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Film Series : Paris, a Hundred Villages

Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg in Breathless by Jean-Luc Godard

One city, twenty arrondissements, how many stories possible? Over the centuries, the growth of Paris has gone hand in hand with the increasing diversity of its people and boroughs, constituting a unique cultural patchwork.  This fall, the Cultural Services of the French Embassy will screen a four-part film series, each one focusing on one of the many Parisian localities. From Hôtel du Nord, featuring the Canal Saint-Martin of the 1930s, to Paris Prestige, portraying a 2016 gentrifying Pigalle, the selected movies tell the story of la ville aux cent villages (the city of a hundred villages) by contrasting epochs, places and communities.

All films are in French with English subtitles.

Paris Prestige / Les Derniers Parisiens by Hamé & Ekoué
2016 France 105 min
September 11 | 7:00 p.m.

Out on parole, Nas (Reda) has to meticulously clock-in to work at his older brother Arezki’s bar Le Prestige in order to avoid being thrown back in prison. But Nas has other plans: he wants to get back into promoting parties, and Le Prestige’s location in Pigalle, the heart of Paris’ bustling nightlife, is an ideal calling card for party-goers. It soon becomes apparent that the two brothers are on a collision course started long ago, with the death of their mother and Arezki’s decision to leave Nas with their aunt.

This gripping first feature by Hamé and Ekoué, two rappers in leading French rap group La Rumeur, is a Paris-by-night tour that stays far away from the glimmer of the Eiffel Tower, offering instead an insider’s portrait of a vibrant, quickly gentrifying urban neighborhood, with its African hairdressers, Algerian groceries, German tourists, neon sex shops, and every street scam known to man. But beneath its kinetic surface and groovy soundtrack, one finds a profound reflection on the struggles and disappointments of two generations of Algerian immigrants in France.

Breathless / À bout de souffle by Jean-Luc Godard
1960 – France – 90 min
September 25 | 7:00 p.m.

Michel Poiccard (Jean-Paul Belmondo) comes across as a typical thug, making a living by stealing cars in order to resell them in Paris. Then one day, when a policeman forces him to pull over, Poiccard panics and shoots him dead. The act triggers a hot-pursuit police chase as Poiccard attempts to escape from his heinous crime. The pursuit would be short if not for Patricia Franchini (Jean Seberg) an aspiring journalist who hawks the New York Herald Tribune on the Champs Élysées and plays an ambiguous role in his run.

Based on a draft screenplay by François Truffaut (The 400 Blows) and Claude Chabrol (Les Biches), Breathless is one of Godard’s most famous masterpieces. It was one of the earliest, most influential examples of French New Wave cinema, acclaimed by every critic and director ever since.

When the Cat's Away / Chacun cherche son chat by Cédric Klapisch
1996 – France 91 min
October 9 | 7:00 p.m.

In the Bastille neighborhood, Chloé (Garance Clavel) shares a flat with her friend Michel (Olivier Py). When she decides to take a week away from Paris, she is in desperate need for a cat sitter for her black cat called Gris-Gris. Everybody she knows seems to want to steer clear of the cat sitting, and so Chloé is doomed to resort to Madam Renée’s help. When Chloé returns to Paris, she finds out that Gris-Gris has fled and is now lost in the city.

This film is the ideal opportunity to observe the transition from a “typical” Parisian borough to a young and trendy district. As Chloé meanders in her neighborhood looking for Gris-Gris, she meets several of its inhabitants, be they newcomers or long established. This is the story of one of Paris villages with its own unique atmosphere and outlook, something which is typical of Cédric Klapisch’s movies.

Hôtel du Nord by Marcel Carné
1938 – France – 95 min
October 23 | 7:00 p.m.

On the banks of the Canal St. Martin in Paris, the Hotel du Nord welcomes families, couples, travelers, prostitutes and many others. The multiple comings and goings make the Hotel a special place where the lives of its occupants intertwine and influence the course of each one’s destiny. This film focuses on the story of Renée and Pierre, a depressed young couple who are lost in the dullness of their life.

This adaptation of Eugene Dabit’s novel L’Hôtel du Nord is considered a great depiction of the French interwar years, featuring well-known actors and actresses of the time, such as Arletty, playing a strong and confident prostitute, and Louis Jouvet who was featured in numerous other Marcel Carné movies. While the film is considered a drama, it still contains hints of humor due to its exceptional dialogue. Some of the lines from Hôtel du Nord have become shining references in the French cinematic world. Still young when the film was shot, Marcel Carné was already acclaimed by most critics for his two masterpieces of 1938: Hôtel du Nord and Port of Shadows.

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