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Reviewed by:
  • Paris in the Cinema: Beyond the 'flâneur' ed. by Alastair Phillips and Ginette Vincendeau
  • Keith Reader
Paris in the Cinema: Beyond the 'flâneur'. Edited by Alastair Phillips and Ginette Vincendeau. London: Palgrave, on behalf of the British Film Institute, 2018. viii + 286 pp., ill.

This collection studies and interrogates two of the most abiding stereotypical (which is not to say inaccurate) views of Paris — the 'cinematic city par excellence' (p. 1) on one hand; the pre-ordained habitat of the flâneur on the other. These two perceptions are, however, and as this collection amply demonstrates, far from exhaustive. Flânerie, for and perhaps because of all its charms, risks reducing the city to a spectacle and hence evacuating its workaday specificity, and Paris's iconic status as birthplace and to this day treasure-trove of cinema likewise runs the risk of enshrining and ossifying its multiplicity of representations. The essays brought together here frequently focus on 'sites rarely discussed in relation to Paris on screen' (p. 9), such as the vanishing of Les Halles (Catherine Clark); on key social types unlikely often to be encountered by the flâneur (the concierge — Raphaëlle Moine); on filmmakers insufficiently studied or appreciated outside France (Alastair Phillips on 'Jacques Becker's Urban Everyday'); or even on non-French texts (Colin Jones's chapter on adaptations of A Tale of Two Cities). Moreover, the work does not allow itself to be straitjacketed by its title; Hélène Jannière's 'Television and the Renewal of Paris' is illustration of that, as is Ginette Vincendeau's chapter on 'The Parisian banlieue on Screen', notably the attention it pays to 'the quiet banlieue' (p. 93) rather than the post-La Haine locale of trouble and strife. Interiors likewise — Truffaut's apartments (Hilary Radner and Alistair Fox) and the New Wave hotel (Roland-François [End Page 644] Lack) — receive an attention they too infrequently get in much work in this area. Nor is the institutional dimension neglected: witness Leila Wimmer on the Mac-Mahon cinema in the seventeenth arrondissement, which acted as a base for critics such as Michel Mourlet whose preferences fell outside the Cahiers canon. The Forum des images, so invaluable a resource for students of Paris, whether or not they be film specialists, is treated in two chapters — one (Roger Odin) focusing on its archive of home movies, the other (Jean-Yves Lépinay) situating it in the long and sometimes fraught history of film conservation. Finally, and on an unabashedly personal note, I was delighted to see that Éric Rohmer's first feature film Le Signe du lion (1962) — for my money a neglected masterpiece—forms the focus of a chapter by Michel Marie. This well-produced collection deserves a place in any university library.

Keith Reader


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