Thursday, September 20, 2007
-Anna has just left Paul who, annihilated by the separation, moves back with his father in Paris. His younger brother Jonathan, a casual student, still lives in his father's apartment and spends most of his time womanizing and fooling around. But what this apparent lightness conceals is a deep wound. Jonathan, in fact, has never been able to overcome the death of his beloved sister. Meanwhile Paul sinks into depression.-
DANS PARIS, the fifth film in as many years by writer/director Christophe Honore (Ma Mere), is through and through a constant collapsing and building of the fourth wall, both attitudinally and structurally. It is at once a Brechtian display of self-awareness and reflexion (Jonathon talking to the audience), and with its counter cannon of bare intimacy (insular moments between quarrelling lovers, Paul singing along to music in his underwear) it is a film that is equally, if not more so, a work of inclusion.
Honore’s pervasive dance of oppositions begins as the film itself does, for even within the gesture of Jonathon’s opening address to the audience and recognition of the medium of film itself by which he is present, the viewer is simultaneously broken from and unified with the narrative. Certainly not the first time something to this effect has been done. I’m thinking on Jodorowski’s allegorical opus THE HOLY MOUNTAIN in which the final lines of dialogue are roughly, “this is just a film, and we are just actors. The ideas are what will live after it’s over,” spoken straightly to the audience. But in ways, this frankness is more a throwback to the modes of the nouvelle vague (which DANS PARIS is in spades). In Jean-Luc Godard’s film MASCULIN FEMININ (1966) there are two scenes in which actors, who are not in character, are being candidly, if not awkwardly interviewed by the director from behind the camera, himself posing as another character in the film. These unscripted scenes, notably divergent from the rest of the films tone were included as moments of human authenticity, simultaneously shaking the viewer from their cathartic rapture and placing them within its grips. While Jonathon of DANS PARIS doesn’t take an interplanetary journey to climb a holy mountain in order to share his halting sentiment, he does make a small pilgrimage from his tiny bedroom out onto the airy porch, from the warm dimness of the apartment to the cool sterilizing light of the morning’s first moments, an important action that compounds the disconnection his monologue will spurn. Not only does he admit that he is in a film acting as storyteller with an unlikely omniscience, he even engages the audience with questions and advice in concern of their experience of the film. This is as brash and direct as a film can become, and yet because of its apperent lightness and comedy, it becomes an invitation rather than a push.
What we learn very quickly through character interactions is that Jon and Paul are rather different people (seemingly) and share little in their attitudes on love, despite their tender sibling chemistry. Light-spirited Jon thrives in a diverting playworld of spontaneous couplings that masks a more subtle and withheld sadness, while Paul steeps himself in his romances and wears his emotions loudly. Paul has become a disciple of, “Men prefer sorrow over joy... suffering over peace (Kurosawa)."
His heart-withering woes stem from an impulsive life decision to move out to the country as some sort of medicating quarantine with his then girlfriend Ana, even though from this moment we are well aware of their discord. The subsequent singularity of their environment (the relationship) turned Paul into a polarized individual, much in the way that the construction of the film is polarized; being at once so small and authentic and at other times so self consciously poetic, overtly cinematic, bouncing from small still rooms to the open kinetic air of the city. During thair stay of execution in the county, Paul and Ana (mostly Paul) lived in a wartime of the heart, going through the exercise of “silence to mayhem with nothing in between.” It is a desperate kind of sickness that drags, and though Ana never fractures quite like Paul does, it leaves them both withered.
With his quickness to laughter, deceptively juvenile demeanor, and youthful spontaneity, Jon is almost a foil to Paul, though not realizing his transience causes its own thread of woes (scorned lovers, an underappreciated father left in the lurch all too often). Probably like every other day of the week, Jonathon bounces from encounter to encounter on his epic race to the Bon Marche shopping windows, which turns out to be more of a distraction for himself than for Paul, whom he contacts at regular intervals on the phone. Jon is adept to his brothers suffering and is keen to the idea that he should be left alone. For the most part, this is what Paul wants, even though he has chosen to be surrounded by people in these dire straits. What good Jon is able to do, when he’s around to do it, is bring the exuberance of the city air into the vacuum of his father’s apartment, a quality he shares with his mother (who gets Paul to laugh histerically). Inversely Paul, with his palpable bitterness and introversion, brings the weight of four walls to the outside world when he takes the occasion in flashbacks. Jon and Paul, foils and yet friends, are by example equal parts architect and destroyer of the polarity in DANS PARIS.
Overall, DANS PARIS is something of a harmonious schism; a mostly nonlinear structure that is accomplice to the idea of the polarity inherent in close relationships. It is both parenthetical (in that it is a caption of time which continues before and after the film), and is also a closed circuit narrative (in that the film ends right where it begins…in the bedroom). The film, essentially an interlaced flashback, ends the only way it could have, at a point no farther than its moment of retrospection (even though it will catch you off guard). But instead of just looping, it also expands in our imagination as we draw on our own memories of healing and project upon the inevitability of respite. Thinking on the opening frames of DANS PARIS as connected to the last, I’m reminded of the final shot in Tsai Ming-Liang’s meandering existential romance I DON’T WANT TO SLEEP ALONE (2006), in which the three conflicted leads are sleeping on a bed that’s floating on an industrial pond, as if a concrete poem on the nature of our existence (we get to choose who we float with, but not the fact that we float, or necessarily where). Therefore Paul, Jon, and Alice (just like Hsiao-Kang, Rawang, and Chyi) are floating on the potential for a kind of resolution rather than the resolution itself, on the stillness and ambiguity of healing rather than the clarity of action and retrospection. For me DANS PARIS ends on an ever-satisfying, unpresumptuous, and understated upward swell.