January was an especially dark month for the arts and entertainment world. On the 29th, we lost French nouvelle vague filmmaker Jacques Rivette. His very personal style allowed actors to create their own lines during rehearsals, broke genre and cinematic conventions and was unconcerned about commerciality (his film Out One  lasts twelve hours). At the same time, he considered that we dismiss commercial cinema at our own risk (he was reportedly a fan of Showgirls). Rivette was also a critic and a cinephile, which accounted for his films being full of references to other texts (literary and cinematic). His debut Paris Nous Appartient (Paris Belongs to Us, 1961), to which the photo belongs, established the motifs which were to become recurrent in his filmography: female protagonists, living carefree in modern Paris, questioning the boundaries of reality and fiction while rehearsing a play. In their spare time, they looked for a mysterious object (a recorded tape, a key…), which held the clue to an (usually ludicrous) international conspiracy. In the end, the important was not if the mystery was solved, but the characters’ journey (at the ending of Céline et Julie vont en bateau , the film starts again from a different perspective).
Jacques Rivette’s death reminded me that I had an overdue confession to make. In my blog post “A researcher works at a library” (01/02/2015), I said that research was not about chasing lost manuscripts, but endless hours of work in a library. Well, many years ago, like a Rivette heroine, I went on a journey to Paris to find a lost treasure for my research. It was September 2001 and I was on the first stages of my doctoral thesis. Like any other film researcher, I was having huge difficulties finding the movies I needed (resources like youtube were a utopia at the time and the DVD format was in its infancy). One of the most elusive was Hurlevent, the French version of Wuthering Heights which Jacques Rivette directed in 1985. Finally, I received a letter from the cinema archives at Bois d’Arcy, near Paris. They had a copy of the film and welcomed me to make an appointment to go there and watch it. I am fluent in French and I thought that watching a movie was as good an excuse as any other to visit Paris (I was in my twenties, after all). As none of my friends fancied a week in the eternal city, I just grabbed my backpack and went alone.
I travelled by coach from A Coruña to Paris (a whole day and a night). I stayed at a youth hostel called “Le D’Artagnan”, named after the adventurer who inspires the four modern-day female musketeers in Rivette’s La bande des quatre (1989). Curiously, nobody at the tourist office could give me directions for Bois D’Arcy, so I just went to Montparnasse station and bought a ticket, assuming (correctly) that the train would know where to go. On impulse, I decided to visit la Tour Montparnasse next door, the very perceptively named “le ciel de Paris”, because the whole city is visible from the top. I took a photo with the Eiffel Tower behind me and I enjoyed an exhibition of the costumes from the latest Lido cabaret and burlesque show (“C’est magique!”).
The following day, I took the metro to Les Champs-Élysées, where I shouted “New York Herald Tribune!” at the top of my lungs, as if I were Jean Seberg in À Bout de Souffle (1960, Jean-Luc Godard). Then, all the way down till the Louvre, crossing the Tuileries Gardens. On my way, remembering the exhibition, I stopped at the door of the Lido, to pick up a programme as a souvenir. The porter looked at me, in my jeans and pigtails, wondering if this innocent-looking child was aware of the sinful activity going on inside. Next stop was the Virgin bookshop, searching for a book called L’oeil camera (The eye camera). My French pronunciation was not good enough, so I ended pointing at my own eye (“l’oeil”) and I mimicking a camera rolling (“camera”). They did not have the book, but the shop assistant was smiling broadly. A pleasant surprise awaited at the Louvre. As it was the first Sunday of the month, entrance was free. Hurray! The museum was so crowded that I could barely see the Mona Lisa, but I loved every minute of it. I also took plenty of pictures (I did not know if it was allowed, but everybody was doing it). Going back to the hostel, a man suddenly jumped to the metro tracks and started screaming (to this day, I do not know what was wrong with him). There was a long delay and the platforms both sides got filled with more and more people. I was amazed at how quiet the crowd was, how patiently they waited while the police took the man away.
On Monday, I was confronted with a difficult decision. Should I go to the Eiffel Tower or the Bibliothèque du film? Responsible girl that I was, my research won in the end. That evening, with my backpack full of useful resources, I looked at the Tower from below and I promised to return one day.
It was Bois D’Arcy on Tuesday. At the very busy station, I asked a commuter which was my train. When I was already seated, he appeared, totally out of breath. I was in the wrong one! He literally took me by the hand to the right platform. When I finally reached my destination, I found out that Bois d’Arcy was literally a bois [forest]. A very nice old clochard (in beret and trench) pointed me in the direction of what it looked like a military base but was actually the cinémathèque. For a moment, I wondered if I was about to enter that sinister library from Citizen Kane. By no means. The archivist was serious, but also kind and welcoming. Unlike Anne, protagonist of Paris Nous Appartient, I had managed to find the tape which held the clues, but time was running out. I had only over three hours to watch the film (which lasted two) and take my notes. The bus back home was leaving that very evening, and there was no other in a week (sorry, no last minute chases. I made it back without a problem).
A week after I returned home, the Twin Towers were attacked and our world changed forever. Last year, Paris was twice the scenario of similar senseless fanatic violence. But I am reassured that the city will rise. Like in Rivette’s films, there may be a conspiracy in the shadows, but we must go on living our lives.
At the opening of Paris nous appartient, it is said “Paris n’appartient à personne” (“Paris belongs to no one”). Paris belonged to me just for four days. Now, Paris belongs to my memory, Paris belongs to my youth, Paris belongs to my passion for cinema. For that, monsieur Rivette, je vous remercie.