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Close Encounters of the Parisian Kind

Close Encounters of the Parisian Kind

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For Claire Simon, cinema is a means of observing and acting on reality. If in her career she has always turned towards those set aside by the mainstream, whether homosexuals, North Africans or simply women, it has been partly to give them the chance to take possession of a story. Her double project on “Gare du Nord”, the ancient gate of Paris, continues and clarifies this desire. The big Parisian station is no longer seen as an arrival point but as a place in which the identity of a society is remodelled. A place for working and meeting, the “gare” is also a space in which the rigid order and hierarchies of the arrondissements fade. In this place of confusion, hearing helps orient you more than sight.

In its limpid simplicity, the documentary offers itself as a gallery of meetings, in the spirit of the (controlled) freedom of a jazz improvisation. Travelling students and commuters, café and shop workers and vagrants tell the story of a multicultural society in which precariousness is the dominant aspect. Claire Simon’s skill lies in making the transition sequences central elements of the narrative: the station architecture, as well as the arrangement of the spaces, are understood as structures in which the theme of control becomes explicit, and to which the innate vitality of the men and women interviewed is opposed.

On this level the fictional element triggers an additional narrative, a love story that centres on the face, tired but still ready to light up, of the woman played by Nicole Garcia. The fictional part introduces some elements with a clear symbolic value; Mathilde is a sick woman and the young Ismaël (the name of the narrator of Moby Dick) provides her with new impetus and a reason to keep trying to orient herself in the chaos of the modern station.

Carlo Chatrian

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