatriot depart, Madame Arpel greets the dog, Dacky, with a cry of horror at his dirty state, and picks him up at arm’s length presumably to wash him, much as she will do later with Gerard. Immediately, therefore, the design of the Arpels’ modern home with its high gate and wall, which separate Dacky from his pack and clearly demarcate public from private space, is contrasted with the communal lifestyle of the old quarter where the dogs, like the inhabitants, mix freely and spontaneously together. This contrast is underscored after Gerard returns home, much like Dacky did earlier, covered in dirt from playing with his friends in the old quarter. Suitably cleansed, Madame Arpel sits him in the kitchen in silence, adjusts his plastic swivel chair, and serves him an egg which has been prepared using several gadgets and which she holds at a distance with metal tongs while wearing rubber gloves.

Tati, suburbia and modernity Sullen and uninterested, he slouches over his plate, and his mother asks him if he is ill before she is distracted away by her husband. As his parents converse outside, Gerard is left alone in the all-white kitchen with the evening light fading. Through the window behind him is visible the high garden wall, and the sound of children playing together beyond it in the distance can be heard. Gerard turns to look longingly in their direction, the sombre moment lightened only by his hiccups. To further emphasise Gerard’s ‘illness’ – his isolation behind the wall and gate of the house – Tati immediately cuts to the square in the old quarter, which is full of people, bright, warm colours and noise as the inhabitants shop in the market, Gerard’s friends play together and neighbours pop in and out of the local café for a drink. Indeed, except for during the credit sequence and the final shot of the film, the square is never shown without at least two people together in it, and usually there are many more. Tati, by contrast, often frames Gerard alone in front of or behind the bars outside his bedroom window, making it appear he is in jail. The critique of modern suburbia as alienating is, of course, hardly original to Tati, and it was becoming particularly pronounced in France in the late 1950s as old, working- and lower-middle-class quarters in and around Paris started being redeveloped. This was because such neighbourhoods, while often dilapidated and containing overcrowded, primitive housing, were seen as fostering a particularly communal way of life. Due to the small size of apartments, with several people if not families sharing one or two cramped rooms as well as facilities such as bathrooms, residents were forced to spend a lot of time outside in public spaces with friends and neighbours. Local cafés, shops and markets provided them with places to congregate and socialise, and such quarters often enjoyed a high degree of social stability and cohesion, with people staying in them throughout their lives and rarely venturing beyond their boundaries (Evenson 1979: 255–64). Saint-Maur, according to Tati, was in reality just such a place, as he experienced first-hand while shooting Mon Oncle: In the small neighborhood of Saint-Maur, the three tenants on the ground floor, who were living in only one room (get this!), built us a small makeup area with a partition around it – inside their own room! They even gave us the key. On the same street, there is a lady who buys groceries for her neighbors. I felt that these people knew one another and helped each other out. (Bazin and Truffaut 2002: 295)

In Mon Oncle, although Hulot several times enters and leaves his penthouse on the top floor of his ramshackle apartment building in Saint-Maur, we never see him inside it except for when he adjusts his window pane to reflect light onto a caged bird opposite, and even here he is focused on what is outside. Instead, when in Saint-Maur, Hulot is almost always shown in the square and other public spaces fraternising with neighbours he meets by chance. Even when walking down the maze of corridors and stairs to exit his building he encounters other tenants, including on one occasion a woman dressed only in a slip emerging from the communal bathroom. This is in sharp contrast to his in-laws, who never



Screening the Paris suburbs leave the private spaces of their house, car and factory except when Monsieur Arpel picks up Hulot to take him to the airport, and who only associate with friends inside their walled home. In Saint-Maur, everyone seems to know and trust each other to the point that Hulot makes no effort to conceal the key to his apartment that he conspicuously leaves on the ledge above his front door; and a local merchant relies on his customers to deposit the correct payment on his stand for the produce they select while he sits some distance away conversing with a friend. Yet, Tati lamented, ‘I have the impression that this kind of generosity has almost disappeared from our world’ (Bazin and Truffaut 2002: 295), and the sense of the communal lifestyle of Saint-Maur being under threat due to the physical destruction of the neighbourhood is palpable in Mon Oncle. The first part of its opening credit sequence takes place on a construction site where grey, concrete slab buildings of the sort seen later in the background are being built, and instead of extra-diegetic music we hear the loud, abrasive sound of pneumatic drills. This same sound is heard again at the film’s end when Monsieur Arpel and Gerard drive into Saint-Maur to pick up Hulot and workers are demolishing old buildings on its outskirts. Meanwhile, whenever characters travel on foot between Saint-Maur and the Arpels’ modern suburb, they do so by crossing a partially destroyed wall bordering the old quarter (Figure 18). The physical destruction of Saint-Maur along with Hulot’s departure portends the extinction of the communal way of life its architecture fostered, the film seems to imply, to be replaced by one in which bourgeois families, due to the design of modern suburbia, are literally walled up in their own private spaces, watching television, dining or driving in cars alone instead of mixing with others in public. The film highlights two other features of the Arpels’ modern suburb that bolster their bourgeois attitudes. Like the architecture of their home, the Arpels’ garden is a pastiche of pre-war modernist design. Modernist gardens of the inter-war years typically consisted of flat, abstract, graphic patterns created by the symmetrical arrangement of geometrical, coloured planes employing concrete, glass and other modern materials. Vegetation was sculpted and incorporated into the overall composition, which could only be perceived and appreciated from limited points of view at some distance, and fountains, pools or metallic sculptures were placed at focal points. Such gardens were often conceived of as exterior rooms that extended ‘outward the domain of the interior ensemble, including its sharply redefined vocabulary’ and were therefore under the control of the architect, who subordinated them to the house plan (Imbert 1993: 54). The Arpels’ garden exhibits all of these characteristics with one important exception. Just as their home has no coherent functional or aesthetic rationale, their garden lacks the overall pattern or composition crucial to modernist gardens, such as Gabriel Guevrekian’s triangular garden at the Villa Noailles (1926). Instead it is a hodgepodge of geometrical coloured planes punctuated by a needlessly winding path and randomly positioned sculpted plants and hedgerows, pointing once again to

Tati, suburbia and modernity the role of fashion and status in the Arpels’ choices. Nevertheless, as in pre-war modernist gardens, rather than an open setting through which one wanders freely and spontaneously in order to appreciate nature, the walker’s route through the Arpels’ garden is heavily prescribed by its design, thereby satisfying their stereotypically bourgeois desire for control. In fact, the stepping stones that, along with the winding path, dictate where pedestrians can walk become the object of another running gag in which characters – particularly Hulot and Georgette, the Arpels’ maid – repeatedly struggle to remain on the stones. This gag climaxes in the garden party when the fountain breaks and the guests attempt to relocate to another part of the garden to avoid getting wet. Filmed through the garden fence, the aperture created by the fence’s slats frames the guests’ feet, highlighting their difficulty staying on the stepping stones while carrying the garden furniture; and Hulot eventually mistakes a leaf in the fountain pool for a stone and steps into it, soaking his shoes and socks. As funny as this gag is, the stepping stones and winding path are examples of what Tati saw as a sinister aspect of modern environments, namely their authoritarianism. In the earlier quoted interview in which he discusses modern high-rise buildings in New York City, he complains in particular that ‘you have to push the button [in the elevator] where it says “push”, there’s not much way of expressing yourself ’ (Rosenbaum 1973: 40), and in conversation he often returned to the theme of the annihilation of individuality by modern environments that prescribe one’s behaviour within them. In the Arpels’ residence, it is not just the stepping stones and winding path that have this function, but also the round mats on the terrace which indicate where the Arpels should stand and place their chairs when dining and watching television. Nor is this control of placement confined to the Arpels’ house, as throughout the film Tati uses high-angle shots to repeatedly draw the viewer’s attention to the numerous arrows, lines and other road markings that constrain the positions and movements of cars and pedestrians in the Arpels’ modern suburb. Once again, this stands in sharp contrast to the disorder of the square and other public spaces in Saint-Maur, which pedestrians traverse freely. And it is, significantly, through Monsieur Arpel’s disregard of the arrow pointing to the exit when he drives out of the airport car park the wrong way at the end of the film that Tati conveys the transformation in his attitude from one of bourgeois ‘delay, modulation, control’ to the anti-bourgeois enjoyment of ‘unresisted impulse’. Finally, and perhaps most obviously, the film emphasises the uniformity of the Arpels’ modern suburban surroundings, which for Tati epitomised the assault on individuality in modernity. ‘Paris will end up looking like Hamburg’, Tati predicted to Bazin and Truffaut when discussing the rebuilding of the city. ‘And it is uniformity that I dislike.You go to a cafe on the Champs-Elysées these days and you get the impression that they will soon announce the landing of Flight 412; you don’t know anymore if you are in a pharmacy or a grocery store’ (2002: 296). It is of course in Play Time that Tati takes his satire of modern visual and



Screening the Paris suburbs aural homogeneity to its fullest, for example in the famous opening scene in which an airport initially looks and sounds like a hospital. But already in Mon Oncle there are a number of gags that make fun of the regularity of modern suburbia. When Monsieur Arpel drives Gerard to school and continues on to his plastics factory in the opening scene, his grey and white 1951 Oldsmobile Super 88 can barely be differentiated from other similar cars all driving in formation, while the façade of his factory is nearly identical to the outside of his son’s school. The SDRC coal derivatives factory, where Arpel lands his brother-in-law a job, is at first sight indistinguishable from Arpel’s own plastics factory, and the cubic structures of both, with blue girders running up their sides, echo the design of his house. Arpel’s suit is the same shade of grey as the walls of his factory and home, and the collar and cuffs of his smoking jacket have the same colour and pattern as his dog’s waistcoat. I have already noted that the shoes of his wife and secretary make an identical sound on the cement floors of his home and factory, and many of the noises made by Madame Arpel’s kitchen gadgets mimic those produced by her husband’s factory. Even though it is wrong to view Mon Oncle as a condemnation of modern suburbanisation in general in the Paris region of the late 1950s, due to the film’s exclusive focus on a specific, somewhat atypical, bourgeois suburb, it was disingenuous of Tati to deny that the film is critical of the Arpels’ home. As we have seen, in interviews he frequently fulminated against what he saw as the alienation, authoritarianism and homogeneity of modern environments, and his film systematically calls attention to and satirises these features of modernity as they are manifested in the design of the Arpels’ house and its suburban surroundings. It also contrasts them with the freer, more communal lifestyle enabled by the architecture of Saint-Maur, which, the film implies, is under threat of extinction due to the rebuilding of Paris and its environs. Indeed, the second half of the film’s ending reiterates these themes, thereby tempering the optimism of the first. After Monsieur Arpel and Gerard, laughing, leave the airport parking lot the wrong way to the accompaniment of the upbeat extra-diegetic jazz music, the pack of dogs from Saint-Maur reappears in the car park. But, suddenly, the mood changes. The music is abruptly replaced by the roaring of a plane’s engines, and there is a cut to a long shot of two policemen, their backs to the camera, standing guard nearby. This shot not only alludes to the uniformity of modern suburbia by way of the indeterminate structure the policemen are watching over, but also its repressive character when two of the dogs venture forward and then, their paths blocked by the policemen, are forced to retreat. The dogs escape back to the old quarter where they are joined by Dacky and are once again free to wander wherever they wish. But the closing shot of the dogs in the town square is filmed through a window across which a net curtain blows, and for the first time in the film the square is devoid of people even though it is daytime. It is hard to avoid the shot’s somewhat heavy-handed implication that the curtain is closing on a communal way of life that is being forced to make way for modern suburbs like the Arpels’.

Tati, suburbia and modernity Nevertheless, Tati was not being insincere in expressing his belief that another family could enjoy a lifestyle very different from the Arpels’ in their home. Tati was no cultural determinist, if by this it is meant that human beings are mere products of their environments. Quite the contrary, for him, the environment reflects the attitudes of its inhabitants, which is why, when his characters embrace what he saw as an authentic, playful approach to life, even the most austere modern setting becomes enchanted. This assumes its most elaborate form in Tati’s oeuvre at the end of Play Time when a congested traffic circle is transformed into a colourful merry-go-round. But even in Mon Oncle, due to Monsieur Arpel’s change of heart, the airport parking lot becomes a place where people seem to be dancing, passersby walk into lampposts, and one can exit a car park the wrong way in a pink and lime green car. Notes 1 This period has come to be known as les Trente Glorieuses. From 1949 to 1959 France’s economy expanded at an average rate of 4.5% per year, and 5.8% per year from 1959 until 1971. Growth figures for the United States in the same years are 3.3% and 3.9% respectively (Gildea 2002: 101). 2 Laurent Marie claims that ‘Tati criticizes the alienating impact of technology’ in a manner akin to the avant-garde Situationist group (2001: 259). 3 In the Paris region, single-family homes accounted for only about 20% of the housing built between 1949 and 1968 (Evenson 1979: 252).

References Bazin, André and François Truffaut (2002), ‘An interview with Jacques Tati’, Quarterly Review of Film and Video 19.4 (Oct.): 285–98. Bellos, David (1999), Jacques Tati: His Life and Art, London, Harvill. Cauliez, Armand J. (1968), Jacques Tati, Paris, Seghers. Dondey, Marc (2009), Tati, Paris, Ramsay. Elias, Norbert (1994), The Civilizing Process:The History of Manners, trans. Edmund Jephcott, Oxford, Blackwell. Evenson, Norma (1979), Paris: A Century of Change, 1878–1978, New Haven,Yale University Press. Fieschi, Jean-André (1980), ‘Jacques Tati’, in Richard Roud (ed.), Cinema: A Critical Dictionary: The Major Filmmakers, volume II: Kinugasa to Zanussi, New York, Viking: 1000–05. Fieschi, Jean-André and Jean Narboni (1968), ‘Le champ large: entretien avec Jacques Tati’, Cahiers du cinéma 199 (March): 8–20. Gay, Peter (1984), The Bourgeois Experience: Victoria to Freud, vol. I: Education of the Senses, Oxford, Oxford University Press. Gilliat, Penelope (1976), Jacques Tati, London, Woburn Press. Gildea, Robert (2002), France Since 1945, Oxford, Oxford University Press. Imbert, Dorothée (1993), The Modernist Garden in France, New Haven, Yale University Press. Jacob, Gilles and Claire Clouzot (1965), ‘Letter from Paris’, Sight and Sound 34.4 (Autumn): 160–3. Kuisel, Richard (1993), Seducing the French: The Dilemma of Americanization, Berkeley and Los Angeles, University of California Press.



Screening the Paris suburbs Marie, Laurent (2001), ‘Jacques Tati’s Play Time as New Babylon’, in Mark Shiel and Tony Fitzmaurice (eds), Cinema and the City: Film and Urban Societies in a Global Context, Malden, Blackwell: 257–69. Mast, Gerald (1979), The Comic Mind: Comedy and the Movies, Chicago, University of Chicago Press. Neumann, Dietrich (1996), ‘Mon Oncle’, in Film Architecture: Set Designs from Metropolis to Blade Runner, Munich, Prestel: 134–6. Rosenbaum, Jonathan (1973), ‘Tati’s democracy: an interview and introduction’, Film Comment 9.3 (May-June): 36–41. Ross, Kristin (1995), Fast Cars, Clean Bodies: Decolonization and the Reordering of French Culture, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. Sichère, Marie-Anne (1985), ‘Jacques Tati: où est l’architecte?’, Monuments historiques 137: 85–90. Woodside, Harold (1969), ‘Tati speaks’, Take One 2.6 (July–Aug.): 6–8.


A crucible of emotions: Maurice Pialat’s L’Amour existe Elisabeth Cardonne-Arlyck

Maurice Pialat was 36 years old when his first professionally produced documentary short, L’Amour existe, came out in 1961. His producer, Pierre Braunberger, who had helped finance Jean Renoir’s Nana (1926) and La Chienne (1931), and was becoming a major producer of the New Wave, found the never-satisfied Pialat impossible to work with and did not repeat the experience. The film was well received, however, and was awarded the Prix Louis-Lumière and the Lion of Saint-Marc at the Venice Mostra. In spite of this first success, Pialat was to wait until 1969 to make his first feature film, L’Enfance nue, and the shootings of his nine subsequent films were fraught with difficulties and drama.1 Reports of such tensions, as well as Pialat’s conflicted appraisal of his own films as superior to his peers’, yet markedly flawed, have fed his image as a maverick, bold and uncompromising, but not fully successful.2 Yet, most of Pialat’s films did well at the box office and were critically acclaimed. Love for his films did, indeed, exist among viewers, as did love between him and some of his actors and crew members.3 But Pialat’s famously belligerent response in 1987 to some hostile reactions when Sous le soleil de Satan won the Palme d’Or at Cannes (‘If you don’t love me, I can tell you I don’t love you either’), suggests, in its childish-sounding tit-for-tat and conflation of film and self, that love is always a challenge, and filmmaking a way to respond. The very title L’Amour existe, which appears radically at odds with its content, is in itself a challenge, inaugurating Pialat’s career as a filmmaker unafraid of contradiction and emotional conflict. Rather than a strictly ethnographic documentary, L’Amour existe is a twentyone-minute personal essay on the banlieue. As in Le Joli Mai (Chris Marker and Pierre Lhomme, 1962), an idiosyncratic narration accompanies the images, sometimes commenting on them, other times unfolding a parallel meditation. But the filmmakers’ attitudes towards their respective subjects are very different. In Le Joli Mai, Marker interviewed a wide range of Parisians, with varying degrees of


Screening the Paris suburbs sympathy, in order to reveal their social and economic situations, political attitudes and ways of life at the time when the war in Algeria was coming to an end. His questions, and the very tone of his interviews, make clear his Leftist political stance. Alternately factual and reflective, the voiceover narration expands the ethnographic exploration into a depiction of 1962 Paris and a musing on the unhappiness pervading modern urban life. There are no interviews in L’Amour existe. The first-person narration, which Pialat wrote, has no interlocutor; no suburban voices are heard. Whereas Le Joli Mai is filled with characters – some of whom are memorable – L’Amour existe only shows crowds of people rushing to work, some passersby, a young woman driving, a few immigrants in a slum, small groups of children or retired workers. The anonymous inhabitants of Pialat’s banlieue bring to mind the elusive figures of whom Patrick Modiano writes: ‘Ce sont des personnes qui laissent peu de traces derrière elles. Presque des anonymes. Elles ne se détachent pas de certaines rues de Paris, de certains paysages de banlieue, où j’ai découvert, par hasard, qu’elles avaient habité’ (1997: 28).4 The only face that stands out is that of a small, lonely child in a shack, crying desperately. Approached in a slow tracking shot shortly before the fade-out that ends the middle section, it is unforgettable. It may stand for the film’s unheard voices, like the figure in Edvard Munch’s The Scream. If love exists in L’Amour existe, it is mute, and, for the transient figures that appear onscreen, seemingly out of reach or irrelevant. Save for a very few (children at play, two men pushing a cart, old men playing cards), they do not interact, as if they were all strangers in the banlieue. If love is to exist there, the challenge is to uncover it – or invent it.5 It may be tempting to recast the whole of L’Amour existe, and the vision it presents of the suburbs, in light of the pathetic image of the crying child. In the early 1960s, however, slums, and the misery of their inhabitants, constituted but one reality of the evolving spaces surrounding Paris; similarly, they represent but one aspect of the banlieue in L’Amour existe. Even though the suburb is first identified as the working-class Courbevoie, other municipalities such as Pantin, Montreuil,Vincennes and Suresnes are also mentioned. The film was in fact shot in several suburban zones around Paris, so that, as it progresses, the banlieue becomes an ever-changing reality filtered through the mind of the narrator, a conflicted mental landscape. It stands, in this respect, in opposition to the militant documentary short Aubervilliers (Eli Lotar 1946, with narration by Jacques Prévert and music by Joseph Kosma). Sponsored by the Communist mayor of Aubervilliers, Charles Tillon, it exposed the living and working conditions of inhabitants in this industrial suburb, whose previous mayor had been collaborator Pierre Laval.6 Prévert’s commentary is uniformly sympathetic to the people and sarcastic towards the powers that be, while Lotar’s striking images present a gallery of families, old folks and children (Figure 2), managing to survive in various degrees of destitution, from dilapidated houses to squalid shacks. As in L’Amour existe, no interviews are recorded; but contrary to Pialat, Lotar and Prévert zero in on particular families

Maurice Pialat’s L’Amour existe or individuals, whom they name and about whom they offer specific information and, on occasion, judgement. They praise a family, for example, whose six children are ‘brought up – and well brought up – by a mother and father who love one another and love them’. While the film probes into the workers’ physical surroundings and comments on the ways they cope with hardships, it does not always avoid voyeurism and condescension. The recurrent song ‘Gentils enfants d’Aubervilliers’ written by Prévert and Kosma weaves pathos into the images, expanding its focus from the Landy neighbourhood in Aubervilliers to proletarians the world over: ‘Gentils enfants du monde entier’. Prévert’s and Kosma’s song also connects the depiction of ragged children diving into polluted waters, gathering coal or running in vacant lots, with the tradition of poetic realism, harking back to A Propos de Nice and Zéro de conduite (Jean Vigo, 1930 and 1933), and to Le Jour se lève (Marcel Carné, 1939). The link of Lotar’s film to poetic realism, as well as specific visual references to it in L’Amour existe, allow us to include Aubervilliers in Pialat’s passing reference to the suburb of classic French cinema: ‘La banlieue entière s’est figée dans le décor préféré du film français. A Montreuil, le studio de Méliès est démoli. Ainsi merveilles et plaisirs s’en vont, sans bruit.’7 Whether the cinematic banlieue is frozen in the familiar décors of Alexandre Trauner (Figure 11) and Léon Barsacq or in Lotar’s neo-realist images, L’Amour existe aims, from the very first shot, to set it back in motion. Motion – of bodies and camera, in space and time – conveys, through the swift turns of the narration, divergent facets of life in the banlieue and contradictory emotions. Movement in L’Amour existe operates on several planes at once. Right from the start, in the introductory montage, motion is embodied in the flow of people hurrying up and down the stairs of a railway station, along subway corridors and rainy streets. The contradiction between the affirmative title and the harsh reality of daily commuting sets up the challenge. Only then does the narration begin: ‘Longtemps j’ai habité la banlieue’ (For a long time I lived in the suburb). Reminiscent of Proust’s ‘Longtemps je me suis couché de bonne heure’, which opens A la recherche du temps perdu, this introductory sentence launches a childhood narrative, open to melancholia: ‘Mon premier souvenir est un souvenir de banlieue. Aux confins de ma mémoire, un train de banlieue passe, comme dans un film. La mémoire et les films se remplissent d’objets qu’on ne pourra plus jamais appréhender.’8 A brief tracking shot, moving towards a curtained window as a train passes behind it, matches the outward direction of the childhood memory and motivates the conflation of memory and film. Implicitly, though, the very movement towards the closed window suggests a desire to see beyond its limits, as if the challenge – that love exists – couldn’t be answered within the confines of the suburban, petit-bourgeois home. The restlessness implied by this visual construction, however, is contradicted by the melancholia that defines film, like memory, as a repository of loss. Repetition of the three key terms mémoire, banlieue and film leads to the disappearance of the central one, the banlieue, among the



Screening the Paris suburbs ‘objects that will never be grasped again’. The dreariness of adult commuting, the child’s longing for the world beyond, and the melancholia attached to reminiscence form a spectrum of diverging affects or moods, so that emotional tension appears to be the dominant trait of the banlieue. Trains as both constraint and escape, and the conflicted depiction of the suburb they exemplify, manifest a deeply rooted emotional ambivalence that will define Pialat’s protagonists and will propel future narratives.9 L’Amour existe does not linger inside the curtained room, however. While linking together, at a brisk pace, fragmentary aspects of growing up in the banlieue, it surveys major events of French history as perceived by the child and adolescent and understood by the adult narrator. Movements in space, accompanied by Georges Delerue’s melancholy theme, register movements in time. Snippets of personal history thus point towards major national events with which they are intertwined: as the camera pans down towards a church dome, the commentary connects the singing of patriotic songs at school to bombings and the death of a schoolmate in World War II; similarly, a lateral tracking shot of a trotter in training evokes the memory of panzer tanks exercising in the Bois de Vincennes, a synecdoche for the German occupation; the mention of trains carrying away adults over the shot of train cars in a railroad yard needs no underlining. As the film progresses allusively through personal time and historical time at once, it also moves through contrasting emotional tonalities. Tracking shots towards a classroom window and over empty cinema seats link geographical maps to the Thursday afternoon movies that fed children’s desire for adventure, and sustained the transfiguring powers of their imagination: ‘Parce que les donjons des Grands Moulins de Pantin sont un “Burg” dessiné par Hugo, le verre commun entassé au bord du canal de l’Ourcq scintille mieux que les pierreries’,10 says the voiceover as the camera pans from the façade of Cinéma Pantin Palace to the towering mills, and then zooms towards their bright reflection in a piece of broken glass. The panning shot, which binds cinema to the children’s ability to transmute their surroundings, can be said to anticipate Pialat’s new understanding of realism after he discovered the Lumières’ films at a Paris Cinémathèque screening in the late 1960s: ‘une alchimie, une transformation du sordide en merveilleux, du commun en exceptionnel, du sujet filmé en instant de mort’.11 The sudden turn to death in this remark on cinema can be connected to the brutal mood swings that characterise the narration in L’Amour existe, as well as Pialat’s later fiction films. Thus, immediately after evoking the magic of childhood fantasy, the narration switches to the winter cold and the panzers soon to arrive. Even within a single sentence, the commentary can swerve from the awakening of sexuality to its ending, from the memory of pleasure to the anticipation of loss: ‘Promenades, premiers flirts au bord de la Marne, ombres sombres et bals muets, pas de danse pour les filles, les guinguettes fermeraient leurs volets.’12 The mutability of affect that narration and images convey is in part due to the fact that L’Amour existe knits together different stages, from childhood to late

Maurice Pialat’s L’Amour existe adolescence, of growing up in the banlieue; in addition, the adult narrator evokes these memories through his present tangle of emotions and judgements. The ellipsis in the following sentence encapsulates this emotional complexity: ‘Un regard encore pur peut lire sans amertume ici où le machefer, la poussière et la rouille sont comme un affleurement des couches géologiques profondes.’13 The remark casts a doubt on its own affirmation, as encore and sans imply that the outlook is no longer pure, no longer devoid of bitterness. From his embittered vantage point, how could the narrator observe the ‘paysage pauvre’ (poor landscape) of the banlieue and candidly magnify it? (Figure 19) Can the disenchanted eye of the adult recapture the enchantment? Street shots strongly reminiscent of those of Aubervilliers – images of a boy filling a pail at a public fountain, two men pushing a cart, another carrying a bicycle down the stairs of an overpass – depict limited means and unglorified drabness. The answer is negative: ‘Les châteaux de l’enfance s’éloignent’ (the castles of childhood recede into the distance). A slow tracking shot forward framing a closed door echoes the inaugural shot on the closed window and ends the first section on a fade to black. Critique will prevail over melancholia in the other two sections of the film. Critique itself, however, is multi-targeted and charged with contradictory affect. In the second section of L’Amour existe, the narrative voice swerves abruptly from contempt for the single-family ‘petit pavillon’ to anger at the grands ensembles, even though these two modes of suburban development (housing subdivision, large-scale projects) which responded during the Trente Glorieuses to a severe housing crisis dating back to the 1920s are commonly opposed as antagonistic models of urbanisation corresponding to different social classes, lifestyles and ideologies.14 In his attack on the ‘petit pavillon’, Pialat focuses on the ‘petit’, that is the petty-bourgeois mentality that it represents: La grande banlieue est la terre élue du p’tit pavillon. C’est la folie des p’titesses. Ma p’tite maison, mon p’tit jardin, mon p’tit boulot, une bonne p’tite vie bien tranquille […] Vie pensée en termes d’assistance, de sécurité, de retraite, d’assurance […] Vies dont le futur a déjà un passé et le présent un éternel goût d’attente. Le pavillon de banlieue peut être une expression mineure du manque d’hospitalité et de générosité du Français.15

The leading thread of Pialat’s attack on the suburban home is the idea of complacent limitation – limitations in space, work, lifestyle and ambition – in exchange for safety, the supreme value. There is nothing original in this description of the petit-bourgeois mentality, nor in the likening of narrow expectations to narrowminded individualism and selfish quant-à-soi, an equally stereotypical trait of the French. The very virulence of Pialat’s unforgiving depiction, which expands from a particular type of urbanisation to a national character, suggests that it is loaded with personal feelings and, possibly, history. If that is the case, it seems to negate the melancholy sense of loss expressed in the first section of the film. The banlieue appears to be at once – and contradictorily – lost and despised.



Screening the Paris suburbs The contradiction is compounded by Pialat’s equally unmitigated critique of the grands ensembles which were built from the mid 1950s to the mid 1960s to remedy a dire need for salubrious and affordable housing, and were, at the time, considered by urban planners a sound alternative to subdivision, in both economic and ecological terms: ‘Voici venu le temps des casernes civiles. Univers concentrationnaire payable à tempérament. Urbanisme pensé en termes de voirie. Matériaux pauvres dégradés avant la fin des travaux.’16 This last remark on the obsolescence of cheap material brings to mind Robert Smithson’s concept of ‘ruins in reverse’ (1996): constructions that are already decaying as they are being built. But, whereas Smithson sees a modern sense of time and a new aesthetic at work in these anticipatory ruins, Pialat focuses on the effect they have on their inhabitants: regimentation and imprisonment (Figure 20). Whether one is locked into one’s own petty world, like the individual home dweller, or trapped into dreary conformity, like the resident of the housing projects, the banlieue of the Trente Glorieuses represents for Pialat a closed horizon. An underlying thread links the adult narrator’s indictment to the invisible child’s perspective on the closed window in the first shot. In fact, children were never far from Pialat’s critique of the grands ensembles: ‘Contrainte des jeux préfabriqués ou évasion? Quels seront leurs souvenirs?’17 comments the narration over shots of children playing in the empty corridors of an apartment building. Judgement owes its intensity to empathy, to an emotional projection of the reminiscing adult on the children’s future memories: how will playing and living in these bleak suburbs affect their imagination and shape their memories? Will they have been able to transmute their surroundings, change the high-rises into a ‘“Burg” à la Hugo’, and broken glass into jewels? Like Godard in Deux ou trois choses que je sais d’elle, filmed in 1966 in La Courneuve’s Cité des 4000, Pialat incriminates financial speculation and the political advantage of turning workers into consumers: ‘La ceinture rouge sera peinte en rose. Toute une classe conditionnée de copropriétaires est prête à la relève. Classe qui fait les bonnes élections.’18 In his critique of the new suburbs, however, Pialat overlooks the previous living conditions of some of the families relocated there. In Le Joli Mai, Marker and Lhomme show the joy and hopefulness of a mother and her eight children who, after living for years in a hovel comparable to those shown in Aubervilliers, have finally been assigned an apartment in a new housing development. They marvel at the space, the light, the open view, the hot running water and electricity: a different life. Pialat associates the housing projects to the slums they were meant to replace, not, like Marker and Lhomme, through the story of specific individuals, but through visual juxtaposition: a shot shows a high-rise overlooking some burning shanties in a bidonville outside Paris.19 The intent is emotional, but the manner allusive: the depiction of the slums, ‘three kilometres away from the Champs-Elysées’, starts with the image of the crying child, continues with shots of men cooking on a small gas burner, and ends with a high-angle shot of plank and cardboard shacks being destroyed by a fire. Squalor need only be glimpsed, instead of investigated, as it was in Aubervilliers. The second

Maurice Pialat’s L’Amour existe section of L’Amour existe ends on the fire’s smoke, which rises skyward and fills the screen. In the night shots that begin the third and last section, children have grown into adolescents gathered in a bar, riding a motorcycle, fighting in a vacant lot. A close-up shows a youngster’s bruised face. Other shots of dilapidated houses and empty streets indirectly tell the story of abandonment that underlies the adolescents’ idleness and violence, while the voiceover lists appalling statistics: paucity of sports fields and kindergartens, disparity in educational and cultural resources between Paris and its suburbs, the tiny percentage of working-class to bourgeois students. As in Aubervilliers, the State has forsaken the banlieue and its workers; but Pialat’s critique, originating as it does in personal feelings rather than ideological stance, is both more distanced from people, and more attuned to a complex range of emotions. Contrary to the makers of Aubervilliers, Pialat always refused to align himself with the Left; but L’Amour existe, like his latter films, exhibits a strong identification with ‘les petites gens’ and a distaste for privilege: ‘En aucun cas je ne peux supporter l’injustice sociale’ (Lévy-Klein and Eyquem 1974: 8).20 Anger at social injustice fuels the paratactic description of the gruelling regimen of the commute to work. Harking back to the shots of commuters in the prologue, the narration, by its very staccato, heightens the impact of those introductory images: Départ à la nuit noire. Course jusqu’à la station. Trajet aveugle et chaotique au sein d’une foule serrée et moite. Plongée dans le métro tiède. Interminable couloir de correspondance. Portillon automatique. Entassement dans les wagons surchargés. Second trajet en bus. Le travail est une délivrance. Le soir, on remet ça: deux heures, trois heures, quatre heures de trajet chaque jour.21

Tracking shots of trains and tracks accompany the description. As Delerue’s theme returns, they connect with the earlier image of a train passing in the distance and with the later shot of empty cars in a railroad yard. Recurring trains form narrative loops that speak not of escape from the banlieue but of entrapment in the way of life it imposes on its inhabitants. Freed from this daily grind, retired workers, like ancient platform buses, are cast away. Shots of parked buses and of old people sitting at a café and on park benches motivate the simile. The cycle of a life spent in a working-class banlieue ends with a bleak vision of retirement, pinched, listless and lonely: ‘Le seul âge où on vous fout la paix. Mais quelle paix? Le repos à neuf mille francs par mois. L’isolement dans les vieux quartiers. L’asile.’22 Yet, when the film seems to have ended life in the suburbs on this desperate note, it rebounds: as a lateral pan moves from shiny bush foliage to a path and a bench in a public square, we hear the pastoral sounds of a horse-drawn cart and a barking dog; the narration shifts to childhood memories that fill this seemingly vacant end of life: ‘Ils attendent l’heure lointaine qui revient du pays de leur enfance, l’heure où les bêtes rentrent. Collines



Screening the Paris suburbs gagnées par l’ombre. Aboiement des chiens. Odeur du bétail. Une voix connue très lointaine.’23 The lyricism of this evocation of childhood in the country ties in, as the childhood musical theme returns, with the earlier recollection of movies and fantasy games; in both cases, poor suburban surroundings are transfigured by an elsewhere, created by imagination or memory. The glistening piece of glass and the sounds of the countryside endow this elsewhere with concrete vividness: this is the power of film, as Pialat recognised it in Lumière’s films. Immediately after, however, nostalgia reverses into critique and regret: ‘Les squares n’ont pas remplacé les paysages de l’Ile-de-France qui venaient, hier encore, jusqu’à Paris, à la rencontre des peintres.’24 The film pulls away from individual lives to contemplate the destruction suburban development has brought to landscapes that had inspired painters from the Barbizon school to Seurat. The loss is collective and irreparable. On this sombre remark, L’Amour existe leaves the banlieue. A forty-five second tracking shot drives us, at a fast pace, along the bank of the Seine, towards the Arc de Triomphe. As the camera moves away, the narration turns, contrarily, to the closed world left behind: Ces rues plus offertes aux barricades qu’aux défilés gardent au plus secret des beautés impénétrables. Seul celui qui eût pu les dire se tait. Personne ne lui a appris à les lire. Enfant doué que l’adolescence trouve cloué et morne, définitivement. Il n’a pas fait bon de rester là, emprisonné, après y être né. Quelques kilomètres de trop à l’écart.25

The gifted child who, in adolescence, becomes gloomy and irremediably stuck could be François, the hurt and angry protagonist of L’Enfance nue, in whom the filmmaker recognised a past self he did not like.26 The insufficiently educated adolescent may also be a double of Pialat, who did not finish high school. Like a twin mourning, with a sense of guilt, the sibling he has survived, Pialat seems to mourn the alter ego trapped in the suburbs that he could have been. This is a strange regret, however: had the talented child received proper schooling and acquired the skills necessary to reveal the banlieue’s untold beauty, social dynamics would have probably drawn him away to Paris, as they did Pialat himself. He would not have remained in the suburbs to uncover their impenetrable secrets. The banlieue and its inhabitants are therefore bound to remain voiceless. Only in becoming an outsider can the child from the banlieue speak of it, as Pialat did in L’Amour existe. Beyond the matter of voice, however, Pialat’s concern for those who had the potential, but were not given the chance, to escape their condition raises the question of the ability to shape one’s fate. Like Robert Bresson’s films, L’Amour existe asks how individual freedom plays out against destiny – be it ontological as in Bresson’s cinema, or shaped by class, family circumstances and temperament as in Pialat’s. Whereas, for the former, freedom lies in the capacity to recognise responsibility for the path one follows, for the latter, freedom is rather a matter of vitality, of taking up self-created challenges. And love, as Pialat’s films, collaborators

Maurice Pialat’s L’Amour existe and infamous retort at Cannes indicate in different ways, is the major challenge to be taken up, again and again. Critics have often commented on the central place that abandonment occupies in Pialat’s cinema, linking it to his childhood: after his parents moved from Auvergne to Courbevoie when Maurice was 2 years old, they left him for long stretches of time with his maternal grandparents in another suburb, Villeneuve-Saint-Georges, where his grandfather worked for a railroad company. A link is thus established between an early emotional lack or hurt and the self-destructive behaviour of Pialat’s characters: ‘le mal est fait’ (the harm is done), as Jean Narboni (1979) titled his penetrating study of Pialat’s cinema. Thus, in L’Amour existe, the villages and landscapes of Ile-de-France have been destroyed, purity and imagination have given way to bitterness, the promises of childhood have not been fulfilled. Giving concrete shape to what has been lost, however, is to make it exist as lost. This paradox, which defines melancholia – as well as the film medium – is one way to understand the dialectic between L’Amour existe and its provocative title. The cruelty of Pialat’s cinema, its unflinching gaze on human behaviour, can be understood as issuing from the lucidity of melancholia.27 If the harm has already been done, if love has already been lost, not only can it still exist in the experience of longing and regret, but it can be re-enacted as such in film after film. Love exists, if only as the impulse to re-enact the felt energy of its loss. The film ends on shots of François Rude’s bas-relief, ‘La Marseillaise’, on the Arc de Triomphe: after a zoom on the brandished hand of Victory, a reframing cut shows the hand emerging behind another side of the monument; in the final shot, the hand moves away: ‘La main de gloire qui ordonne et dirige elle aussi peut implorer. Un simple changement d’angle y suffit’ (The victorious hand that commands and directs, it too, can beseech. A simple change of angle is enough). Shifting attention from Paris to the banlieue and its ‘laissés-pour-compte’ (outcasts), from power to need, is in itself such a move. The enigmatic pithiness of the closing sentence, however, invites us to connect the idea of switching angles to the equally enigmatic title, L’Amour existe. If love exists, it may be in the very fluctuations of emotion that seem to deny it: secret and impenetrable, like the beauty of the banlieue itself. Notes 1 Marja Warehime offers an excellent overview of Pialat’s background and film career (2006: 1–38); see, in particular, her presentation of L’Amour existe (18–21). On Pialat’s career, see also Tesson et al. (2003) and Fontanel (2004). 2 Antoine de Baecque summarises Pialat’s ‘chronic dissatisfaction’ and tendency to disparage his own films in ‘“Comment est-ce que je peux tourner cette merde?”’ (2008: 76–7). About L’Amour existe, Pialat said in 1974 that it ‘suffered from vulgarity and naïveté’ and that the narration was ‘unbearable’ (Lévy-Klein and Eyquem 1974: 3). 3 Actors Sandrine Bonnaire, Isabelle Huppert, Gérard Depardieu, editor Yann Dedet and director of photography Jacques Loiseleux were among the collaborators with whom Pialat had a deep and lasting relationship.



Screening the Paris suburbs 4 ‘These are people who leave few traces behind them. They are almost anonymous. They cannot be distinguished from some Paris streets, some suburban landscapes, where I discovered, by accident, that they had lived.’ 5 The characters and stories absent from L’Amour existe will be fully embodied in the suburban scene of Pialat’s Loulou (1980), when Sunday family lunch ends in violence and disarray. The emotional entanglement conveyed by the narration in L’Amour existe is fully deployed in that pivotal scene, when hope for love is crushed by Nelly’s loss of trust in Loulou and decision to abort his child. Placing love, and the child as its proof, at the centre of this suburban scene reinforces the notion of the banlieue as crucible of emotions. 6 See Annie Fourcaut’s discussion of Aubervilliers in Chapter 1. 7 ‘The entire suburb has frozen into the favourite sets of French cinema. In Montreuil, Méliès’ studio has been demolished. So do marvels and pleasures disappear without a sound.’The word ‘merveilles’ evokes Jacques Prévert’s famous song, ‘Démons et merveilles’ in Les Visiteurs du soir (Marcel Carné, 1942) as well as the ironic use, in Aubervilliers, of the phrase ‘des monts et merveilles’ in reference to Laval’s unkept promises. The briskly allusive narration of L’Amour existe, which anticipates the paratactic style of Pialat’s fictions, invites such connections. 8 ‘My first recollection is a recollection of suburbia. At the edge of my memory, a train passes by, as in a film. Memory and films fill up with objects we will never be able to grasp again.’ 9 Trains are loci of pent-up emotions in works Pialat most admired, La Bête humaine (Jean Renoir, 1938), Late Spring and Tokyo Story (Yasujiro Ozu, 1949 and 1953). 10 ‘Because the dungeons of Pantin’s millworks are a “Burg” drawn by Hugo, the ordinary glass piled up on the bank of the Ourcq Canal sparkles more than jewels.’ 11 ‘an alchemy, a transformation of squalor into wonderment, of ordinariness into exception, of the filmed subject into the instant of death’. Noël Herpe, ‘Lumière (frères)’, in de Baecque (2008: 192). 12 ‘Strolls, first dates on the bank of the Marne River, dark shadows and silent balls, no dancing for the girls, the open-air cafés would close their shutters.’ 13 ‘Eyes that have remained pure are able, without bitterness, to read this place where clinker, dust, and rust are like the outcropping of deep geological strata.’ 14 Le Chat (Pierre Granier-Deferre, 1971), adapted from a Simenon novel, illustrates vividly the opposition between old and new suburbs: the traditional ‘pavillon’ of a retired typesetter (Jean Gabin) and his lame wife (Simone Signoret) is the last one standing amid the clangour and chaos of high-rise construction. See Derek Schilling’s reading of Le Chat in Chapter 13 below. Contemporary studies, however, show that social groups move more fluidly between the two forms of habitation than is generally believed (Cartier et al. 2008). 15 ‘The further suburbs are the favorite terrain of the l’ttle house. It’s the l’ttleness craze. My l’ttle home, my l’ttle backyard, my l’ttle job, my nice l’ttle quiet life […] Lives conceived in terms of assistance, security, retirement, insurance […] Lives whose future already has a past and the present forever feels like waiting. The suburban house may be a minor expression of the French’s lack of hospitality and generosity.’ 16 ‘Here comes the time of civilian barracks. A concentration-camp world on an installment plan. Urbanism conceived in terms of highways. Shabby materials that deteriorate before construction is over.’ This accusation was to prove accurate: since the 1980s, many of the housing projects built in the 1950s and 1960s have been deemed unliveable and torn down. 17 ‘Constraint of prefabricated games or escape? What will their memories be?’

Maurice Pialat’s L’Amour existe 18 ‘The red belt will be repainted pink. A whole conditioned class of condo-owners is ready to take over. A class that provides good election results.’ 19 Many immigrant shantytowns were replaced with housing projects in the mid 1970s. 20 On Pialat’s politics, see Jousse (1992). 21 ‘Leaving in pitch-black. Running to the station. Blind and chaotic ride amidst a tight sweaty crowd. Plunging into the warm subway. Endless connecting corridors. Automatic doors. Piling up in overcrowded cars. Second bus ride. Working is a relief. In the evening, all over again: two-hour, three-hour, four-hour commutes every day.’ 22 ‘The only age when they leave you in peace. But what peace? Rest at nine thousand francs a month. Isolation in the old neighbourhoods. The rest home.’ 23 ‘They are waiting for the remote hour that returns from the land of their childhood, the hour when the animals come home. Hills overcome by dusk; dogs barking; the smell of cattle; a familiar voice, very far away.’ Pialat spent the first two years of his life in the village of Cunlhat in Auvergne, which left an indelible mark in him and where he returned regularly (de Baecque 2008: 85–6). 24 ‘Public squares haven’t replaced the landscapes of Ile-de-France that, until just yesterday, extended to Paris, reaching out to painters.’ 25 ‘These streets, meant for barricades rather than parades, keep impenetrable beauties deeply secret. The only person who could have spoken about them remains silent. Nobody has taught him how to read them. A gifted child, who in adolescence gets stuck and dull, permanently. It wasn’t good to stay there trapped after having been born there. A few kilometers too many apart.’ 26 Commenting on L’Enfance nue in 1974, Pialat remarked: ‘I realized that the old couple was more interesting than my hero – that is, myself – whom I detested’ (Lévy-Klein and Eyquem 1974: 3). 27 On cruelty in Pialat’s cinema, see Magny (1992: 40–50).

References Cartier, Marie, Isabelle Coutant, Olivier Masclet and Yasmine Siblot (2008), ‘Trajectoires pavillonnaires: La France pavillonnaire’, Vacarme 42 (Winter): 27–33. article1486.html. Accessed 4 June 2016. de Baecque, Antoine, with Angie David (eds) (2008), Le Dictionnaire Pialat, Paris, Léo Scheer. Fontanel, Rémi (2004), Formes de l’insaisissable: le cinéma de Maurice Pialat, Lyon, Aléas. Jousse, Thierry (1992), ‘La France de Pialat’, in Sergio Toffetti and Also Tassone (eds), Maurice Pialat, l’enfant sauvage, Turin, Lindau: 37–43. Lévy-Klein, Stéphane and Olivier Eyquem (1974), ‘Trois rencontres avec Maurice Pialat’, Positif 159 (May): 2–15. Magny, Joël (1992), Maurice Pialat, Paris, Cahiers du cinéma. Modiano, Patrick (1997), Dora Bruder, Paris, Gallimard. Narboni, Jean (1979), ‘Le mal est fait’, Cahiers du cinéma 304 (Oct.): 5–6. Smithson, Robert (1996), ‘A Tour of the Monuments of Passaic, New Jersey’ [1967], in Jack D. Flam (ed.), The Collected Writings, Berkeley and Los Angeles, University of California Press: 68–74. Tesson, Charles et al. (2003), Pialat, 1925–2003, Cahiers du cinéma 576, special issue (Feb.). Warehime, Marja (2006), Maurice Pialat, Manchester, Manchester University Press.



Godard’s suburban years Térésa Faucon

Jean-Luc Godard’s ‘Karina years’ were also his ‘Paris years’, critic Alain Bergala once noted. They were no less Godard’s suburban years, for in addition to the portrait of greater Paris in Deux ou trois choses que je sais d’elle, from the late 1950s to the late 1960s the director shot several films around the French capital. As Eric Rohmer noted, the banlieue offers the film director ‘a choice subject – first of all, because millions of people live there, and secondly, because it’s a newer and more varied setting than Paris’ (Beylie and Carbonnier 1985: 7). As expressed in Godard’s work the heterogeneity of the banlieue is indeed remarkable, from suburban houses and villas in Une Histoire d’eau (1961) and Bande à part (1964) to the high-rise estates in La Courneuve in Deux ou trois choses … (1967) or the office buildings of La Défense in Alphaville (1965); from wastelands dotted with makeshift huts in Les Carabiniers (1963) to the shantytowns of Nanterre in La Chinoise (1967), from the banks and islands of the Marne River (Bande à part) to the alluvial plain and woods around Villeneuve-Saint-Georges (Une Histoire d’eau), from the Villacoublay airfield and the new airport of Orly Sud shown in A Bout de souffle (1959) and Une Femme mariée (1964) all the way to the roads of Seineet-Oise and the forests of the outer suburbs such as Rambouillet in Week-end (1967). As Laurence Moinereau has observed: Mixed with other defining elements of the suburban landscape (waste ground, building sites, roadways), these different kinds of housing interweave, combine or clash with one another in various configurations that help to define the space of the banlieue. The latter presents itself as a patchwork landscape, an a-centric and discontinuous mosaic composed of heterogeneous fragments. (1994: 45)

This variety of landscapes and territories also fits the experimental approach of a young director who doesn’t simply explore the periphery as a catalogue of backdrops: ‘the setting helps me find ideas’, declared Godard in 1962. ‘Often that’s

Godard’s suburban years even my starting point […] How can you settle on a location when the screenplay’s already written?’ (1962: n.p.).1 The suburb offers a range of fictional possibilities spanning the history of cinema that includes all manner of stories, from early serials to the most recent science fiction, via ‘minor Z movies’ à la Samuel Fuller (Godard 1965: n.p.). When scouting locations, Godard resembles a scrap metal merchant with a keen eye for sites that can inspire miniature scenes like the one of the Joinville circus or the night-time scene ‘in front of a “New Wave” shop window near Pigalle’ (de Baecque 2010: 257), both in Bande à part. Week-end, for that matter, opens with the announcement: ‘A film found on the scrap heap.’ Mirroring this heterogeneous geography are the films themselves, seemingly comprised as they are of ‘digressions and parentheses’ which Godard nonetheless doesn’t consider in this light – ‘even if people see them that way. It’s all of equal importance’ (Godard 1965: n.p.). His conception of narrative makes it possible to problematise space in general (the sensory experience it offers the viewer) and the banlieue in particular (its proteanism). The girl of Une Histoire d’eau, recalling a lecture by Louis Aragon at the Sorbonne on the art of the digression, expressed it as follows: ‘I’m not straying from the subject, and if I do, that’s my real subject, exactly like a car that strays from its usual path because a flood forces it to drive across fields to reach the road to Paris.’2 The Cuties3 traverse the history of cinema … It has often been observed that ‘the banlieue and cinema were born at [nearly] the same moment’ (Baldizzone 1994: 9). So it was that ‘the large studios established themselves around Paris at the same time as the first suburbanites (banlieusards)’ (Millot and Glâtre 2003: 20). Bande à part takes us back to the birthplace of French cinema, to Joinville where the first Pathé studios were built. Gaumont, meanwhile, is not to be outdone, with Godard making several allusions to Louis Feuillade in that same film of 1964: the suburban houses and villas recall the exteriors of well-known serials; the scene in which Odile feeds a steak to a tiger evokes Feuillade’s fondness for the wild animals of the ‘Elgé zoo’ (Lacassin 1995: 152). The Saint-Maurice circus exemplifies the banlieue’s exotic potential, as did once, as Feuillade recounted in the pages of Le Film in December 1919, ‘the bizarre convoys that stopped at the edge of the [Fontainebleau Forest], with their cages of wild animals, their horses, their carts laden with sets, props and bars, and their teams of stagehands transforming a clearing in the Bois-Rond or the sands of Arbonne into a patch of the African brush’ (qtd in Lacassin 1995: 152). (In Week-end, the traffic jam brings to a halt a similar convoy on parade, which includes monkeys, lions, llamas, a horse and cart, and numerous attractions along with the usual cast from films of the 1960s …) Finally, for the robbery in Bande à part, Franz (Sami Frey) and Arthur (Claude Brasseur) borrow masks straight out of Feuillade’s Fantômas or Les Vampires. For that matter, they constantly imagine themselves in films, American ones especially: Westerns (acting out the



Screening the Paris suburbs assassination of Billy the Kid by Pat Garrett), gangster films (chases and stunts with the Simca automobile) and musicals (dancing the Madison with Odile at the Vincennes café) … The lovers in Une Histoire d’eau act out Mack Sennett-style comedies, or re-enact the scene of the kiss in Jean Renoir’s Partie de campagne when stranded on an island formed by the floodwaters. The eponymous characters of Les Carabiniers play at war, too, just as the characters of Week-end imagine themselves as carabinieri (the Liberation Front of Seine-et-Oise, living in the forest), in erotic film, in bourgeois drama or at the end of the world (the numerous accidents and deaths on the roads of Ile-de-France) … In the course of their picaresque adventures, they encounter other characters from militant film (‘the joint declaration of an Arab guerillero and his “black brother”, holding forth on revolutionary emancipation’ directly into camera [de Baecque 2010: 387]),Westerns (the child dressed up as an Indian), ethnographic film (the cannibal community), literature (Emily Brontë,Tom Thumb) and history (Saint-Just, already encountered in La Chinoise) … … in metaphor The inventory of suburban locations is thus doubled by an inventory of fictions – those that are, and those that will be. One sequence of Bande à part encapsulates this idea of endless possibilities: the Cuties find themselves in a storage depot with lines of wooden reels piled up like so many spools of films – films that no longer exist or are yet to come (Figure 21). To take another metaphor, the driving force of fiction – of these fictions – is that of the car, or any other form of locomotion linking the centre to the periphery: metro, bus, even a bicycle in Odile’s case. ‘Every story is a travel story – a spatial practice’, writes Michel de Certeau, reminding us that in modern Athens, the vehicles of mass transportation are called metaphorai. To go to work or come home, one takes a ‘metaphor’ – a bus or a train. Stories could also take this noble name: every day, they traverse and organise places; they select and link them together; they make sentences and itineraries out of them. They are spatial trajectories. (1984: 115)

The short which Godard contributed to the six-part Paris vu par …, ‘Montparnasse et Levallois’ (1965), is constructed around this sole notion of narrative as trip and transport (that of a young woman from one lover to the other, from the sculptor’s studio in Montparnasse to the body shop in the inner Paris suburb of Levallois, and that of the sent letters which she tries to recover). Of course, characters’ movements are at the heart of other fictions as well. Take the simplicity of the earliest screenplays in film history, which followed moving objects even before chase scenes made narrative more dynamic. Take Histoire roulante (Alice Guy, 1905): the barrel in which a tramp is sleeping – gently pushed by another tramp – rolls down a hillside, onto the tracks of a rail line and onto the trestle of a

Godard’s suburban years railway bridge under construction. Set in motion once more by an oncoming train, it rolls down another hill crushing another sleeper and knocking over a cyclist on the path below, before descending one last slope to a small river or canal (the Marne, perhaps, or the Ourcq?). Several landscapes pass before the viewer’s eyes on the way from rural to urban space; meadows, woods and railroads connect residences and building sites to the city. From start to finish this ‘rolling journey’ represents the mechanism of cinema, the unreeling of the film paralleling that of the landscape to point to the essence of film itself: movement as narrative. The Cuties’ constant comings and goings in Bande à part unroll in like fashion, linking Val-de-Marne to Paris and vice versa. Shortly after their arrival on the Isle of Ravens, while Arthur suggests that they settle down to chat, the other characters are already looking to leave the scene. Franz, having only just got out of the car, announces, ‘I’ll take a bus back. I have practice.’ Odile chimes in: ‘I’ll see if Madame Victoria’s in. I’ll go back with you.’ Border? At the same time that these movements and scenes of transportation lead us to reflect on film’s essence, they speak about the banlieue, and problematise the relation between centre and periphery. In the car that takes them to the island, Arthur asks, ‘Are we outside the city limits?’ Odile replies, ‘I’ve never really known. They once called it the Isle of Ravens.’ The change in name arbitrarily marks the change of place. Is it possible to speak of a border or a threshold of the suburb? Shots of the car journeys don’t designate it as such. Rather, the connection of centre and periphery has more of ‘the character of a nowhere that cartographical representation ultimately supposes’ (de Certeau 1984: 127). Bande à part does insist on a physical border, that of the river when the car passes and seems to make the camera swivel. One scopic apparatus gives way to another. Just before the Simca arrives on the island (located in Saint-Maurice), the car’s momentum along the riverbank prompts the right-to-left panning movement on the other side of the Marne, while in voiceover we hear, ‘They saw a barren-looking island …’ Camera movement and text seem here to coincide in a descriptive effect, but the viewer is quick to realise that the voice points to another tale, another island, by quoting reordered excerpts from Edgar Allan Poe’s A Descent into the Maelström as translated by Charles Baudelaire: ‘flanked, like life’s ramparts, by the contours of a horribly steep and dismal bluff. Vegetation invaded the desolate prospect, its blackness recalling the Sea of the Dead.’ At the same time, a second panning shot, moving in the opposite direction and filmed from a low angle, opens onto the bare branches outlined against the sky, and passes from tree to tree before going back down toward the riverbank where a modern church appears. The third shot opens with a spatiotemporal jump cut: the same church, framed more or less on the same scale, is visible, but from a lower point of view and doubled by the



Screening the Paris suburbs ghostly effect of a passing car. Despite the cutaways, the interval between the second and third shots recreates the impetus of the camera movement. Passage onto the island as well as the linkage of camera movement to editing offer up a sensory experience of the border. Here, the river ‘creates communication as well as separation; more than that, [it] establishes a border only by saying what crosses it […] [It] articulates it. [It] is also a passing through or over. In the story, the frontier functions as a third element. It is an “in-between”’ (de Certeau 1984: 127). The border thus plays a mediating role. What happens, however, in the absence of a border between centre and periphery? The banlieue is expressed in this movement or passage. It is not represented, Godard seems to say; it is narrative. To quote again Certeau: ‘What the map cuts up, the story cuts across. In Greek, narration is called “diegesis”: it establishes an itinerary (it “guides”) and it passes through (it “transgresses”)’ (1984: 129). In this way Godard’s films pose the key question: is the banlieue a matter of limits or borders? Even those films whose action is grounded neither in a precise time or place (Les Carabiniers, Alphaville) begin or end with the interval between the city and its suburb. They preserve the trace of the rapid post-war urbanisation, just like the films that take these changes as their subject (Deux ou trois choses …). Do a centre and a periphery exist as yet, or should the city be otherwise interpreted?4 The first three shots of Les Carabiniers are filmed from a car that is following the brand new ring road to the Porte d’Orléans headed in the direction of Rungis. The wasteground, woods and streets are intended to appear universal, outside of time. The director invents a geography that corresponds to the intentions of Beniamino Joppolo, who wrote the play that was Godard’s source; the author makes clear ‘in the stage directions that the action could take place anywhere else in the world […] Godard, pushing this universalist logic still further, transplants these characters from the rural Mediterranean world [Sicily specifically] to the waste grounds of the lower proletariat of early 1960s urban Europe’ (Joppolo 2006: 26). This absence of spatiotemporal grounding is reinforced by the stock shots from various sources of twentieth-century wars, for instance aerial images of bombardments or explosions. Just as in Joppolo’s work, the approach is neither historical nor anthropological; the same is true of the treatment of the banlieue. Les Carabiniers was shot in the area surrounding Chevilly-Larue, in Val-de-Marne, near the Orly airport […] This is close to Paris, which allows for a concentration of all the necessary locations: a waste ground where Jacques Fabre, the set designer, constructs a wooden hovel, the farmers’ shelter, a few rather dismal HLM buildings, old houses of which some are in ruins, and woods, a river, and a gloomy plain that will serve as battlefields, designated as ‘faraway’. (de Baecque 2010: 219)

Here the banlieue’s protean quality is exploited for its fictional potential rather than for its sociological singularity.5 At the same time, Les Carabiniers begins by linking city and urban periphery so as to ground the story in the contemporary

Godard’s suburban years moment. Elsewhere, we are told that in order to leave Alphaville, Natacha von Braun (Anna Karina) and Lemmy Caution (Eddie Constantine) take the ring roads looking onto interstellar space. If Alphaville, which was partially shot at La Défense, makes it difficult to identify the locations, it describes the banlieue as a political agenda. Here we find the same ambiguity as in Les Carabiniers, a filmic parable strewn with contemporary points of reference. Godard explains it as follows: ‘It’s a present-day film about the future, inasmuch as the future is constantly becoming the present. In short, it’s a film about the presence of the future. I based my reasoning on the present; I didn’t want to imagine future society, like Wells did’ (Baby 1965). In cinematic terms, this implies that for Alphaville, Godard refuses the studio construction of a futuristic décor, but instead looks for the future in the architecture of the present, a way of ‘objectively’ demonstrating that the Paris of 1965 is already contaminated by Alphaville […] With his two assistants, Charles Bitsch and Jean-Paul Savignac, the director has pinpointed these architectural signs of the future in the present, certain locations, buildings and atmospheres that can bring Paris and Alphaville together, and that are currently sprouting up. The mid 1960s are a time of intense transformation and urban modernisation in Paris. Bitsch goes location-seeking at La Défense, which is only just developed, and sees the Esso/Cnit/Epad building, which he shows Godard, along with the big roundabout. (de Baecque 2010: 280)

Little can be seen of these contemporary locations. If the urban mutations are barely recognisable in this crepuscular film, Godard fictionalises the question of border and territory by narrating the relationships of integration and exclusion ‘of people coming from outside’ (from the Outlands, in Lemmy Caution’s case). HLM The voiceover in Alphaville evokes the men who were ‘assimilated’ and others, the ‘unassimilatables’, who were ‘purely and simply killed [in] the theatre of executions … If an individual showed hope of recovery, he was sent to a chronic illness hospital where mechanical and propagandistic treatments soon cured him.’ 6 Even if it remains unnamed, the banlieue, symbolised by the HLM, is hence a zone defined as a heterotopia in Michel Foucault’s sense. Although Foucault’s brief text ‘Des espaces autres’ was not published until 1984, the lecture from which it was taken was contemporaneous with the mutations of the city and society in the 1960s. ‘We are in an era of the simultaneous, of juxtaposition, of the near and the far, of the side-by-side, of the scattered. We exist at a moment when the world is experiencing, I believe, something less like a great life that would develop through time than like a network that connects points and weaves its skein’ (Foucault 1998: 175). Alphaville’s geography is symptomatic of this interweaving of heterogeneous locations. ‘In our day, emplacement is supplanting extension



Screening the Paris suburbs which itself replaces localisation. Emplacement is defined by the relations of proximity between points or elements. In formal terms these can be described as series, trees, lattices’ (176), tower blocks, flats in HLMs. Heterotopias are ‘emplacements that can be […] represented, contested, and reversed, sorts of places that are outside all places, although they are actually localisable’ (178). This last quote effectively sums up the ambiguity of the banlieue in Godard’s films of the 1960s. If the HLMs of Alphaville are comparable to crisis heterotopias (hospitals, ‘places reserved for individuals who are in a state of crisis with respect to society and the human milieu in which they live’), one can infer that HLMs could very quickly become, in Foucault’s terms, heterotopias of deviation, homes ‘in which individuals are put whose behaviour is deviant with respect to the mean or the required norm’ (180). Alphaville insists on the question of the border without really representing it. ‘Heterotopias,’ writes Foucault, ‘always presuppose a system of opening and closing that isolates them and makes them penetrable at the same time. Either one is constrained to enter […] or [one] can enter only with a certain permission’ (183). The system for entering and leaving the HLM is described to us; however, the frontal shot shows only the top of the building, at once depriving it of its foundations and of its entryway. Furthermore, by defining it as a hospital, which imposes a singular experience of time, we are reminded with Foucault that heterotopias are ‘connected with temporal discontinuities; that is, they open onto what might be called, for the sake of symmetry, heterochronias’ (182). They imply a break with traditional time. Cutaways In making the representation of the banlieue into an agenda, Godard’s films present an image of the border in an altogether singular way. Deux ou trois choses … opens with establishing shots of building sites or interchanges between the old and the new city. The soundtrack of the first three shots alternates between silence, in order that Godard’s whispering voice may be heard, and the deafening noise of traffic or ongoing work. The first shot shows an apparent interchange construction site where crane-trucks are dumping out their loads. ‘On August 19, a decree concerning the organisation of state services in the Paris region was officially published.’ In the second shot, filmed beneath a bridge or an interchange, the surrounding clamour erupts.The third, on a large interchange lined by high-rises on one side and old blocks of flats on the other, shows the Paris ring road as the commentary resumes: ‘Two days later, the government appointed Paul Delouvrier prefect of the Paris region (Establishing shot of a suburban shopping arcade, with people coming and going), which, as the official release claimed, now enjoyed specific new infrastructures.’ This is followed by the first shots of Juliette (Marina Vlady) on the balcony of her flat; in the background and to the side are the buildings of the housing estate (Figure 22).Then, a cut to one of many construction sites; shot from a low angle, two cranes cross the frame, and the deafening noise

Godard’s suburban years of an engine can be heard. After the respective sequences with the transistor radio and the household dishes, a back-and-forth L-R/R-L panning shot doubtless filmed from a balcony moves from blocks of flats under construction to others already completed. The noise of ongoing work, traffic, children’s cries and barking rises in a crescendo. The shot of the large interchange (taken from another axis) returns just after the scene in which Juliette drops her daughter off with Monsieur Gérard, followed by a shot of the Seine with a bridge under construction, and a third one of the Seine with the Tour Nobel of La Défense in the background. Finally, a young woman lights a cigarette in front of stockade fencing, and is joined by a man. ‘The same old story. An embroiderer’s apprentice gets hired by a small company. She meets a boy who leaves her with a child. A year later, a second guy, a second child, abandoned again. She gets lectured at the maternity ward, where she makes girlfriends who tell her how to earn enough to feed her kids. She goes back to her job but works nights as a prostitute.’ Eventually, we see Juliette walking through the streets of Paris with buildings under construction. Godard punctuates with regular cutaway shots which merit their name by being disconnected from the spaces of the fiction and marking a break in the sound – either silent or featuring nothing but Godard’s whisper, or else dominated by the racket. These cutaways feature the building sites of the new high-rise estates, neighbouring streets and the ring road. They often flesh out an ellipsis of Juliette’s outings, from her home to Paris or within the city, for example from a clothing shop to a café, from the café to the hotel room. These zones, indeterminate with regard to the space of the fiction, bring us to the present day. They have been referred to as ‘documentary shots’, like those of the shantytowns of Nanterre or the floodwaters of Val-de-Marne. They often function in groups of two, three or five, and recall Yasujirō Ozu’s use of cutaways, especially those of An Autumn Afternoon (1962) showing the factories and peripheral zones of the city. Noël Burch has characterised these images as pillow shots, a term derived from the makura-kotoba (pillow words) of Japanese rhetoric, and has linked them to four criteria that, if somewhat controversial, remain of interest: ‘extra-diegesis, immobility, fundamental uncertainty, frame composition’ (Burch 1982: 175). These shots of the suburb under construction do indeed seem disconnected from Juliette’s story, and yet Godard’s voice tells a similar story. As Shigehiko Hasumi emphasises, Ozu’s so-called pillow shots ‘do not interrupt narrative duration, but rather are charged with actively connecting it’. Like many of Godard’s cutaway shots, they are more akin to ‘magnetic fields teeming with meanings’ (Hasumi 1998: 226). Recalling the mutations of the banlieue, their frequency is constantly establishing connections between the characters of the story and contemporary space–time; hence the multiple interpretations of the title that are cycled through in the trailer: ‘Two or three things I know about her – Her: the cruelty of neo-capitalism – Her: prostitution – Her: the Paris region – Her: the terrible law of high-rise estates – Her: modern-day life – Her: the war in Vietnam… ’ Immobility is doubtless the viewer’s first impression of certain shots of the shimmering Seine



Screening the Paris suburbs River, in which movements in the background are all the more imperceptible for their often being silent. But this would be to forget other shots of traffic, barges and people passing, the ballet of the cranes and the camera’s own movement. Here, the uncertainty Burch speaks of is that of places under construction, of zones coming into being. Frame composition emphasises the lines of the tower blocks, cranes, interchanges and the flat tints of these spaces that seem to have no depth (the backdrop of sky gives way to a sign reading ‘AZUR’ in the foreground). They redraw a city whose coordinates have changed, a space that in Laurence Moinereau’s words is uniform, with no landmarks, with no poles of orientation […] a quantified space, one that is no longer known but numbered, [for example] aisle 17, block 48, apartment 3212 […] This new space is linked to the presence of a certain number of characteristic elements [described by the low-angle panoramic shots] that have replaced the old landmarks (the street, the square, the shop): the public enclosures and waste grounds, the wire fences and palisades, the parking lot stretching out between blocks (unless it’s underground). (Moinereau 1994: 38–9)

At the same time, these shots also refer to a broader time and space. Like Ozu’s cutaways, by providing contextual information they make it possible to connect the specific story of one or more characters to a universal story. Consider the following example from An Autumn Afternoon. In the inn where Hirayama’s friends are gathering, it has been decided that Hirayama (Chishu Ryu) will go to give the money collected to the old professor Hyotan, who lives in a remote neighbourhood. Music starts to play as we see the innkeeper (Toyo Takahashi) move through the hallway with her tray. The music continues throughout the three subsequent shots, which blend together thanks to their graphic composition, playing on the diagonals and the gradual obstruction of the field to pass from daytime to night. 1) A pile of rubbish in the foreground traces a diagonal descending from left to right, separating it from the houses in the background. 2) A palisade on the complementary diagonal defines the second shot like the first, but blocks deep space (only the roof of a house can be seen behind it). Two women pass by. 3) A pile of barrels in the foreground echoing the first diagonal totally obstructs the field, flattening and darkening the image. The fourth and fifth shots confirm this confinement of the frame and the transition into night (before introducing a new location), with, first of all, several barrels stacked at the end of a narrow street (seen frontally with the same two women passing); then, by means of an axial cut from behind, the sign of a café (the one owned by Hyotan) obstructs half of the preceding shot. The subsequent shot shows a man drinking a bowl of soup in the café. The composition of the frame, as it evolves toward closing, takes us from day to night. Far from suspending the diegetic flow as Burch suggests, the blending of these shots allows us to follow the course of time in the same way we follow the two women whose walking has replaced that of Hirayama, modulating the atmosphere and formally evolving from the space–time of one scene to that

Godard’s suburban years of another (an inn during the day to a café at night, in a poorer, remote neighbourhood). By means of a montage that plays on abrupt breaks more than on blending, the cutaway shots of Deux ou trois choses … are similarly joined together on the basis of diagonals, horizontals or colours, not to mention certain motifs such as pillars or cranes. Of course, not all of Juliette’s trips are replaced by these shots of the new town under construction. We see her walking or circulating like other characters in other films; indeed, it would be a fitting conclusion, returning to the idea of trips as narrative, to underline the importance of cars as driving forces of the action. Driving forces Godard chose the models of his motor cars carefully: the Ford Taunus of Une Histoire d’eau, the Cuties’ convertible Simca, the Austin Mini of Juliette, the Ford Mustang Galaxy of Lemmy Caution, and the convertible blue Alfa Romeo – Godard’s personal car – in Week-end, to name but a few.The same idea undoubtedly lies behind Leos Carax’s Holy Motors, and justifies the title; this wasn’t Carax’s first allusive nod to Godard, or to Bande à part in particular. At dawn, a white stretch limo leaves a rich villa in the Yvelines,7 follows the roads of the Vexin nature reserve, then cuts across the capital and its periphery (its new studios, the limousine garage like a disused theatre, its repetitive residential architecture) like a historical site. In doing so it cuts across the whole of cinema, of all possible film genres – realist, fantasy, animated, science fiction, drama, melodrama, musical – and all techniques, from chronophotography to datamoshing, via camera-less motion capture and the art of transformation in homage to Lon Chaney. Protagonist Monsieur Oscar (Denis Lavant) works on ‘dressing and undressing a thousand fictions’ (Gester 2012): he will by turns be a financier; a club-footed female beggar; a worker in a motion capture studio; a monster known as Monsieur Merde, previously seen in Tokyo! (Leos Carax, 2008); a killer and his double; the father of a teenage girl; a dying old man; and finally, at midnight, a tired father returning home to one of a row of identical suburban houses lined up like the cages in a zoo, where a family of bonobos awaits him. Each ‘meeting’ is the occasion for a genre painting that gives meaning to Monsieur Oscar dressing up. ‘Leos Carax directs more films in two hours than many directors do in an entire career, [as though he were inventing] a deliberately irresolute style of filmmaking: every desire is staged, between formal innovation and an ever-so-slightly fetishistic love of cinema history. This collage is no patchwork; it is organised around a specific moment, the sequence that brings together [the two actors for hire] inside the Samaritaine department store’ (Frodon 2012). ‘Everything is part of the whole’, as Godard said. If the car is the driving force of the action carrying the characters with it, it is also a scopic apparatus that problematises the space it traverses to the extent



Screening the Paris suburbs that it actually looks out onto the world. In the limousine, Monsieur Oscar is opposite his mirror, and only rarely glances outside – either indirectly through the monitor when prompted by his chauffeur Cécile (Edith Scob), or through the window, following a collision between two limousines that brings about the encounter with another actor for hire (Kylie Minogue), the love interest from the past, from another story, another film (the terrace of La Samaritaine on which they meet looks out on other lovers on the Pont Neuf). The space that passes by has become a virtual one; the world is now but an image. The long tracking shot of La Chinoise, shot from a different scopic apparatus (the train), sees the most varied scenery of the banlieue pass by (suburban row houses, blocks of flats, shantytowns, detached houses, fields and forest) behind the window screen during a conversation between Véronique (Anne Wiazemsky) and Francis Jeanson (playing himself). The referential illusion leads us to believe we are seeing the trip from Paris to Nanterre (the length of the sequence corresponds to the real length of the trip, about 10 minutes), where the philosopher taught and Véronique studies. However, for practical reasons, the scene was filmed on the Paris–Dourdan line.8 Besides this piece of trickery, the shots, which could come from a documentary, emphasise the unreeling effect that brings us back to the fundamental principle of cinema and recalls the wholly energetic essence of the film, whose rhythm varies (acceleration, unreeling of the landscape, or station stops) via montage as well. As in certain films that the Lumière brothers shot from a train, this sequence includes cutaways that are neither concealed nor underscored by a hiatus, but marked by the title cards.9 The unreeling is not that of reality through a window on the world, but rather the mechanism of an illusion. Godard and Carax share a ‘lack of innocence, and a mourning for innocence, for the infancy of art’.10 Speaking about Deux ou trois choses …, Dominique Païni describes Godard’s intentions as follows: Everything is already an image when you put the camera into reality. The backdrop and the scenery that you’re going to shoot is already an image […] There’s no longer any possibility of filming the real, or what you imagine to be the real – it’s already an image […] He realises that when he films a shot, the material represented is an image. His shots are made with images, not with the real. Deux ou trois choses … is the first film that mourns cinema. Not that it’s dead, but […] now the world is made up of nothing but images.

Païni cites the examples of advertising and architecture: the tower blocks of Sarcelles ‘have ceased to be houses; they’re images’. Reprising this disappearance, Holy Motors, repeating the death of Monsieur Oscar and his avatars, narrates the ‘perfect crime’ – that of the real, as defined by Jean Baudrillard. ‘On the horizon of simulation, not only has the world disappeared but the very question of its existence can no longer be posed’ (Baudrillard 1996: 5). No more ambiguity: henceforth, Paris and its periphery are, definitively, the stuff of narrative.

Godard’s suburban years Notes 1 We should not take Godard at his word here. Charles Bitsch is known to have scouted locations for Godard’s screenplays. Discoveries of sites also led to improvised mini-scenes, not unlike the cameo tradition in Godard’s films. 2 Translator’s note: when quoting dialogue from Godard’s films, I have used the English subtitles provided by the Criterion Collection DVD editions, with occasional modifications. 3 Translator’s note: Les Mimis (The Cuties) was one of Godard’s working titles for Bande à part. 4 Le Corbusier’s Plan Voisin (1925) proposed tower blocks and an airport in the centre of Paris. The large building site of Les Halles would also turn the city inside out like a glove, replacing the heart of Paris with a no man’s land where Marco Ferreri would shoot a western, Touche pas à la femme blanche, in 1973. 5 As is the case for other films or filmic studies rooted in the present day: Vivre sa vie and Deux ou trois choses … on prostitution, and Une Femme mariée, whose original title, La Femme mariée, indicated its ambition to be a sociological investigation of the contemporary woman. 6 Translator’s note: here I have modified the Criterion Collection subtitle, which erroneously translates récupération as ‘reclamation’. As for the ‘chronic illness hospital’, the original French phrase, hôpital de longue maladie, plays on the acronym for state-subsidised affordable housing, HLM (Habitation à Loyer Modéré). 7 The Villa Paul Poiret, built in Mézy-sur-Seine by Robert Mallet-Stevens in 1924–25 but left unfinished, was renovated before the shoot in 2008. 8 The shoot took place the afternoon of 13 March. See Bergala (2006: 356–60) and Wiazemsky (2012: 179). Even in 1966, the Paris–Nanterre trip was too short to film uninterruptedly for one or two hours, and the line too busy. The SNCF rail authority would never have allowed filming. Godard was instead offered an empty carriage (filled with extras) on the Paris–Dourdan line. 9 See Panorama pris d’un train à Mâcon in 1896, frame no. 160. 10 Dominique Païni in Le Fantôme du réel, conversation with Freddy Buache, recorded July 2004, on the Arte Vidéo DVD edition of Deux ou trois choses que je sais d’elle.

References Baby, Yvonne (1965), ‘Entretien avec Jean-Luc Godard: “Dresser des embuscades dans la planification”’, Le Monde, 6 May. Baldizzone, José (1994), ‘Y a-t-il une vie après le périphérique …?’ Les Cahiers de la Cinémathèque 59/60 (Feb.): 9–14. Baudrillard, Jean (1996), The Perfect Crime, trans. Chris Turner, London, Verso. Bergala, Alain (2006), Godard au travail: les années 60, Paris, Cahiers du cinéma. Beylie, Claude and Alain Carbonnier (1985), ‘Le celluloïd et la pierre: entretien avec Eric Rohmer’, Avant-scène cinéma 336 (Jan.): 4–10. Burch, Noël (1982), Pour un observateur lointain: forme et signification dans le cinéma japonais, Paris, Cahiers du cinéma. de Baecque, Antoine (2010), Godard; biographie, Paris, Grasset. de Certeau, Michel (1984), The Practice of Everyday Life, trans. Steven Rendall, Berkeley, University of California Press. Foucault, Michel (1998), ‘Different spaces’, in James D. Faubion (ed.), Aesthetics, Method, and Epistemology, trans. Robert Hurley, New York, The New Press: 175–85.



Screening the Paris suburbs Frodon, Jean-Michel (2012), ‘Holy Motors: un beau et étrange requiem pour le cinéma’, Le Monde, 3 July. Gester, Julien (2012), ‘Carax, moteurs en scène’, Libération, 3 July. Godard, Jean-Luc (1965), ‘Les cravates rouges: entretien avec Jacques Bensimon, Christian Rasselet et Pierre Théberge’, Objectif 65 33 (Aug.–Sept.): 3–18. —————— (1962), ‘Entretien’, Cahiers du cinéma 138, Spécial Nouvelle Vague (Dec.). Reprinted in Jean Narboni and Tom Milne (1986) (eds), Godard on Godard, New York, Da Capo: 171–96. Hasumi, Shigehiko (1998), Yasujirô Ozu, Paris, Cahiers du cinéma. Joppolo, Giovanni (2006), ‘Notes pour un portrait de Beniamino Joppolo’, in Nicole Brenez et al. (eds), Documents Jean-Luc Godard, Paris, Centre Georges Pompidou: 26–8. Lacassin, Francis (1995), Louis Feuillade: maître des lions et des vampires, Paris, Bordas. Millot, Olivier and Patrick Glâtre (2003), Caméra plein champ: la banlieue au cinéma, le cinéma en banlieue, Grâne, Créaphis. Moinereau, Laurence (1994), ‘Paysages de cinéma: les figures emblématiques d’une banlieue imaginaire’, Les Cahiers de la Cinémathèque 59/60 (Feb.): 35–46. Wiazemsky, Anne (2012), Une année studieuse, Paris, Gallimard.


The banlieue wore black: post-war French polar, from Becker to Corneau Philippe Met

To the extent that investigation, detection or suspense are not all systematically foregrounded, and the police force itself is sometimes conspicuously absent, the distinctly Gallic polar is an admittedly fairly imprecise appellation, even when focus is restricted to the second post-war, as will be the case here.1 Its urban anchoring, however, is hardly questionable. Unsurprisingly in a highly centralised nation like France, immediate pre-war, proto-noir and/or poetic realism-inflected films by the likes of Pierre Chenal, Marcel Carné, Julien Duvivier and Jean Renoir2 had been primarily centred on Paris – occasionally, its suburban extensions3 or outposts, much more rarely its provincial, let alone colonial Other. Even in the exemplary case of Duvivier’s Algiers-set Pépé le Moko (1937), Paris is all too present in absentia as the achingly irretrievable metropolitan point of origin of the Kasbah-bound titular caïd (Jean Gabin). In many respects, the post-war era saw the continuation, if not exacerbation, of this trend, with seedy, raunchy Pigalle and the classy, glamorous Champs-Elysées more often than not conjoined as two sides of the same coin;4 or with centrally located, fashionable and opulent neighbourhoods like Place Vendôme as choice targets for the ultimate heist, hyperbolically ‘the biggest take since the rape of the Sabines’, to borrow from the sensationalist newspaper headlines of Du Rififi chez les hommes (Jules Dassin, 1955). The Montmartre area, above all, was to acquire the status of a quasi-obligatory structural unit, in not only topographical but also narrative and stylistic terms. This was in large part due to the burgeoning popularity of hardboiled thrillers published by Gallimard in its ‘Série noire’ collection and soon routinely adapted for the big screen, starting with gangster flicks like Jacques Becker’s Touchez pas au grisbi (1954) and Dassin’s Rififi. It is with such films – including, at opposite ends of the spectrum, more mundane, cinéma-de-qualité-type efforts by Henri Decoin (Razzia sur la chnouf, 1955) or Gilles Grangier (Le Rouge est mis, 1957), both based on Auguste Le Breton novels, as well as Jean-Pierre Melville’s idiosyncratic,


Screening the Paris suburbs yet classic noirs (heralded by Bob le flambeur, 1956, but truly inaugurated with Le Doulos, 1962) – that the polysemy of milieu in French comes to the fore, as the term can generally refer to a physical environment or social background, but also, more specifically, when capitalised, to the underworld or gangland. The representation of this at once inherently phallocentric and Paris-centric Milieu (with the odd exception of Marseilles, notoriously reputed to be a major criminal hub in France, if not Europe)5 should not, however, be viewed as necessarily monolithic. Instead, it tends to oscillate between sublimation, demystification and re-mythification – three prominent modalities exemplified respectively by Casque d’or (Jacques Becker, 1952) alongside the previously mentioned Grisbi and Rififi. Guinguettes, highways, hideouts and shoot-outs Based on a 1900s fait divers and set in Joinville (in the southeastern suburbs of Paris), Casque d’or presents an interesting, if atypical, illustration of post-war riverside guinguette revival, rife with ‘Apache’ gang leaders and their molls, pimps and gigolettes (chief of whom is the eponymous heroine – with a chignon-cum-heart of gold!). Tellingly, in order to provide an authentic, out-of-studio rendition of the diegetic chronotope, at least its bucolic, pseudo-Arcadian pole, i.e. the locus amoenus of Belle-Époque Joinville (ironically the real-life site of French cinema’s prime dream factory where roughly half of the pre-war output originated), contrasting with the street scenes in working-class Belleville, Becker had to settle on an alternative shooting location far from Paris: unspoiled Annet-sur-Marne, in the département of Seine-et-Marne. An expected decision, to be sure, on the part of a filmmaker whose sense of a visual palette for the film had early been shaped by Renoir, father and son – in particular Auguste’s world-famous painting Le Déjeuner des canotiers (Luncheon of the Boating Party, 1880–81) and Jean’s Maupassant adaptation, Partie de campagne (A Day in the Country, 1936). Only two years later, the same filmmaker released Touchez pas au grisbi, a much more successful crime film, since it turned out to be the third biggest hit of 1954 across all genres, thereby jump-starting the flagging career of 1930s male screen idol Jean Gabin who would go on to incarnate an alternation of imposing gangsters, grey-haired notables and venerable patriarchs. Showcasing outlaws in a yet completely different context, Grisbi focuses on Max and Riton, a couple (in a both numerical and domestic, or quasi-conjugal, sense, given the palpably homosocial, if not homoerotic, dynamic between the two long-time friends) of ageing, sedentary, early-to-bed hoods, who have grown visibly weary of the humdrum of their day-to-day existences. Max, the dominant Jean Gabin character, comes across as a physically thicker yet equally dapper and charismatic ‘Pépé le Moko’, not only advancing in years, but gone blasé and bourgeois. He is thus more attached to his creature comforts (as reflected by the ultramodern amenities of his ‘second’, secluded apartment) than to the putatively exhilarating

Post-war French polar, from Becker to Corneau availability of scantily-clad showgirls, gourmet tables and champagne magnums; to the hearty, homey meals accompanied by ‘his’ melancholy jukebox tune at Madame Bouche’s not-for-the-caves6 bistro than to the ritz and glitter of nightlife at the ‘Mystific’ cabaret. Such a deglamourised, yet peculiarly ‘cool’, depiction of a stay-at-home gangster longing to retire after one final coup d’éclat (significantly, an unseen, pre-diegetic heist), but far from averse to the company of voluptuous, more or less venal damsels and mature high-society ladies alike, does not, however, preclude a certain visual flourish, or even dramatic pyrotechnics, as the narrative comes to a head. Once Max finds out that Riton has been kidnapped and starts slapping some faces around with a vengeance, the deliberate, slow-burn pace abruptly picks up until the state of affairs indeed flares up with the car containing the titular McGuffinlike spoils literally going up in flames.While Becker’s opus opens with an establishing shot of the Paris skyline highlighting the recognisably picturesque Butte Montmartre (Sacré-Cœur, Moulin de la Galette) and Pigalle (Moulin Rouge) neighbourhoods, and the rest of its topography concerns a variety of Parisian streets (albeit largely unlocalisable and at times back-projected), the action-packed quasi-finale is set outside of the capital7 on a dark, deserted road. The next day’s papers will identify it as the ‘route de Villennes’ near the ‘autoroute de l’Ouest’, a highway linking Paris to Normandy that was the first of its kind in France and only completed in 1946. Driving a Citroën traction avant and a Delahaye convertible, armed to the teeth with machine guns and dynamite sticks, the two rival gangs fight it out and chase each other, in the wake of a ritualistic transaction (hostage against loot) that is uncannily evocative of Cold War exchanges of secret agents or defectors at some desolate border crossing. Even more pointedly, the overkill arsenal the gangsters wield (not to mention the chilling methods of interrogation they deploy earlier in the cabaret’s hidden cellars) are perhaps obliquely reminiscent of the German Occupation period, a subtext so commonly regarded as a recurring trademark of the genre in the 1950s and 1960s that even a film like Ascenseur pour l’échafaud (Louis Malle, 1957), arguably the first New Wave feature (rather than the often-credited Le Beau Serge [Claude Chabrol, 1958]) and essentially a stylistic exercise in revisionist or deconstructionist noir (blending Hitchcockian suspense with a Bressonian treatment), is no exception. Cutting from the long takes of the Jeanne Moreau character’s listless, woeful strolls through the ChampsElysées area, a kinetic sequence daringly reinscribes a barely frequented, almost eerily abstract, stretch of autoroute de l’Ouest for an impromptu nocturnal race between a joyriding juvenile twosome and a middle-aged German couple driving a Mercedes 300SL sports car. The endpoint is another non-place of sorts (Augé 1992), a brand-new roadside motel ostensibly located in Trappes, some 16 miles from the centre of Paris (those scenes were in actuality shot in Normandy, home to the only existing motel on French soil at the time …), where the flow of champagne will quickly and insistently steer the conversation toward warfare, past and present, colonial and otherwise.



Screening the Paris suburbs A related, albeit much less historically specific, aspect is that while individual killings, or even drive-by shootings, can be carried out in a fairly populous urban environment, all-out règlements de comptes (gun battles, or shoot-outs, and Mafia-style executions – be they internecine or between antagonist gangs), even on a smaller scale than the Grisbi climax, tend by necessity, or out of convenience, to occur in suburban, sometimes rural areas that are much less densely settled than intra muros Paris. This type of spatial isolation fast became a requirement for yet another polar trope: the temporary planque, or hideout, needed by a cadre of cat burglars looking to lie low and hole up after a staggering feat, or by a lone fugitive running away from the law or gangster foes (sometimes both), as we shall verify with some of Melville’s seminal works. All of the main components that we have encountered and delineated thus far, most notably in Grisbi, are amply illustrated and epitomised by a coeval, equally iconic noir: Du Rififi chez les hommes. It is similarly based on an eponymous, gangster slang-ridden Série Noire ‘potboiler’8 by yet another bad boy turned prolific crime writer (Auguste Le Breton, treading in Albert Simonin’s footsteps), and similarly plotted around two criminal factions playing ‘war games’ (jou[ant] à la petite guerre), as Jo’s wife remarks both scornfully and dejectedly, over the proceeds from a stunning robbery (the latter being prominently featured in a marked departure from Grisbi). A major distinction, however, is that Rififi was helmed by an American expatriate in Paris, Jules Dassin. Prior to being blacklisted by the House Un-American Activities Committee, Dassin had established himself in Tinseltown as a leading crafter of urban noir thrillers that melded a documentary feel with a lyrical approach: New York City-based The Naked City (1948), San Francisco-set Thieves’ Highway (1949) and London-shot Night and the City (1950). After a forced five-year hiatus, the exiled American was aching to direct again and, as a non-native filmmaker, did not fail to avail himself of the diversity of the Parisian topography by spreading the action across several distinctive arrondissements as well as beyond the capital sensu stricto. The film was accordingly lensed on location around intramural and peripheral Paris, either at night or under heavy or rainy skies for daytime scenes, as Dassin reportedly would not shoot whenever the sun was out … Hence the overall grim and grey, starkly (neo)realist, albeit broodingly beautiful rendition of the (sub)urban space in line with the increasing sense of angst and doom, as the heinous Grutters will stop at nothing in order to lay their hands on the plunder. Once again, as opposed to the numerous Parisian views punctuating the film from start to finish and covering a wide range of neighbourhoods (from beaux quartiers in central Paris – the locus of the jewelry store break-in on Place Vendôme, but also Place de l’Opéra, Place de la Concorde, etc. – to quartiers chauds – Pigalle – to quartiers ouvriers – Belleville – or zones industrielles along the Seine embankments), the banlieue is minimally integrated into the narrative and essentially reduced to a single location hewing to a dual hideout/shoot-out function (soon to become generically de rigueur, as suggested earlier). Saint-Rémy-lès-Chevreuse, a small town to the west of Paris (in the

Post-war French polar, from Becker to Corneau Yvelines département) that to this day remains semi-rural in parts, is where the kidnappers have retreated to a half-built villa sitting on a muddy construction site, complete with a pile of loose bricks that turns out to be conveniently positioned for ambush purposes. The desolate, incomplete nature of that property stands in sharp contrast to the heretofore tightly knit bonds, or esprit de corps, formed by Tony and his confederates (as exemplified by the elegantly cohesive teamwork intrinsic to the success of the heist) as well as to the latter’s harmonious, if unexpectedly conventional, domestic lives, all of which elements are now threatened with imminent disintegration. As an intermediate space, the café-tabac in the less remotely suburban town of Versailles, where Tony le Stéphanois momentarily entrusts rescued little Tonio to owner Madame Dupré’s care, represents a safe, surrogate maternal haven (away from the gripping, bloody showdown of tough-guy masculinity between Tony and the Grutter clan out at the villa) until the boy is returned to his real mother in Ménilmontant – a working-class outlying district of Paris which had previously served as partial setting for crime flicks like Quai des Orfèvres and Casque d’or. Connecting those two points (Versailles and Ménilmontant), a prolonged open-top drive offers a poignant finale as a wounded Tony, hanging on to dear life, hurtles along in his Oldsmobile and swerves through eastbound traffic, past the Saint-Cloud bridge into and across the capital. As such, the scene clearly constitutes a lyrical, almost hallucinatory, culmination in the overall re-mythification process deployed by the film in narrative and thematic terms alike (the inexorable mechanics of fate; tragic flaw vs. self-transcendence; loyalty and trust vs. duplicity and betrayal). The Milieu is all but elevated to the ranks of Greek tragedy as a conduit of pathos. The scene also provides an ironically mundane counterpoint, with Tino dressed in a cowboy outfit and wielding a toy pistol, obliviously, indeed blissfully, engrossed in his make-believe (dis)play of rugged manliness, and shot in low angle against a dizzying background of bare tree branches, traffic lights, building façades, foot bridges, aerial subway tracks and the odd landmark (the Arc de Triomphe). The noir geometry of Jean-Pierre Melville’s anonymous suburbs The major force, however, to come to prominence within the genre in the late 1950s was without a doubt Jean-Pierre Melville. By and large, his crime debut Bob le flambeur (1956) is topographically focused on the eponymous protagonist’s at once naturalistic and mythologised turf, if not sanctuary, of Montmartre, with its arresting mix of sleaziness and quotidianness.9 To a lesser degree, it brings into frame the fashionable casino seaside town of Deauville where Bob’s gambling passion and a winning streak unexpectedly override his intended safe-cracking scheme. In the director’s own view his first true foray into policier territory, Le Doulos (1962), on the other hand, arguably marks a career watershed. Moving away not only from the pigalleries so characteristic of the polar output at the time



Screening the Paris suburbs but, more specifically, from the Montmartre setting of the source material, Le Doulos promptly introduces the less well-defined and even less emblematised, immediate suburban fabric. The entire opening credits are an extended sequence shot, with the camera tracking ahead of the Serge Reggiani character as he walks along the claustrophobic and gloomy criss-cross pattern of successive underpasses echoing the only diegetic sound of his footsteps (laid over – and almost in synch with – the soundtrack), and repeatedly re-emerges from brief moments or spaces of complete darkness. This might as well be some treacherous New York back alley from a pre-blacklist Dassin noir (including the low-angle shots of the metallic mesh of overhead railway tracks), until the solitary figure in trench coat and fedora comes to a halt, looks in the distance, and a first cut shows us a long shot of the top of far-off Sacré-Cœur Basilica (the base of which is cut off by a clump of trees in the foreground). Tellingly, the camera then pulls back and pans away to a water tower and a railroad line, continuing on to ‘meet’ the same forlorn silhouette, shoulders hunched and fists clenched in his pockets, dwarfed by high stone embankments, now trudging down a deserted dirt path amid the hiss of the wind and the roar of passing trains (Figure 23). The weary-faced stranger pauses again in front of the steps to a secluded house that adds a final touch to the geometric design of sharp, intersecting lines, but is as unlike a French pavillon de banlieue as Psycho’s Gothic Bates Motel (coincidentally modelled on a painting by Edward Hopper titled … ‘House by the Railroad’!) was dissimilar to an American roadside lodge.10 Even though the action will be far from restricted to this type of bleak suburban no man’s land, the rest of Le Doulos testifies to a definite distancing from the stomping ground, i.e. Paris’s red-light district, of Melville’s beginnings, along with the concomitantly symbiotic affinity the gangster-protagonist develops with it. And, to a lesser extent, from central Paris: be it the foiled break-in of an hôtel particulier (private mansion) in the adjacent municipality of upscale Neuilly, or farther afield, the car (with an unconscious Thérèse on board) pushed off from the edge of a quarry in Sucy-en-Brie and Silien’s newly built, multi-acre property (complete with a stable) in Ponthierry, both towns lying southeast of Paris, in Val-de-Marne and Seine-et-Marne respectively. Even more directly symbolic, to be sure, of such a topographical displacement is the impromptu, nocturnal stashing away of the booty from the Avenue Mozart robbery (in the affluent sixteenth arrondissement) under a lamppost improbably erected in a near-lunar or otherworldly wasteland. While Maurice scrapes a shallow hole with his bare hands and buries the stolen goods, along with a gun and a thick wad of bills, only the whistling of an unseen train, the hissing wind and distant running footsteps are heard. This time we are immersed, in a sense, less in the underside of the Big Apple or even in a vacant lot of peripheral Paris than in the derealised or spectralised wilderness of some crepuscular western where a windswept tumbleweed might just come rolling across the screen without the slightest hint of incongruity …

Post-war French polar, from Becker to Corneau Melville’s subsequent gangster showpieces will nonetheless solidify the suburban substratum of many of the genre’s tropes, with an architectural décor and a visual palette that sometimes feel like a throwback to Eugène Atget’s photographic mapping of the mutating Paris landscape and its environs at the turn of the twentieth century. Consider, in particular, those nondescript garages acting as undetectable fronts for the swift substitution of car plates and the purveying of false registration papers (or illegal weapons), as in the anonymous, vaguely decrepit, empty street (possibly in Montreuil) of Le Samouraï (1967) that hit man Jef Costello visits not once but twice (as part of numerous duplicating instances throughout the film), with the hard-to-miss repetition of the exact same static shot of Jef ’s arrival and departure in a stolen Citroën DS, as well as a similarly wordless ritual presiding over the proceedings, only punctuated, on the second occasion, by a portentous ‘I’m warning you, Jef. This is the last time.’ Or, the isolated quarters of the generically de rigueur ‘fence’ as in Le Cercle rouge (1970), with an equally drab and dilapidated strip of road under cloudy skies,11 also twice travelled (by Corey, pre- and post-heist), in contradistinction to the fatal ambush – the titular and epigraphic red circle – masterminded by Commissaire Mattéi masquerading as a flamboyant receleur in his putative lavish manor, surrounded by extensive, imposing grounds, and situated to the west of Paris in Louveciennes (Yvelines).12 Suburban hideouts are also routinely elected by Melville’s criminals: to cite but one example, in Le Deuxième Souffle (1966) jail breaker and former public enemy number one Gu Minda opts to lay low in a dingy garret of Montrouge (Hautsde-Seine), the polar opposite of Manouche’s luxurious residence. Le Cercle rouge, however, is a notable exception: against the stark, rural background of boggy fallows, fresh-out-of-prison Corey informs Vogel, an escapee he has forged an immediate bond with, that ‘Il faut être en sécurité au plus vite. Il n’y a que Paris’ (which is oddly condensed in the subtitles of the Criterion DVD release into ‘Paris is your best bet’…), the implication being that it is easier for a wanted fugitive to melt into the anonymity and ubiquity of la grande capitale. Additionally, the suburbs, even when they are not that far off, often comprise sylvan areas that are particularly suitable for carrying out dirty business away from pricked ears and prying eyes: Gu and Alban ditch the dead bodies of two thugs in the woods outside Ville d’Avray (Hauts-de-Seine) before being picked up by Manouche in her automobile; in a stunning turnaround Vogel saves Corey’s skin by surreptitiously extricating himself from the trunk of the car and gunning down Rico’s henchmen on a forest road in Fontainebleau (Seine-et-Marne).13 A key recurring suburban motif in Melville, however, has to be the railway/ subway station or line: initiated in Le Doulos, as previously encountered, it achieved iconic status in Le Samouraï where (sub)urban mobility is brought to a compulsive, albeit ritualised, head. After shaking off the plain-clothes police officer who had doggedly tailed him since his release from the Paris police headquarters at Quai des Orfèvres, Jef Costello hops on the Métro and gets off at Porte d’Ivry (via a transfer at Port-Royal), the last stop on the line before leaving Paris per se.



Screening the Paris suburbs In order to get to his rendezvous our hired killer then needs to navigate a labyrinthine space (up and down stairs, along an underpass, and through the ‘Chemin de fer d’Orléans’ station entrance) that, to some extent, echoes the maze-like structure of the two-exit building (with its succession of corridors and elevators) he had just earlier taken advantage of to confuse and outstrip his pursuer, and eventually leads onto a footbridge spanning the suburban line railtracks. Articulating horizontality and verticality, subterraneanness and height, the elaborate geometrical pattern and space–time continuum subtending this sequence, if not the film in extenso, find here both their apex and their centre.The elevated pedestrian walkway thus occupies a liminal space between Paris and its immediate southeastern outskirts (i.e. the Val-de-Marne, a territorial entity created in 1968, a couple of months only after the release of Le Samouraï, as a result of the dismantlement of the much larger Seine département), thereby potentially reflecting the protagonist’s schizophrenic mental structure in a film that is more generally permeated with doubling or dual effects, including the two subway sequences. A straight-line, deep-focus shot prepares us for the tense one-on-one, or duel-like, confrontation between Jef, walking down the footbridge from the back of the frame, and a stationary stranger, seen from the rear in the foreground. A reverse shot (Figure 24) reveals the other man to be standing underneath two signs, one indicating the Paris–suburbs axis (‘Direction Juvisy’) while the other, much more ironically within the context of the scene, reads ‘passage strictement réservé aux agents en service’: access restricted to employees on duty only – or to active agents, to retain the original polysemy and a possible espionage subtext … With not infrequent emphasis, admittedly more cinematic than truly sociological, on unclaimed, neglected, marginalised or decaying zones, Jean-Pierre Melville’s polars thus bore the marks of the evolving, transitional, hybrid landscape of (sub) urban France through the 1960s, and even into the next decade with his muchmaligned last film, Un Flic (1972), which features, however fleetingly, a string of contrastive moments related to this topic as we get closer to the denouement. The starting point is a quick pan of a rather nondescript, non-specific but unmistakably suburban scenery captured as a juxtaposition of high-rises being erected and a literally standalone, ramshackle pavillon, whose disused inside is next briefly shown with Simon, one of the perpetrators of a couple of recent heists, peering out the curtained window onto a construction site spiked with cranes and assuring his interlocutor that their arrested accomplice ‘will never talk’. This is followed by a frontal static shot of the street façade of the house, visually reminiscent of some partly built or freshly abandoned Western filmset. With a pan down a glass-and-steel, wavy, futuristic building the camera finally cuts back to the police headquarters where the detained thug is being grilled by Commissaire Édouard Coleman (played by Alain Delon) and his men. The anticipated ‘tough interrogation’ session (the blinds are being closed, an intense light is shone into the suspect’s face) is elided, however, as we return to the outside of the police building, except it is now night-time as indicated by the greenish neon-lit windows,

Post-war French polar, from Becker to Corneau before we dissolve to Coleman driving to the curb in front of a nightclub owned by Simon, now seen in a radically different setting and capacity. Overall, coming in at under a minute, this narrative unit comes across as remarkably coherent and economical, taking us elliptically through a plurality of temporal and spatial strata. Last but not least, it encapsulates the range of Melvillian cinema’s ties with topography: the tension between well-tried tropes (Simon’s cabaret, located in the seventeenth arrondissement near the Place de l’Étoile, as a swanky ‘cover’ vs. the isolated suburban property doomed to demolition and used as a safe hiding or meeting place [Figure 25]); the contrast between new and old architecture, between uninviting wastegrounds and the icy cold, blue-hued interior of Coleman’s modern office matching his steely eyes; the cinematic wink in the guise of a saloon-like décor straight out of a Hollywood studio back lot. This bare-bones, albeit suggestive, inclusion of the banlieue is also typical of Melville, with beat cop Coleman routinely spending his days criss-crossing diverse neighbourhoods of Paris at the wheel (or sometimes in the back seat) of his police car, only rarely to venture out into the suburbs, it seems.14 From Nouvelle Vague to ville nouvelle It was definitely up to the next generation to usher in the multifaceted reality of villes nouvelles and grands ensembles (together with the social malaise that they soon came to both, indissociably, stigmatise and emblematise) onto the silver screen. Within the confines of the genre the most significant contributions came from a less experimental, auteurist or ludic current than the French New Wave, whose young Turks, Godard chief among them, had yet lionised Melville as a precursor and tutelary figure – at least, for a while. Not that the prevailing focus on Paris in their output is immutably exempt from all incursions into outlying or peripheral territory. One should here look no further than Tirez sur le pianiste (François Truffaut, 1960) in which former Salle Pleyel concertist Charlie Kohler now spends his days away from the limelight and is content playing honky-tonk piano for a living in an unidentified suburban dive bar (purportedly shot in Levallois-Perret [Hauts-de-Seine]) until his thug brothers make an abrupt and damaging re-entry in his life. Or consider the constant shuttling between the two domains (to such a degree that the demarcation line can get blurred)15 in another gangster spoof, Jean-Luc Godard’s Bande à part (1964), with Mme Victoria’s Joinville villa (reportedly filmed in the adjacent township of Saint-Maurice, near the confluence of the Seine and the Marne rivers, in mostly foggy, dreary and damp wintertime conditions) as a focal point of interest for the duo of small-time delinquents. As for the only Nouvelle Vague figurehead who pursued a career almost exclusively devoted to crime narratives, namely Claude Chabrol, his predilection always remained for provincial or rural France, even though exceptions are easily discernible, including among his early efforts Landru (1962), with the Gambais (Yvelines) home of the eponymous, all-too respectable serial killer; and La Femme



Screening the Paris suburbs infidèle (1968) with its various high bourgeoisie locales (conjugal residence in Jouy-en-Josas [Yvelines]; adulterous trysts in Neuilly-sur-Seine [Hauts-de-Seine]). Somewhat unexpectedly perhaps, the mainstream, decidedly ‘un-New-Wave’, director of films policiers, Henri Verneuil, showed himself remarkably adept at capturing part of the suburban Paris landscape and zeitgeist alike in the overture of his Mélodie en sous-sol (1963), even though the bulk of the action soon migrates to the Riviera with the Cannes Palm Beach casino caper. If an athletic Jean-Paul Belmondo will prove particularly at ease executing his own stunts in the director’s later Paris-centred blockbuster Peur sur la ville (1975), Mélodie’s Jean Gabin, in the role of Charles, is a disillusioned old-timer stepping out of jail and into unrecognisably mutating environs that used to be his home turf only five years prior.We first see him boarding a morning commuter train at Gare du Nord, where he is surrounded by a gaggle of passengers sharing anecdotes about their dream vacation on the cheap or on an instalment plan. His caustic, quasi-misanthropic observations in voiceover about such a gregarious mindset or petit bourgeois doxa prefigure his categorical rejection of his wife’s petit commerce-type retirement plans (if they were to take the cash offered by property developers in exchange for razing their pavillon to the ground) in favour of more substantial monetary gains through more individualistic, nonconformist (to say the least!) modi operandi with a view to a more lushly unconventional lifestyle. In brief, less a retraite (in Southern France) than a retreat (to Australia)! Indeed, the opening short trainride serves as a both physical and symbolic transition to an enhanced, albeit stoic, sense of alienation and isolation that Charles no longer proudly, if privately, claims as his own, but now finds thrown upon him – to the point of disorientation once he gets off and ascends a stairway to discover with bemused eyes16 the panorama around him against a soundtrack of atonal music: a vast housing complex with areas still under construction. A street sign indicates that the site is ‘Sarcelles Lochères’,17 north of the capital, in the Val-d’Oise département. Charles’s inner thoughts spectacularly encapsulate the drastic reversal in terms of urban planning – from non aedificandi area or preserved zone verte to quasi-metropolis: ‘they used to call it Shady Grove … Shady Grove turned into New York’. Amid an erect, labyrinthine grid of tower blocks (visually emphasised by an alternation of lateral and vertical pans, a montage of static, aerial and street-level shots, and the mimetically rectilinear appearance of the credits), and subsequent to a visit to a self-styled ‘Service de pilotage’, a directionally confused Charles finally, and perhaps serendipitously, finds his quaint, inter-war cabane18 wedged between modern high-rises. To complete the irony of the situation, the camera briefly pans to another sign that, incongruously enough, reads: ‘Ville de Sarcelles. Boulevard Henri Bergson. Philosophe 1859–1941’. Alain Corneau: suburban violence and alienation A crucial turning point came with the next decade, which witnessed a surge in politicised, socially conscious thrillers. The leading filmmaker in the genre to

Post-war French polar, from Becker to Corneau come to the fore since, or after, Melville,19 Alain Corneau captured it best in topographical terms when he noted: ‘I belong to a generation that saw a downtownto-suburbs migration of the polar’ (Marouzé 2006). In more direct connection with his personal ventures, especially his iconic Série noire (1979), he further explained: ‘What interests me in the banlieue is that it is a devastated space where anything can happen, something very violent. It is the urban space where alienation is at its strongest … It has no historical connotations’ (Guérif 1981: 158).20 One would nonetheless be ill advised to jump to the conclusion that suburban Paris is, for Corneau, but a mere genre-appropriate décor (something like a modern-day, non-rural French version of the lawless American Wild West) or a facile narrative vehicle (a hotbed of discontent and savagery, an unsafe no-go area). Staying equally clear of overt militancy, sententious didacticism21 and mindless exploitation, he had at once higher and more modest views, seeing it as cinema’s task to faire la culture of those sectors (Marouzé 2006). At a time when the banlieues sensibles had not yet become fodder for media frenzy and were, worse than underrepresented, all but invisible on the silver screen, Corneau’s broadly sociological approach was in effect breaking new ground. The ‘faire la culture’ syntagm, which could be indifferently rendered as narrating, telling the (hi)story of, presenting, or even, should one accentuate analysis over description, unpacking or deconstructing it, is predicated on at least two momentous premises: 1) a culture, however loosely defined, does exist in what is generally assumed to be a wasteland, cultural or otherwise; 2) film as a medium (and understood here as fiction rather than documentary) has a unique function and pioneering role to play in that process, with the potential added bonus of reinvigorating, more specifically, the crime genre. Transposing the Kentucky setting of its source material, Jim Thompson’s hardboiled novel A Hell of a Woman, to Ile-de-France, Série noire was primarily shot in a private residential area of Saint-Maur and the vacant lots of Créteil,22 both southeast of Paris. The opening frames strikingly set the tone with their leaden visual feel (although undetected to the naked eye, filters were used to further densify overcast skies and generally enhance an already bleak, wintry environment to the point of a pallid monochrome) and a mise-en-abyme performance of the archetypal noir scenario/protagonist. In a career-defining role, Patrick Dewaere (as Franck Poupart, a patronymic perhaps consonantly authenticating its owner as a banlieusard, but also regularly feminised – ergo, castrated? – as ‘poupée’ or doll, when addressed by his wife) gets out of his Simca station wagon in a muddy, empty lot and executes a range of pantomimes (shadowboxing, pulling a gun – a portable tape recorder, in this instance – playing instruments, dancing with an imaginary partner). All against a backdrop of tower blocks, cranes and a ‘Printemps’ store signboard, as well as a diegetic, ambient soundscape of blowing wind and rumbling thunder mixed in with Duke Ellington’s ‘Moonlight Fiesta’. This suburban wasteland version of ‘An American in Paris’ Gene Kelly will return several times to the same desolate site where his unhinged, schizophrenic mind is likely to find either a temporary solitary refuge (usually in the form of confused



Screening the Paris suburbs or chaotic introspection, as when he chucklingly reads newspaper reports about the double murder plot he concocted and carried out, then starts soliloquising about Mona in his stationed car, or when he observes dim-witted Tikides smashing the windows on a scrap car)23 or an outlet for its vortex of ever-seething emotions. Driving Mona home one day, Franck is mentally in the throes of temptation about laying hands on Mona’s aunt’s hidden stash and somehow ends up in the same open field, now eerily covered in snow, where the couple embrace and kiss, Poupart’s intentions solidified … and his fate sealed. Soon after, he picks her up and again veers off into the deserted spot, rodeo-style. Inside the halted vehicle there ensues a tense, claustrophobic interaction between a quasi-aphasic, blankly inscrutable Mona and a logorrheic, increasingly frustrated Franck. An analogous pattern recurs much later in the film, leading up to a memorable scene when the desperately infuriated protagonist hurls insults at his co-conspirator before brutally ramming his own head into the hood of his car and eventually professing his endless love to Mona. All of the above are so many crystallising, punctuating or watershed moments, the wasteground acting as both gueuloir and défouloir (rhyming with série noire intended!) – a shouting-cum-ranting-cum-venting space, which the antihero keeps instinctually returning to (Figure 26). The rest of the film is mostly devoted to decrepit and depressing low-rise housing areas on the outskirts of Paris. Significantly, the above-discussed, terrain vague-based credits sequence cuts to an isolated, dilapidated streetside pavillon complete with an unkempt yard (oddly littered with sundry objects) where unscrupulous, neurotic door-to-door salesman Franck Poupart first discovers the existence of Mona and her procuress aunt. Once he steps inside, the décor is just as drab and cheerless: musty, dingy bric-a-brac in the stout, old hag’s quarters; bare furniture and peeling greenish yellow paint on the walls of her niece’s bedroom. The impression will be replicated, even amplified, when we next follow Franck home. The entrance gate is similarly rusty, and the front area matchingly cluttered. As for the shabby, kitschy interiors, Jeanne, an embittered slob of a housewife,24 perpetually ensconced in a shoddy dressing gown, has seemingly left them to deteriorate into a garbage dump. Returning home one night from a bibulous visit to a local bistro (and an unexpected brush with loubards des banlieues, or Hells Angels types), Franck finds an even more dramatic scene of domestic devastation: the now-deserted marital domicile is literally strewn with garments and linen viciously torn to shreds or smeared with blue ink, some of which also fill up the toilet bowl and the bathtub … Two years later, with Le Choix des armes (1981), suburban decrepitude and violence are less internal than external, less psychopathological than sociological, less localised or domestic than systemic and endemic, less quirkily surreal than brutally naturalistic. Through sustained parallel editing, the opening fifteen minutes clearly establish a salient polarity between two realms that do not seem to have any degree of commonality, between diametrically opposed destinies that will nevertheless tragically intersect. It is well before the crack of dawn: jail breakers

Post-war French polar, from Becker to Corneau in a getaway vehicle wreak a path of mayhem and chaos (including two fatal gun battles and a carjacking); outwardly enshrined in the serene, bucolic comfort and safety of their stately stud farm (with its driveway lined with venerable, old trees), a loving couple gets out of their plush bed in order to tend to a convalescing filly next seen frolicking in green pasture. As the film develops, the dichotomy becomes more specific and assumes the form of a generational or, better still, Oedipal conflict between Noël Durieux (Yves Montand), a reformed gangland boss turned tweed-wearing gentleman farmer, and Mickey (Gérard Depardieu), a projects-raised loose cannon (hence his sobriquet in the newspaper headlines, ‘Mickey le dingue’, possibly as a nod to the titular hero of Godard’s Pierrot le fou [1965]). It is, moreover, mirrored on the other side of the legal fence by a police duo with opposing methods: Bonnardot, a doggedly phlegmatic chief inspector two months shy of retirement (and yet thrown back some twenty years into the past, as he himself admits, with this new case); and Sarlat, a high-strung, triggerhappy novice. This concomitant sense of a generation gap and a shifting world, associated with a loss of structure and direction, is further heightened when, forced to get back into action and take matters into his own hands, Noël hooks up again with two former retro-style acolytes (one of whom cuts a particularly dapper figure in his Borsalino and white scarf, tie and waistcoat, as if he were stepping out of a vintage polar …).The reunited team not only follows old-fashioned procedures (breaking and entering, ransacking, safecracking, etc.), but also adopts conventional police shadowing and surveillance techniques, which patently hark back to the oft-blurred line between cops and villains in Melville’s crime thrillers. The divide with the younger crowd (inclined to congregate in cafés) is also underscored all around: the interfering neighbourhood louts are no match for the cool and collected old-timers, and drug peddling to such easy preys as ‘high schoolers and immigrants’ is laconically lambasted as what today’s delinquents are like and into (‘le genre d’aujourd’hui, quoi’).25 Perhaps expectedly in a genre so rife with filial narratives or subtexts, from Duvivier (Pépé and Pierrot) to Melville (Bob and Paulo) and all the way to Jacques Audiard (Marx and Johnny),26 the arc in Le Choix des armes is centred if not on the closing of the gap between the two male leads, at least on the creation of a mutual understanding and even the suggestion of an oblique kinship between them. The pivotal moment occurs when Noël, still bent on discovering Mickey’s whereabouts, reflects about tracking down the volatile hothead through his circle of former acquaintances: ‘A gang never goes away completely. And when you’re in need of help that’s where you go back … Inevitably … Willy-nilly.’ The look in Noël’s eyes tells us it has just dawned on the ex-mobster that the same principle applies to him. Formative affiliations and associations die hard. Noël now realises that, not unlike a police investigator, he has to go into the field.To put it differently, it is not so much about the team as about the turf. Whereas Noël’s sumptuous, pastoral ranch-and-farm estate may be seen as both a reflection and a reconstruction of himself (of his post-gangster entrepreneurial self, so to speak), Mickey appears



Screening the Paris suburbs to be, by and large, a product of his environment, to wit the impoverished, crime-ridden housing project where he grew up. The exact locations are not specified in the film, but the scenes at the Durieux property were reportedly shot near Mantes-la-Jolie (Yvelines), some 30 miles from central Paris, and Mickey’s native grand ensemble is, as a brief view of ‘Piscines de Marville’ makes clear for instance, the notorious ‘Cité des 4000’ in La Courneuve (Seine-Saint-Denis) where Godard had filmed Deux ou trois choses que je sais d’elle (1967) and JeanClaude Brisseau would later lens his De bruit et de fureur (1988). As an aid to his impromptu investigation into the troubled youth’s past, Noël forcibly enlists Ricky, one of Mickey’s childhood friends from the cité. Through reminiscing, Ricky in a sense presentifies Mickey as part of the surroundings, to such an extent that the experience becomes akin to a pilgrimage to the renegade’s old haunts around the housing complex. After emerging from a gloomy underpass, numerous shots from the driving Renault offer edifying glimpses of a blighted housing estate striated with grimy tower blocks and littered with detritus, not to mention the odd car wreck abandoned outside a building, or the graffiti and smashed mailboxes on the walls of a high-rise entrance hall. Along with the quasi-rural suburb (the Durieux domain) and the banlieue pavillonnaire (the foster home of Mickey’s unnamed daughter), the housing estate constitutes one of the three major spaces that Le Choix des armes articulates or imbricates around a problematised tension between inside and outside. Highly contrastive cuts from ancillary, short-lived locations27 symptomatically put an abrupt end to escapades or runaway attempts. The start of the film, with the prison breakout and the ensuing crossfire with the police forces, is a case in point on the wrong side of the law, but even the Durieux couple’s blissful jaunt to the idyllic, picture-postcard countryside of Ireland (where the historic manor they plan on acquiring is sited) is eventually displaced by Mickey successively scrambling over a rough block wall partition and a brick palisade against a backdrop of council flats before landing in the cramped backyard of a row house, just like Mickey’s impromptu trip to the seashore28 with his daughter unavoidably cuts back to the filthy outside of a rundown project building. Early on, Mickey’s bid for freedom is physically and spatially rendered, but not without ambivalence. Upon his initial contact with the living dynamic and environment chez les Durieux he is instinctively, or even animalistically, drawn to the equines outside and takes to running in their midst, seemingly elated and liberated. This is, however, a short-lasting illusion: rather than wild or free roaming, these are breeding horses and as such are kept or exercised inside enclosures. More concretely, Noël rushes to the scene and takes Mickey to task for not staying docilely indoors and out of sight. Ordered back to his room like an undisciplined child, the juvenile desperado reacts, precisely, by spouting his contempt for prison wardens (matons), and speeding off in the direction of Paris. When a savage, frantic-looking Mickey later returns to the property, barging like a bull in a china shop into a staid, decorous dinner party, firing shots and lumping hosts and guests together under the insulting

Post-war French polar, from Becker to Corneau label bande de rupins (‘you filthy rich lot!’), not only does he not belong, socially, to this milieu, but he also, visually, barely fits within the frame. Revealingly, for all his menacing bravado, he is the one shouting: ‘Let me go!’ Once he has broken out of prison in the film’s opening sequence Mickey has literally nowhere to go, carrying the carceral syndrome around with him and irremediably reduced to breaking (or forcing his way) into other people’s domiciles. These include former friends’ apartments in the cité or his own daughter’s foster home nearby29 where, teary-eyed or skittish, he is seen equally ill at ease, awkwardly trying to (re)gain her affection and appease his own guilt through bribes (crumpled bills or toys) – until, that is, the unanticipated jaunt to the coast when father and daughter, facing the swelling sea, start ‘taming’ each other in silence. Generational tension or conflict, on the one hand, and relay or transfer, on the other, are inextricably intertwined throughout Le Choix des armes, be it between the impulsive, crusader-type rookie and the veteran inspector whose old-style methods are based on appreciation of and respect for the ‘prey’, or between the young thug from deprived circumstances and the ageing ex-mobster. In both cases – and in contradistinction to the flawless esprit de corps (in terms of coordination and communication) presiding over the retired gangsters’ actions and recalling the glorified cat burglars of yesteryear (as exemplified by Rififi) – the tumultuous, adversarial rapport ends in tragedy. On the law enforcement side, the leçon30 and the passing of the baton31 are pathetically ineffective and inadequate. In the opposite camp, had he lived his daughter might have been Mickey’s redemption and Noël might have been like a father to him. Instead, the epilogue offers one last twist on the pangs of filiation and transmission or transfer(ence). As a latter-day deus ex machina of sorts (or should one say, in accordance with his first name, an unlikely Father Christmas …?), Noël Durieux, with the assistance of his faithful cronies, takes the young girl away – thereby changing her destiny and, to all appearances, saving her from a grim existence amid the cité, which a slow, upward crane movement grants viewers a final establishing shot of over the closing credits. From one (literal) prison escape to another (more figurative), the film thus concludes on a looping of the loop rather than on an unattainable closing of the gap (between individuals, generations, social classes, or spaces). As the ending of Le Choix des armes brings the story full circle, at least symbolically, so does our overview of the polar in the three or four post-war decades of French cinema complete a cycle. In a sense, Corneau’s thrillers are at once a revered homage to such classic gangster gems as Becker’s Grisbi (with its mythology, tropes, conventions and values pertaining to a bygone era) and a radically novel orientation, away from Paris-centric vintage iconography and toward documenting or foregrounding contemporary (sub)urban social realities, in particular in underprivileged neighbourhoods where fiction cinema, whether mainstream or auteurist, had rarely ventured. The banlieue is no longer a mere backdrop, but has become an integrated, key structural element of the narrative.



Screening the Paris suburbs The work of Alain Corneau and his successors was facilitated by the trailblazing efforts of diverse filmmakers. Some of them were unambiguously positioned in a commercial vein, like Henri Verneuil and his previously analysed Mélodie en sous-sol. Others operated on the margins of the genre or hybridised it, like Bertrand Blier with the carnivalesque Les Valseuses (1974) whose opening is arguably one of the earliest and most striking collages, despite apparent continuity, of heterogeneous, juxtaposed or interlocked spaces (a row of attached pavillons, a grand ensemble avenue, overgrown wasteland, high-rise blocks) in an unlocalised banlieue; or the surreal Buffet froid (1979), which would warrant a separate study with its depiction of dehumanising, alienating, neon and concrete suburbia (an alarmingly deserted ‘La Défense’ RER station at night; a vast esplanade and a gigantic, ultramodern tower shot in actuality at the Hôtel de Ville in Créteil [Valde-Marne]) as well as a burlesque rendition of the danger presumably inherent to outlying residential suburbs. Hence such unforgettable one-liners as ‘We’ll dump him in an empty lot … One should take advantage of suburbia. The kids will find him tomorrow’ (about getting rid of a victim’s body), or ‘The concrete is driving us bonkers! The vacant lots! The monstrous soulless city! …’ (a serial murderer’s lament). Such a dystopian outlook was continued in the 1980s and early 1990s, which otherwise saw a decline in polars, despite a number of auteurist (e.g. Police [Maurice Pialat, 1985], mostly shot in the Belleville area) or semi-documentary (e.g. L.627 [Bertrand Tavernier, 1992]) takes on the genre. The oneiric, nonsensical Billy ze Kick (Gérard Mordillat, 1985) was thus shot, just like Missiaen’s La Baston that same year – albeit with much more extensive, innovative use of the architecture – in the futuristic, colossal ‘Arènes de Picasso’ in Noisy-le-Grand, with a rococo pavillon (complete with a garden, a hothouse and a fence) resisting in its midst, against the odds, as an improbable David in defiance of a formidable Goliath … Another direction altogether was the stylisation à la cinéma du look (therefore essentially devoid of social import) of the banlieue proffered in Rue Barbare (Gilles Béhat, 1984),32 a somewhat exploitative cross of La Lune dans le caniveau (JeanJacques Beineix, 1983) – also based on a David Goodis pulp-noir novel – and Mad Max (George Miller, 1979). Shot in a housing estate in Saint-Denis, it centres around a repented-thug-turned-righter-of-wrongs in a world of savage brutes and falls back on – by then largely ossified – suburban tropes like a rape behind a wooden palisade along a construction site; a quarry as a site for nocturnal, juvenile ‘human cockfighting’; disused warehouses; the basement of a factory squatted by a motley crew engaging in a variety of activities; repair work on railroad tracks. The film ends with the hitchhiking protagonist about to be picked up by a road-tanker, thereby leaving the lugubrious, dysfunctional suburbs behind, with Bernard Lavilliers’s final song on the soundtrack evoking the possibility of an elsewhere (‘Y’ a peut-être un ailleurs’). Regardless of Rue Barbare’s mix of idiosyncrasies and clichés, it is indisputable that since the days of the banlieue as a retreat for gangsters either on the loose or settling scores with their nemeses,

Post-war French polar, from Becker to Corneau the polar has evolved considerably. Not only has it morphed into hybrid forms; it has also moved toward increased social critique, even if overall the latter might be perceived less as a scathing indictment of an intolerable situation or a rebellious call to arms (let alone a blueprint for change) than as a disenchanted diagnostic of failure or deadlock. There might be an elsewhere. Be it fantasy or actuality, passing delusion or tragic finality, flight is the only hope, it seems, in a more or less direct line that connects Alain Corneau’s Le Choix des armes, to Jean-Louis Bertuccelli’s Interdit aux moins de 13 ans (1983), to Jean-Claude Brisseau’s De bruit et de fureur (1988) and onward. Notes 1 My title references François Truffaut’s most Hitchcockian film, La Mariée était en noir (1968), whose plot is, however, set either in Paris proper (with the ‘traumatic’ scene) or, for the most part, in various regions of provincial France. 2 Just a few examples: Chenal – La Maison du Maltais (1927), L’Alibi (1937); Carné – Le Jour se lève (1939); Duvivier – La Tête d’un homme (1933); Renoir – La Chienne (1931), La Nuit du carrefour (1932), Le Crime de monsieur Lange (1936), Les Bas-Fonds (1936). 3 See, for instance, Anatole Litvak’s Cœur de Lilas (1932) whose Parisian iconography includes ‘the location footage for the slum-like “zone” at the city’s edge’ (O’Brien 2011: 102). 4 A related dichotomy can be found in Henri-Georges Clouzot’s comeback film (subsequent to a two-year banishment at the Liberation): Quai des Orfèvres (1947). The heroine is first seen singing her explicit ‘tralala’ piece in front of a motley, but mostly plebeian, audience at L’Eden, a music-hall in Ménilmontant (an originally suburban village absorbed into the capital’s twentieth arrondissement). She later performs a languorously romantic gig in a swanky nightclub on the Champs-Elysées, a venue clearly more suitable to, or in line with, her social-climbing aspirations. 5 See Un Nommé La Rocca (Jean Becker, 1961) and its remake La Scoumoune (José Giovanni, 1972); Le Deuxième Souffle (Jean-Pierre Melville, 1966); Borsalino and Borsalino & Co (Jacques Deray, 1970 and 1974). 6 In underworld slang, ‘cave’ designates any outsider who is not part of the Milieu. 7 In Albert Simonin’s eponymous novel of 1953, the banlieue is slightly more present, with Angelo’s house situated in Nogent and abducted Riton found in a scrap yard in Nanterre. See Hewitt (2004: 71). 8 One may recall young critic François Truffaut’s vitriolic, if facetious, statement in an otherwise laudatory review of Rififi for Arts: ‘Out of the worst crime novels I ever read, Jules Dassin has made the best crime film I’ve ever seen’ (Truffaut 1955: 5). 9 Bob’s legendary success story partly relies on his rising from the – likely suburban – gutter, with Porte de Saint-Ouen as his first stop after leaving his native, impoverished neighbourhood, as he once confesses to Ana, his young protégée. 10 This should come as no surprise, given the de-Frenchified elements (sash windows, fire escapes, phone booths, etc.) that Americanophile Melville liked to intersperse his films with. 11 To the point that it appears virtually interchangeable with the one in Le Samouraï, not unlike the famous staircase at the rue Jenner studios that Melville indefatigably ‘recycled’ in several of his films. 12 The sequence was reportedly shot at actor Jean-Claude Brialy’s estate in Monthyon (Seine-et-Marne), 40 kilometres east of the capital.



Screening the Paris suburbs 13 Predictably, this type of trope persisted in the next decade and beyond. See, for instance, Flic Story (Jacques Deray, 1975) where Emile Buisson, soon to earn the dubious title of honour ‘the most wanted man in France’, murders an accomplice he suspects of being a snitch under cover of night near Ville d’Avray, on the road to Versailles. This occurs after his escape from a suburban psychiatric ward in Villejuif (Val-de-Marne), and in between two hiding places, one in Champigny (Val-de-Marne) provided by a scrap dealer friend, the other at a countryside-style inn in the Vallée de Chevreuse area (Yvelines/Essonne) where he will in the end be apprehended by his nemesis, Inspecteur Borniche. 14 Characteristically, a trio of Italian pickpockets operating at Orly airport is only seen once they are brought to the police station for questioning. 15 ‘On est déjà sortis de Paris ou on y est encore?’ (‘Are we outside the city limits?’, as per the subtitles included in the Criterion DVD release), one of the protagonists wonders once they have reached a small fluvial island (l’Île des Corbeaux). See Térésa Faucon’s contribution to this volume (Chapter 10). 16 The film ends on the old gangster’s equally half-staggered half-inscrutable gaze behind his sunglasses (and in fine behind his newspaper) as his alarmed young accomplice drops the spoils into the swimming pool, which promptly fills up with the banknotes floating back to the surface. 17 Built between 1955 and 1976, Lochères is part of the New Town of Sarcelles and itself made up of ten sous-quartiers. Four years earlier, Gabin was a worker on the very first Sarcelles construction site (quartier des Sablons) … and the incarnation of age-old, working-class family values against the rise of modernity in Denys de La Patellière’s psychological drama, Rue des Prairies (1959). 18 Rather than a pejorative shack, the slang term is used affectionately by Charles to designate an individual or private house, as opposed to the anonymous, collectivistic structure of the grand ensemble. Such a notional contrast is also perceptually highlighted by the incandescent tip of Charles’s cigarette in the cosy semi-darkness of his living room as he looks out through a half-open doorway at the distant lit windows dotting the innumerable buildings around the development. 19 Perceptible early on, chiefly in Police Python 357 (1976), a film mainly set in Orléans, 100 km south of the French capital, but comprising scenes that were shot all around the Paris region (Seine-et-Marne,Yvelines and Hauts-de-Seine), the Melvillian vein or legacy would culminate in the Corneau corpus with the 2007 remake of Le Deuxième Souffle. 20 Cited and translated by Vincendeau (2009: 112). 21 Taking his cue from his many American cinematic models (Martin Scorcese, Sydney Lumet, William Friedkin, etc.), Corneau’s avowed motto has always been the eschewal of demonstration or explication. 22 The terrains vagues had already been inscribed in France société anonyme (France, Inc., 1974), Corneau’s debut feature, most notably in a scene about halfway through that, to some extent, adumbrates Série noire: a sunless firmament, a waterlogged terrain, a skyline blocked by partly-built high-rises, cranes, high-voltage power lines and a car (followed by another) looming into view all contribute to a murky (in all respects) ambiance. 23 Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the scrapyard became a staple of the banlieue as a giant dumping ground and/or a marginal form of resistance to modernity (the latter being symbolised by the omnipresent automobile), exemplarily in Claude Sautet’s aptly-titled policier, Max et les ferrailleurs (1971), which builds up socio-topographical tension between an upscale Paris neighbourhood (the elegant bachelor pad where Max harbours the prostitute Lily is located in the fifteenth arrondissement) and Nanterre, in Hauts-de-Seine (although those exteriors were actually shot in Issy-les-Moulineaux, in the same département) where Abel and the titular team of scrap thieves spend their

Post-war French polar, from Becker to Corneau

24 25

26 27 28 29 30 31 32

time congregating in small cafés or plundering constructions sites. A band of casseurs (scrap hoodlums) living by the water’s edge is also present in Jean-Claude Missiaen’s La Baston (1985), a now largely forgotten noir whose main merit lies in its juxtaposition of various types of banlieue: a guinguette along the Marne; a traditional, residential zone pavillonnaire; the avant-gardist ‘Arènes de Picasso’, a both monumental and impersonal building complex that had just been inaugurated in Noisy-le-Grand (Seine-Saint-Denis), a sector in the new town of Marne-la-Vallée. Her husband’s censure is misogynistically irrevocable: ‘With you, every house turns into a hovel …’ Here again, one is reminded of such earlier classic polars as Rififi where the cruelest and most brutal member of the Grutter gang is the leader’s drug-addled brother, at his creepiest when he is desperate for a fix, and Grisbi where Angelo, the head of the rival gang and a heroin dealer, is negatively portrayed as part of an emerging breed of ruthless business-type thugs who recognise no code of honour. See Met (2006). They also include ex-gangster Constantini’s garishly opulent private mansion as well as the hideout villa owned by one of Noël’s associates. It is perhaps no coincidence that bunkers are nestled in the sand dunes (presumably on a D-Day beach in Normandy), thereby reinforcing the ambiguity between open air (and sea) and self-enclosed space. As one long shot in particular makes apparent, the street of row houses literally runs into, or abuts onto, the housing project on one of its flanks. The term is used by Commissaire Bonnardot in an almost instructional sense, but it is at the hands of Durieux that, in the riveting denouement, Sarlat will receive a full lesson in life … spared. ‘Don’t worry – I’ll take the fall …’, Bonnardot declares after the crossfire death of Noël’s wife. ‘Tomorrow, I’ll apply for early retirement. It’ll be up to you now.’ G. Béhat, who started out as an actor in Elle court, elle court la banlieue (Gérard Pirès, 1973), went on to specialise in crime drama TV shows, including the long-running, successful Navarro series (1989–2007), until his belated return to big screen polar with Diamant 13 (2009).

References Augé, Marc (1992), Non-lieux: introduction à une anthropologie de la surmodernité, Paris, Seuil. Guérif, François (1981), Le cinéma policier, Paris, Henri Veyrier. Hewitt, Nicholas (2004), ‘Gabin, Grisbi and 1950s France’, Studies in French Cinema 4.1: 65–75. Marouzé, Grégory (2006), Alain Corneau, du noir au bleu. Documentary bonus feature on Alain Corneau, France société anonyme, Paris, Studiocanal/Universal. DVD. Met, Philippe (2006), ‘Oedipal mayhem: rituals of masculinity and filiation in Jacques Audiard’s Regarde les hommes tomber’, Australian Journal of French Studies XLIII.1 (Jan.–April): 94–102. O’Brien, Charles (2011), ‘Songs in French-language cinema: Cœur de Lilas (1932) in national and transnational context’, Studies in French Cinema 11.2: 101–10. Truffaut, François (1955), ‘Rififi’, Arts 512 (April 20–26). Reprinted in The Films of My Life, New York: Da Capo Press, 1994: 209–13. Vincendeau, Ginette (2009), ‘The New Lower Depths: Paris in French Neo-Noir Cinema’, in Mark Bould, Kathrina Glitre and Greg Turk (eds), Neo-noir, London, Wallflower, 103–17.



Erasing the suburbs: the grands ensembles in documentary film and television, 1950–80 Camille Canteux

In France, just to mention the grands ensembles is immediately to bring to mind notoriously large housing complexes such as the Minguettes outside Lyon or, in greater Paris, those of Sarcelles and the 4000 of La Courneuve.1 These sites marking the French landscape are in turn associated with images of uprising and rioting, whether to finish out the year or more episodically in the cases of the long hot summer of 1981 in Lyons2 and the events of November and December 20053 that rippled across metropolitan France. These images summon others still linking French cités in the collective imaginary to the historic working-class suburb, to low-income neighbourhoods and to the pauperised immigrant populations who are widely held to dwell there. In this way, the suburb invariably conjures up the image of the grands ensembles, while the grands ensembles themselves are commonly held to embody the suburb. Not all grands ensembles are sited in suburban zones, however. Early on René Kaës defined them as ‘constructions of new dwellings that have been erected in open countryside, both at the periphery and inside city limits’, and that comprise at least 200 housing units (Kaës 1963: 38). Other social scientists, quick to affirm the novelty of this planned form of collective housing, set minima as high as 500 (Clerc 1967) or 1000 (Lacoste 1963). Similarly, they need not be part of the low-rent, state-managed housing stock known as Habitations à Loyer Modéré or HLM. Fully 25% of French grands ensembles are privately owned; taken as a whole, they represent just one third of all social housing units built between 1954 and 1975 (Tomas 2003: 15). Finally, early images do not systematically link the grands ensembles to the suburb, but more often to the housing crisis they aimed to solve; to the architectural style and new urbanism they represent; and finally to the modernity they embody (Canteux 2014). This distortion between the reality of the presence of grands ensembles on French soil and their representations, between early images and those in wide circulation

The grands ensembles in documentary, 1950–80 today, poses a host of questions. When and how did the grands ensembles come to represent a suburb characterised by fissuring façades, unrelenting grey hues and violence, whereas at their inception they appeared in the guise of ‘new towns’ promising inhabitants a radiant future? The audio-visual record attests to the phenomenon of French grands ensembles early on, and to the extent that television and film remain the principal media by which images of the grands ensembles are distributed today, they shed light on how these representations were constructed and how they progressively became identified with France’s suburban landscape. The analysis to follow bears on a heterogeneous body of documentary films broadly understood, from televised news reports to institutional films co-produced by the various State ministries responsible for construction. Since the end of the 1940s, when construction of grands ensembles was in its infancy and representations were still fresh, to the moment authorities unveiled plans to destroy them three decades later,4 the audio-visual record makes it possible to sketch an evolutionary history of their mass media representation. The films here under study set up a system opposing the nineteenth- and early twentieth-century suburb on the one hand to the grands ensembles on the other. Onscreen, the grands ensembles appear first as a means to regenerate the historic suburb, if not to make it disappear altogether by composing veritable new towns capable of engendering a new way of life. At the dawn of the 1970s, these same grands ensembles come to emblematise the very dormitory suburb they had failed to eradicate. Bit by bit, these constructions take on a new, and more lasting, aspect onscreen as their façades age, as their inhabitants are stricken with poverty and as unemployment and violence set in. Erasing the suburbs (1948–69) When films portraying the grands ensembles speak of the suburb, it is most often in reference to images inherited from the previous century.This suburb is modelled after the working-class faubourgs. Drawing on a reservoir of age-old images, its denunciation goes along the same lines as that of urban hovels and neighbourhoods officially slated for slum clearance (îlots insalubres).5 The lack of air and light, perceived as a source of delinquency and alcoholism, is roundly criticised while the camera peeks into dark, dank alleyways and lots littered with refuse.6 Screen visions of the 1950s and 1960s, by contrast, depict the suburb above all via the single-family dwelling. Films reprise the condemnation by inter-war political and intellectual elites of housing tracts (lotissements), a theme that persists through the 1940s (Fourcaut 2000). Greater Paris is lambasted for its uncontrolled expansion and described by one observer as ‘a teeming centre from which issue forth kilometres of suburban homes interspersed with factories’ (Des Maisons et des hommes, 1953). Images of suburban growth recur from one film to the next: clusters of individual dwellings viewed from a passing train; a succession of fixed images of the suburban villa of one’s dreams; and tracking shots of house-lined



Screening the Paris suburbs streets (Visages de la France, 1954; Quarante mille voisins, 1960). This banlieue pavillonnaire is described as a dormitory suburb whose inhabitants are forced to spend inordinate amounts of time in various modes of public transport. Shots of commuter trains, buses and metros stuffed to bursting, or of the mad rush of suburbanites trying each morning to get to work, are as many clichés in its audio-visual rendering. In more isolated fashion, and sometimes anecdotally, the suburb in films of the 1950s and 1960s is a land of ‘milk and honey’ (Faure 2003: 62), an open invitation to flee Paris and its frenetic pace for a weekend (or even a lifetime) in the fresh air. Here we recognise the popular-class suburban dream of the inter-war period. The opening images of Des Maisons et des hommes (1953) thus recall the Sunday jaunt in Marcel Carné’s Nogent, Eldorado du dimanche (1929). Out for a Sunday stroll, Parisians picnic on the banks of the Seine to the strains of a song by Joseph Kosma and Francis Carco whose lyrics underscore how pleasant life can be (‘comme il ferait bon vivre ici’) before bringing us back to the agitation of the French capital. This green suburb is nonetheless rarely showcased, so strong is the obligation to portray the banlieue in unflattering light, perhaps the better to promote the modern grands ensembles. A television broadcast of 1961, Demain … Paris, evokes the need to ‘restructure the suburb’ through the creation of ‘new towns’ of which the ‘grands ensembles give just a hint’. Another film from the mid 1960s featuring images of Palaiseau, south of Paris, cheerily predicts that the ‘capital of tomorrow will free its enslaved satellite towns [cités] and forget the word suburbanite’ altogether (Paris hors les murs, 1966). Directors make a point of opposing the suburbs to the grands ensembles: on the one hand we find narrow alleys, dank walls and filthy street urchins, and on the other neatly drawn parks and gardens, immaculate façades and joyous youth (Maisons d’Alsace, 1954). Similarly, vertical lines of the new housing blocks standing out against the sky are placed in contrast to the horizontal spread of single-family dwellings. Juxtaposed with the unplanned chaos of housing tracts we ponder precise architects’ drafts and scale models for the edification of grands ensembles (Visages de la France, 1954). Finally, renderings of the octopus-like capital, which seems to spread unchecked, are countered by drawings of a city surrounded by perfectly circumscribed, autonomous towns (Des Maisons et des hommes, 1953). Through visual figures such as these, the grands ensembles are marked as bona fide new towns whose modernity makes it possible to forget the banlieue. They are held to embody the future. In one sequence, as the shadow of a helicopter cuts across a white façade, the narrator predicts that ‘in a few years, when you cross the Paris suburbs – by helicopter no doubt – everywhere you go you will fly over cities like this one’ (Quarante mille voisins, 1960). Bearing witness to their modernity and architectural unity, aerial shots show the grands ensembles to be impeccably organised planned communities, self-enclosed so as to stage a break with the past (Figure 27). The camera singles out greenery, light, but also various

The grands ensembles in documentary, 1950–80 amenities – schools, youth centres, shopping centres and sports facilities. Interiors are likewise described in abundant detail, with the camera highlighting kitchen, bath and bedrooms, as well as such markers of modern comfort as running water, bathtubs, transistor radios and television sets. Reconstructed onscreen, the grand ensemble comes across as a city of the future in which all residents may flourish. All the same, the grands ensembles meet early on with criticism.The government encourages large-scale construction even as it expresses deep worry about the consequences. The French Minister of Construction Pierre Sudreau (1958–62) lashes out against their size and their monotony, fearing that the inhabitants simply don’t enjoy living there. The years of Sudreau’s and later Jacques Maziol’s tenure (1962–66) in the ministry are hence qualified as ‘schizophrenic’ (Fourcaut 2002: 41). As early as 1954 films and television broadcasts underscore the buildings’ ungainliness if not uglinesss (Visages de la France, 1954); aren’t these ‘assemblages of little cubes’ rather ‘oppressively geometric’ (Le Temps de l’urbanisme, 1962)? Soon enough, the grands ensembles are categorised as dormitory suburbs. The latter expression is first employed on television in 1957 to accompany early-morning shots of housing blocks and train platforms plunged in the half-light of dawn. In a segment of 1960, Pierre Tchernia declaims over similarly composed shots, ‘at daybreak, you understand what a dormitory suburb really is. The men have left for work and the grand ensemble is left to spend the day alone with the women and children. Here we are in a domestic universe, in a group of households, a city without factories, a city reduced to women and children’ (Quarante mille voisins, 1960). Relayed by frequent shots of suburban train stations, the theme of transportation, which burdens family budgets and places stringent time constraints on workers, becomes prevalent. At the same time, the unpleasant memory of sprawling inter-war housing tracts remains a solid bulwark against the critics. The commentator of Visages de la France underscores that with the grands ensembles ‘we’re heading towards monotony though it brings some grandeur with it’. Following a cut to a shot of a house-lined street, the offscreen voice asks rhetorically, ‘need we recall what might have happened had we not broken with century-old tradition?’ Similarly, in Quarante mille voisins, Pierre Tchernia relates over the drawings of children residing in the grands ensembles that ‘when you ask [the children] to draw their home, you get a geometric figure that evokes a new world you’d most likely reject. And if you ask them to draw a house, they put together the little roof, some smoke, a gate, and a traditional road. But from there to regretting the dismal, unhealthy shacks of the Parisian banlieue, now that would be going a step too far.’ From the mid 1960s onward, the grands ensembles are nonetheless draped with negative suburban trappings, beginning with the increasingly present theme of transportation. Train travel becomes a visual cliché that progressively anchors the grands ensembles in a suburban landscape. A sequence shot in Sarcelles from Frédéric Rossif ’s La Cité des hommes (1966) emblematises this slippage. A high-angle shot shows a train platform at nightfall. A train arrives in the station; the crowd of



Screening the Paris suburbs passengers clamber down and, still viewed from above, make their way home through the mud. ‘Each evening, the city gorges itself with men. Ten minutes in the train weren’t enough to unite their destinies’, states the narrator. One by one the windows of this ‘dormitory’ light up, their glow illuminating ‘the evening meal and isolation in front of television sets’. In the subsequent high-angle shot, we see men in the early morning light trudging through the mud: ‘in the morning, the housing blocks give back the men who had filled them up at night’. The men head towards the station and board the train for Paris. To the sound of an accordion, a series of fixed shots shows women at their windows shaking out the laundry.The message is clear enough: the city of the future has become a dormitory city, and its residents so many suburbanites scarred by the realities of daily transport and isolation. Towards suburban relegation (1969–82) Even before issuance of the Guichard Circular of 1973 effectively puts an end to their construction, the grands ensembles are subject to a new set of representations. If, despite mounting criticism, they remain a solution to suburban ills until the late 1960s, from the early 1970s onwards they become little by little the emblem of these same problems. On the heels of May 1968, which lashes out against the city and its concrete, environmental concerns become more pressing. As the most visible sign of post-war urban expansion the grands ensembles represent the deleterious growth of the modern city: in ‘Paris, London, Moscow, Belgrade, or even New York, new districts are assembled wall to wall, street to street, each one resembling the next. For each renovation project, how many thankless buildings, how many warts, beauty, ugliness, indifference? We need to live, to dwell.’ These words from 1969 open a meditation on cities of the new century, Des Villes pour la fin de siècle. Following a brief shot of a narrow paved street lined with buildings reminiscent of 1930s street films, we see façades of new buildings generously pierced with windows. This sequence reflects a key tendency in televised reports and documentaries of the early 1970s, which through both image and offscreen commentary depreciate the grands ensembles in particular and urban growth in general. Even more than the spread of the city fabric, however, the grands ensembles are held to represent the banlieue in its negative aspects. In the 1950s and 1960s, the suburb onscreen was an object without a present. It existed only through its past, that of the inter-war tide of single-family dwellings, and by its future, as a territory to be rejuvenated thanks to the construction of grands ensembles. Starting in 1970, the suburb rediscovers the present tense, appearing in the titles of films meant to evoke the grands ensembles, from Les Banlieusards and La Vie en banlieue to Aujourd’hui la banlieue. Onscreen, the suburb constitutes a composite space comprising different forms of habitat, as the title sequence of the television segment Aujourd’hui la banlieue shows. A flood of cars moves inexorably towards

The grands ensembles in documentary, 1950–80 the camera. A housing block appears, followed by the gate of a single-family dwelling which soon cedes to a sign reading ‘beware the dog’, then a shot of a German shepherd seen through the fencing. The suburb referenced by Aujourd’hui la banlieue is made up both of horizontal blocks and of detached homes enclosed by walls and protected by dogs. Brought together in the same sequence, the single-family homes of the 1930s and the grands ensembles of the 1950s and 1960s are rejected as part of the same space, that of an all too present suburb replete with pejorative attributes. The issue of transportation again unites residents of the grands ensembles and of single-family homes: all these individuals are now lumped together under the epithet banlieusards. By the early 1970s, directors’ focus on transport has sharpened: no longer one theme among others, the daily commute is the common point of entry for numerous films.7 An entire episode of a serialised documentary on suburbanites addresses the theme (Les Banlieusards II, 1970), as do two separate television broadcasts aired in December 1970 and November 1971 (Transport, le temps le plus long, 1970; L’Homme qui grogne, métro, boulot, dodo, 1971). Bedside alarms, wall clocks and wristwatches mark time in the televised segments, underscoring how clock time sets the pace of suburbanites’ lives. Close-ups of clocks recur from one film to the next, as do shots of traffic signs pointing toward the train station, images of a crowd cramming itself into train coaches and tracking shots of crowded escalators. The grands ensembles remain nonetheless a specific case among representations of the suburb. Indeed, if the hardships of suburbanites on their way to work are the same for all, living in a grand ensemble as opposed to a private dwelling does seem to make a difference. The detached house appears as a ‘utopian suburb, far from the suburb of obligation, that of state-run low-income housing and shantytowns’ (Les Banlieusards I, 1970). The suburb one chooses to dwell in – the house – is set over and against the suburb to which one is subjected – the grand ensemble (Faure 1991) – a perception that remains whether the dweller owns the flat or rents it on the cheap through a government subsidy. Several factors help to explain this evolution. First, when films speak of the suburb they tend to single out the grands ensembles, with their visually distinctive horizontal blocks and vertical towers, more often than other, coexisting types of suburban habitat. Gérard Pirès’s Elle court, elle court la banlieue (1973) plays an important role in this process that conflates grand ensemble and suburb. Inspired by the popular work Quatre heures de transport par jour by Brigitte Gros, the feature film garnered the attention of critics and public alike.The generic suburb referenced in Pirès’s title is corroborated to the fictive grand ensemble of Aubergenville8 where protagonists Marlène and Bernard live. Although Elle court, elle court la banlieue implicitly refers to the suburb in its entirety, it portrays primarily how life is lived in a grand ensemble. Circulation of audio-visual representations will accentuate this link when French television producers reutilise images from Pirès’s fiction for a documentary segment entitled La Vie en banlieue (1973).



Screening the Paris suburbs Promotion of the French new towns (villes nouvelles) beginning in the mid 1960s encourages the public to reject the grands ensembles alongside the suburban housing tracts. Buildings characteristic of French post-war urban planning and modern architecture have by this point come to emblematise a denigrated periphery. In 1966, shortly after the publication of the ‘Schéma directeur d’aménagement et d’urbanisme’,9 Paul Delouvrier sets forth on French state television his objectives for the new towns. For him, the long commutes for suburbanites require the disappearance of a suburb composed of grands ensembles and detached houses. Delouvrier refuses to create ‘a line of tract housing or a hundred Sarcelles end to end’ and instead wishes to build veritable new towns that comprise jobs and all the infrastructure and amenities needed for happy life (Paris hors les murs, 1966). As the concept of the villes nouvelles takes form onscreen in the early 1970s, it is promoted as a healthy alternative to a suburb embodied in the collective imaginary by the grands ensembles. In 1972, voices of indignation ring out over the effects of sprawl: ‘concrete spills out everywhere like ink from a broken city’. Paris and its region risk asphyxiating ‘under the weight of all this architectural rubble’, and the new towns are nothing other than the ‘oxygen tanks’ that will save Paris (Cergy-Pontoise, l’ancien et le nouveau, 1972). Henceforth, the suburb corresponds to the grands ensembles, so many architectural dejecta in a lineage stretching back to single-family dwellings of the 1930s that architects, urban planners and politicians had roundly criticised. The villes nouvelles appear destined to save Paris by making the suburb disappear; as such, they are built against the constructions that historically preceded them. In addition to other prevalent themes of the 1970s, films of the era reinforce the equation of the grands ensembles with a scandalous lack of urbanity. Firmly attached to peripheral locales in the public imaginary, the grands ensembles are associated progressively with the largely negative attributes that continue to hamper them today. During economic crises they become synonymous with and emblematic of low-income housing. The symbolic cities of the 1970s no longer blend social housing and private property but house the economically disadvantaged to the exclusion of other populations. The blighted 4000 of La Courneuve and Grigny’s Grande Borne take the place of Sarcelles or Massy-Antony.10 More and more, the grands ensembles feature in news reports whose titles include the moniker for state-sponsored low-rent housing, from La Qualité des HLM and Les HLM en crise to Pourquoi des HLM à détruire? Likewise, new figures replace the employees and middle managers who in the early 1960s had enjoyed new levels of modern comfort in an emerging consumer society. Now we see men and women on the edge, some dependent on state welfare, others looking for work, and nearly all struggling to make ends meet: youths failing out of school; immigrant parents with limited French; and their children, who meet with rejection from majority French society. Immigrants, especially those hailing from the Maghreb, discretely enter the grands ensembles onscreen – as they did in actuality11 – starting in 1967, then appear more assertively

The grands ensembles in documentary, 1950–80 after 1975 (Viet 1999). One example is Micheline, a mother of six filmed in her HLM in Nanterre, or, in the same city, the Ben Amar family comprised of ten children (Micheline, six enfants, allée des Jonquilles, 1967; Les Canibouts, 1967). The presence of such families is accentuated across the decade. Filmed in apartments that the camera no longer bothers to visit, residents recount everyday hardships. An elderly woman of the Grande Borne, unable to pay her electric bills, makes do with the light of the lamppost opposite her apartment, climbing onto a chair to see clearly when she needs to thread a needle (L’Habitat social, un constat, 1978). An Algerian father who works for minimum wage and whose spouse stays home to raise their six children speaks of the sacrifices he must accept given his limited means (Henri, Victor, Simone et les autres, 1981). In tandem with the pauperisation of residents, we witness the physical decay of housing stock. The modernity of the early years is but a memory which the passing of time has erased. Where camera operators of the 1950s glorified the grands ensembles’ immaculate and eminently modern façades, they now dwell on deteriorating walls, damaged mailboxes, sullied elevators and omnipresent graffiti. Increasingly the grands ensembles are made to appear as the hovels of the late twentieth century. As substandard lodgings such as hovels and shantytowns disappear across France under the leadership of Prime Minister Jacques ChabanDelmas, the grands ensembles come to occupy onscreen their discursive place. Thus a Grande Borne resident can refer in 1973 to her cité, and others like it, as ‘the shantytowns of the year 2000’ (L’Enfer du décor, 1973). To further this association, directors shoot the grands ensembles selectively, in a manner akin to the approach used to film tenement housing in the 1950s. Strong grey tones recall the dank alleys of the working-class faubourgs outlying the historic city centre, just as streets overrun with puddles recall the shantytown world that lies outside the gates of Paris. Camera operators of the 1970s and 1980s appear intent on singling out ‘sordid details: flaking paint, household refuse, rubbish’ (Tsikounas 1998: 268), composing their images, for example, around a half-destroyed telephone booth or a vandalised hallway. Finally, from 1971 onward, representations of the grands ensembles are laden with scenes attesting to social tensions that reign there. They provide a backdrop or frame for sensationalist news items, from the death in 1971 of young man at the hands of a café manager at the 4000 of La Courneuve, to the shooting in 1980 of the young Kader by a security guard in Vitry-sur-Seine.12 Images of violence culminate in the nocturnal joyrides (rodéos) that took place in Lyon in summer 1981. Immediately seized upon by television crews,13 these events would enjoy great posterity, from Vaulx-en-Velin (1979, 1981, 1990) to Mantes-la-Jolie (1991) and Clichy-sous-Bois (2005). From this point forward, the grands ensembles become a menacing space in which ever-more dangerous youth dwell and where excessive acts with increasingly serious consequences are perpetrated. Perceived as a solution to the housing crisis and to suburbanisation at the time of their construction and entry into the audio-visual record, the grands



Screening the Paris suburbs ensembles come to embody, at the dawn of the 1980s, the hovels and suburbs against which the imagery of the 1950s and 1960s had initially defined them. The key shift in representations can be traced to the turn of the 1970s, at which point the modernity of the grands ensembles recedes, and with it the hope that they might one day become bona fide new towns capable of erasing the negative legacy of the banlieue. Transportation, regional planning initiatives, the birth of political ecology and slack interest among public policymakers contribute to this shift. Positive representations of mass housing having all but disappeared from the general culture, all that remain are negative images to which French television and documentaries give free rein. The grands ensembles are indelibly marked as spaces of urban marginality, sickness and crime, and as places of social tension and violence gone unchecked. Conceived during the decades of prosperity known as the Trente Glorieuses as a tool for urban renewal capable of redressing the ills of the modern city – from urban hovels and slums to the rising tide of suburban tract homes – by the early 1980s the grands ensembles are, on French screens, held to embody those very ills. Notes 1 Conceived by Roger Boileau and Jacques-Henri Labourdette, the Sarcelles complex (1955–70) emblematises the 1960s grand ensemble and lent its name to the disorder (la sarcellite) diagnosed in its female inhabitants by France-Soir journalists in 1963. Construction at La Courneuve after plans by architects Henry Delacroix and Clément Tambutte began in 1959. Completed in 1964, its blocks comprising 4000 apartments were singled out for partial demolition after 1986. 2 In 1981, youth from housing projects in Vaulx-en-Velin, Villeurbanne and Vénissieux took part in ‘rodéos’, stealing cars under the cover of night and setting them aflame. These incidents, which quickly turned into clashes with police, lasted throughout July/August 1981 (Zancarini-Fournel 2004). 3 Several grands ensembles across France witnessed three weeks of violence in autumn 2005 following the death of two adolescents chased by police in Clichy-sous-Bois, located in greater Paris. 4 ‘Should the grands ensembles be razed?’ asked Michel Polac in 1982 on his television show, Droit de réponse. One year later, in front of television crews, three towers were destroyed in the Minguettes complex outside Lyon. Demolition in 1986 of the Debussy unit marked the beginning of a long string of destructions at the Cité des 4000 de La Courneuve to the north of Paris. 5 In 1850, the law defines insalubrious housing stock as ‘apt to affect adversely the life or health of its inhabitants’. Dwellers are entitled to file a complaint with a commission that can require renovations or levy a fine on the owners (Fijalkow 1998). Several images recall German street films or French films of the 1930s focused on the Parisian Zone. Also apparent is an even older imaginary inherited from the sociological literature and popular novels of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, from the descriptions of Louis René Villermé to those of Eugène Sue (Les Mystères de Paris). 6 See, among others, Se Loger (1948), Visages de la France (1954), Pantin, unité résidentielle (1956) and La Butte à la Reine (1957). 7 The early 1970s mark the high point of the public transportation crisis, as political debates of the period attest (Larroque et al. 2002: 248).

The grands ensembles in documentary, 1950–80 8 The name of this actual town in the west of the Paris region alludes to the dormitory status of its grand ensemble, which is none other than an ‘auberge en ville’ (city inn) where there is little else to do but sleep. 9 The villes nouvelles were conceived between 1965 and 1968. Placed at the head of the Region of the District of Paris, in 1965 Paul Delouvrier proposed as part of regional master plan (‘Schéma directeur d’aménagement et d’urbanisme de la région de Paris’) the creation of eight new towns around the capital (only five would be built). For individuals involved in their conception and construction, but also for some residents, the new towns remain singular. Historians have questioned the extent to which their launch marks a break (Bourillon et al., 2006). 10 The Grande Borne is mentioned twelve times on French state television between 1969 and 1983, while the Cité des 4000 de La Courneuve is mentioned four times before 1970 and ten times after that date. 11 In October 1968, a decree from Minister of Public Works Albin Chalandon required all public housing offices in the Paris region to set aside 6.75% of new units for families relocated from the shantytowns, a majority of them immigrants. 12 In March 1971, a dispute erupted between youth and the manager of a café, Le Narval. Tempers flare, and the owner takes out a pistol and fires, killing Jean-Pierre Huet. The youth assemble around the café which the police protect. The event, taken up by the press, serves for television remakes or the cinema (Bachmann and Basier 1989). In 1980, a 15-year-old is killed by a building caretaker in Vitry-sur-Seine. The five-year sentence given the murderer leads to indignant protests outside the Créteil courthouse. 13 The cinema was quick to portray such acts of violence. In Interdit aux moins de treize ans (1982), Jean-Louis Bertucelli includes two characters who witness the burning of a car and comment on their joyride the preceding Saturday, noting that hanging out in groups encourages the most idiotic behaviours (‘qu’est-ce que c’est con dès qu’on est en bande’).

References Only printed works and films mentioned in the text appear here. For a complete bibliography and filmography, see Canteux (2014). Bachmann, Christian and Luc Basier (1989), Mise en images d’une banlieue ordinaire, stigmatisation urbaine et stratégies de communications, Paris, Syros. Bourillon, Florence, Annie Fourcaut and Loïc Vadelorge (eds) (2006) ‘Villes nouvelles et grands ensembles’, Histoire urbaine 17 (Dec.). Canteux, Camille (2014), Filmer les grands ensembles, Grâne, Créaphis. Clerc, Paul (1967), Grands ensembles et banlieues nouvelles, Paris, Presses universitaires de France. Faure, Alain (ed.) (1991), Les premiers banlieusards, aux origines des banlieues de Paris, 1860–1940, Grâne, Créaphis. ——— (2003),‘Un faubourg, des banlieues, ou la déclinaison du rejet’, Genèses 51 (June): 48–69. Fijalkow,Yankel (1998), La construction des îlots insalubres, Paris 1850–1945, Paris, L’Harmattan. Fourcaut, Annie (2000), La banlieue en morceaux. La crise des lotissements défectueux dans l’entre-deux-guerres, Grâne, Créaphis. ——— (2002), ‘Trois discours, une politique’, Urbanisme (Jan.–Feb.): 39–45. Kaës, René (1963), Vivre dans les grands ensembles, Paris, Editions ouvrières. Lacoste,Yves (1963), ‘Un problème complexe et débattu: les grands ensembles’, Bulletin de l’association des géographes français 318/319 (Nov.): 37–46.



Screening the Paris suburbs Larroque, Dominique, Michel Margairaz and Pierre Zembri (eds) (2002), Paris et ses transports, XIXe-XXe siècle: deux siècles de décisions pour la ville et sa région, Paris, Recherches. Tomas, François (2003), ‘La place des grands ensembles dans l’histoire de l’habitat social français’, in François Tomas, Jean-Noël Blanc and Mario Bonilla (eds), Les grands ensembles: une histoire qui continue, Saint-Etienne, Publications de l’université de SaintEtienne: 13–41. Tsikounas, Myriam (1998), ‘A l’écran, les bidonvilles …’, in Jacques Girault (ed.), Ouvriers en banlieue, XIXe-XXe siècle, Paris, L’Atelier/Editions ouvrières: 263–77. Viet, Vincent (1999), ‘La politique du logement des immigrés (1945–1990)’, Vingtième Siècle, revue d’histoire 64 (Oct.–Dec.): 91–103. Zancarini-Fournel, Michelle (2004), ‘Généalogie des rébellions urbaines en temps de crise (1971–1981)’, Vingtième Siècle, revue d’histoire 84 (Oct.–Dec.): 119–27.

Films from the Archives of the Ministry of Construction Se Loger (1948), Marc Cantagrel, Les Films Jean Mineur, 14 min. Des Maisons et des hommes (1953), Pierre Jallaud, François Villiers, Les Films Caravelle, 17 min. Visages de la France (1954), Marcel de Hubsch, Atlantic Films, 13 min. Maisons d’Alsace (1954), André Swoboda, Les Actualités Françaises/Ministère de la Reconstruction et de l’Urbanisme, 14 min. Pantin, unité résidentielle (1956), Robert Château, Enseignement et Publicité par le Film, 24 min. Le Temps de l’urbanisme (1962), Roger Brunet, Production Occident, 27 min. La Cité des hommes (1966), Frédéric Rossif, Antégor, 14 min. Henri, Victor, Simone et les autres (1981), Denis Goldschmidt, Euroscop, 40 min.

Films shown on French television ‘La Butte à la Reine’ (1957), Roger Benamou, Jean-Claude Bergeret, Paul-Henri Chombart de Lauwe, A la Découverte des Français, 45 min. ‘Quarante mille voisins’ (1960), Pierre Tchernia, Jacques Krier, Cinq colonnes à la Une, 14 min. ‘Demain … Paris’ (1961), Jean-Marie Colfedy, 26 min. ‘Paris hors les murs’ (1966), Olivier Ricard, Soixante millions de Français, 1ère chaîne (Channel 1), 30 min. ‘Micheline, six enfants, allée des Jonquilles’ (1967), Claude Goretta, Françoise Mallet-Joris, Les femmes aussi, 1ère chaîne (Channel 1), 50 min. ‘Les Canibouts’ (1967), Pierre Dumayet, L’avenir est à vous, 1ère chaîne (Channel 1), 30 min. ‘Des villes pour la fin de siècle’ (1969), Christian Bernadac, Panorama, 1ère chaîne (Channel 1), 12 min. ‘Les Banlieusards’ I, II, III, IV (1970), Jacques Karsenty, Philippe Sainteny, Jacques Villa, Vingt quatre heures sur la Deux, 2e chaîne (Channel 2), 30 minutes. ‘Transports, le temps le plus long’ (1970), Patrick Pénot, Objectifs, 1ère chaîne (Channel 1), 17 min. ‘L’homme qui grogne, métro, boulot, dodo’ (1971), Enrique Martinez, Roger Pic, Marcel Teulade, Martine Chaussin, Jean-Pierre Guérin, Henri Marque, Hexagone, 1ère chaîne (Channel 1), 110 min. ‘Cergy-Pontoise, l’ancien et le nouveau’ (1972), Philippe Alphonsi, Jacques Vigoureux, Une Première, 1ère chaîne (Channel 1), 90 min.

The grands ensembles in documentary, 1950–80 ‘La vie en banlieue’ (1973), Guy Labourasse, André Veyret, Renée Kammerscheit, Aujourd’hui Madame, 2e chaîne (Channel 2), 51 min. ‘L’enfer du décor’ (1973), Bernard Gesbert, La vie ensemble, 2e chaîne (Channel 2), 65 min. ‘Qualité des HLM’ (1975), Philippe Madelin, A la bonne heure, TF1, 30 min. ‘Les HLM en crise?’ (1976), Jean-Pierre Guérin, Philippe Sainteny, Annick Beauchamps, A la bonne heure, TF1, 30 min. ‘Pourquoi des HLM à détruire? Le permis de détruire’ (1978), Philippe Madelin, Annick Beauchamps, A la bonne heure, TF1, 25 min. ‘L’habitat social, un constat’ (1978), Ado Kyrou, Arlette Javelle, Aujourd’hui Madame, A2, 60 min. ‘Faut-il raser les grands ensembles’ (1982), Maurice Dugowson, Droit de réponse, TF1, 90 min.



Elusive happiness: screening France’s new towns after 1968 Derek Schilling

In the final scene of L’Ami de mon amie (Eric Rohmer, 1987), a young professional awaits her lover at a lakeside terrace in the new town where she works and resides. The artificial lake is one of several amenities – from shops and parks to postmodern flats – that have drawn Blanche (Emmanuelle Chaulet) to the ville nouvelle of Cergy-Pontoise, forty minutes from Paris. It’s summer, the Rohmerian season par excellence, and she’s to leave with Fabien on holiday. Unawares, Blanche’s best friend Léa – the amie of Rohmer’s title, and Fabien’s ‘ex’ – has arranged to meet her new flame, Alexandre, at the same restaurant; its distance from Cergy’s pedestrian mall would presumably spare the couple the embarrassment of running into Blanche, who long pined after Alexandre. Yet this, in Rohmer’s world of tightly scripted chance, is precisely what transpires. While Alexandre (François-Eric Gendron) hides below the terrace, Léa (Sophie Renoir), feigning surprise, joins Blanche at her table. A long take in two-shot captures the women’s growing confusion. Her dream of having found the perfect match now crushed – Léa, she thinks, has made up with Fabien – Blanche confesses: ‘Je l’ai amené chez moi et on a passé la nuit ensemble’ (I took him back to my place and we spent the night together). Incredulous that, of all people, the round-faced Blanche could have seduced the strapping Alexandre, Léa protests: LÉA: Alors là, tu divagues complètement. Ça ne va pas du tout? Tu ne vas pas me faire croire que tu as vu Alexandre samedi, ici! BLANCHE: Alexandre? Mais Fabien? Je te parle de Fabien! LÉA:  Non! Moi, je te parle d’Alexandre!1

The lovers’ quiproquo lifted, each character measures her misprision: Blanche can follow her inclination for Fabien, while Léa can elope in good conscience with

Screening France’s new towns after 1968 a man better suited to her tastes. Closure is achieved when Fabien (Eric Viellard) arrives sporting a bright green polo mirroring Alexandre’s identically cut blue shirt: the couples’ complementary outfits – based on Cergy-Pontoise’s ‘nature’themed municipal logo – comically signal a new amorous order in this Gallic version of musical chairs. Caught in freeze-frame, the final embrace between Blanche and Fabien spells the heroine’s moral victory and a ‘happy end’ to the Comédies et proverbes (1981–87), a six-part cycle on the sentimental ups and downs of independent young women (Schilling 2007: 140). Few scenes in Rohmer’s work indulge high comedy so openly; Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, Marivaux’s Game of Love and Chance and Howard Hawks’ and Preston Sturges’ ‘sophisticated comedies’ come to mind.Yet these dramatic codes work their magic only because they unfold in a precise context: here, a planned environment that contributes – or conspires – to manufacture happiness. The affect Rohmer invokes is unbearably light; as the title L’Ami de mon amie (‘My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend’) intimates, his characters are so like-minded as to be exchangeable. For these young white suburban professionals, windsurfing, attending tennis matches at Roland-Garros and pondering matters of the heart seem to be matters of course. The narrative reads in this respect as class fantasy, echoing the empty postmodern individualism of Gilles Lipovetsky’s ‘l’ère du vide’ (Hertay 1998). At the same time, the concrete, pro-filmic elements of Cergy-Pontoise determine a narrow range of character interactions and dramatic outcomes. Conjoining narrative artifice and topographically scrupulous location shooting, Rohmer’s new-town ‘rom com’ thus expresses a ‘structure of feeling’ (Williams 1973: 1–8) peculiar to French planning cultures after the maligned era of the grands ensembles: namely, the conviction that, under the right conditions, suburban living can foster happiness and even make for an enviable lifestyle choice. All is not lost for those who dwell outside the city gates, its giddy colour-coded finale suggests.2 The formal matrix of stage comedy mediates collective desires for a healthful, happy existence even as the screenplay underscores the limits of that promise. Sympathetic screen depictions of suburban Paris are rare after the New Wave. Those films that portray the capital’s outskirts as conducive to self-fulfilment, such as Le Bonheur (Agnès Varda, 1964), do so in ways that unsettle. Resplendent with warm tones in a salute to Jacques Demy, Varda’s feature begins as a sundrenched family idyll, all flowers, fields and forests; the would-be perfect French family played by Jean-Claude Druot and his real-life spouse and two children enjoy an unencumbered life in the traditional suburb of Fontenay-aux-Roses, south of Paris. On weekdays, protagonist François works for the family carpentry business while Thérèse tends lovingly to the children and sews dresses on the side; weekends are given over to Sunday dinners and picnics in the bucolic corners of Ile-de-France. When the aptly named François Chevalier – the would-be gallant French knight of Varda’s modern tale – exchanges glances with an unmarried postal clerk near his worksite in Vincennes, the narrative shifts gears to explore amorous relations in an age of increasing permissiveness. Emilie is soon to move



Screening the Paris suburbs in to a high-rise flat in Fontenay-aux-Roses, and states that she is free and willing to take him as a sexual partner – an arrangement that, to François’ mind, can only accentuate the happiness of all concerned.Varda emphasises less the tragedy that results from the suburban lovers’ tryst (Figure 28) – whether by accident or by suicide, Thérèse drowns after François declares his love for Emilie – but rather the odd continuities that prevail when, just months after the burial, Emilie moves in with François and sets to raising his orphaned children, sleeping in Thérèse’s bed as if nothing had transpired. In its focus on the village-like social fabric of Fontenay-les-Roses and the nature reserves surrounding the capital, Varda’s viewpoint was unique in its era. More common was to expose the gross failure of French modernisation, epitomised by the vast housing estates, known as grands ensembles, to procure basic material conditions for happiness. Such evidence abounds in images throughout the 1960s of Paris extra muros, from the parched, rough-and-tumble spaces of Terrain vague (Marcel Carné, 1960), to the alienating housing blocks surrounding actress Marina Vlady in Deux ou trois choses que je sais d’elle (Jean-Luc Godard, 1967) (Figure 22). Essayist Jean Cayrol, who had penned the text to Nuit et brouillard (Alain Resnais, 1956), spoke in no uncertain terms of ‘ces grandes cités mélancoliques et concentrationnaires’ (these large and melancholic concentration towns) (1968: 24). For film directors working in France after 1960, happiness proves elusive in the suburbs, as if the dialectic of progress found in that third space the theatre of its final, agonising contradiction. This overarching negative vision correlates to a narrative of suburban underdevelopment that urban historians have begun to uncover in its full complexity (Vieillard-Baron 2001; Dufaux and Fourcaut 2004; Cupers 2014). The notion that a dystopian post-war suburban imaginary might one day be supplanted by a world more verdant, more economically vibrant and better conducive to self-realisation for women and men alike was the gambit of the villes nouvelles. Launched in 1964 under former colonial administrator Paul Delouvrier, whom De Gaulle had named prefect for the Paris region, the polycentric regional plan3 brought into official existence five villes nouvelles outside Paris. Its aim was to create self-sustaining poles blending employment, dwelling, recreation and shops. Before the first new towns could accommodate residents and businesses, however, nearly a decade elapsed, such that, as architectural historian Kenny Cupers notes, ‘the vast majority of the French did not often see the difference between a ville nouvelle and a grand ensemble. Both terms were in common use to describe a variety of large-scale urban developments’ built or projected after Delouvrier published a master plan for greater Paris (Cupers 2014: 187).4 In this regard, French cinema’s ‘neglected decade’ of the 1970s (Smith 2005: 14) stands as a transitional period during which filmmakers could register the social costs of suburban underdevelopment. Would the villes nouvelles ever get off the ground and, if so, what difference would they make to the quality of life? What would they look like? Would the improvements over older, strictly residential

Screening France’s new towns after 1968 models live up to the architectural hype over ‘programming’ (Cupers 2014: 189)? How to sway citizens to move into engineered environments built ex nihilo on the periurban fringe? The fear was that the villes nouvelles were but profit-making schemes masquerading as progress, and another generation of bedroom communities in the making. French filmmakers after 1968 greeted these grand suburban experiments with caution, highlighting the affective consequences of renewal and dislocation, construction and destruction.Three features of the 1970s, each dissimilar in audience, tone and scope, merit attention for their critique of manufactured habitats in which demands for happiness and wellbeing routinely go unmet.The psychological drama Le Chat (Pierre Granier-Deferre, 1971), adapted from a novel by Georges Simenon, examines the effects of ageing and habit on a traditional couple whose decrepit suburban home is swept up in a flurry of neighbourhood renovation. The tone shifts with the iconoclastic La Ville Bidon (Jacques Baratier, 1976), an exposé on the bad faith of architects, officials and real estate developers whose schemes run up against youthful resistance at the margins. In Le Couple témoin (1978) American transplant William Klein lampoons would-be scientific studies intended to measure how typical French men and women interact with the domestic environments of tomorrow. In foregrounding themes of acquiescence and resistance to change against the backdrop of France’s new towns, each film exposes the rift between planning cultures that define ‘quality of life’ from above and ordinary individuals trying to make it on their own terms. In a post-1968 climate where filmmakers show a ‘growing willingness to portray political action generally’ (Smith 2005: 10), the personal takes on a political cast in a micro-politics of everyday wants, needs and desires. Comparison of these works with Rohmer’s grey-toned, acerbic Les Nuits de la pleine lune (Full Moon in Paris, 1984) and the brightly optimistic L’Ami de mon amie (Boyfriends and Girlfriends, 1987) will bring full circle our exploration of the role played after 1968 by planned environments in the film imaginary of greater Paris. The wrecking ball and the star system The Franco-Italian co-production Le Chat was a star vehicle for the ubiquitous Jean Gabin (Pépé le Moko, Le Port des brumes) and Simone Signoret (Casque d’or, Les Diaboliques). By the time of shooting, Gabin had reached his mid 60s, his shock of hair snow-white. Cast as retired typesetter Julien Bouin, he retains his trademark working-class ethos even as he sports tartan slippers and striped pyjamas buttoned to the top. Signoret plays the part of former acrobat Clémence who, scorned by her husband in favour of a mistress, has taken to drink. While he leafs through the newspaper or Zola’s La Terre, she sorts her circus memorabilia or knits by the fire. In the first post-credit sequence, Granier-Deferre plays off the public personae of Gabin, the Right-leaning populist obsessed with trackside betting, and Signoret, the fellow traveller of the French Communist Party: for ten minutes, not a word



Screening the Paris suburbs of dialogue is uttered between them. Not only do their characters not speak to one another; they do not sleep, shop, cook or eat together. The cause of their estrangement, Julien reminds Clémence in one of many handwritten notes he flicks onto her lap, is ‘LE CHAT’, the cat of Simenon’s title. The opening sequence shows a wailing ambulance pass by dilapidated nineteenthcentury warehouses, machine shops and vacant lots, with high-rise steel-framed residences and office buildings in the background. A billboard identifies the locale as Courbevoie, an inner suburb northwest of Paris, and boasts that the coming ‘Complexe urbain Charras’ will comprise 1300 low-rent housing units, a shopping centre, swimming pool and skating rink. This lofty promise of renewal is undercut by shots of decrepit homes along the thoroughfare that lack doors, windows or a roof. The impression is one of longstanding neglect. When the ambulance makes its final turn, blackened façades to the right and fencing to the left direct our view towards an impasse, the metaphorical ‘end of the road’ for Granier-Deferre’s protagonists whose demise will be recounted via nested flashbacks. Le Chat ties the Bouins’ moribund marriage to a decaying neighbourhood in the throes of forced renewal. A massive construction site encroaches from three sides upon the couple’s modest villa, which appears to have been cut in two. Like the few buildings left standing, the Bouins’ existence is colourless. In exteriors showing the couple leaving or returning home, wardrobe, framing and filters limit the colour scheme to greys and browns. In their daily forays to the liquor store or municipal garden, by contrast, the world regains its native hues, while on the construction site next to the villa, hard hats, overalls and heavy machinery are a vibrant orange, yellow or blue. Colour thus reinforces thematic oppositions between a modern consumerism epitomised by the ironically named supermarket ‘La Parisienne’ on the one hand, and, on the other, the condemned world of retirees who are slated to disappear along with their soot-covered homes. Inside the villa, Clémence’s souvenirs, red kimono and sleeping pills add rare splashes of colour to a décor of muted earth tones; the basement is dominated by the black typeface of the newspapers Julien proudly archives there. The drama that pushes Clémence to shoot her husband’s cat in that basement stems from an inability to accept old age, impotence and habit. In keeping with novelist Simenon’s proclivity for descriptive metaphor, the outside world is made to convey emotional states. Each day Julien observes the worksite adjacent to his home, fixing his gaze on the wrecking ball that topples everything in its path. At the kitchen window, Clémence likewise finds in this everyday suburban spectacle of destruction an objective correlative to her despondency. After she kills Julien’s cat in a fit of rum-fuelled rage, her attention is similarly tethered to the wrecking ball, her hand tousling her hair in slow motion with each swing. As this and other metaphors let on, Granier-Deferre (1927–2007) was not a subtle stylist. The reanimation in the credit sequence of freeze-frame images of broken flowerpots, stray dogs and excavators is innocuous enough; more obtrusive are the flashbacks in which Julien recalls happier moments from his youth. In the

Screening France’s new towns after 1968 first, the sight of Clémence shucking oysters prompts him to reimagine an athletic Clémence stripping naked to plunge into a river while he looks on voyeuristically from a rowboat. A second flashback reprises the suburban idyll by cutting from an aged Clémence hanging out her tights, to her younger self stretched out on a picnic blanket alongside Julien’s red Harley. Highly emphatic, these flashbacks make a mockery of the subtler artistry of Le Jour se lève (Marcel Carné, 1939), where the rugged factory worker François, played by a 30-something Gabin, recollects better times as he awaits his final hour. True to Simenon’s atmospherics and taste for hidden dramas, Granier-Deferre relates the struggles of the small homeowner to individual psychology, rather than to sociology. Julien and Clémence harbour no illusion as to a possible reversal of their fortunes. Their home purchase was misguided. Long gone is the unimpeded view of a quiet, tree-lined street that a wily agent vaunted to make the sale; now only noisy construction vehicles ply the impasse. So deep is her denial that Clémence crumples a certified expropriation notice; only when a second missive arrives does she tell Julien that Courbevoie has given them forty-five days to vacate. Surrounded by the agents and machines of change, the Bouins refuse to change themselves. The nights Julien spends at the Hôtel Floride confiding in his mistress Nelly lead down the same existential impasse: living with Clémence may be joyless, yet to divorce this late in life is unthinkable. Husband and wife are so ensconced in a bygone world that any signs of history pursuing its course – e.g. the newspaper announcing the 1970 court trial of May 68 student leader Alain Geismar – seem incongruous to the extreme. The Bouins’ domestic trials obey another temporality. When Julien returns home on the condition he and Clémence never again speak, the couple resolve to let time take its inexorable toll. As Simenon writes, they simply do not know who’ll be the first to go: ‘Comment savoir qui s’en irait le premier’ (Simenon 2003: 1377)? Early on in Le Chat, the Bouins’ home is depicted as a prison, its entryway an unwelcoming jumble of spikes and wires. When Clémence peers into the street from the parlour, wrought iron bars crossing her face bespeak the carceral nature of marriage. Elsewhere, medium-close ups show her drawing and bolting the shutters as if to shut out reality. Two matching sequences that prefigure the narrative’s dénouement recast the suburban prison as a tomb. In the first, Clémence views from the bedroom window a jet-black refuse truck slowly advancing towards her, flanked on each side by death’s emissaries in the guise of sanitation workers. A ‘nobody’s shot’ of churning refuse symbolically equates old age and impotence with filth. This motif of encroaching death is reprised after Julien discovers Clémence’s body crumpled on the bedroom floor: the sight of the same ominous black truck prompts him to take an overdose of pills. A wailing ambulance siren signals an end to the narrative’s series of flashbacks. Images of renewal are counterpoised throughout to the Bouins’ downward trajectory into self-loathing, illness and suicide. Nearly every exterior shot incorporates signs of change in Courbevoie, a location Granier-Deferre chose in lieu



Screening the Paris suburbs of Simenon’s sleepier Charenton, south of Paris. None of the worksite shots indulge in expressionistic excess, and no effort is made to individualise (or demonise) the labourers, foremen or developers. What is remarkable is the extent to which the locations and ambient sound – rattling, pounding, humming and crushing – quite literally work for the film. When we see Julien’s cat at the window with crane booms swinging in the background, or nocturnal shots that contrast the darkened villa to luminous new office buildings (Figure 29), the referent aggressively grounds the story world. The pace of construction compounds the drama of Granier-Deferre and Pascal Jardin’s screenplay: Courbevoie’s upward transition – the influx of capital having spilled over the edges of cramped Paris – prepares the Bouins’ downward spiral. Next to the villa, deep rectangular pits awaiting thick concrete pilings resemble nothing so much as open graves. For all its attention to locale and to the changing cityscape, Le Chat remains a psychological study of a traditional yet childless couple walled in by circumstance and native stubbornness. This cues us into another way to read the Bouins’ double-tragedy, one that paradoxically marks the resurgence of two actors associated with poetic realist and classic post-war French filmmaking respectively, and with France’s cinema of the banlieue in particular. By the late 1960s, the wrecking ball had moved through the movie industry of France, bringing with it distinct genres, faces and audience expectations. Gabin and Signoret were struggling to stay relevant. With Le Chat, they proved they were still to be reckoned with, pulling in over one million tickets in France and garnering twinned Silver Bear awards for Best Actor at the Berlin Film Festival of 1971. Though Signoret would receive other accolades later that decade, it was Gabin’s last performance of note, followed by the uneven Deux Hommes dans la ville (José Giovanni, 1973) and such throwaways as Le Verdict (André Cayatte, 1974) and L’Année sainte (Jean Girault, 1976). By setting the crumbling villa against a faceless mixed-use urban complex, Le Chat becomes a parable on the fate of strong screen personalities (monstres sacrés) in an impersonal culture of modernisation and renewal. The garbage dump of history La Ville bidon (Jacques Baratier, 1976) began as a short commissioned by French television in 1969. Baratier (1918–2009) had taken interest in the human ecology of the notorious Créteil landfill to the east of Paris after seeing a short film by Daniel Duval. He asked Duval, a scrap man by trade, to write a screenplay with Christiane Rochefort, whose best-selling coming-of-age novel Les petits enfants du siècle (1961) had wryly chronicled suburban consumer culture and its obsession with household appliances. Baratier made an initial fifty-minute cut of ‘La Décharge’ (‘The Dump’) from cinéma vérité footage and scripted scenes featuring Duval’s fellow junkmen friends. At the time of shooting, Créteil’s mayor Pierre Billotte had marked the zone for redevelopment. Fearful that images of marginal youth and immigrant shantytowns

Screening France’s new towns after 1968 would damage the project’s reputation, promoters of ‘Le Nouveau Créteil’ successfully lobbied French television to withhold the film. A second cut excised of twenty-five minutes was broadcast in 1973, upon which Baratier, disgusted, bought back the rights and recut his original footage with newly shot scenes. The resulting docu-fiction La Ville bidon saw limited released in January 1976.Visually arresting and discursively heterogeneous, lyrical and satirical by turns, it denounces capitalist speculation and town planning in Gaullist France even as it rekindles the antiauthoritarian spirit of May 1968. The loosely plotted narrative turns on the attempts of a corrupt and rhetorically adept politician (Lucien Bodard) to wrest private land from dump owner Brunet (Jean-Pierre Darras) to make way for a new town. Purchased for a pittance before Paris had extended its reach into the Marne River valley, the site encompasses a shantytown (bidonville) of North African workers from whom Brunet shamelessly collects rent, as well as a cité de transit comprising prefab units for displaced households who await more permanent lodgings. A no-man’s-land of mudflats is home to a coterie of junk dealers – played by Duval’s real-life associates – who, for parts and scrap, tear apart junked cars with hatchets, hammers, chain saws or their bare hands. Baratier rejects the condescending tone of social comment films on the urban periphery in favour of a gritty, kinetic lyricism. The junkmen represent all that French officialdom seeks to repress: unbridled energy, nonconformist dress, alternative family structures and dubious hygiene. Primary focus is given to their self-appointed leader Mario (the muscular, brazen Duval) and Fiona their headstrong muse, played by New Wave mainstay Bernadette Lafont (Figure 30). The madcap irreverence Baratier had shown in his portraits of the denizens of Saint-Germain-des-Prés (Le Désordre à vingt ans, 1967) characterises the opening send-up of a model new-town couple. The first shot shows a forest of oddly contoured residential towers painted pastel blue. Though a superimposed title card denies any resemblance to real persons or places, contemporary viewers could easily identify the apartments’ bulbous balconies as ‘Les Choux’, a Nouveau Créteil landmark and an object of derision in architectural circles. The seriocomic disclaimer in fact does nothing so much as reinforce the connection to actuality while asking spectators not to take La Ville bidon as a film à clef. Baratier pursues his parody of the new-town ethos inside an unfurnished model apartment where, seated on plastic chairs in front of the telly, the couple cheerily spout commonplaces of new-town promotional rhetoric. They praise the car park, the proximity of home to work and the excellent House of Culture. Paris is but an afterthought: ‘Pourquoi y aller? On a tout ici: des grands magasins, des cinémas, des antiquités’, states new-town woman (Why even go? We’ve got everything’s right here: department stores, cinemas and antiques). Distanced play-acting face to camera, exaggerated diction and canned music reinforce the satirical charge of the sequence, which appropriately concludes with a view of the couple – another or the same – sunning on a balcony, lost in the undulating concrete jungle of ‘Les Choux’.



Screening the Paris suburbs A hard cut shifts to an extreme long shot that pans over a quarry and smouldering landfill. The passage from futuristic new town to noxious dumpsite inverts time’s arrow, alerting the viewer to a fraught local history. Throughout La Ville bidon, anti-naturalist set pieces are placed up against cinéma vérité sequences of physical and emotional import. In each case spectators are asked to side with the danger-loving youth of ‘la décharge’, against the technocrats in suits and the forces of order who abet them. Chief among Baratier’s caricatures is Bodard’s savvy Deputy-Mayor, who heads both the public planning board and the private development firm behind the new town project. Rarely will this cigar-smoking member of the Legion of Honour leave his chauffeured town car, for he has no intention of living in the new town to begin with. Noted composer and music theorist Pierre Schaeffer, in a cameo as the lead architect, comes across as ‘structural man’ incarnate: unconcerned with residents’ everyday worries, he spews abstractions – words like ‘discours’, ‘significations’, ‘une ville lisible’ – that seem to come straight out of Kevin Lynch’s The Image of the City (1960, French translation 1969) and Roland Barthes’ ‘Sémiologie et urbanisme’ (1967). And lifted from those essays they may well have been, for among the talking heads on La Ville bidon’s fictive planning board is Françoise Choay, the real-life historian of modern European town planning whose anthology L’urbanisme: utopies et réalités (1965) had launched the new critical urbanism in France. Calculating and self-interested, the board finds excuses for progress where they will; whatever obstacles stand in their way can be removed by governmental fiat or a few well-stuffed envelopes. Threatening expropriation on sanitary grounds, the chief developer persuades dump owner Brunet to cede a portion of his property, noting that once the Paris Region approves transport extensions for train and metro he can sell the remaining four-fifths at a premium. Against these merchants of manufactured happiness Baratier pits the junkmen and their families. Their anarchist collective is marked by near-total freedom and anti-conformism. They seek to live each moment to the fullest, without heed for consequences. They smash up cars derby-style; improvise action-movie stunts and mock funerals; set fires; wrestle in mud pits; and stage night-time happenings to strains of free jazz under the glow of car headlamps. When they venture off the trash heap to the local café, they lock horns with factory workers whom they deride for punching the clock, and with a Portuguese gang that insists on cuing up on the jukebox the latest forty-fives from Lisbon. Lafont’s languid Fiona adjudicates these disputes, floating from one realm to another in a manner reminiscent of Nico in Philippe Garrel’s films circa 1970. The other women and children living among the scrapmen are treated with respect. Squalid and inhospitable though it may be, the suburban no man’s land is a space of creative fulfilment. Claude Nougaro and Michel Legrand’s forceful theme song, ‘La Décharge’ (1976), confirms this. Playing with paradox, Nougaro’s text associates purity and vitality with the dump’s hell-bent denizens, ‘Rois de la boue/Princes du fer/ Seigneurs crados de la décharge’ (Kings of the mud/Princes of iron/Filthy landfill

Screening France’s new towns after 1968 lords). In verse three, an apostrophe makes clear that there are more ways than one to achieve happiness: ‘Et foutez leur bonheur en l’air/Votre palais c’est la baraque/Votre clarté c’est le cloaque’ (Screw their happiness/Your palace is a shack/Your source of light a cesspool). In place of the self-organising, organic communities of the bidonvillles, planners and politicians promise nothing more than a ‘ville bidon’, a phoney, pseudo-rationalist load of rubbish.5 The true men and women of today know, in Nougaro’s words, that ‘Un rayon perce sous la fange’ (A ray of light breaks through the mud), a nod to the slogan ubiquitous in May 68, ‘Sous les pavés, la plage’ (Under the paving stones, a beach). Baratier’s rough-and-ready 16-mm images exude poetry and abandon. Ripping apart cars or scuffling amongst themselves, the scrapmen are physicality incarnate. When they race sheet-metal chariots across the mudflats, rapid cutting and movement within the frame equate freedom with an absence from spatial constraints. The flats have the expansive quality of the American West, with housing complexes on the horizon taking the place of mesas. Scenes shot in the shantytown are of two types. Direct encounters between the dump owner Brunet and the North African immigrant workers are patently staged, while several shots of shantytown dwellers capture their subject surreptitiously, from behind and in telephoto. More conventional, in the mid-rise cité de transit, are the reportage scenes of a Maghrebi family butchering a lamb in the bathroom for the Eid, and a comic set piece where a travelling salesman foists a pressure cooker on an exasperated pied noir about to blow his top. In keeping with the militant, Brecht-inspired film rhetoric of the early 1970s, La Ville bidon juxtaposes sequences dissimilar in tone and content. Few attempts are made to suture the viewer into an imaginary space giving the illusion of a coherent, complete world. The ‘work’ of cinema, the facticity of the apparatus, is everywhere apparent. Eye-line matches and matches on movement are approximate; the film stock is marred by smears, errant hairs and overexposure. Nougaro and Legrand’s ‘La Décharge’ (1976), as well as its wistful flipside, ‘Sa Maison’, are delivered in pieces, surging up here and there, though without the stark aural discontinuity practised by Jean-Luc Godard. Through an aesthetics of poverty opposed to the Institutional Mode of Representation (Burch 1973), La Ville bidon reveals its genesis as a work censored, shelved, recut, augmented and recomposed, a work resembling the junkmen’s own assemblages. Critics chided Baratier for having failed to unite what seemed to be two distinct films, one focused on the ferrailleurs, the other on political corruption in the Paris region. This was perhaps to ignore the mediating role of the sociologist whom the Deputy-Mayor hires to provide a rationale for evicting residents from Brunet’s property. Played by Jacques Baratier himself, the mild-mannered expert intuits that the situation is more complex than the development board makes out. Through the caretaker of the cité de transit (Roland Dubillard), he meets Fiona, who provides access to her lover Mario and his friends. Needless to say the report he files is sympathetic to the junkmen’s plight.



Screening the Paris suburbs The lingering dispute over eminent domain and residents’ rights abruptly comes to a head when the corpse of a young woman is discovered on Brunet’s dumpsite. Officials flanked by police arrive to clear the zone, and Mario incites the scrapmen to revolt. They sully a town official, harangue bystanders and set fire to junked cars in a redux of the barricades of May 68. The sequence concludes with Mario’s death at the wheel of a stolen police vehicle; whether this is a heroic last stand or a senseless accident is unclear. Whatever the case, the sound bridge of polite applause that overlays the cut from Mario’s lifeless body to a posh inauguration ceremony for the new town proves Baratier to be an adept of camp dialectics. The Deputy-Mayor’s speech is rife with platitudes, from the ability of engineers to achieve the impossible to the social peace that a well-appointed planned environment cannot but create: Dans ce monde trop souvent sans imagination, l’avenir réalise lentement les rêves des fous. De la maternité à la crèche, à l’école, à l’université, à l’usine, au bureau, au foyer, à la maison de retraite, l’existence entière de l’homme se déroulera dans le cadre de la cité nouvelle. Vous imaginez cela: 120,000, 150,000, 200,000 hommes, femmes, enfants vivant dans la totale harmonie. Fermeil sonnera le glas de la lutte des classes, et accomplira ce miracle, une société sans classes!6

Actor Boudard delivers these lines with panache. Yet Baratier is unsparing in his irony, baptising this new town sure to abolish class society ‘Fermeil’. The fictive place name evokes violence and foreclosed futures via the near-homonyms vermeil (blood red) and fermer (to shut) even as its morphology references real-world Créteil. A French tricolour shown flapping in the wind outside the new town’s information centre signifies the newly forged union of State and private interest. By 1976, when the uncut Ville bidon was finally released, the energies of the May–June 1968 student-worker revolts had largely been defused. Even so, on French soil there remained pockets of resistance where alternative styles of life were possible, self-contained micro-societies based not on utility and consensus but on freedom and dissent. In this respect La Ville bidon channels a collective desire for something other than the top-down models for suburban living characteristic of France’s post-war French modernisation project. Nowhere did Baratier’s film prove more prescient than in the closing monologue by the wine-soaked caretaker (Roland Dubillard). As the camera tilts and pans to survey the unfinished concrete surfaces and pilings of a residential complex, the caretaker shares in voiceover his thoughts on the so-called ‘quality of life’ in an environment he sees as more conducive to suicide: La qualité de la vie, qu’ils disent! Là où il y avait des trous pleins d’ordures ils ont bâti des grandes bites en ciment. Et ils croient que c’est pour toujours! Moi […] j’attends même pas vingt ans pour voir comment tout ça va pourrir, comment tout ça va culbuter à la décharge. Et moi, qui ne serai plus là pour voir.7

Screening France’s new towns after 1968 Baratier gives the last word to a representative of the disenfranchised who knows a good from a bad thing. The caretaker’s Right-anarchist leanings and slurred speech tear through the complacent rhetoric of social reformers and the mendacity of promoters whose prefab units are sure to succumb to the same short-order fate as any other consumer durable. As he surveys half-finished blocks and towers soon to be outfitted with balconies – the undulating ‘Choux’ shown in the prologue – the gardien fulfils his historical role as a guardian of collective memory, asking that spectators take heed in turn. Average futures Like ‘La Décharge’, the offbeat spoof Le Couple témoin by American fashion photographer and filmmaker William Klein (Qui êtes vous, Polly Magoo? 1966; Mr. Freedom, 1969) might have been a very different film. In the mid 1970s, Klein (b. 1928) signed with Gaumont for a multi-part docu-fiction that in six to eight hours would survey every aspect of life in France’s experimental villes nouvelles. When Gaumont withdrew its backing, Klein scaled back his ambitions and wrote a screenplay he could complete with the national film board’s advance alone.8 Shot with a minimum of sets and actors, the resulting satire turns on a fictive experiment conducted by a no less fictive ‘Ministry of the Future’ that seeks to back its planning decisions on psychometric data. The dramatic conceit of Le Couple témoin (1978) is simple: selected among a bevy of contestants by the Ministère de l’Avenir because they’re as average as they come, the ‘model couple’ incarnated by Claudine (Anémone) and Jean-Michel (André Dussollier) are to live four months in a ville nouvelle apartment under the watch of social psychologists. A bright yellow station wagon, its doors customdetailed with the Ministry’s rainbow logo, ferries the couple to its prototype residence where the experiment will unfold in its entirety (Figure 31). Unfinished buildings and construction materials strewn about suggest that the ville nouvelle is very much a thing of the future. Once they have washed up and donned white gowns, human lab rats Claudine and Jean-Michel will have no reason to go out: there is simply no ‘out’ there; what is more, the sadistic project leader, played deadpan by Swiss stage actress Zouc (alias Isabelle von Allmen), will not let them. The huis clos allows Klein to detail the regimentation of daily life in a gadgetobsessed age of efficiency. The model apartment is aseptic, as bereft of any signs of the past as the scrubbed interiors of Play Time (Jacques Tati, 1967). On the white walls and floor of the all-purpose living room, stencilled letters, numbers and symbols provide ‘points of reference’. Each day the couple are interviewed, monitored and timed by stopwatch as they eat, bathe or have sex (‘c’est scientifique’, Jean-Michel assures a timid Claudine under the sheets). Their primary occupation is to test new products: he tries out pens, hammers, telephones and razor blades, while she vets kitchen wares pitched by fast-talking product demonstrators (courtesy Les Galeries Lafayette). In the adjacent control room, the bespectacled Wolfgang



Screening the Paris suburbs processes data at a computer. Closed-circuit images of the new-town animals in their furnished cage are broadcast in real time to French television viewers; TV journalists comment on the state of the couple’s marriage. Under the weight of routinised, monitored living, the subjects’ enthusiasm flags. When Jean-Michel talks back at the pesky project leader, he is told that his negative reaction falls within ‘average response times’: the response only incenses him further. Disputes arise between the Zouc character and her affably perverse assistant (Jacques Boudet) as to whether the couple témoin is truly average enough. An open house confirms the celebrity status of Jean-Michel and Claudine who, instead of shaking hands with strangers, might have preferred going out for a brisk walk. But contracts are contracts and one doesn’t venture out in monogrammed jumpsuits. Klein’s camera revels in the surfaces and bold colours of 1970s Euro-design, from mirror-laden polyhedral side tables and moulded plastic chairs to column lighting and hi-fi components. Fast-motion cinematography allows the couple to furnish their apartment in minutes and to consume three dinners in rapid succession, while synth-heavy original songs with processed vocals accompany the couple’s domestic adventures like a Greek chorus. Though Klein’s pop-infused effervescence lacks the edge of Baratier’s scrappy La Ville bidon, its intended target – top-down State planning in the service of enforced consumption – is sensibly the same. The ville nouvelle experiment ranks high among governmental priorities, as a visit from the Minister of the Future (Georges Descrières) and a delegation of ‘experts’ attests. Among the latter is Dr Goldberg, an American futurist played tongue-in-cheek by actor Eddie Constantine, the onetime Lemmy Caution of the suburbo-futurist Alphaville (Jean-Luc Godard, 1965). Worried that the project leader will botch the presentation, her hierarchical superior takes over. After floating a bogus (and perfectly tautological) Le Corbusier quote that the Minister roundly approves – ‘Rien n’est plus proche de l’homme qu’un autre homme’ (Nothing’s closer to man than another man), he launches into a carefully edited synthesis of the model couple’s typical day. Average allotments per day for sleep, work and chores are cited along with weekly statistics for sex, including Claudine’s rates of orgasm and Jean-Michel’s premature ejaculation (whether the ville nouvelle milieu is directly responsible for any of these is not ventured). In the subsequent exchange on new-town building practices, Klein ratchets up the satire, referencing once again Le Corbusier, this time by way of the ‘Modulor’, or the ideally proportioned human form that the Swiss-born architect had set forth in 1944: DIRECTEUR:  […] le seuil minimum du bonheur, que nous appelons ici le Modulor du Bonheur Psycho-Social, est apparemment plus bas qu’on ne croyait. Si bien que nous pouvons abaisser les plafonds de 20 centimètres sans inconvénient. Alors, sur un bâtiment de quinze étages, cela nous donnerait … deux étages de plus pour le même prix. MINISTRE: Tss tss tss! Nous ne voulons pas de tours, vous le savez bien. DR GOLDBERG: Je ne suis pas revenu en France pour retrouver … Chicago (Rires).9

Screening France’s new towns after 1968 The forward-thinking planners behind the villes nouvelles may have repudiated the high-rise, it remains that the Minister is concerned more with budget than semantics (just how high can a low-rise go?). Duly briefed, the smooth-talking Minister of the Future joins the model couple for lunch, in a clear allusion to sitting President Valéry Giscard-d’Estaing’s habit of rubbing shoulders with the French people. The Minister takes particular interest in Claudine’s measurements head to toe (though mostly in-between) while the futurist Dr Goldberg toys with Jean-Michel in an impromptu experiment on blind obedience to authority. Ultimately, resistance and spontaneity must win out: Klein was, after all, the author of Grands Soirs et petits matins, arguably the finest single audio-visual account of May 68. In the event, the agents of overthrow are not the largely acquiescent Claudine and Jean-Michel, but a gang of children dressed as terrorists who take them hostage. Within hours, like the walls of the Odéon Theatre or the Sorbonne, the apartment is covered with graffiti. Kitchen supplies are ransacked, objects smashed or put to novel use. The media-worthy sequestration cum sit-in brightens up Jean-Michel and Claudine who now have a cure for their boredom. In a parody of the armed standoffs typical of 1970s genre films like Nada (Claude Chabrol, 1974), special teams are sent in to handle the hostage crisis; a brunette barely into her teens states that the terrorists will not negotiate. Renewing the ‘Stockholm Syndrome’, Claudine and Jean-Michel play along with their juvenile captors, though the children quickly tire and return to their families, bringing to a close the nationally televised crisis. Immigrant workers empty the model apartment: the Ministry of the Future has apparently cancelled the experiment. As the tandem of dejected scientists wander off, Claudine and Jean-Michel are left to ponder the meaning of life amid a heap of furniture, which is perhaps theirs to keep in lieu of a pay cheque. The unfinished ville nouvelle surrounding them speaks to promises left unfilled, projects half-begun, and opportunities stalled. Klein’s trademark zaniness gives way to subdued reflection: What if things were different? What might happiness look like outside of the suburban box, if the adults of tomorrow – rather than the bureaucrats of today – had a say in the way we live? The secret to future happiness cannot lie with a Ministry or administration that destroys local identity in the name of statistical norms, efficiency and technique. Reduced to the least common human denominator, the ‘model couple’ is left on a concrete slab wanting, wondering and dreaming. At least they’re outside. Return to Cergy A shared ambivalence toward technical modernity and planned environments unites these works for the screen across the 1970s. If the new towns offer, in addition to ‘all mod cons’, sundry amenities found lacking in the grands ensembles, their programmed character nonetheless inhibits personal fulfilment and affective release. What type of dwelling might then have provided the clearest path to happiness, or that more elusive French quality known as ‘épanouissement’? Opinion polls conducted during the post-war economic boom showed that what the



Screening the Paris suburbs French most wanted was not so many square metres of living space per capita, but single-family homes – precisely the building type that French ministries had rejected in the pursuit of ‘housing the people’ on a mass scale (Cupers 2014: 51; Rudolph 2015: 187–8). It is notable that the end of the grands ensembles in 1973 and the advent of state decentralisation coincided with a shift in target publics for French planners, from the nuclear family of four or five, to the childless couple of working professionals. As early as 1974, Eric Rohmer took stock of these perceptions in the four-part television documentary Ville nouvelle, co-produced with Jean-Paul Pigeat. The project brought Rohmer (1920–2010) into dialogue with policymakers, administrators, architects and the intrepid new town ‘pioneers’ who braved half-finished surroundings, delays and uncertainty. Aired in the dead of summer 1975 on France’s first channel, TF1, Ville nouvelle shows Rohmer – a stalwart of educational television – to be a well-informed observer whose understanding of design is rooted as much in the nuts and bolts of running a household as in architectural theory. If Rohmer is in no way censorious of the architects and planners he interviews, he is especially keen to know how future inhabitants will use the spaces given them, a concern broached in the segment entitled Logement à la demande (‘Housing on demand’). This context helps to explain why the two features Rohmer shot in the villes nouvelles of greater Paris procure such a seamless period representation of contemporary society even as they recall the high comedy of Marivaux and Courteline. Rohmer was, if not destined for, then at least particularly well suited to, the task. Beginning with the six Contes moraux (1961–71) he had tracked the evolution of the modern French couple, with a nearly exclusive focus on men and women in their 20s and 30s in search of a partner. Second, his use of real locations for exteriors and interiors alike valorised the ways characters interact with and perceive the built environment. Third, Rohmer had closely surveyed the new towns from their infancy, interacting with specialists and residents along the lines of the contemporary doctrine of user ‘participation’ (Cupers 2014: 168). The optimism on view in Ville nouvelle is largely absent from the lean, pessimistic Les Nuits de la pleine lune (1984) which captures Marne-la-Vallée in an unfinished, partly inhabited state. Panning on a 180-degree arc, the opening shot shows a commuter train station and, behind it, a row of newly erected low-rises closing the horizon. The camera pans left across muddy fields and freshly laid roadways punctuated with signage before it comes to rest on the façade of a cool white apartment block, its tubular metallic guardrails, window fittings and two-storey latticed entrance painted dark blue. Inside lies the duplex flat where protagonist Louise (Pascale Ogier) lives with urban planner Rémi (Tchéky Karyo). In their all-purpose living room grey tones are overlaid with splashes of red, blue and yellow chromatically linked to two wall-hung Mondrian reproductions. We catch the couple in a vigorous exchange. At issue for Louise is how to reconcile her desire for independence with her

Screening France’s new towns after 1968 commitment to Rémi; more mundanely, she wants to know whether he will attend a party that evening in central Paris, and whether they would return to Marne separately or together. While Louise longs to spend her weekends dancing until dawn, Rémi finds socialising tiresome and prefers to rest up before his morning tennis engagements. When the couple’s conversation ebbs, sounds of RER commuter trains entering and exiting the nearby station can be heard – a reminder that if Paris is just a train ride away, you still have to get there. It is less the unbecoming habitat of the new town per se that frustrates Louise than the contrary pull of Paris. An intern in a high-end interior design firm, she commutes each morning from Marne-la-Vallée to offices on an elegant seventeenthcentury square on the Right Bank. Her closest male friend is the archly Parisian Octave (Fabrice Luchini), a married writer and inveterate seducer. When Louise learns that the Paris studio she owns is without a tenant, she decides to keep it as a ‘pied-à-terre’ (bachelorette pad). This announcement prompts Octave to ask the fraught question of what ‘home’ means for someone who, unbeknown to Rémi, plans to split her time between two flats 30 kilometres apart. His assessment – based on prejudice and conjecture alone – is that Marne-la-Vallée can only be terribly dull (‘terrifiant d’ennui’): OCTAVE: La banlieue me déprime. Je ne comprends pas comment tu as pu aller t’enterrer là-bas. LOUISE:  C’est que Rémi, il a trouvé une situation très bien à la Mission d’aménagement de la ville nouvelle.10

Conflating the necessarily ‘depressing’ banlieue and the new town of Marne-laVallée, Octave reprises an age-old anti-suburban refrain: how to dispel the image of the far-flung new town as capital of boredom? Rather than defend Marnela-Vallée, Louise gives as her reason for relocating the prestige of Rémi’s job. Crossing his arms as if to defend himself from a similar fate, Octave is sceptical: OCTAVE:  Les villes nouvelles, j’y crois pas. LOUISE:  Lui [Rémi], il y croit. OCTAVE:  Il aurait pu habiter Paris? LOUISE: Non. Tu sais bien que c’est deux fois plus cher. Et puis il pense qu’il faut habiter sur les lieux. C’est plus franc. OCTAVE:  S’il construisait une prison, il y habiterait, sur les lieux? LOUISE:  Meuh, je le crains, c’est assez son style. OCTAVE:  Et tu le suivrais?11

Though Louise skirts the question, it is clear from the many nights she will spend in her newly decorated pad that her heart lies in Paris. A characteristic plot twist



Screening the Paris suburbs exposes her self-deception and illustrates the proverb announced at the film’s outset: ‘Qui a deux femmes perd son âme, Qui a deux maisons perd sa raison.’12 In the space of a night, the cosy Paris studio that Louise equates with freedom becomes just as suffocating for her as Rémi’s spacious flat. After sleeping with a musician (Christian Vadim) she had met at a party, Louise steals out of her studio to a café, then takes the first train to Marne-la-Vallée, only to find that Rémi has spent the night elsewhere. When he returns that morning, he announces his love for Marianne, whom the week previous Octave, in a classically Rohmerian quiproquo, had mistaken for Louise’s best friend Camille in a Left Bank café. The closing shot inverts the opening 180-degree pan, showing Louise as she leaves Marne, bags in hand, to return by commuter train to Paris (Figure 32). The unfinished quality of the winter landscape reflects her failed quest for happiness through companionship. Once again she finds herself in transition, after the image of the nascent new town itself. What then to make, in light of this cool assessment of the ville nouvelle, of the jubilant L’Ami de mon amie, where Blanche’s closing sentimental triumph by the lambent Etangs de Neuville seems to celebrate Cergy-Pontoise as the kind of space where dreams really do come true? Central to Rohmer’s project in the latter film is investigating how unmarried, upwardly mobile inhabitants overcome solitude through a mix of chance encounters and agreed-upon dates. Yet here, even chance encounters have a planned quality. In the estimation of art student Adrienne (Anne-Laure Meury), romantic opportunities in Cergy are few: the lab technician Fabien and engineer Alexandre as ‘more or less the only layable guys’ in town (‘les deux seuls mecs à peu près baisables’). When the characters do leave Cergy, they insist that friends come along, as if to protect themselves from an overly foreign environment. Social confinement echoes spatial confinement, ensuring that outside Rohmer’s five principal characters, no further players join in the game of love and chance, which turns on a fixed number of heterosexual romantic permutations. Joël Magny remarks in this vein that Rohmer’s mise-en-scène visually contains its subjects: ‘le cadre épouse les lignes mêmes de cette architecture qui enferme inévitablement le film, son espace, mais surtout les personnages, limitant leur mobilité, voire leur imagination’ (Magny 1992: 97).13 Living conditions are a prime conversation topic. When Léa and Blanche first meet in the town hall’s cafeteria, they compare notes on the difficulty of meeting people. Pursuing their discussion on the raised terraces of the Hôtel de Ville, Blanche describes the Belvédère apartments where she lives in Cergy-St. Christophe. What Léa sees as a barracks (‘ça fait caserne’) Blanche describes as a palace (‘Non, je dirais plutôt palais’). Rattling off the virtues of living in new construction, Blanche catches herself for speaking like a promotional brochure: ‘Je te parle comme dans un prospectus.’ That Blanche, who has just moved to Cergy, should speak in platitudes is no surprise: her office walls are lined with posters advertising ‘De la place au soleil’ and ‘De la place pour l’Amitié’ (Room in the Sun/Room for Friendship) in Cergy. Whether there is room for love too, is another matter; for the moment, Blanche confides to Léa, she’ll have to do without.

Screening France’s new towns after 1968 Newly transferred to the ville nouvelle by the national electric company EDF, Alexandre ironises over the packaged new-town lifestyle: ‘évidemment avec les 15 chaînes de télévision, les lacs, les tennis, bientôt le golf, les théâtres on aurait du mal à s’ennuyer!’ (of course with 15 television stations, lakes, tennis courts, and soon a golf range and theatres, it would be hard to get bored!). To hide his resentment at having been exiled to suburbia, he makes of necessity virtue, claiming that he feels better integrated into the immense Paris region than if he lived in the capital’s central first district: ‘Mon champ d’action porte sur l’étendue de la mégapole. Je me déplace de nord en sud, de l’est à l’ouest, je suis l’homme des mégapoles!’14 Though he quotes the grand rhetoric of regional planners largely to impress Blanche and Léa, on another level the Perrier-drinking Alexandre does seem to enjoy living far from the nuisances of the capital. Critic Jacques Aumont downplays the would-be ‘promotional’ quality of the film’s approach to the open-air public spaces of Cergy-Pontoise, underscoring instead the creative uses to which Rohmer puts them (Aumont 1987: 8). With hindsight, L’Ami de mon amie is less a high-level exercise in product placement or an apology for postmodern lifestyles than a testimony to a lingering yet unrequited collective longing for built environments able to reflect and respond to desire. The characters’ espousal of the new-town concept would operate, then, along the lines of fetishistic disavowal: I know very well Cergy isn’t Paris, but I can still find my place there all the same. If the sub-urban quality of the banlieue has partly been superseded, the new town resident is nevertheless pressed to invent an identity distinct from that of the city dweller. The planned and the unplanned The introduction onto French soil of planned environments needs to be grasped as an event, with all the disruptive potential the word invites. In the five films of the 1970s and 1980s surveyed here, built space impinges on daily life, influencing its course and by turns fashioning or abolishing possible ways of feeling at one or at odds with the milieu. As we have seen, Le Chat underscored in conventional film language the effects of suburban renewal on a generation that, rather than seek accommodations within late modernity, prefers to hole up and wait till the bitter end. Psychology is consistently displaced onto the dual spectacle of demolition and construction, which hasten the demise of a once carefree couple. Close in spirit and ethos to May 68, the rough-hewn La Ville bidon celebrates qualities that most observers decried in the suburban milieu: its anarchic spatiality, its lack of social cohesion, its distance from organised economy and legitimate culture alike. Where the representatives of power see undeveloped land ripe for the taking, Baratier sees an anthropologically rich ‘fourth world’ whose underdevelopment ensures its authenticity and its political potential. Klein’s slick satire of the hyperrationalised human communities of tomorrow stages a shift from acquiescence to a joyous, childlike refusal to comply, as if the new-town experiment in hypercontrolled living carried within it the conditions for individual liberation.



Screening the Paris suburbs Even in Rohmer’s gentler world, happiness remains elusive in the absence of chance, which alone can makes things happen – just as planned. By giving discursive existence to pro-filmic elements that are themselves ensconced in the history of French modernisation, each work dynamises and makes meaningful a set of lived and imaged relations tethered to a transformed suburban environment.The language of narrative film thus fulfils a dual role, constructing perceptual schemata in relation to territory or habitat and questioning these same historical constellations of form and meaning. Notes 1 LÉA: You’ve got to be kidding. Have you lost your mind? Don’t try to tell me you saw Alexandre here, Saturday. BLANCHE: Alexandre? Fabien, but I’m talking about Fabien! LÉA: And I’m talking about Alexandre! 2 Fiona Handyside points to Rohmer’s ‘gendered awareness of spatial politics in which the centre may be considered alienating, and the possible pleasures of the periphery are explored’ (Handyside 2009: 207). 3 Schéma directeur d’aménagement et d’urbanisme de la région parisienne (SDAURP). Four other new towns were sited in the provinces. For an overview of the villes nouvelles’ conception and implementation, see Merlin (1991). 4 In his tongue-in-cheek portrait of the pilot grand ensemble Sarcelles, satirist Marc Bernard speaks of ‘la ville nouvelle’ (Bernard 1964: 26); a later study of the same complex northwest of Paris bears the revealing title La première ville nouvelle (Jannoud and Pinel 1974). 5 Writer Georges Perec likewise associates these forms in a litany of uninhabitable spaces: ‘les bidonvilles, les villes bidon’ (Perec 1974: 176). 6 ‘In a world too often lacking in imagination, the future slowly realises the wildest dreams. From the preschool to the nursery, school, university, factory, office, workers’ shelter and retirement home, man’s entire existence will unfold in the confines of the new town. Just imagine: 120,000, 150,000, 200,000 men, women and children living in total harmony. Fermeil will ring the death knell of class struggle and bring about the miracle of a classless society!’ 7 ‘They call that ‘quality of life’! Where there used to be rubbish-filled holes they’ve put up big cement pricks. And they think it’ll last forever! I won’t give them twenty years before it all goes to rot and ends up in the dump. And me, I won’t be around to see it.’ 8 Centre National de la Cinématographie or CNC. 9 DIRECTOR: The minimal threshold of happiness, which here we call the ‘Modulor of Psycho-Social Happiness’, is apparently lower that we thought. Which means that we can lower ceilings by 20 cm without negative side effects. On a building of fifteen storeys, then, that would give us … two extra storeys at the same price. MINISTER: Tsk tsk tsk! We don’t want any towers, you know perfectly well. DR GOLDBERG: I didn’t come back to France to find … Chicago! (Laughter). 10 OCTAVE: The suburbs depress me. I don’t get why you went and buried yourself out there. LOUISE: It’s Rémi who got a choice position at the new town planning office. 11 OCTAVE: I don’t believe in the new towns. LOUISE: Well he [Rémi] does. OCTAVE: Could he have lived in Paris? OCTAVE: No. You know it’s twice as expensive. And he thinks you should live on site. It’s more honest! OCTAVE: If he built a prison would

Screening France’s new towns after 1968 he live in it? LOUISE: Mm, I’m afraid so, that’s pretty much his style. OCTAVE: And you’d follow him? 12 Roughly, ‘Whoever has two wives loses his soul/Whoever has two houses loses his head.’ Each of the six Comédies et proverbes is fronted by a proverb, whether drawn from oral tradition or invented. 13 ‘the frame follows the lines of an architecture that inevitably encloses the film, its spaces and above all its characters, limiting their mobility, even their imagination’ 14 ‘My field of action covers the whole metropolitan area. Moving from north to south, east to west, I’m metropolitan man!’

References Aumont, Jacques (1987), ‘L’extraordinaire et le solide’, L’avant-scène du cinéma 260 (Dec.): 3–13. Bernard, Marc (1964), Sarcellopolis, Paris, Flammarion. Burch, Noël (1973), Theory of Film Practice, trans. Helen R. Lane, New York, Praeger. Cayrol, Jean (1968), De l’espace humain, Paris, Seuil. Cupers, Kenny (2014), The Social Project: Housing Postwar France. Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press. Dufaux, Frédéric and Annie Fourcaut (eds) (2004), Le monde des grands ensembles, Grâne, Créaphis. Handyside, Fiona (2009), ‘The Margins Don’t Have to Be Marginal: The Banlieue in the Films of Eric Rohmer’, in Helen Vassallo and Paul Cooke (eds), Alienation and Alterity, New York, Peter Lang, 201–22. Hertay, Alain (1998), Eric Rohmer: Comédies et Proverbes, Liège, Editions de Céfal. Jannoud, Claude and Marie-Hélène Pinel (1974), La première ville nouvelle, Paris, Mercure de France. Magny, Joël (1992), ‘Les raisins verts: L’Ami de mon amie’, in Jacques Déniel et al., Éric Rohmer: ‘Tout est fortuit sauf le hasard’, Dunkerque, Studio 43/MJC/École régionale des Beaux-Arts. Merlin, Pierre (1991), Les villes nouvelles en France, Paris, Presses universitaires de France. Nougaro, Claude, and Michel Legrand (1976), ‘La Décharge/Sa Maison’, 45 r.p.m. single, France, Philips 6042 113. Perec, Georges (1974), Espèces d’espaces, Paris, Galilée. Rudolph, Nicole C. (2015), At Home in Postwar France: Modern Mass Housing and the Right to Comfort, Berghahn, New York and Oxford. Schilling, Derek (2007), Eric Rohmer, Manchester, Manchester University Press. Simenon, Georges (2003), Le chat, in Romans, vol. II, ed. Jacques Dubois, Paris, Gallimard, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, 1375–1499. Smith, Alison (2005), French Cinema in the 1970s:The Echoes of May, Manchester, Manchester University Press. Vieillard-Baron, Hervé (2001), Les banlieues: des singularités françaises aux réalités mondiales, Paris, Hachette. Williams, Raymond (1973), The Country and the City, London, Chatto and Windus.



Towers of evil: Jean-Claude Brisseau David Vasse

When he officially began his filmmaking career, at the turn of the 1980s, JeanClaude Brisseau set out to film what he knew best: the housing projects of the Paris suburbs. A blighted world where under mottled skies lives are spent trying to break free from the law of the strongest; where relationships are power struggles meant to safeguard a territory and a place within it; where age-old forces and hierarchies create zones of intemperate violence at home and at work, with all exits barred and no possible redemption, save through the wearying exercise of consciousness. This picture, judged at the time as overly negative by some, escapes the commonplaces of social cinema thanks to Brisseau’s unique conception of metaphysics. It is a metaphysics of evil in a world in which individuals who act with reckless abandon or who rebel each strive to impose rules and rights of their own, at the risk of self-ruin. In his first decade of filmmaking, from La Vie comme ça (1978) to De bruit et de fureur (1988), Jean-Claude Brisseau (b. 1944) was labelled a ‘social filmmaker’ in spite of himself, and one of the first directors to describe so openly realities that were taboo on French screens. Clearly, this moniker sat poorly with Brisseau whose distaste for labels and categories was lifelong. Refusing to be coopted as a spokesperson for suburban residents either by the media or by politicians, he tirelessly defended the crucial imaginary component thanks to which the apparent realism of décors and behaviours can be derived from more profound ways of thinking about the primitive origins of conflict in human societies. Shooting his debut feature La Vie comme ça in 1978 at the age of 34,1 Brisseau sought to fuse two key elements: his experience as a teacher in, and resident of, the suburbs on the one hand, and the strong anchoring of contemporary French films in the professional business world on the other. During the second half of the 1970s, workplace conflicts had come to dominate Left-leaning French features, without automatically taking the form of anticapitalist diatribe. It is in this context

Towers of evil: Jean-Claude Brisseau that La Vie comme ça took shape, though its bitterness and disenchantment have little to do with the prevailing feel-good conscience in social films typical of the period. This no doubt explains why Brisseau spent nearly three years editing it. Rather than sweeten the portrayal of class conflict for commercial ends, the filmmaker addresses the failures of urbanisation in the French cités, a process that produces idleness and delinquency among the downtrodden. Nor does Brisseau hide from view the suffering to which personnel are subjected in the workplace through bouts of belittlement and humiliation. The filmmaker hits hard – where it really counts – by melding autobiography and the unflinching observation of daily life, which is so starkly portrayed as to border on abstraction. Focusing on the long ordeal of Agnès Tessier (Lisa Hérédia), a young secretary who works in a factory that makes chemical by-products and who dwells in a low-income high-rise in Bagnolet, just east of Paris, Brisseau describes social origins even as he stages his vision of archaic, universal relations in a world wracked by violence and solitude. Brisseau worked as a teacher of French in the 1970s and 1980s, first in Bagnolet, then in Aubervilliers northwest of the capital. He then requested six years of unpaid leave to make his first ‘official’ films, Un Jeu brutal (1982) and De bruit et de fureur (1988). In that capacity he witnessed firsthand the delinquency, unrest, abandonment and dereliction that parch the imaginary wherever concreteladen towers of flats block out the sky. La Vie comme ça presents a realistic chronicle of the years leading towards an inescapable moral and societal crisis, yet never does it fall into a platitudinous sociological rendering of facts. As his later films would show, Brisseau takes trivial, horribly ordinary things and pushes their representation to such extremes that they appear almost supernatural, revealing a maleficent essence below their filthy surface. Through Agnès’ vicissitudes and challenges at home and at work, Brisseau composes a treatise in social anthropology where everyday actions rise above the status of symptom to attain to the fatality of existence, thanks to a peculiar manner of exceeding the real. Violence in La Vie comme ça is both omnipresent and unstoppable. Physical and moral, cruel and commonplace, it affects everyone, children as much as working adults. Life in the housing projects and life at work form two adjacent spheres; in each, human relations are subject to the same brutal and insinuating logic of intimidation. Physical aggression on the one side and harassment on the other show violence to be so integral to the social system as to constitute the very principle of its functioning. If such a systematisation of violence in all its guises may seem out of proportion, like an insane circle dance, it is because Brisseau wishes less to chronicle the lives of others than to paint human suffering. The human animal flees isolation and seeks contact with others only to yield to the conflict between self-preservation and a death instinct, both filmed comme ça, just so, indifferently and in no particular order. From the outset, the filmmaker adopts Freud’s idea according to which humans, who are aggressive by nature, are wont to undo civilisation by jettisoning it into an abhorrent, primitive abyss.



Screening the Paris suburbs In this respect, Brisseau’s hopelessness is total. Not made to live alone, humans require others in order to evolve, develop and learn to live and to love in society. Yet they remain locked in struggle with others stronger than they, and with the injustice that stems from the need of the powerful to defeat by any means necessary all those who would stand in their way. In Bagnolet, death is a sordid circus. Suicide abounds. Murders motivated by financial gain are committed in basements. Children laugh at the decomposing corpses of the old persons left behind in indifference. A young man on a bike spins around the bloodied body of a woman who has just thrown herself out of the window – and she’s not the first. Like a sinister merry-go-round, the accursed bicycle bespeaks a sordid cycle of everyday horror. Humanity itself seems to have deserted this place. Residents of the housing project systematically take the elevator to avoid meeting their neighbours on stairwell landings. The forlorn building superintendent, who has seen his share of misery, deplores the fact that he no longer embodies the bonds felt among residents and that, today, its apartment doors shut tight, the high-rise tower has lost its soul. Though he does bring warmth to Agnès who, for her part, amicably listens to him and seeks to understand, the pervasive cruelty hopelessly embedded in the reinforced concrete will win out over solidarity. One might expect the décor’s hardness, emphasised by the grain of Brisseau’s 16-mm stock and feverish amateurism of the images, to lend itself to an overindulgent dramatisation. Brisseau’s goal is, however, to take interest in the play of political and philosophical disparities of social behaviour alone. In 1981, Brisseau made Les Ombres as a commission for the series Télévision de chambre produced by Jean Collet for the state-run Institut National de l’Audiovisuel. The director pursues his clinical exploration of the prison that is suburban life, a life subordinated to the social, familial and economic order. In the filmmaker’s Marxist sensibility, life becomes carceral wherever it is synonymous with the cooptation of human activity by the market economy. Pierre (Jacques Serres) tells his daughter that his factory is about to be bought out by a German financial group and that massive layoffs are being planned as a result. Outside the home, the constraints of capital weigh on the labourer. Inside the home, constraints are of another nature, yet they say in no uncertain terms what people faced with materiality and utility become: so many beings with no hope for happiness. Following his wife’s decision to pursue headlong her childhood dream of becoming a famous singer, the husband submits to doing the housework. In the factory and at home he remains an ordinary slave, subject to the dual laws of the ‘domestic economy’. In keeping with one of INA’s stipulations for this series (under one hour running time per feature), Les Ombres was shot exclusively in interiors, in the confined space of a low-rent HLM flat. We enter from the outside – the building’s courtyard is shown first – but never do we venture back out, and not until the very last shot are we reminded that beyond the sitting-room window – now left wide open – stretches an expanse of sky. As the younger sister Nathalie (Nathalie Brevet) says, ‘On ne fait jamais attention au soleil’ (We never pay attention to the

Towers of evil: Jean-Claude Brisseau sun). Hemmed in by the flat’s poorly soundproofed walls, the film builds on the sky’s erasure and on the viewer’s fading memory of the opening shots in which Nathalie, her head bowed over her storybook, left the brightness of a sun-drenched day for the lugubrious half-light of the building’s entrance hall. Perched above the windowsill over the void, Nathalie asks herself what the country priest meant at the close of Georges Bernanos’ Journal d’un curé de campagne when he exclaimed: ‘Tout est grâce!’ (All is grace). She tells her father her dream of a crazed vagabond shouting out ‘tout est amour, tout est grâce’ (All is love, all is grace). What is the meaning of this? Is there still cause to believe in miracles when perspectives are so limited as to call to mind a grotesque, pathetic corridor? Does the angel from the book Nathalie is reading in voiceover at the film’s opening scene have a rightful place in the neighbourhood? Nothing is for certain, as the putative hope inscribed in the concluding image of Les Ombres goes unconfirmed, hesitating between flight and descent, between a new departure under fair skies and the attraction to the void. Building on spatial confinement, the film adjudicates the painful coexistence of cherished hopes (an upward movement towards the light) and the prosaic and mundane (the broom, the washing machine – it takes both to set the laundry spinning). Everything in the apartment is partitioned off and separated by a hallway that assigns each character to his or her function. As there is a time for self-fulfilment and a time for resignation, each is duly allotted a zone whose screen image underscores both an untenable physical proximity and total symbolic incompatibility. Christine can no longer bear living comme ça or ‘just so’ in the HLM low-rent apartment. In a rivalrous relationship toward matter and sound, she tries to replace that weighty life of concrete with another life both light and luminous. The ambient noise, shouts and cries are countered by the beauty of her song, though this too is in vain.The whole film is buoyed by two topographical and philosophical questions: can the dream of ascent via art chime with the burdensome social realities of life under suburban hard times? Can a space of representation conducive to this ideal find its place in the compartmentalised structures of institutions? Brisseau’s cinema constantly connects elevation and prosaicism in the corners of a similar walled-in space. Its radical adoption of feminine self-awareness can be read as extending feminist struggles of the 1970s. Women no longer wish to pay tribute to patriarchy and seek to free themselves from the representations it imposes.Yet Les Ombres goes well beyond victimising women as prisoners of their condition in what would be a Left-leaning show of good conscience. It shows rather how human nature swings between rising to the heavens and leaping out into the void, between sublimity and ugliness, candour and pettiness. Produced for Jean Collet’s programme Les Contes modernes (Modern Tales) and likewise produced by the INA, the short L’Echangeur (1981) prefigures De bruit et de fureur, shot five years later. This story of a childhood squandered in a logic of survival transpires in zones of grey suburban misery where ring roads stretch as far as the eye can see. Like the future delinquent of De bruit et de fureur,



Screening the Paris suburbs its protagonist is named Jean-Roger, although his characteristics prefigure more closely that film’s central character, Bruno. The 12 year-old has just moved into the low-rent flat of his divorced mother whose absenteeism forces Jean-Roger to fend for himself. He changes schools and quickly takes up with a turbulent classmate who is wholly unable to follow school rules, and who on the sly sells comic books and pornography to friends and young denizens of the projects. In keeping with La Vie comme ça, Brisseau portrays the terrifying phenomenon of abandonment that reigns supreme over a decaying urban universe in which the adults look after their own security while children eke out a meagre existence by engaging in petty theft. Nourished by the filmmaker’s personal experience as a teacher in underprivileged neighbourhoods, L’Echangeur places in a reciprocally transformative relation the imaginary created by knowledge on the one hand and, on the other, the precarious quality of daily life for children who are lacking in stable reference points. School provides an opportunity for spiritual betterment and for understanding the other, but it is also suffused by the survival instinct of children who, lost and confused, will fail to capture the beauty of poetry. The opening scene shows this when Jean-Roger enters his new classroom. The class is analysing a text by Anatole France, Le crime de Sylvestre Bonnard, in which a scientist is lovestruck by the appearance of a fairy. The teacher (Lisa Hérédia) perseveres in asking several pupils what the text means, to no avail. While the class goes on, money passes secretly from one table to the next for the purchase of pornographic comics; like Anatole France’s main character, the supplier is named Sylvestre. The ‘little man’ (petit frère) hangs out after school under the overpass of the ring road, hauling his merchandise on an improvised wagon. In reaction to the clear absence of a way out, whether real or fantasmatic, Brisseau uses cinema to restore the imaginary by filming his characters as if they were small-time trafickers. To be sure, Bagnolet is no Moonfleet, but crossing this filth-ridden concrete territory does bring to mind adventure stories with their secret stashes (Sylvestre hides his money in one) and standoffs with the authorities. Like an old cart straight out of a Western, the wagon onto which Sylvestre loads his treasures can be read as a remnant of a wasted childhood along the lines of an initiatory tale formed by a few minor events: the theft of a car radio, the under-the-table sale of weapons, etc. In a sense, Brisseau uses his passion for cinema so as to not limit his characters’ representation to the painful contingencies of reality. As an adolescent, cinema had helped him escape the morosity of daily life, and it is through cinema that the adult director can dream up petty delinquents and make them exist as something other than sociological examples. Hence Brisseau’s cinephilia represents the same synthesis of knowledge and imagination that Anatole France evokes in his story and that the French teacher attempts to explain. Perfectly assimilated as an outlook and representation of a culturally deprived minority, it allows the director to transform the saddening platitudes of the real into an existential supplement influenced by imaginary

Towers of evil: Jean-Claude Brisseau projections. It’s no coincidence that in the film we see Brisseau getting ready to attend a film screening. Its apparent modesty aside, L’Echangeur treats head-on the question most central to Brisseau, that of voyeurism.Voyeurism is both the constitutive basis for spectatorship and a principle of knowledge since Plato’s time. To know, one must first look intensely, that is, one must deploy one’s gaze.Yet the film suggests that this formative dimension has a limited role, as activity must first be profitable, in the most immediate sense of the term. Like Bruno in De bruit et de fureur, Jean-Roger learns through the ordeal of looking. He is a passive witness to Sylvestre’s doings. Through Jean-Roger’s point of view, the film retraces the path leading from the refusal of knowledge (at school) to the desire to look (at the peep show), and from the false image (sex depicted by comic books) to the veritable event (sex performed as if on stage). Flipping through a pornographic comic, Jean-Roger admits he would prefer to see real sex than sex on paper. Sylvestre takes this to the letter and invites Jean-Roger along with some classmates to attend a girlfriend’s striptease number, scheduled to take place in secret. But the pitiful and coldly ritualised event is only a paid show: it is, like everything else, a money-making venture. To look, you must pay, but not touch; looking thus comes at a price. By the same token, fabricated or live, profane or transcendent (the concluding music and slow-motion point to paltry fantasies), sex remains a form of commerce. The conclusion according to which anything can be bought or sold is L’Echangeur’s most chilling element. Nothing allows characters to dream of possible fulfilment in love, desire, self-discovery or discovery of others. Minimally, and seen from the children’s perspective, the film reconfigures the Marxist equation according to which possessing everything by virtue of money makes the possessor – regardless of age or origin – a being superior to his particular abilities, a potential exploiter of needs and the master of an uninterrupted chain of more or less fraudulent exchanges. Oppressed and socially excluded, the precocious gangsters of L’Echangeur instrumentalise relationships and pervert the process of individual self-realisation. Nomadism and the absence of lineage lead them to deny value distinctions between the real and its fantasmatic reproduction, so long as basic needs – beginning with the consumption of sexually charged images – can be met. An introductory title card reading ‘a day in May 1981’ places the action in a moment that in contemporary French history appears anything but anecdotal. Though it is a matter of coincidence alone (the film was finished beforehand) the reference has obvious political connotations. After a long wait, the Left triumphed in the French elections of spring 1981, a seemingly providential event that did little to curb unabating social and moral misery. Between La Vie comme ça and L’Echangeur, released in 1978 and 1982 respectively, nothing had changed, despite the urban renewal programme of 1981 which, under the aegis of la politique de la ville, promised to expand France’s social housing stock and improve living conditions in disadvantaged neighbourhoods. L’Echangeur denounces in a way the French State’s inability to deliver on its promises in this area. Shooting De bruit



Screening the Paris suburbs et de fureur in 1986–87, Brisseau would reprise aspects of L’Echangeur as well as of La Vie comme ça and Les Ombres before it, to suggest that under governments of the Right and Left alike, social unrest in the suburbs remains a burning issue yet to be resolved. So strongly did the director shake the political class from its torpour that Brisseau simultaneously found himself accused, on the Left, of Right-wing doomsaying à la Jean-Marie Le Pen, and on the Right, of indulging in fanatical caricature. The idea for De bruit et de fureur dates to the late 1970s. Written before Un jeu brutal, the screenplay was inspired by incidents the filmmaker had witnessed fourteen years earlier while teaching French in a Bagnolet middle school. It scared off television and cinema producers alike. Several thought its content the product of Brisseau’s fantasies about suburban social reality; in no way, they thought, could it have provided a credible, honest eyewitness account. Worse still, the Right and the Left accused the filmmaker of exaggerating delinquency to play into the hands of the extreme Right. Brisseau nevertheless maintained he had made the film for two reasons: first, to warn public opinion against the fascist-like systems then taking root in blighted neighourhoods,2 and second, from the standpoint of urban violence, to delve into the condition of individuals who are torn between the primary forces of survival and the aspiration to internal peace that the transmission of knowledge can bring about. Where French cinema of the 1970s privileged sociological chronicles like Elle court, elle court la banlieue (Gérard Pirès, 1973), across the 1980s the unattractive décor of the banlieues beset with various crises (unemployment, violence between groups, generational conflict) was home to narratives of social retribution and a renewed belief in love, friendship and solidarity even as they acknowledged the failings of la politique de la ville. These included Laisse béton (Serge Le Péron, 1983), Pierre et Djemila (Paul Blain, 1986), and Le Thé au harem d’Archimède (Mehdi Charef, 1985). Brisseau’s feature of 1988 thus did not come out of nowhere. All the same, its effect was that of a bomb, and it fuelled a polemic such that, the aforementioned forays aside, it was qualified as the first French film to portray life in the suburbs in unremittingly harsh terms. At base, no one dared believe Brisseau’s depiction of juvenile delinquency, of an educational system unresponsive to an unmonitored student population, and of helpless institutions. Many were perturbed by the extreme brutality of behaviours and Brisseau’s pessimistic outlook, but also by certain stylistic choices – the luminous apparition of the Dame Blanche first among them – that seemed to contradict the film’s overall appearance of veracity. Yet the most spirited attacks came from political leaders who saw deep down in De bruit et de fureur the reflection of their own inability to craft solutions aside from increased police repression, which itself proves powerless. Brisseau responded to these attacks by saying that the violent events portrayed were quite tame in regard to actual situations he had witnessed. In this respect, his detractors weren’t wrong: the film isn’t quite faithful to what really took place. In preparing De bruit et de fureur the filmmaker relied on his firsthand observations

Towers of evil: Jean-Claude Brisseau as a teacher and on the often horrific anecdotes he had heard from neighbourhood youth at the time.This documentary material on its own was not enough, however. These elements drawn from lived experience served to ground a broader, universal exploration of humanity’s attraction to the depths and of the respite that can arise through identification with the existence of others. To quote Freud, who is an unavoidable reference for Brisseau, De bruit et de fureur describes the discontents of a civilisation and of a culture,3 the decay of a social space eroded by destructive instincts and harmful drives. Proportional to the deterioration of social bonds is the hope for a way out, through knowledge and the sublimation of the feelings it inspires. To be sure, some were quick to criticise the film’s pessimism and weighty tone, but also its refusal to succour the victims of what amounts to an anthropological disaster. Worst of all, no doubt, few forgave Brisseau a film so radically heterogeneous as to blend in one and the same sequence the supernatural and the sordid, the comic and the tragic. This conjunction of aesthetically mismatched elements, the constant shifts in tone and in register as well as the attempt to fuse dream and reality, could only weaken the treatment of the subject and, by the same token, render it null and void. But the power and audacity of Brisseau’s film lies precisely in fleeing standardisation, labels, one-sided points of view or categorisations of any sort. How to classify such a film? Is it social chronicle? Domestic tragedy? A philosophical and political fable? It is arguably all of these things at once and Brisseau is adamant on this count. It could just as well be called materialistic phantasmagoria, a hallucinatory vertigo culled from the paltry weight of existence. De bruit et de fureur flees sociological cliché under the magical auspices of a singular metamorphosis. At first glance, it seems to synthesise Brisseau’s two previous features. From Un Jeu brutal it borrows the two-speed initiatory narrative of two adolescents who have broken with social norms and who live wracked in anguish, whether latent or explosive. Unmoored and untouched by morality or guilt, at the close of their journey through evil and suffering these beings will awaken to an inner peace that is both unexpected and tragic, if not fatal. From La Vie comme ça, the film borrows the suburban décor with its tensions and outbursts, outcries and crises. But this time around, excess gives rise to a radiant imaginary that transcends the setting, even as the banlieue comes to resemble a besieged fortress in the twilight of the world. As a narrative counterpoint we witness the slow acculturation process by which a lonely child (Bruno) escapes the jungle of the housing projects thanks to his middle-school teacher who gives him special attention, and the secret drama of jealousy – understood in Spinoza’s sense of hatred in the face of others’ happiness – felt by the school’s head troublemaker, Jean-Roger, an uncontrollable adolescent whose preferred pastime is serial delinquency and who trumpets his freedom by aggressively flaunting established rules. Left alone by an absentee mother whom he joins after his grandmother’s passing, Bruno (Vincent Gasperitsch) has no choice but to turn to the company of his canary Superman and to Jean-Roger (François Négret), who rapidly pulls



Screening the Paris suburbs him into his disreputable wake. The film widens an inexorable gap for the nearorphan, his life split between evening and daytime, shelter and chaos. After school, far from the disorder of the classroom and the daily tumult of the housing project, Bruno learns from his teacher (Fabienne Babe) – a possible maternal substitute – about the mysteries of the universe, poetry and the calming qualities of music. At an hour when all noise halts, the boy escapes into thought and into slowly developing feelings. But during the day, alongside Jean-Roger he witnesses reprehensible acts perpetrated by the neighbourhood gang and by his friend’s family. Caught between the teacher and the troublemaker, Bruno is drawn to the rare opportunities to overcome his solitude and feeling of abandonment that he carries with him with each lumbering step. He floats from top to bottom, from the benefits of culture to the danger of returning to a state of savagery. This insoluble duality will culminate in death, his body lying on the ground and his spirit among the stars. The case of Jean-Roger, a distant cousin of Un Jeu brutal’s Isabelle, is nonetheless different from hers: how to open one’s eyes to the human impulse, a treasure that, long hidden in the bowels of evil, crystallises and rises to the surface when one comes to understand others. Nonetheless, this revelation hits Jean-Roger only when he has reached rock bottom – prison, in his case, or death in the similar case of Isabelle’s father (in Brisseau’s symbolic economy these may amount to the same: to reach the light you first must pass through darkness, whether temporary or definitive). Throughout De bruit et de fureur Jean-Roger is a rebel who mimics his father Marcel (Bruno Cremer), repeating the lessons in nihilism his father heaps on his sons (‘il n’y a pas de punition, pas de Dieu, juste un grand trou noir à la fin’ [there’s no punishment, no God, just a big black hole at the end]). His only rule is that of a freedom incompatible with the organisation of human communities, and his sole laws are those of the immediate urban environment, so many natural laws founded on aggressive drives and tribalistic defence. Jean-Roger spreads violence all around like traces of gunpowder leading from the cellars to the stairwell, and from the grassy areas outlying the projects to the school classroom (Figure 33). The suburb in De bruit et de fureur generally escapes the stigmata of the sensationalist newspapers. Brisseau’s goal is instead to make it the theatre of the most profound human rifts. It’s no accident that Shakespeare’s Macbeth provides the film with its title – in French translation, ‘la vie est une histoire pleine de bruit et de fureur racontée par un idiot et qui ne signifie rien’ (life is a story of sound and fury told by an idiot and signifying nothing) – and its epigraph: ‘Le sang fut versé aux temps anciens avant que des lois humaines eussent adouci les mœurs’ (Blood hath been shed ere now, i’ th’ olden time,/Ere human statute purged the gentle weal, Macbeth, III.4). In the film’s patently Shakespearian finale, Brisseau adapts the structure of the latter phrase to his narrative by foregrounding the primeval forces that unite his characters. The enclosed locale of Bagnolet and environs circumscribe a unique space where human laws (at school) and a time before the law (the suburb, Jean-Roger’s flat) mutually condition one another.

Towers of evil: Jean-Claude Brisseau Whereas Bruno furthers his education thanks to the kindly teacher (Fabienne Babe) who takes him aside after school, Jean-Roger and the gang led by Mina (Fejria Deliba) wage a turf war, like in a Western or in a time pre-dating civilisation. It’s the same world, but the point of the fiction is to conjoin in one locale distinct temporalities such that, through reciprocal semantic contagion, the contemporary world is instilled with archaic human powers. The symbolic opposition between the school as a place devoted to softening mores, as in the scene of Bruno and his teacher dancing to a Nana Mouskouri song, and the lawless suburb – pelted by stones, a police car has to turn back from the projects – is only apparent. Indeed, Brisseau connects these spaces through the prism of learning various rules. There are rules for school just as there are rules for the local turf, though it is unclear where these may lead. Moving from one set of rules to another without pause, Bruno gropes forward towards an opening that will give him a skyward view. It is here that he most completely experiences the detachment through which beings in Brisseau’s world can approach the absolute, if only at a cost. In the grandiose final bonfire scene, action moves away from the surfaces of social reality even as the physical décor remains intact, such that we access an ahistorical time and space of the past. In this, De bruit et de fureur introduces a new motif in Brisseau’s work that consists in deflecting the story and its character from the immediate context, towards a place shot through by the power of myth, so as to transcend the real on an originary ground. Filmed like a savanna, the scrap of suburban wasteland on which the most negative drives are unleashed corresponds to the first half of Brisseau’s epigraph from Shakespeare (‘Blood hath been shed ere now, i’ th’ olden time’). In its flamboyance and dark lyricism, the scene melds with ‘th’ olden time’ to plunge into primitive regions akin to those of Faulkner and of sacrificial rites in a bacchanalian festival of the elements: air, fire, the night, the tree (Figure 34). Bagnolet is but a backdrop receding in the pale glow of the lamp-posts. We have gone back to a time before civilisation, where the spilling of blood pushes human nature into its darkest recesses. In its medieval qualities, such as the death by hanging of the father who has come to help his elder son, the final spectacle goes far beyond the immediate stakes of the scene (settling a score) to enter the realm of allegory. Brisseau capitalises on this by referring to the Western, the primitive genre par excellence, and in particular to The Wild Bunch (Sam Peckinpah, 1969). Armed with his Winchester rifle and kneeling alongside dead bodies, the father Marcel is a purveyor of lone justice. The reference likewise extends to silent films of the 1910s featuring delinquent ‘Apaches’ fighting the police against the décors of the Paris Zone. A tour-de-force, the scene reaches its apex in the magical interlocking of disparate temporalities. For the first time the Dame Blanche (White Lady) appears outside Bruno’s flat to guide him towards the ‘portes de lumière’ (gates of light). In an exquisite shot, as she approaches the child at the scene of the night-time drama, the halo of incandescent light surrounding her overlaps with the crackling bonfire to the right of the frame. Her presence transforms the wasteland into an oneiric theatre.



Screening the Paris suburbs De bruit et de fureur thus introduces a core motif in Brisseau’s cinema: a precipitate of the unconscious mind takes the form of dreamlike apparitions that are materially inscribed in reality. This stylistic singularity gave Brisseau’s most hesitant critics pause: given the seriousness of the subject, recourse to the supernatural was a questionable lapse in taste.Yet precisely, Brisseau’s subject here is not how people live or survive in the banlieue, but the trajectory of an isolated youngster who finds himself at the centre of an isolated, savage environment, and who through the spirit rises up above nothingness to leave the ravages of loss behind. On this earth, existence is but misery and affliction, compacted into a series of acts leading into the void. The physical world burdens individuals with a corporeal weight and inertia that can be alleviated only by expending destructive energy. Prisoners to phenomena of terrestrial attraction, they run up against matter and the elements (note the progression of fire, from the doormats burning in the opening stairwell sequence to the closing bonfire). Using a globe and a metallic wind-up figure, Bruno asks how people in the southern hemisphere can manage not to fall. Whence the film’s key problem: how to avoid falling when everything pushes you close to the edge? In scrupulous detail De bruit et de fureur explores the magnetic force fields governing upward and downward attraction, death and emotion. Hesitant and unmoving, Bruno finds solace in two ambivalent figures who take him elsewhere, his pet canary Superman and above all the apparitional White Lady surrounded by blue-white phosphorescent light. Neither a compensatory figure for the absent mother (its function would be simply to restore by default the notion of responsibility, which the rest of the film rejects), nor a divine projection, the White Lady ushers Bruno into zones of weightlessness that become meaningful only because he keeps coming down hard on the pavement. To film her movements, Brisseau exceptionally uses forward tracking shots, a stylistic figure that would become common in his work only with Céline (1992). As for the canary, Bruno is shown speaking with it when he exits the Galliéni metro station in the opening scene. Suddenly, without warning, the reverse shot shows his little bird replaced by a falcon. Brisseau thus establishes a paradoxical analogy. It is through the canary that we are to understand Bruno’s condition, in the narrative and in the suburb. Like Superman, Bruno lives in a cage, as succinct descriptive shots of Bagnolet’s high-rise flats confirm. The fact that the building’s elevators are always broken enables an implicit play on words: in French, a stairwell is a cage d’escalier. Bruno never stops running up against the fences that enclose his new environment (the interiors of the HLM were shot at the notorious ‘Cité des 4000’ in La Courneuve). One evening, as violence peaks and Jean-Roger rapes his brother Thierry’s girlfriend, the young Bruno goes out to look for Superman who has just escaped. This striking symmetry suggests the end is near. An empty cage held in his hand like a burden from which he will soon be freed, Bruno crosses the housing project before taking his leave through ‘les grandes portes de lumière’ (the gates of light) where he joins in death his winged companion

Towers of evil: Jean-Claude Brisseau and grandmother. Boy and bird are both killed by bullets and fall heavily to the ground, like two bodies that were never at home in spaces so rooted in originary cruelty. In fact, the film is littered with references to Icarus. Bruno’s destiny is to see his wings set aflame in a godless, scandalous night (parricide, paroxysmal violence, macabre paganism). Birds are everywhere, from the drawings posted on the classroom walls and the Jacques Prévert poem Bruno is seen reading, to the reproduction of Magritte’s La grande famille which we see in the final forward tracking shot. Jean-Roger, in voiceover, expresses his remorse in a letter addressed to the French teacher while the painted bird points the way, toward the open classroom window. Touched by the words of a young man who has just achieved a measure of self-awareness, the teacher approaches the window, her eyes raised toward inaccessible stars. A window that before this moment gave out onto the void now appears as a frame for pacified souls and salvaged hopes. Contrary to screen representations of the suburb that moralise the depiction of suffering, Jean-Claude Brisseau’s suburban fictions set forth a vision of humanity torn between two irrepressible forces: the depths of dereliction and the heights of the imaginary. This tension is permanent, and nothing – black-and-white pronouncements least of all – can resolve it. Brisseau believes in no victory of any sort. Nor is he at ease with notions of salvation and goodness, to be conquered once and for all. Even as he shies away from fatalism, he shows humanity ceaselessly flitting between nothingness and the light, living out its condition in the intensity of intermediate experience. Notes 1 Brisseau got his professional start thanks to Eric Rohmer who, taking note of an early festival short in 1975, introduced Brisseau to producers at the Institut National de l’Audiovisuel (INA). 2 In his book of interviews with Antoine de Baecque (Brisseau 2006: 51), Brisseau recalls the Communist Party’s move to prohibit creation of a self-styled militia in Aubervilliers. That danger is highlighted in De bruit et de fureur by a graffiti written clearly on a building wall: ‘Front français de Libération, 1986’. The year 1986, which saw the victory of the Right in legislative elections and the nomination of Edouard Balladur as Premier, was the beginning of governmental ‘cohabitation’ under socialist President François Mitterand. 3 Freud published Civilisation and its Discontents in 1929 during the economic crisis and under Aryan menace, a point of comparison for the level of worry Brisseau expresses about the suburbs as a breeding ground for the extreme Right ideas of Le Pen.

References Brisseau, Jean-Claude (2006), L’Ange exterminateur: entretiens avec Antoine de Baecque, Paris, Grasset.



What’s left of the ‘red suburb’? Hervé Le Roux’s Reprise as case study Guillaume Soulez

A scene strongly recalling the memory of May 1968, and one often reprised in historical documentaries on the period, takes place on a street in the inner suburb of Saint-Ouen, just north of Paris. On 10 June 1968, in front of the Wonder battery factories, a young woman, outraged and indignant, is refusing to return to work. In this legendary ten-minute work of direct cinema, La Reprise du travail aux usines Wonder (Returning to work at the Wonder factories), a discussion sparks up with and around the young worker. We see those who push for a return to work, notably members of the CGT trade union (General Confederation of Labour), and opposite them the gauchistes or extreme Leftists, who are intent on persevering with the strike. A massive social movement, May 1968 was marked in France by widespread general strikes, an action the so-called ‘red suburb’ or banlieue rouge around Paris largely followed. After the Grenelle settlement was negotiated on 25–26 May, its initial rejection by the working-class base and extreme Left notwithstanding, votes on a return to work were organised branch by branch or factory by factory.1 The verbal altercation filmed on 10 June 1968 is the impetus for, and source of, Reprise. Hervé Le Roux shot the film in summer 1995 with the aim of making the ‘violence of the issues’ of 1968 understandable for younger generations, as he explained in the book he published a year after the film’s release in March 1997 (Le Roux 1998: 11–12). Saint-Ouen was at the close of the 1960s one of the strongholds of France’s chemical, metallurgical and energy industries (Perron 2007: 53–63). ‘In metallurgy alone,’ writes Le Roux in Reprise: récit, ‘there were 40,000 jobs, as many as there were inhabitants. Today, unemployment is at 20% […] This story is more or less the story of all the suburbs in the red belt’ (1998: 44–5).2 Reprise not only explores this past, but portrays a suburban working-class community waiting to be rediscovered.3 On the one hand, its investigation is archaeological: the purpose is to

Hervé Le Roux’s Reprise as case study uncover, within the contemporary space, the traces needed to reconstruct the relevant places and their social dimension. On the other, Le Roux’s film clearly results from a negotiation between a place (and its current inhabitants), with its own inertia, and a film crew intent on providing a certain depiction. The original location on the threshold of the factory on that Saint-Ouen street – a locale to which the film returns again and again – as well as the town and the red suburbs of 1995, impose themselves upon the film. Comparing elements of Reprise and several historical facts with a visit to the locations in Saint-Ouen, the present analysis eschews an approach conducted strictly in terms of ‘representations’, with the concomitant risk of disregarding the impact of the terrain. It draws in particular on Le Roux’s book, Reprise: récit, which offers a detailed understanding of the shooting locations – including the places Le Roux filmed but eventually edited out – and reconstructs the chronological unfolding of the investigation and the film shoot. The book urges us to see Le Roux’s film as a series of choices and compromises involving the historical and geographical reality of Saint-Ouen and the other suburban towns visited and filmed; in a sense, it acts like a second ‘voiceover’ for the film. The suburbs are more a ‘zone’ than a ‘landscape’ in the traditional sense: the untrained eye does not know how to select elements that would bestow visual order upon them (Figure 35). As a result, the filmed space can be used as a projection screen for the workers’ memory it aspires to reconstruct. What is left of the red suburbs – the network of onetime activists, the trade union centres, the industrial assembly line, the homes of workers – makes it possible to show what is left, in a larger sense, of a space on the fringes of Paris ‘inhabited’ by social struggle. By re-contextualising the choices made in Reprise, we can take Le Roux’s film as a proper case study: when confronting a social and political issue such as the banlieue, audio-visual forms are akin to arguments used within public space.4 This is all the more pertinent in the case of Reprise as its goal was to reach a public beyond the audience for militant films or traditional documentary.5 At a running time of three-and-a-half hours, Reprise provides a situated journey through workers’ history by cutting between fragments of the original June 1968 Reprise du travail aux usines Wonder and interviews that allow viewers to progressively understand who the scene’s protagonists were, and what the main issues of the time were. The intent is to make comprehensible a largely vanished world based on the traces that remain, namely the witnesses’ biographical and political backgrounds as well as the crossroads that the site in front of the Wonder factory represents. The case of Wonder is particularly emblematic, as the electrical battery company was bought for a single franc symbolique by entrepreneur Bernard Tapie in 1984, only to be sold off by Tapie bit by bit until 1988. It is a symbol of the failure of a ‘leftist commercialism’, all the more so since Tapie stirred the same kind of hope and disillusionment in the blue collar population when he became Minister of City Affairs (1992–93), announcing a ‘plan for the suburbs’ just days before he had to step down as the result of an investigation into a casino deal.



Screening the Paris suburbs Le Roux’s investigation, and the film Reprise itself, would not have been possible without the existence of a steadfast network of trade unionist and political relations. From interview to interview, we are led across the suburbs of Paris from Saint-Ouen to Pierrefitte, from Argenteuil to Saint-Denis or Aubervilliers. Public life in these areas is driven by the communist town councils; professional life – and all related social and cultural activities – fall under the remit of the CGT labour union.6 Primarily a factory for semi-skilled workers7 populated by immigrants and young women, Wonder was de facto a territory favoured for the union and political action of the Trotskyite and Maoist movements at the end of the 1960s striving to reach the genuine proletariat of their time, at the risk of conflict with the CGT ‘revisionists’ and ‘Stalinists’. Those who are presented in 1968 as the ‘permanent members of the local CGT union’, Pierre Guyot and Maurice Bruneau, oppose the young woman, as well as a high-school student, Poulou, who lives in Saint-Ouen (Perron 2007: 102). As Reprise explains, soundman Jacques Willemont, who was a student at the national film school IDHEC, had been contacted by Liliane Singer, a stenographer and Trotskyite militant active in the Wonder strike committee. Having come to Saint-Ouen to film a general assembly, the IDHEC students in fact found themselves witnesses to the return to work and captured this intense moment of refusal voiced by one worker. What ensues is therefore a territorial war at the heart of the red suburb, a duel in which the staff manager is only a kind of umpire counting points, while on the side-lines, at the edge of the frame, we see in profile CGT leader Edmond Adler observing behind black glasses the difficulty of ‘maintaining’ this factory.8 The editing of the short pits Pierre Guyot, at the time CGT secretary for the Puces neighbourhood branch where the Wonder factory was located, against Liliane Singer, who appears in Le Roux’s footage though not in the original film of 1968. The end of the strike marks the CGT’s revenge against the somewhat unruly and unmanageable workers of the Wonder factory.9 The second, and most important, sequence of the June 1968 IDHEC film foregrounds this war of positions: to the left, the Chaix print works; the CGT members push the bodies to the right towards the entrance of the Wonder factory; and, centre frame, in the middle of the street, they try to control the movements and cries of the dissenting young woman, placing a hand on her shoulder, trying to calm her down and to reason with her.The young woman is clearly an unskilled labourer in the toughest workshop, where the carbon is worked: ‘You’ll see what a hole it is, we’re filthy up to here, completely black.’ To the right of the young woman, the Maoist high-school student makes several attempts to intervene. Each of the players has his or her own language: the student is timid; the CGT members are assertive and methodical; the young woman, vehement and agitated, speaks the shared language of revolt.10 Apart from the indignant young woman, very few players are in fact from Wonder itself (although from Saint-Ouen, they are all ‘on duty’).11 As Yvette Delsaut argues, ‘We are witnesses to a public dispute’: ‘the outraged woman’s behaviour in the film from 1968 can be perfectly interpreted

Hervé Le Roux’s Reprise as case study […] as the expression of a certain political opinion […] All over, events went hand in hand with an incredible liberation of public speech: anyone who lived through May 68 can bear witness to this phenomenon which saw impromptu forums spring up, on the pavement, anywhere at all, with passion, with the characteristic tone of public prosecutions’ (2010: 284–5). As cameraman Bonneau confirms in Reprise, it was ‘already a somewhat public moment’. Traditional representations of the Paris red belt rest on the idea that the working-class suburbs would defeat bourgeois Paris from its periphery. But here, on the contrary, in 1968 and again in 1995, direct cinema is used to step over the barrier separating suburb and city centre.12 Parisians come to the suburbs looking for revitalisation, seeking inspiration in the ranks of labour, the better to fan the flames in the immediate aftermath of 68, to fight the dominance of the CGT in the 1970s, or, later, to communicate the memory of that same struggle. For the workers themselves, the threshold of the factory is the line where independence is regained, where you can walk in the street freely, at your own pace, no longer subject to the regulations and rhythms of the factory floor; it also marks a time to relax, a certain respite for the body that comes at lunchtime (Le Roux 1998: 9) or the end of the workday. Workers from Chaix would also come out to the street to meet the female Wonder employees (Le Roux 1998: 100); at lunchtime in particular, friendships and romantic relationships could form in the neighbourhood cafés. The IDHEC students’ camera, here, is held on upstretched arms, just above head level; the soundman, sometimes seen at the edge of the frame, is caught up in the group’s movements. We are thus among the workers, as if participating in the discussion unfolding before us; we are drawn by the cries of the young woman, drawn to see her speak and rage. It is mob logic: we are within. In this sense, the threshold also belongs to the strategic function of factory entrances where different trade unionist and political groups come either to pass out their pamphlets, or to engage in discussion after work. So the street in front of the factory is a central space in the life of the red suburb: it is simultaneously a place of control where supervisors check that everyone returns to work; a place of relaxation and friendship or flirtation; and a place of partisan rallying. It is where the factory meets the town. Moreover, the interweaving between friendship (‘les copains’) and party-based camaraderie (‘les camarades’) that comprises the lived fabric of relations for suburban workers is, in 1995, sufficiently vibrant for the archive to become ever brighter and for the film to advance. Filming the ‘red suburbs’ in 1995 Reprise shows how the threshold of a factory can encapsulate part of the worker and militant life of the red suburbs. To what extent does it succeed in filming the persistence of a militant heritage still visible in that space? Le Roux takes care to avoid two possible clichés: first, the over-symbolisation of the red suburbs, the trap of a suburban Ostalgie;13 second, the cliché of the suburbs as source of



Screening the Paris suburbs fear or menace, such as those regularly seen ablaze on the news at the time, and of which La Haine (Mathieu Kassovitz, 1995) is the contemporaneous cinematic symbol.14 Just seconds into the film, the camera moves around the streets of Saint-Ouen searching for traces of the old days: ‘We went back to Saint-Ouen. The industrial zone has nothing welcoming about it’, reads the commentary over shots of railroad tracks and of a closed factory outfitted with surveillance cameras and a huge Bosch sign on the roof. ‘We are looking for the CGT.’ Greedily, the camera focuses on a graffito reading ‘Vive Staline’ (Long live Stalin); another reads ‘US Go Home’. Generally, Le Roux distances himself from any all-too-obvious signs of Saint-Ouen’s ‘red’ past. What he wishes to highlight are neither images of the industrial architecture nor glaringly connoted forms, through the names of buildings or streets, for example. The memories that must surface throughout the interviews are doubtless less visible. Admittedly, Saint-Ouen is not one of the ‘districts’ (quartiers) or ‘social housing zones’ (cités) then making front page news, even if several large low-rise buildings and the usual set of problems of the deindustrialised working-class suburban milieu are present. But the documentarian prefers the ‘children’ of Saint-Ouen to the rebellious teens of the cités: ‘Saint-Ouen is full of children’ whose presence, Le Roux writes, is necessary for the film (1998: 122); we later see the children playing in a public park and at a swimming pool. Through these images of children Le Roux includes an immigrant presence even as he dissociates it from emerging clichés linking immigrants to social housing projects. Likewise, he highlights the pleasure of a self-sufficient local life, in contrast to an entire set of films from 1950 onward about the housing projects, where the articulation of city centre and periphery are framed by questions of transportation (Millot and Glâtre 2003: 24–32). Interviewees are filmed at home, such that the working-class world is relocated within the personal space. Another type of suburbia results. The tranquil home of the retired or ageing worker in 1995 contrasts both with the conflict-ridden space of the factory circa 1968 and with the juvenile angst of France’s cités in the 1980s and 1990s.15 ‘I want viewers to see the abandoned factories, the industrial wasteland, but also what still lives’, writes Le Roux (1998: 57). Filming ‘what still lives’ means that in certain spaces, with certain people, residues of that former working-class vitality can be found: ‘Jean-Louis [Blanc] is reinventing the old legend of the general strike. But he says it with this smile, this obviousness, this class position, if such an expression can still be used today, in such a way that there is nothing preachy to him at all. It’s not even cause for a smile. Just a small glimmer of the social struggles, there in a public garden in Saint-Denis during the summer of 95’ (Le Roux 1998: 64).16 Le Roux then alludes to another, older type of suburban imagery, matching the partially nostalgic dimension of the film – the banks of the Seine or the Marne, outdoor cafés, Sundays with the family – an imagery suffused with the soft atmosphere of the suburban garden in summertime. The strong presence onscreen of small, standalone houses fits the social trajectory of older-generation workers, especially the skilled

Hervé Le Roux’s Reprise as case study ones (ouvriers qualifiés) who regularly became homeowners (Dubost 1992: 99–109). The interviewees are correspondingly filmed out back.17 ‘We set up in the garden […] We take out the garden table and chairs and arrange the TV, the camera and the seats in such a way that Pierre Guyot is filmed from the same angles as in 68’ (Le Roux 1998: 67). Onscreen a magnificent red rose bush is seen in front of the house. Switching from one witness to another is indeed akin to travelling through the northern suburbs from one house to the next. This is a simultaneously pleasing and ‘popular’ banlieue. The suburban garden may be both an ideal place that personalises the protagonists and opens to the outside, such that the viewers are almost positioned as neighbours – as the following scene demonstrates: [R]esurrecting good habits for outdoor shoots, we watch the videocassette in the garden, near the swing. The children are there. Yvette is happy to show them ‘where mum worked’ […] After everything she has told me about Wonder, I am really happy to meet them here, with their two sons, their lovely little house, the garden, the swing, the summer. At home in their flip-flops. We take this in a wide-angle shot, sure to be put in the film. (Le Roux 1998: 110)

Helped along by the recounting of memories, the expression of public positions mixes with the empathy born of the encounter. As is shown by the lasting presence of the open-air café (guinguette), the documentarian genuinely wished to anchor his film in a space that is both real – the tranquil red suburb – and doubly imaginary – the red suburb as presence or memory of struggle, and the leisurely suburbia alongside the Seine. The resulting achievement is an ‘open-air film’ (32). It nevertheless isn’t easy to film this quiet suburbia lacking in edges and depth. Fences, brick walls and sometimes the characteristically jagged silhouette of factory sheds: this aesthetic lexicon seems little varied and barely speaks to the significance of its former protagonists. One way to negotiate this suburban space is to film its stratification: in one and the same movement, we see an ordinary street; just above the small, two-storey houses are the industrial factories; then, a little further up, barely any higher, the housing projects which fill the skyline on the horizon. Atop high-rise buildings the brand names of multinationals are visible, particularly at night when the signs are lit: Opel, Bosch, Daewoo, Sanyo, Mazda, Fujifilm, Bosch, Toshiba and Saab. These shots that seem to proclaim the rule of the company name alternate with tracking shots taken from a car driving through these communist towns where modern and collective spaces, silent cottages, and the more or less imposing brick façades of factories reside side by side (Figure 36). In contrast to the obsessive focus on the location of the 1968 event in Saint-Ouen, this mobility shows that it is difficult to mark out or frame the banlieue in a single image, as if only a certain kind of unfolding could give meaning to the composite, almost motley, character of the filmed space. Whereas the original site is thus shown as a quiet, deserted street, around this lost space the visual geography of Reprise presents panning shots of urban streets that flow into one another and that glimmer in the evening light of the former red belt.



Screening the Paris suburbs This mobility also provides temporal depth, suggesting that stratification by height indeed represents the sedimentation of epochs. In this sense, two sequences – one filmed from Willemont’s Parisian office, the other from the terrace of the former Chaix print works with Adler – come to echo each other: ‘the office on the 10th floor has a panoramic view of Paris, the Sacré-Cœur and, beyond … Saint-Ouen. We decide to have [Willemont] sit in front of this perspective’ (Le Roux 1998: 12). This corresponds to the five-minute mark in Reprise, where a fixed shot shows the Sacré-Coeur seen from behind, rather than from inside Paris, as is the norm. There is defiance in filming the Sacré-Coeur, a reactionary edifice built to ‘expiate the sins’ of the Paris Commune, from the point of view of the banlieue.18 As a result, these cutaways to daytime strolls through suburban streets, embellished by nocturnal shots of illuminated signs, become shots of encounter: they exemplify that the suburb is not some kind of ‘non-place’ in limbo and assert that it is possible to situate a place within its full historical depth or within a network of relations, including those of political activism. A ‘zone’ can become a landscape for anyone who knows how to look at it and give it meaning (Le Dantec 1999: 255). Encompassing the two spaces in a single shot recaptures historical continuity: southern Saint-Ouen, after all, had once been part of the village of Montmartre. The Wonder factory stands at 77, rue des Rosiers, a road that once led to the so-called ‘quartier de la Rose’ in Paris’ eighteenth district. Originally a fruitand-vegetable-producing centre feeding the capital, the area then received an influx of ragpickers who had been chased out of Paris and who subsequently started the famous ‘Puces’ flea market. This archaeology is recalled neither by the film nor by the book, undoubtedly because it is not linked to the industrial and working-class history of the town. This older history, however, does impact Le Roux’s investigation. The fact that the IDHEC students came to Saint-Ouen at all was due to its proximity to the cinema school’s grounds, located at the Porte des Ternes (Le Roux 1998: 23). Significantly, Bonneau, the cameraman from 1968, wished to return to the very location of the event (31–2). The crew found a café not far from the factory: ‘in the distance was a delightful “Paris” road sign, as if to mark the invisible administrative limit’. In order to mark its anchoring in the suburbs and on the doorstep of Paris, this opening sequence uncovers in part the bygone geography of Montmartre. Here again, topography dictates shooting: Le Roux determines how the ‘staging’ of testimony will be carried out, then Bonneau finds the correct placing for the shoot. As much as the staging, it is a negotiation between the filmmaker and the space to be depicted, to be used ‘as is’. Despite being a landmark in the 1968 work of direct cinema (Le Roux 1998: 14), La Chope des Puces, the café across from Wonder, is little used in Reprise. Only Jean-Louis Blanc mentions the flea market neighbourhood, to the visible surprise of the filmmaker: ‘The famous Mondays, the only day of the week when the two worlds of the factory (from Monday to Friday) and the

Hervé Le Roux’s Reprise as case study bric-a-brac (Saturday, Sunday, Monday and holidays) intersected. Lunch breaks spent bargain hunting with friends and, after work, La Chope des Puces, listening to Les Manouches, two guitarists, one singer, still performing there fifteen years later’ (1998: 61). Although Le Roux retains these instants of ‘nostalgia’ for the Puces, the fact that Reprise does not contain a single shot of the flea market in activity is undoubtedly significant: it would certainly have contradicted the image of the devitalised, somewhat ‘blank’ street Le Roux wished to show the better to ‘fill’ it with the protagonists’ memories. The crew had to avoid filming on market days, and we see only closed metal shutters in the rue des Rosiers. In the form of a spatial paradox, Reprise circumvents a massive central reality of the Saint-Ouen of yesterday and today. In an ironic twist, Edmond Adler, soon to leave the Saint-Ouen planning board, must handle one last file, the case of the Curie-Rosiers (Wonder) improvement district. A legal battle saw the municipality and a non-profit association founded to defend the flea market pitted against one another.19 William Delannoy, president of the ‘Défense et Promotion des Puces’ association, defeated communist mayor Jacqueline Dambreville-Rouillon in the municipal elections of March 2014. This was the last step to date in a struggle between the heart of the SaintOuen factory workers and militants on the one hand, and the world of the flea market and its traders on the other who, like the ragpickers of the past, were held in a way on the edge of the town. The Wonder improvement district would feature storehouses for antiques open to the public. On the ground floor of the main building there is, for instance, a Habitat 1964 boutique. The arrival of the Habitat chain aims at pulling the Puces towards a wealthier clientele. Specialising in vintage, it has a working-class touch likely to attract the bourgeois-bohème customers; the initials ‘P W’, for ‘Pile Wonder’, remain set into the ground. Now, finally, it is easy to cross the doorway of a place that was inaccessible in 1995. Although the ‘working-class strongholds’ were once a point of attraction that contrasted with bourgeois Paris, in the new millenium the balance seems to have swung in the other direction: the suburb once again becomes a place of leisure for Parisians, when it isn’t simply gentrified outright. Hervé Le Roux’s Reprise has in turn become a kind of archive for Saint-Ouen at a moment when the reconversion of the site has not yet fully run its course. In 1995, the site had not yet re-opened: we remain outside of it, on the threshold. Unlike the documentary 9–3: Mémoire d’un territoire (Yamina Benguigui, 2008), Reprise offers an antidote against rewritings yet to come. As noted by four historians, Seine-Saint-Denis in 9–3 is claimed to have been nothing but a land of misery and disenchantment, a land forever ‘sacrificed’, ‘abandoned’, today ‘without hope’ […] Nor does the film grant any place to a popular, chosen, loved suburb, the suburb of Sunday walks and private housing estates […] Just as debatable is the marginalisation of the red suburb, of socialism, and of municipal communism. The collective and integrative dimension of militant engagement […] is consciously minimised. (Bellanger et al. 2008)



Screening the Paris suburbs Through a film such as Reprise the suburban town can be understood, on the contrary, as an urban fabric that reconnects factory to home: public gardens, shared street, cafés and terraces, public buildings, and so on. Reprise offers not only an archive of the dying fires of the red suburb as seen in 1995, but also a certain idea of a suburban life mixing the personal and bucolic happiness of a place to call one’s own, with the intensity of political engagement and militant camaraderie, somewhere between the factory threshold and the garden chairs of Saint-Ouen – and the many other towns just like it. Notes 1 See Liliane Singer’s witness report in Reprise, at 1’25”. 2 Providing these figures in voiceover, Le Roux quotes here from his interview with Georges Abbachi, former secretary of the local CGT union. It is one of the first dialogues of Reprise, appearing after an introduction of the project and interviews with the June 1968 film crew. Translations from all works in French are my own. 3 ‘Twenty-year olds see it […] as a historical film. It describes a world long gone: the great industrial companies of the red suburbs, a form of company culture, a feeling of belonging largely thrown into doubt by all the various forms of job “insecurity”’. Hervé Le Roux interviewed by Claude Corbigny. reprise/reprise2.html. Accessed 1 February 2015. 4 On this contextualising approach to film as a forum for deliberation set in a public space, see Soulez (2013). 5 Reprise sold more than 50,000 tickets in France in one year, far more than a documentary could ordinarily expect. Using the same footage, a shorter version was compiled for the Franco-German television network, ARTE under the title Paroles ouvrières, paroles de Wonder (1997). 6 ‘During the 1970s, the CGT had up to 40,000 members in the Seine-Saint-Denis district, and the PCF (French Communist Party), counting only their in-company cells, had 10,000 militants’ (Perron 2007: 61–2). 7 The designation ouvrier spécialisé (OS) was the lowest rank in the hierarchy of skills and salaries, as distinct from an ouvrier qualifié, e.g. a mechanic. 8 While the film does not dwell on it, Le Roux’s book points out that a group of Wonder executives intent on pressuring the workers can also be made out in the image. Several witnesses maintain that the vote to return to work had been rigged by the company, putting the CGT in a somewhat awkward position. 9 Pierre Guyot recalls that Liliane Singer, ‘a good person, although an extreme leftist […] forbade him to enter the factory’ (Le Roux 1998: 69). 10 Coercing the workers into returning to work, the staff manager, presented by the witnesses as a ‘Croix-de-Feu’ (an extreme Right veterans’ league), also re-enacts the memory of a war between the Left and extreme Right positions in the 1930s, a war ‘for the domination of the urban space under construction that is the suburbs’. On the history of the Croix-de-Feu between the wars, see Tartakowsky (1992). 11 ‘To sum up, he [Poulou] is there on duty, tasked with encouraging the Wonder workers to persevere in their struggle and with denouncing the CGT and PC “treason” […] Everyone who is there is there to play a role, to deliver a script’ (Le Roux 1998: 100). 12 At several points, Le Roux defines himself as an ‘intellectual’ going out to meet workers. He is sensitive to the reciprocal interest the interviewees show regarding the workings of the shoot: ‘We are no longer cinema folk – Artists from Paris – who come to mess

Hervé Le Roux’s Reprise as case study

13 14

15 16


18 19

things up where people live: we’re just working’, writes Le Roux to suggest that a workers’ brotherhood hasn’t yet completely disappeared (Le Roux 1998: 131). Referring to aspects of life in the former German Democratic Republic, the cultural phenomenon known as Ostalgie surfaced in the second half of the 1990s. The first ‘ostalgic’ films began to appear closer to the year 2000. ‘For the last fifteen years […] talking about the suburbs has been like pointing out the weak spot of social balance, the place where it risks collapse […] A strange world, with its language, its music, its taste for violence, where cars are burned after they are stolen and where commercial centres provide the backdrop and the target for urban riots. All of this, for some time now, has been portrayed in the cinema, no less than ten films in three years’ (Rey 1996: 7–8). On closer scrutiny, La Haine was but the latest incarnation in a string of increasingly worrying representations of the ‘suburbs’ (Wagner 2011; Boyer and Lochard 2000). Part of the editing took place during the strikes of November and December 1995, an apparent confirmation of the project’s relevance: ‘[one] day,’ writes Le Roux, ‘I bumped into Jean-Louis Blanc, with the Pierrefitte municipal workers. He was all fired up. During filming he had let us in on his doubts; wasn’t this all just ancien combattant history, a bit nostalgic? […] [He] asks me when the film will be ready (“The time is now!”) […] The scene is a little bit like The Purple Rose of Cairo, as if the characters from Reprise were stepping out from the editing table to join ranks in the demonstration’ (Le Roux 1998: 153). ‘The attraction of suburban worker houses is certainly related in large part to the garden. The garden is, first, the countryside in miniature, open air, clean air […]. The garden is also an annex of the house […] We feel freer when some domestic activities can be done outside: fixing bikes, hanging out the washing, letting the children play, or having lunch outside when it’s nice’ (Dubost 1992: 107). In a significant coincidence, Denise, one of the labourers who felt ‘obliged to strike’ and speaks well of Wonder’s ‘familial management’, now lives in Paris, on the bourgeois side but still in the Montmartre area, in the eighteenth district. Administrative Appeals Court, Paris, N° 97PA01458, reading from 12 November 1999. There was also a public controversy about the pollution in the redevelopment district. While the communist municipality tried to combat the old ‘black belt’ of Paris that had sprung up on the site of ragpickers’ villages, the stall owners at the Puces rejected the working-class heritage of run down, polluting factories. On the tensions between the red suburbs and the black belt, see Fourcaut (1992b: 29–34).

References Bellanger, Emmanuel, Alain Faure, Annie Fourcaut and Natacha Lillo (2008), ‘Le 9–3 de Yamina Benguigui: un usage falsifié de l’histoire’, Mediapart (24 Oct.). Boyer, Henri and Guy Lochard (2000), Scènes de télévision en banlieues: 1950–1994, Paris, INA/L’Harmattan. Delsaut, Yvette (2010), Reprises: cinéma et sociologie, Paris, Raisons d’agir. Dubost, Françoise (1992), ‘Le rêve du pavillon’, in Fourcaut 1992: 99–109. Fourcaut, Annie (ed.) (1992), Banlieue rouge, 1920–1960. Années Thorez, années Gabin: archétype du populaire, banc d’essai des modernités, Paris, Autrement. ——— (1992b), ‘Banlieue rouge, au-delà du mythe politique’, in Fourcaut 1992: 12–37. Le Dantec, Jean-Pierre (1999), ‘Zones: les paysages oubliés’, in Jean Mottet (ed.), Les Paysages du cinéma, Seyssel, Champ Vallon, 250–60. Le Roux, Hervé (1998), Reprise: récit, Paris, Calmann-Lévy. Millot, Olivier and Patrick Glâtre (2003), Caméra plein champ: la banlieue au cinéma, le cinéma en banlieue, Grâne, Créaphis.



Screening the Paris suburbs Perron, Tangui (2007), Histoire d’un film, mémoire d’une lutte, Paris, Périphérie-Scope. Rey, Henri (1996), La Peur des banlieues, Paris, Presses de la fondation nationale des sciences politiques. Soulez, Guillaume (2013), ‘La délibération des images: vers une nouvelle pragmatique de l’audiovisuel’, Communication et langages 176 (June): 3–32. Tartakowsky, Danielle (1992), ‘Les Croix-de-feu à Villepinte, octobre 1935’, in Fourcaut 1992: 68–78. Wagner, David-Alexandre (2011), De la banlieue stigmatisée à la cité démystifiée: la représentation de la banlieue des grands ensembles dans le cinéma français de 1981 à 2005, Bern, Peter Lang.


Films are listed under the name of the director. abattoirs see slaughterhouses alienation 95, 112, 148, 149 see also isolation architecture 104–6, 110–12, 131–3, 154, 160, 161, 165, 177–8, 183–4, 186 Autant-Lara, Claude Diable au corps, Le 16 Fric-Frac 56–7 avant-garde 65, 78, 79, 83, 86, 104, 106 Bakhtin, Mikhail 96–7 Baratier, Jacques ‘Décharge, La’ 176–7 Ville bidon, La 176–81 Barsacq, Léon 15, 117 Becker, Jacques Casque d’Or 12–13, 14, 16, 92, 140, 143 Touchez pas au grisbi 139, 140, 142, 153, 157 Béhat, Gilles Rue Barbare 154, 155 Benguigui, Yamina 9-3: Mémoire d’un territoire 209 Benjamin, Walter 79, 86, 97 bidonvilles see shantytowns Blier, Bertrand Buffet froid 154 Valseuses, Les 154 boredom 46, 161, 183, 185

bourgeoisie 32, 43–4, 45, 59–60, 93, 104–7, 119, 209 Boyer, Jean Circonstances atténuantes 54, 56 Breton, André 80, 97 Brisseau, Jean-Claude 190–201 passim De bruit et de fureur 152, 155, 196–201 L’Echangeur 193–6 Jeu brutal, Un 197 Ombres, Les 192–3 Vie comme ça, La 190–2 Buñuel, Luis 85, 86 Cabrera, Dominique 3 canals see waterways Carax, Leos Holy Motors 135–6 Carné, Marcel 16 Jenny 54 Jour se lève, Le 17, 20, 47, 54, 58–9, 67 Nogent, El Dorado du dimanche 16, 41–2, 53, 54, 65–6, 68, 160 Terrain vague 20, 172 Certeau, Michel de 38, 130 Cervantes, Miguel de 85 Chenal, Pierre Rue sans nom, La 55 childhood 118, 120, 122, 123, 161


Index Clair, René Porte des Lilas 14–15, 21 Clouzot, Henri-Georges Quai des Orfèvres 143, 145 comedy 25, 54, 57, 105, 128, 170–1, 184 commuting 117–18, 121, 148, 160, 161–2, 163, 185–6 Corneau, Alain Choix des armes, Le 21, 150–3 France société anonyme 156 Série noire 149–50 couples 22, 38, 49–54, 173–6, 181–3, 184 crime 11, 15, 33, 34, 45, 51, 54, 56, 67, 78–9, 81–2, 86–7, 139–57 passim, 194 Dabit, Eugène 53, 64 Dassin, Jules Du Rififi chez les hommes 139, 140, 142–3, 153, 155, 157 de La Patellière, Denys Rue des Prairies 18, 20, 93 Deleuze, Gilles 37–8, 47 Delouvrier, Paul 18, 132, 164, 167n.9, 172 demolition 10, 14, 103, 104, 110, 159, 166n.1, 166n.4, 174, 175–6 Deray, Jacques Flic Story 156 Derrida, Jacques 83 Dhéry, Robert Belle Américaine, La 19 documentary 12–14, 21, 41, 52–3, 65, 77–88 passim, 97–8, 115–23 passim, 158–66 passim, 184, 202–10 passim Dréville, Jean A la Varenne 16, 55 Duvivier, Julien Au Bonheur des Dames 63–7 Belle Équipe, La 16–17, 43, 68–74, 93 Pépé le Moko 139, 140 Epstein, Jean 45 Belle Nivernaise, La 39 Cœur fidèle 79, 83 Glace à trois faces, La 42–3, 44, 45–7, 84 escape 44, 54, 55, 145, 152, 156n.13, 185–6 Faurez, Jean Quai du Point-du-Jour 18 Fescourt, Henri 30, 32

Feuillade, Louis 27, 29–33, 93, 97, 127 Barrabas 31 Fantômas 30, 33 Gamin de Paris, Le 32 Judex 30, 31, 32, 33 Vampires, Les 31, 32, 33, 34, 35n.10 film studios 23–8 flea markets 81, 208–9 fortifications 12, 52, 67 Foucault, Michel 66–8, 74, 131–2 Franju, Georges 78, 90–1 Sang des bêtes, Le 79–81, 84–5, 86–7, 94 Yeux sans visage, Les 90–9 freedom 37–42, 44, 122–3, 152, 197, 198 gardens 106, 110–11, 206–7 Gaumont studios 25–34 passim genre 39–40, 82–6, 90, 127–8, 139–55 passim, 199 Godard, Jean-Luc 126 Alphaville 131–2, 182 Bande à part 127, 128, 129–30, 147 Carabiniers, Les 130–1 Chinoise, La 136 Deux ou trois choses que je sais d’elle 20, 120, 132–5, 152, 172 Histoire d’eau, Une 127 ‘Montparnasse et Levallois’ 128 Week-end 128 grands ensembles see housing estates Granier-Deferre, Pierre 173 Chat, Le 173–6 guinguettes 5, 17, 18, 40–4, 52, 54–5, 59–60, 67, 68, 70–3, 140, 207 Guy, Alice 31, 128–9 HLM (Habitations à Loyer Modéré) 11, 15, 20, 130, 131–2, 192–3, 200 housing crisis 94, 103–4, 119, 158 housing estates 11, 15, 18, 95, 103–4, 119–20, 131–3, 152, 154, 158–66 passim, 172, 184, 191–2 immigration 164, 167n.11, 179, 183, 206 Impressionism 63, 95, 122 industry 10, 40, 54, 63, 67, 80, 82, 104, 202, 206, 207 isolation 19, 27, 121, 142, 145, 150, 162, 175

Index Kirsanoff, Dimitri 78 Ménilmontant 77, 79, 83–4 Klein, William 181 Le Couple témoin 181–3 Kracauer, Siegfried 50, 72, 87, 88n.9 labour see work see also industry Lacombe, Georges Musiciens du Ciel, Les 13, 57 Zone, La: Au pays des chiffonniers 12, 15, 21, 67 Lagrange, Jacques 20, 106 Lautner, Georges Pacha, Le 21 leisure 16, 41–2, 63–6, 72, 73, 185, 187 L’Herbier, Marcel Bonheur, Le 21 Le Péron, Serge Laisse béton 15 Le Roux, Hervé Reprise 202–10 Linder, Max 28–9 Litvak, Anatole Cœur de Lilas 55, 155 n.3 locations 24–34 passim, 54, 58, 67, 74, 90, 91, 92, 127, 128, 130–1, 176, 184, 203 Lotar, Eli Aubervilliers 13–14, 116–17, 119, 120, 121 Lumière, Auguste and Louis 23, 122 Mac Orlan, Pierre 64 Malle, Louis Ascenseur pour l’échafaud 141 Marin, Louis 66, 73–4 Marker, Chris and Pierre Lhomme Joli Mai, Le 120 Maupassant, Guy de 16, 41, 64 May 1968 175, 180, 183, 202 passim Méliès, Georges 23–4, 91, 98–9, 117 Melville, Jean-Pierre Bob le flambeur 140, 143 Cercle rouge, Le 145 Deuxième Souffle, Le 145 Doulos, Le 140, 143–4, 145 Flic, Un 146–7 Samouraï, Le 145–6, 155 misery 11–15, 193, 200 Missiaen, Jean-Claude Baston, La 154, 157

modernisation 101–3, 148, 154, 181–3 Morand, Paul 42 motorcars 38, 44–7, 135–6, 141, 145 naturalism 47n.2 New Towns 164, 167n.9, 171–3, 177–8, 184–7 nostalgia 92, 123, 205–6, 211n.13 Nougaro, Claude 178–9 Ozu, Yasujrô 11, 133–4 Pathé studios 23–34 passim pavillons see villas see also single-family dwellings Péguy, Robert Notre-Dame de la Mouise 11, 13, 57–8 périphérique see roadways Perret, Léonce 32 L’Enfant de Paris 12, 29, 34 Gamin de Paris, Le 32 Pialat, Maurice 115–16, 122–3 L’Amour existe 116–23 L’Enfance nue 122 Pirès, Gérard Elle court, elle court la banlieue 20, 163, 196 poetic realism 67, 117 Popular Front 62, 71–3, 75n13 poverty 15, 33, 53, 116, 159 Prévert, Jacques 13–14, 54, 116 ‘Aubervilliers – chanson des enfants’ 14, 117 prostitution 13, 19, 20, 53, 56, 78, 133 railways see commuting realism 47n.2, 48n.4, 118 recreation see leisure Renoir, Jean Bas-Fonds, Les 43–4 Bête humaine, La 67 Boudu sauvé des eaux 43, 44 Fille de l’eau, La 38–9 Nuit du carrefour, La 45 Partie de campagne 41, 51, 59–60, 93, 128 Testament du Docteur Cordelier, Le 51 Reprise du travail aux usines Wonder, La 202–5 passim rivers see waterways roadways 11, 42, 45–7, 111, 112, 128, 131, 141



Index Rohmer, Éric L’Ami de mon amie 170–1, 186–7 Nuits de la pleine lune, Les 184–6 Ville nouvelle 184 Ruiz, Raúl 78 Colloque de chiens 81–2, 85–6 Sautet, Claude Max et les ferrailleurs 156 Shakespeare, William 198–9 shantytowns 94, 120–1, 133, 136, 167n.11, 176–7, 179 Shklovskii, Viktor 78, 82 Simenon, Georges 45, 173, 175, 176 single-family dwellings 19, 20, 95, 119, 159–60, 174, 175, 206–7 Siodmak, Robert Menschen am Sonntag 16, 41, 65 slaughterhouses 79–81, 94 strikes 202, 204, 206 suicide 67, 175, 180, 192 Surrealism 80, 84–6, 97–8 Tati, Jacques Mon Oncle 19, 92–3, 101–13 Play Time 20, 102, 103, 105, 181 topography 3, 4, 26–34 passim, 37, 208 town planning 160–2, 171, 173, 177–8, 181, 182 transgression 51, 66, 68, 82, 86, 87–8 transportation see commuting

Trauner, Alexander 17, 117 Trenet, Charles 84, 87, 98 Trente Glorieuses 101, 113n.1, 119, 166 Truffaut, François Tirez sur le pianiste 147 Varda, Agnès Bonheur, Le 171–2 Vecchiali, Paul Corps à cœur 19 Verneuil, Henri Mélodie en sous-sol 148, 154 Peur sur la ville 148 Vigo, Jean 48n.4, 117 L’Atalante 39–41, 67 villas 19, 23, 27, 30–3, 92, 93, 96, 143, 146, 148, 150 villes nouvelles see New Towns violence 86–7, 98, 165, 180, 191–2, 196–7 voiceover narration 115, 116, 129, 131, 133 wartime 22, 38, 49–54 wastelands 144, 149–50, 177–9, 199 waterways 38–40, 40–4, 53–4, 68, 129 work 14, 16, 18, 51, 52, 54–5, 57–8, 63, 64, 70 202–10 passim Zola, Émile 63–5, 67 Zone 10–11, 12–16, 20, 33–4, 52–3, 199

1  A street urchin in La Zone: Au pays des chiffonniers (Georges Lacombe, 1928)

2  ‘Kindly children of misery’: whistleblowing in Aubervilliers (Eli Lotar, 1945)

3  Simone Signoret and Serge Reggiani escape Paris for a riverside tryst in Casque d’or (Jacques Becker, 1952)

4  Cruising American-style in La Belle Américaine (Robert Dhéry, 1961)

5  Feuillade’s Villemomble residence doubles as Lady Beltham’s villa in Fantômas (Louis Feuillade, 1913–14)

6  Le Môme Réglisse and Little Jean cross the Zone in Judex (Louis Feuillade, 1916–17)

7  Unsettled life in the barge film L’Atalante (Jean Vigo, 1934)

8  Exiting Paris by motor car in La Glace à trois faces (The Three-Sided Mirror, Jean Epstein, 1927)

9  The Baron (Louis Jouvet) and thief Pépel (Jean Gabin) philosophise on the Marne in Les Bas-Fonds (The Lower Depths, Jean Renoir, 1936)

10  The deceptively banal filling station of La Nuit du carrefour (Night at the Crossroads, Jean Renoir, 1932)

11  Suburbia as stage set: Alexander Trauner’s décors for Le Jour se lève (Daybreak, Marcel Carné, 1939)

12  The company excursion to l’Isle-Adam in Au Bonheur des Dames (Julien Duvivier, 1930)

13  The unemployed workers’ collective makes plans in La Belle Équipe (They Were Five, Julien Duvivier, 1936)

14  Surrealist ‘found objects’ at the city’s margins in Le Sang des bêtes (Blood of the Beasts, Georges Franju, 1949)

15  Liminal wastelands as projective screen: Colloque de chiens (Dog’s Dialogue, Raúl Ruiz, 1977)

16  Dr Génessier’s villa-cum-clinic in Les Yeux sans visage (Eyes Without a Face, Georges Franju, 1960)

17  A bricolage of 1920s domestic modernism: the Arpel residence in Mon Oncle (Jacques Tati, 1958) © Les Films de Mon Oncle–Specta Films C.E.P.E.C.

18  The old neighbourhood holds out against the new in Mon Oncle (Jacques Tati, 1958) © Les Films de Mon Oncle–Specta Films C.E.P.E.C.

19  Barred existence: the impoverished landscape of L’Amour existe (Love Exists, Maurice Pialat, 1961)

20  Mass housing as closed horizon: L’Amour existe (Love Exists, Maurice Pialat, 1961)

21  Spools of films no longer or yet to come: Claude Brasseur and Sami Frey in Bande à part (Band of Outsiders, Jean-Luc Godard, 1964)

22  A woman’s plight under neo-capitalism: Juliette (Marina Vlady) in Deux ou trois choses que je sais d’elle (Two or Three Things I Know about Her, Jean-Luc Godard, 1967)

23  A shadowy gangster by the tracks in Le Doulos (Jean-Pierre Melville, 1963)

24  ‘Agents’ on duty on a deserted footbridge in Le Samouraï (Jean-Pierre Melville, 1967)

25  Getaways: the transitional landscape of Un Flic (A Cop, Jean-Pierre Melville, 1972)

26  Looking for change: Franck (Patrick Dewaere) in Série noire (Alain Corneau, 1979)

27  Sarcelles’ dehumanising geometry: Quarante mille voisins (Jacques Krier, 1960)

28  Illicit loves: François (Jean-Claude Drouot) visits Émilie (Marie-France Boyer) in Le Bonheur (Agnès Varda, 1964)

29  Slated for renewal: Jean Gabin returns home in Le Chat (Pierre Granier-Deferre, 1971)

30  Muse Fiona (Bernadette Lafont) cruises the dumpsite in La Ville bidon (Jacques Baratier, 1976). All rights reserved Association Jacques Baratier

31  Administering the future: Jean-Michel (André Dussolier) and Claudine (Anémone) in Le Couple témoin (The Model Couple, William Klein, 1978)

32  Louise (Pascale Ogier) leaves the new town Marne-la-Vallée for Paris in Les Nuits de la pleine lune (Full Moon in Paris, Éric Rohmer, 1984)

33  Outcries and crises: Jean-Roger (François Négret) and Bruno (Vincent Gasperitsch) in De bruit et de fureur (Sound and Fury, Jean-Claude Brisseau, 1988)

34  Sacrificial rites: the dark lyricism of De bruit et de fureur (Sound and Fury, Jean-Claude Brisseau, 1988)

35  The traces that remain: the labour of history in Reprise (Hervé Le Roux, 1997)

36  The reign of the multinational: layered spaces in Reprise (Hervé Le Roux, 1997)