Photo of the Week

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The view from the Théâtre de l"Odéon at dusk. Photo: Françoise Deberdt-Meunier

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Paris Update What’s On

Links to events happening this week in Paris.

Left Bank gallery crawl
> Open house at 50 galleries for Art Saint Germain des Prés. Various venues, Paris, May 18-June 3.

Gold in galleries

ParisUpdate-CarreRiveGauche-Passage AH 0

“Passage” ((2017), by Aude Herlédan. At 1831 Art Gallery during Carré Rive Gauche.

> The Carré Rive Gauche, an association of Left Bank galleries, celebrates its 40th anniversary with an event called ExtrORdinaire, featuring gold in works of art. Various venues, Paris, May 18-June 3.

Literary evening
> The Nuit de la Littérature in Belleville and Ménilmontant presents 20 foreign authors reading their work in French. Various venues, Paris, May 27.

 English-language theater festival
> Paris Fringe returns for its second year of English-language theater and comedy. Various venues, Paris, May 18-28.

Hollywood glam
> Marilyn Monroe, Greta Garbo, Ava Gardner, Marlene Dietrich and more in classic films from Hollywood's Golden Age for the Glamour cycle. Forum des Images, Paris, May 3-31.

French film with English subtitles
> Lost in Frenchlation shows Etienne Comar’s Django, preceded by a themed cocktail party (€4.50). Studio 28, Paris, May 26.

Virtual reality
> Drop in on Saturday or Sunday from 2pm to 8pm for a free virtual trip at the VR Express festival. Forum des Images, Paris, through June 30.

Dance in historic sites
> Monuments en Mouvement offers free dance performances in national monuments like the Pantheon in Paris, the Abbaye de Cluny and châteaux. Various locations, through Oct. 21.

African culture festival
> The 100% Afriques festival showcases dance, theater, music, fashion, design, art, food and more from all over the continent. La Villette, Paris, through May 28.

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Film - Documentary

 

Nous, Princesses de Clèves

nous-princesses-de-cleves

Teenagers from a rough neighborhood find parallels with their lives in a 17th-century novel.

The other day I walked into one of the many chic gift shops that pepper the Marais district of Paris and found myself drawn to a pack of old books, only to ...

nous-princesses-de-cleves

Teenagers from a rough neighborhood find parallels with their lives in a 17th-century novel.

The other day I walked into one of the many chic gift shops in the Marais district of Paris and found myself drawn to a pack of old books, only to discover that they had been tied together so tightly that they were clearly intended never to be read and were on sale solely as a fashion statement for the home. Although I know that books have long served as a decorative feature in people’s homes, at least they used to offer the illusion that their owners intended to read them at some point! Is France, that great defender of the intellectual, at a crisis point? After all, the country’s current president famously sneered that Madame de La Fayette’s 1678 novel La Princesse de Clèves was not worth studying.

Régis Sauder’s new documentary, Nous, Princesses de Clèves, is a direct response to Nicolas Sarkozy’s derision, as the film follows the pupils of a high school in one of the most deprived neighborhoods of Marseilles as they act out scenes from and respond to the novel by drawing parallels with their own lives. Sauder is cashing in on the success of movies from recent years, such as Etre et Avoir and Entre les Murs (The Class), which vividly show the teaching process at work, and L’Esquive (Games of Love and Chance), which featured teenagers from deprived areas acting scenes from a play by the dramatist Marivaux. As in the documentary Etre et Avoir, the students’ parents are interviewed, and one of the students even bears an astonishing resemblance to one of the lead actresses in Entre les Murs.

Yet, as engaging as parts of this film may be, Nous, Princesses de Clèves does not have the narrative drive or charm of the previous movies. Even though some of the comparisons to the 17th-century text reveal interesting insights – not least the interpretation of the princess’s mother, Mme de Chartres, by some of the pupils being brought up in strict Muslim households – we never get to see enough of the pupils’ lives to make us really care about them. Some of the female students speak vaguely about their own relationships, but the director does not follow up by interviewing their boyfriends. Another missed opportunity: one of the teachers seems to have real charisma and intelligence, but she only appears very briefly at the beginning and during a school trip to Paris, when they visit the Bibliothèque Nationale and are shown copies of the first editions of the novel by Jean-Marc Châtelain, one of the library’s curators.

A good knowledge of La Princesse de Clèves is probably needed to appreciate this film; I have taught the text for years and enjoyed the acted extracts from the novel, but my companion, who had not read the book, found them dull. (The students, by the way, are surprisingly fine actors).

All in all, this movie is a worthy but flawed attempt to prove to Sarkozy that reading old books can still be relevant today. In the meantime, I urge you not to buy packs of books being sold purely as designer chic in the Marais unless you intend to read them!

Nick Hammond

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Vincent Rottiers