An absorbing new book from Luc Santé, documenting the unsavoury underside of old Paris; and a deluxe DVD and Blu-ray box set of Jacque Rivette's "Out 1" (1971), his legendary 12 hour and 53 minute film of the French "nouvelle vague."
Luc Santé has a long-standing fascination with the unsavoury underside of urban life, which he first explored in Low Life, his 1991 book on the “lures and snares” of 19th century New York City, and later, in his translation of French anarchist Félix Fénéon’s Novels in Three Lines, a collection of “true stories of murder, mayhem and everyday life” (reviewed in Geist 69). Santé’s new book, The Old Paris (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) presents a detailed portrait of the darker side of Paris through the centuries; think of it as a noir version of Walter Benjamin’s The Arcades Project. The Old Paris of which Santé writes teemed with life; it was a city which still had room for the underclasses: the poor, the bohemians (writers, painters, musicians), and for the criminal class (notorious figures such as Pépé le Moko, Casque d’Or, and Lacenaire, all of them later immortalized in classic French films). Most of these neighborhoods were systematically eradicated when Baron Haussmann began his campaign to modernize Paris under Napoléon III—and it is clear that Santé is not entirely enthusiastic about the transformation. In a recent interview with the Guardian Santé put it this way: “My book is a kind of love letter to the city as it was and before it got overtaken by money. Money, for me, may not immediately kill people in the way terrorism does, but it does certainly change the fabric of daily life in much deeper and more insidious ways. The terrorist may be defeated in 50 or 20 or 10 years, but money is going to be much harder to defeat.”
If you’re a film buff you will at some point hear about Jacques Rivette’s landmark French “new wave” film from 1971, Out 1: Noli Me Tangere, a film known more for its extreme length (12 hours and 53 minutes) and its inaccessibility than for anything else. Well, fans of Rivette’s work (and I am one; see a review of the magical Celine and Julie Go Boating in Geist 68) need fret no longer: Out 1: Noli Me Tangere has been fully and lovingly restored and is now available in a dual-language, dual-format (DVD and Blu-ray) box set from Carlotta Films. These days, when binge-watching an entire season of a TV show is routine, a 13-hour feature film is not as daunting as it might once have been, and Out 1: Noli Me Tangere is helpfully divided into 8 episodes. So: what’s the film about? As with a number of Rivette’s other films, Out 1 features a secret society—in this case: “the Thirteen,” who appear to have been inspired by one of Balzac’s novels: l’Histoire des Treize. We follow two troupes of improvisational theatre performers, and, separately, two rather eccentric individuals: Colin, a faux-mute panhandler (played by “new wave” regular Jean-Pierre Léaud), and Frédérique, a would-be thief (played by the gorgeous Juliet Berto), as they wander the streets and parks of Paris, with occasional visits to an isolated house (“the Obade”) on the Normandy coast. Over the course of the film (which was largely improvised by the cast and the director) their paths and fates gradually converge. Out 1 is a fascinating glimpse into a more innocent time in French cinema, when directors and actors were challenging the status quo, dispensing with such banal conventions as scripts, and the idea of an authoritarian director. It was a time when everything seemed possible. Don’t have 13 hours to spare? No problem: the box set also includes Out 1: Spectre (1974), a slimmed-down version of the film, at a mere 4 hours and 24 minutes; there’s also a 120-page booklet, and a feature-length documentary (a sprightly 110 minutes) on the making of Out 1.