New Book Announcement: Moving People, Moving Images

March 12, 2010 at 4:50 am

Co-written with my colleagues William Brown and Leshu Torchin, Moving People, Moving Images: Cinema and Trafficking in the New Europe is the first title in our new series on Cinema and Transnational Discourse (St Andrews Film Studies, 2010). The next title planned for the series will look into the wide range of cinematic representations of international terrorism in cinema.

We hope to find a wide exposure for this volume, far beyond the narrow film studies field (it is no accident that this was also the best-selling title of all the books we introduced at the recent multiple book launch event at the BFI Filmstore on Southbank in London). It is a volume on the representation of human trafficking in international cinema, and even though it is a ‘film studies’ work, we believe it is really of interest to much wider circles as these are matters of immediate concern to social workers, migration specialists and activists. The book discusses a range of films, both feature and documentary, reflecting the situation with human trafficking in a great variety of countries — from Turkey to Sweden, from Sri Lanka to Greece, from Serbia to Italy, from North Africa to Spain, and so on.

ISBN (13): 978-1-9066-7803-6 (paperback)
Price £17.99 (UK), $29.00 (US)
Available for purchase by clicking through to St. Andrews Film Studies bookshop

The volume is divided in three parts, which include respectively general essays; close analysis of fifteen important international films on trafficking; commentary on the political aspects of the usage of these films in the context of activism.

Here is a more detailed Table of Contents

PART ONE. Landscapes
William Brown – Negotiating the Invisible
Leshu Torchin – Foreign Exchange
Dina Iordanova – Making Traffic Visible, Adjusting the Narrative

PART TWO: Close-Ups

In-depth analyses of The Bus (Turkey/Sweden, Tunc Okan), The Guardian Angel (Yugoslavia, Goran Paskaljevic), When Mother Comes Home for Christmas(Greece/India/Germany, Nilita Vachani), Wesh wesh, qu’est-ce qui se passe? (France, rabah Ameur-Zaimeche), Poniente (Spain, Chus Gutierrez), Spare Parts (Slovenia, Damjan Kozole), Promised Land (Israel/France, Amos Gitai), Ghosts (UK, Nick Broomfield), It’s a Free World… (UK, Ken Loach), Import/Export (Austria, Ulrich Seidl), Love on Delivery and Ticket to Paradise (Denmark), The Silence of Lorna (Belgium, Dardenne Brothers) and Taken (France, Pierre Morel).

Part THREE: Traffic Jam
Film, Activism, and Human Trafficking

Excerpts of reviews:

Moving People, Moving Images tackles human trafficking, one of the most serious consequences of the massive movement of people enabled by post-Wall processes of economic and cultural globalization in Europe. While immigration, migration, exile, and the illegal movement of people have been the subject of much work in film and media studies recently, few volumes would take such a bold stand in favour of the possibility of filmic activism. One of the attractions of this book is precisely that it refuses to tread lightly and tentatively across the well-established divide between cinematic representations and socio-political issues. It makes a provocative argument for the political effect of films and proposes that human trafficking should not be the rightful, let alone the exclusive, domain of governments, NGOs, activist organizations and the social sciences.
— Aniko Imre, University of Southern California

Moving People, Moving Images is a groundbreaking and much-needed study of the intersections between film and human trafficking. Through a sophisticated and versatile approach, and against the backdrop of theories of economic globalisation, transnationalism, post-colonialism, identity and modernity, it offers a theorisation of human trafficking that engages with a range of published work on social and critical theory as well as on film studies…. This volume is both a complete and valuable teaching tool, and a precious resource for future research, and sets the agenda for more work in this all-important area.
— Laura Rascaroli, University College Cork, Ireland

Available for purchase by clicking through to St. Andrews Film Studies bookshop

Nie sme na vseki kilometar: A personal memoir

January 7, 2009 at 1:04 am

During a recent visit to my native city of Sofia, Bulgaria, I heard that the Socialist Party (formerly Communist Party) which had just held its 47th or so Congress, has been in the media with a clip using motives of the famous TV series Na vseki kilometar (1969). As this film is associated with a host of memories for me, I could not help it but searching for the clip on YouTube. Here is what emerged:

The man who jumps on the tram is actor Stefan Danailov, who played the lead role of Sergei/Major Deyanov in Na vseki kilometar. (The protagonist was an underground anti-fascist conspirator who always managed to outwit the police and pull off whatever he had planned to do.) There was a well-known episode in the original series where Sergei jumps on a tram, like in this present clip. Using the reconstruction of this familiar visual trope and casting the same actor, who is now nearly forty years older, is a good approach to the clip’s target audience, which consists of die-hard former communists and by those younger Bulgarians who, supposedly, believe in the continuity of the socialist tradition. Actor Danailov himself is now part of the governing coalition, and has enjoyed a relatively good reputation during his mandate as culture minister (prior to entering politics he was mostly busy appearing in various Italian productions, most notably as a bad guy in the seventh installment of Italian mafia TV series La Piovra). In the clip featured here, he talks to the ‘tram driver’ who is, in fact, Sergey Stanichev, the current socialist PM of Bulgaria, a guy of whom I have got no personal views as he has appeared on the country’s political scene in a period over which I have no immediate observations (my understanding is that he is some sort of typical aparatchik). Stanishev turns to Danailov, who is breathing heavily after having jumped on the tram in a well-familiar Sofia setting (‘tramvaycheto v gorichkata na Pionerskiya dvorets’), and comments: “Things are not like before, eh?” Danailov replies: “Well, they are not. Yet the ideas and the dreams remain the same!” An elderly man who is riding on the tram approaches, calls him ‘Sergei’ (the name from the TV series), and, hand on heart, confirms that he is all up for these same ideas and dreams. Inspiring indeed!

Now, I am still significantly younger than the two old men appearing in this video, yet I am old enough to have a host of memories triggered by the viewing of this clip. So maybe in a move of nostalgia, I went on checking if there was anything from the actual Na vseki kilometar on YouTube. And there was, to my surprise: a two-minute long clip featuring the opening scene and credits of the series (where also the well-known tune sounds). It is posted on YouTube by someone from Vietnam, who testifies as to the film’s popularity there (a theme in which I have persistent interest, namely the wide international exposure of some of the East European productions in the specific transnational context of the so-called Second and Third world, see comments in my piece on Estonian Viimne Reliikvia on these matters). Here it is:

Kosta Karageorgiev, the actor who appears here as the young shooter who is killed at the beginning, is also singing the song (a well-recognizable tune in the Bulgarian context; most folks of my generation would know the lyrics by heart). A Woody Allan look-alike, this bespectacled nondescript charmer enjoyed real popularity when I was a child (He was in many childrens’ programmes, known as ‘bate Kosta’; I see from the imdb he has died in 1998, which means that he has not lived beyond his mid-50s).

Karageorgiev was mostly a singer, and one of my earliest memories involves him. My mother was working in the childrens’ department of Radio Sofia at the time (must have been around 1965), and one day she took me to the studio with her; she was to be recording some songs for a radio show she was preparing. The singer she was working this day happened to be Kosta Karageorgiev (who was already a well known TV personality alongside the ubiquitous bat’ Climbo, Kliment Denchev, who was painting on glass in the show and later disappeared by emigrating to Canada, where he also largely disappeared for the artistic profession).

I must have been about 6 years old. The actor approached me and asked me what was my name, and I replied ‘Kostadina’ (my full name). To which he said: ‘Hm, how is it possible then that we have not known each other so far if we have the same name (‘adashi’), all people by the same given name must know each other.’ I was smitten and extremely pleased at the same time. I had never heard anything like this until then, so I took what he said by face value: it would be, indeed, great, if all people by the same given name knew each other. It was only a few years later that I realized this was not really the case. Still, even today I sometimes hear myself producing the same comment when I see children who share the same name — maybe because the friendly comment of the actor back in my childhood is so deeply entrenched in my early memories.

The other personal memory linked to Na vseki kilometar must be from around 1968. We lived in Lozenetz; the house was at the bottom of a hill-street on which a tram runs. One day the traffic was blocked for the same of a film shoot. I was all happening opposite our house, so I was able to look on as much as I wanted. This is the first time I had the chance to see how films are made and to realize how many takes one does for a single sequence in a film. The scene represented a tram descending the steep street, and a young man jumping out of it while the tram is in full motion. They shot probably more than twenty times the same thing: the tram would ascend the hill and then head down down, and the actor would jump out of it at one point, and run parallel to the tram until the acceleration of the tram’s motion wore off. And then all over again and again. I cannot say who was the young man jumping out of the tram. It might have been Stefan Danailov himself (he was an unknown young actor at the time, so I could not have possibly recognize him; he only became a well-known face after the huge popularity of the series), or it might have been a double. I was, of course, looking to see the scene when the film aired on TV, but I do not think I ever saw it. They may have removed it, thus deleting the celluloid equivalent to this memorable day of my life altogether. In any case, I will always remember the sweet feeling I had on that day while looking on, of being part of something in the making that was to come on later, of witnessing the process of creating a film. Who knows, it might have been experiences like this that have led me to become who I am today: an on-looker, a critic.

As to the series itself, I do not remember many details. In my mind, it links with the Romanian films by Sergiu Nicolaescu on Inspector Moldovan — not because the plot or protagonists were the same, but the spirit, the exploitation of the policier genre (and also because I have seen these more recently than Na vseki kilometar). There was this good looking, sleek and superior Sergei/Deyanov, who always outsmarted the cops. There was the unforgettably popular peasant-partisan Mitko Bombata, played by beloved comedian Grigor Vachkov, some of whose lines in the series would then enter into wide for popular circulation. And, of course, there was the intelligent cerebral policeman Velinski, played by respected theatre actor Georgi Cherkelov (this was such a superb performance that the actor, who was mostly known in the capital as he was playing in theatre, and not across the country, was regularly being referred to not by his real name, but by the name of the protagonist whom he played in the series, so high was the degree to which audiences were identifying him with the role). Otherwise, the film was a typical historical propaganda fare, painting the resistance pretty much in black and white and remaining silent on all the awkward issues related to the period of WWII and its aftermath. What else can one expect from the Sixteenth Soviet republic in 1969? (I hear that this is a period where all the countries in the East of Europe have lived through ideological stagnation which reflected their reaction of well-grounded fear from the iron grip of the Soviets in the aftermath of the Prague invasion). In any case, back then this would not have been my assessment as I had no clue of any of these contextual aspects; I have become aware of them at a much later point. As far my personal recollection for back then is concerned, I was a child enjoying the entertainment that was on offer. And it was fun.

© Dina Iordanova
7 January 2009

Le Pariscope

November 11, 2008 at 12:41 am

There is barely another city that offers as much as Paris; there is no better city for cinephiles (but only for those who can reconcile with the French language that is, naturally, prevailing). And the Pariscope, the little booklet of listings, is the key to it. It is published on Wednesdays and it would cost you 40 cents to buy from any newspaper kiosk; it is also available from supermarkets and other stores.

The listings of cinema-related information run over about 60 pages, thus taking up about a quarter of the total 240 pages of the weekly Pariscope. The film section opens up with some 200-words highlights on new theatrical and DVD releases, followed by an alphabetical listing of all films playing during the week in Paris: It runs over three pages and includes about 250 titles. Then there are short revues of the dozen or so films that get released every week. This is followed by an exhaustive alphabetical listing of all these films with the respective capsule-reviews, and by special sections on Reprises (including various screenings of films of a range of earlier periods), Festivals (a section that features at least several events every week), the programme of the several cinematheques (the one in Bercy and of several more, located in the peripheries), and of screenings at various museums, cultural centres like Beaubourg and various other locations. The second major film section lists theatre schedules across all 20 arrondissements as well as across the suburbs, a complex task as many of the theatres change their programme once every two days and feature an array of special late night screenings, screenings for children, screenings of silents with musical accompaniment, and so on. With time you learn to know which cinemas feature the most interesting special events, and every week one can attend screenings where the filmmakers are present (e.g. Amos Gitai, Robert Guedigian) or where some famous critic runs a regular cine club or a series of presentations. It is not a knowledge that comes overnight, as there are at least thirty cinemas in Paris that can be described as specialized art house, and each one of them features original programming that is worth following closely.

The middle spread of Le Pariscope, p. 120-121, is for the average movie-goer: It is occupied by a table that includes the ratings of the most popular new films as rated by a selection of a dozen of French critics (not critics from art-house film magazines like Positif or Cahiers du cinema but those attached to newspapers or magazines such as Telerama; V. Gaucher and V. Gaillard are listed as Pariscope’s own critics), who assess about 20 films by assigning up to three stars. The spread also includes a listing of box office hits (throughout the particular period which I observed it was the French blockbuster Welcome to the Sticks that kept on top of the 20 listed titles, with more than three million tickets sold). At the bottom of the page there is another chart showing the current week’s hits at the box office.

I am mostly interested in its cinema listings, even though before you get to them you would browse through the theatrical and musical ones, followed by extensive listings of galleries and museum exhibits. There are also listings of restaurants, various other leisure pursuits, tours, promenades, receptions, gallery openings, and night life, and ending with the indispensable for such guides picture-accompanied ads of various escorts and related services. For cinephiles is interesting to browse through the theatre section in particular, as many French film actors regularly make theatrical appearances, and it is quite an ordinary thing to see actors of the caliber of Claude Brasseur, Jeanne Moureau or Isabelle Hupert life on the stage.

It is noteworthy that Le Pariscope does not have much on-line presence; a search for it takes you to some not particularly user-friendly web-site called Premiere, a heavily commercial one that is nothing like the lovely small booklet I am talking about. Both are owned and run by the same publishing empire, Hachette Filipacchi Medias. Media mogul, surrealist and jazz sponsor, and publisher Daniel Filipacchi (pictured here in 1958) is behind it all.

I do not know much of the history of Le Pariscope, and not much of the people who publish it today. From the editorial information at the end, it appears it is not even produced in central Paris but in the outer suburb of Nanterre. About 20 people are listed as working on it, with Virginie Gaucher responsible for cinema. No e-mail contacts are made available; everything is clearly channeled via phone or fax, yet the interesting thing is that they seem to take not only domestic but international subscriptions as well. Le Pariscope must be a profitable publication: at least I always parted with my 40 cents with pleasure, regarding it as money well spent, and indeed it would be a worthy thing to subscribe to, even if for the sake of dreaming for the variety of cinema that one can find in Paris while reading it.

© Dina Iordanova
11 November 2008

Le Barbizon, rue Tolbiac, 13eme, Paris

October 23, 2008 at 3:39 pm

This is one of the Parisian cinemas on which I want to write, but it is not one where I have seen a film as it is closed and represents a sad picture at the moment. I came across the bricked-up facade of the Barbizon, as shown on the picture, in April 2008 while passing by. My Parisian apartment was located nearby, next to the beautifully maintained garden Moulin de la Pointe near the Maison Blanche metro station. Le Barbizon was just a block or two off L’Avenue d’Italie, on Tolbiac, and next door to an intriguing bookshop which featured predominantly leftist literature (in this particular year mostly dedicated to commemorating the fortieth anniversary of Mai 1968), called Librairie Jonas. Just down Tolbiac, one hits the Asian area, with some of the best Vietnamese places to eat in Paris within steps, full of people waiting on the sidewalk to get a table and start sampling the savory beef soup with mint, sprouts, and fish sauce. A few blocs down Tolbiac are the University dorms, and the highrise area of Les Olympiades, populated mostly by East Asians.

In a city that as well maintained as Paris where you would almost never come across architectural blunders or neglected areas (at least not within the peripherique), it was certainly strange to witness the existence of an eyesore like Le Barbizon, an off-putting impression that came along with the intriguing feeling that this bricked-up facade hides some stories to tell. The place looked more like the abandoned inner city film theaters I have seen at various places in America, bearing disturbing signs of neglect that did not sit well in its surroundings, with the nearby stations for the trendy Velib (the rental city bikes that were recently introduced) and coquettish boulangeries. So I got curious enough to want to learn more about the place. Later in May and June there were various posters around the site, announcing events that all sounded militant in nature (I could not get to any of these); all were being held in the vicinity but none seemed to be scheduled in the cinema hall itself, the space of Le Barbizon seemed to be completely off limits and the brick wall that locked the front facade off was evidently not easy to get beyond.

My subsequent research allowed me to learn that the cinema had first opened doors in 1911, in mid-May of that year under the title « Le Cinématographe des familles» and was re-named to Le Barbizon in the 1950s (after the name of the artistic community based in the namesake village near the Fontainebleau forest). It had functioned continuously until 1983, featuring about 550 places and becoming the longest uninterrupted working cinema hall in Paris. It was a single auditorium with a balcony and a lobby. Renovated in the 70s, it mostly specialized on running karate and kung fu movies and other Hong Kong imports, particularly welcomed by the population in the Chinese district. In the early 1980s, however, it was apparently neglected and the venue closed around 1982 or 1983. Reportedly, the owner left for Hong Kong and was reluctant to be contacted; numerous attempts to reopen the place failed because of this uncertain absentee situation. Two decades later, the cinema was neither demolished nor reopened.

In 2002, a local cultural organization that seems to have come into existence mostly in order to revive Le Barbizon, “Les Amis de Tolbiac”, claimed the space and begun staging a program of activities driven by ideas of spontaneous civic participation, creativity and citizenship. Clearly, the intention had been to turn Le Barbizon into a site for encounters between alternative and independent artists, often featuring international or minority cultures and points of view, with the aim to regenerate the cultural life of the neighborhood. Aiming to encourage experimental and independent cinema events, ‘Les Amis de Tolbiac’ organised events featuring Bolivian cinema, experimental films (C215), and other screenings of this type, aiming to reflect the diversity of contemporary French society, a fact of life that is clearly felt in the area surrounding the cinema’s location.

The wall that has put an end to all this was built under the direct supervision of the Parisian police on 18 October 2006. (The photograph shows builders who are erecting a brick wall under supervision from the police on that day.) I am not really able to grasp the full context that has led to this strange act. The sources I had access to suggest that the mural that seals off Le Barbizon was erected as part of the preparation for the forthcoming presidential elections (if this is true, it is clearly a politically motivated move against the leftist activist groups that congregated there). In any case, the action has been taken under the pretext of an existing 2003 decision to evict the ‘art squatters’ from the premises which they had occupied without legitimate permission (as the owners who could allow the usage of the place were absent). As the authorities had waited for three years before moving on enforcing the eviction order, “The Friends of Tolbiac” do have some point in noting the proximity of the the enforcement action to the presidential election date. The web-site Imaginary Parisian posts information of a letter by Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoë which seems to regret the action and promises that it will be reversed (no evidence of such reversal for now, as far as I can tell). Even The Guardian covered the showdown in an article by Angelique Chrisafis, entitled The Battle of Paris.

This is the poster that I saw on that day in April 2008 displayed on the window of Libraire Jonas. It shows the police guarding the newly built wall at the Barbizon, a worrisome photograph that alerted me about the story linked to this absurd wall.

The French cinephile web-site Silver Screens laments the loss of cinemas across the 13th arrondissement and gives background to the Barbizon as a former celebrated site of multiculturalism. One of the oldest cinema halls in Paris, the future is more than uncertain. To keep the sense of urgency alive, a festival of eco cinema, called Cinecolo, took place in the vicinity in the Fall of 2007; it recently had its second edition in October 2008.

Le Barbizon is not the only cinema in Paris that has closed doors (even though I cannot think of any other one that would sport a brick wall built in front of it). There are several Parisian organisations engaged with protesting the closure of other theatres, most notably and noisily the Grand Ecran Italie, also in the 13th not far from the Barbizon, see their postings at Let’s Save The Grand Screen. Le Barbizon is also featured on the site which highlights some of themost cherished cinema theaters in Paris. To contact the organisation that is behind the efforts to re-openLe Barbizon, write to Best of all, go and check the place out.

Le Barbizon
Paris, France
141 Rue de Tolbiac
Paris 75013 France
M: Tolbiac, Maison Blanche, Les Olympiades

© Dina Iordanova
23 October 2008

Time of the Gypsies: Punk Rock Opera, Emir Kusturica, 2007

August 24, 2008 at 12:42 am

On arrival in Paris in March earlier this year, I almost immediately came across large posters in the metro, advertising the extended run of Kusturica’s rock opera version of his acclaimed 1989 film Time of the Gypsies. There were only a few days left to go see the spectacle, but when I inquired I realized that I was not really prepared to spend the 75 Euro for the ticket; I did not think it would be worth it. As I did not go to see the live show, I cannot really judge if I was right in my decision to skip it. Eventually, however, I bought the DVD recording of the same show and have now watched it. It is available from FNAC and Amazon in France, in a French subtitled version. There is no evidence that this punk opera has played elsewhere, but this may change.

The forty-five strong team behind the opera is as follows: The music, much of which relies on recycling traditional Romani folk songs (including the famous Ederlezi), is credited to Dejan Sparavalo, Nenad Jankovic (a.k.a. Dr. Nele Karajlic), and Stribor Kusturica (the director’s son who has been authoring the music for most of his father’s recent films). The libretto is by Dr. Karajlic, and the score is performed by The No Smoking Orchestra and by The Garbage Serbian Philharmonics. On the DVD the performance is listed as using the Romani language (‘Tsigane’) but in fact there was singing in a variety of languages, including English and Serbian. Closely following the plot of the film, the show was disappointing in the degree to which it was being pedestrian: the score was more than mundane at moments, the singing mediocre for the most part, the acting overdone, the mise-en-scene crowded, the colours too bright; the cast was exuding forced excitement that lacked in endearment.

I personally believe it is a pity to see the wonderful Time of the Gypsies and its magic realist imagery of recycled into such brash inferiority. But then, it is the director’s right to exploit his material in ways that he sees fit. And the material is all here: Flocks of ducks cross the scene, cardboard boxes move around, flying brides and ascending protagonists abound. All of Kusturica’s trademark iconography is mobilized for the enjoyment of his dedicated French fans who enthuse at the appearance of each one of these familiar images. In case this is not enough, there are also dwarfs and soap bubbles. Occasional scenes from the film (e.g. the magnificent river vista from Perhan’s first dream) are used on the background, projected on the stage with the image of the actor currently playing Perhan, superimposed on it (with his sweet looks, this one is miles removed from the bespectacled charm of the late Davor Dujmovic, who played in the original film).

In the context of viewing the DVD, I could not help thinking yet once again that the continuous close collaboration with Dr. Nele Karajlic is Kusturica’s biggest liability of recent years. The history of the friendship between the two can be traced back to Sarajevo over nearly three decades, and is rooted in the contex of the ‘surrealist’ punk group of which the director was part back in his native town (see Top Lista Nadrealista, 1984). Dr. Karajlic, a rock musician, resurfaced as a pillar of Kusturica’s creative entourage after the director’s much publicized split with acclaimed composer Goran Bregovic (who has since pursued a successful international career with his Orchestra for Weddings and Funerals). Dr. Karajlic, who authored the music for Black Cat,White Cat (1998), is the driving force behind the No Smoking Orchestra and behind many of the noisy and portentious commercial ventures to the marketing of which Kusturica has lent his name over the past several years (concert tours, CD releases, etc.). In the punk opera Dr. Karajlic appears in the role of Ahmed, the Godfather, which he squanders with unconvincing stage presence, obtuse acting, and ghastly singing in heavily accented English — all these skills applied intentionally in an evidently sound effort to sicken and put off.

The accompanying ‘Making of…’ documentary shows Kusturica and Dr. Karajlic bickering over the idea of an ‘opera’, with Kusturica defending it and Dr. Karajlic, a dedicated punk rocker, disputing it. They end up at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem where each one of them leaves a little note with a wish. Kusturica wins and the opera materializes. The rest of the documentary shows various stages of the preparations and the rehearsals. It also includes a shot featuring a long line of people who are queuing in front of the Bastille Opera, allegedly to get themselves tickets to the event. Well, it is a known fact that the French evidently still like Kusturica, even though some comments made by my French acquaintances suggested that his latest feature, Promise Me, has prompted some cooling down even among his most hard-core fans.

© Dina Iordanova
24 August 2008

The film Time of the Gypsies (1989), a largely unavailable masterpiece, has finally been released on a DVD in France (unfortinately, it only has got French subtitles). You can buy it through the link below. See also my book, Emir Kusturica (London: Britsh Film Institute, 2002).

Christophe: Les Marionettes (1965)

June 24, 2008 at 12:51 am

I came across French singer Christophe (b. 1945) for a first time when watching The Singer (2006). He makes a brief cameo appearance in the film as himself: an enigmatic and introverted aging popular star who still attracts a faithful cult following of thousands to his stage concerts. We only get a glimpse of him concentrating in front of a mirror before the concert. But even this glimpse was sufficient to get me interested to check out the singer, an offspring of an Italian-French family who has seen many ups and downs over the years and has cultivated an image that is not less interesting than much better-known Johnny Hallyday (b. 1943). Indeed, his fascinating biography talks of downturns and comebacks, reconstructing an age in French popular culture that is simultaneously disappearing and nostalgically attractive.

As it turns out, many clips of Christophe’s songs can be found on YouTube, which show his changing appearance (and stage persona) over the years.

Here I am posting clips featuring three performances of one of his best-known songs, Les Marionettes (1965), which have taken place over a period of thirty-five years.

The first one is an interesting video made long before the MTV age, in the 1960s, and showing the singer as a young boy, reminiscent to David Hemmings as seen in Antonioni’s Blowup (1966), who looks pretty much as if he has just left school and still plays with paper and string, making puppets.

The second one is from the 1980s, about 20 years later, a comeback after many turbulent events in the singer’s life. The voice is still the same, but Christophe has matured in look; he already has what is to become his trademark mustache. See on the background the references to Harley Davidson-type motorcycles and related paraphernalia from the American SouthWest, of the sort that he is known to have been fascinated with. This is a man who comes across somebody who is spending his winters near Grand Canyon or in New Mexico and who only puts on a suit for brief spells back to Europe. Also listen to the end to hear the American twists in this performance.

The last one is from a tamed performance of the song in 2002, weary and laid back. This is the cultish look that the singer had in the film with Depardieu.

The Wikipedia article on Christophe claims he was mostly influenced by American music. Maybe. To me, however, Les Marionettes sounds much more like the famous Belgian Adamo’s Tombe la neige and and Herve Vilard’s Capri c’est fini, both songs huge hits from the same 1965. I vaguely remember this music from my early years, I must have heard them for a first time around the time I was six or seven (they have either been on the radio or we probably had them on records at home, an example of distribution of Western culture behind the iron curtain).

The pop idol of my Bulgarian childhood, singer Emil Dimitrov, who I understand had achieved some popularity in France around the same time and who was also singing songs of marionettes and traveling artists (e.g. Arlekino), sounded very much the same. Arlekino, a link to which I embed here, was particularly important also because it later on became a break-through song for Russia’s mega-star Alla Pugachova and is still performed by younger Russian singers.

© Dina Iordanova
24 June 2008

Studio 28: Cinéma d’art et d’essai, Paris, 18th (Montmartre)

June 20, 2008 at 12:49 am

10, Rue Tholozé
75018 Paris, France
+33 1 46 06 36 07
Metro: Blanche (line 2) or Abbesses (line 12) or Pigale (lines 2 and 12)
For the current programme click here.

Located in the heart of bohemian Montmartre (and featured here as shown at the web-site), this is the cinema that has continuously screened films since the moment it opened in 1928 (hence the 28 in its name), thus claiming to be the longest-running film theater in Paris. One-screen operation with a seating for less than 200, Studio 28 can be found on one of the small streets behind Moulin Rouge near the Butte Montmartre. Reportedly, its opening screening featured a documentary about Abel Gance’s epic Napoléon (1927).

The theater is continuously linked to the history of the surrealist movement. Having opened with the declared intention to be a site for ‘cinéma d’art et d’essai’, it rapidly becomes a meeting point for members of the avant-garde. The premiere of Buñuel and Dali’s Golden Age in 1930, however, meets with the noisy disapproval of a right-wing gang, which attacks the cinema and destroys works by Man Ray, Max Ernst and Dali that are on display in the couloirs. As Gilles Renouard remarks in his Paris cinéphile, this famous incident turns Studio 28 into a ‘martyr of avant-garde cinema’ (p.24). The founder, Jean-Placide Mauclaire, is forced to quit as he is unable to refund the amounts for tickets he has already sold. Two years later, in 1932, a new owner, Édouard Gross, revives the operation by making a safer bet and refocusing the program toward showing films by the Marx Brothers and Frank Capra. Nonetheless, the site retains the experimental and avant-garde reputation it already has.

After 1948 the cinema was owned and run by the brothers Edgar et Georges Roulleau, who brought new life in by organising a series of exhibitions and revitalizing the place as a meeting point for artists; they showcased the work of Bresson; Buñuel’s Los Olvidados had its French premiere here in 1950. Jean Cocteau was closely involved with Studio 28 throughout the 1950s, when he designed a number of features of the interior, most notably the light fixtures which are still there today. He spoke of the cinema as ‘the theater of chefs-d’ oeuvres, the chef-d’ oeuvre of theaters’, a slogan that is prominently displayed in the theater’s foyer.

Today, Studio 28 is still held by the same family. The current owner, Alain Roulleau (who is featured in the video below), renovated it in the late 1980s with the assistance of interior designer Alexandre Trauner. They brought in contemporary technology to the screening room but retained everything that contributes to the the nostalgic charm of the place (like the Cocteau light fixtures or the display of Jean Marais’ footprint). The old piano used in the 1930s is still here, reportedly having provided the accompaniment to an event hosting Charlie Chaplin. Like the creators of the classic Paris vu par (1965), Alain Roulleau thinks and talks of Montmartre as a village, and of his intention to keep the village atmosphere in his cinema. No wonder that the cinema featured in a scene of Jeunet’s Le Fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain, showing Amelie going to the cinema on a Friday.

Films are normally screened in VOSF (original version with French subtitles), and the usual programming features mostly recent international or French releases, full-length animations, American indies. Like other Paris theaters, Studio 28 also shows about 10 titles a week on the average, often just for a couple of screenings, which means that the projectionists here do not get much rest: they need to change the reels sometimes even for a single screening.

More importantly, Studio 28 is the place to see new films on Tuesday nights, before the official opening on Wednesdays, often in the presence of the director or other members of the crew. In the past, the place has organized pre-premieres for films by Cocteau, Truffaut, and Welles films. Just last week, the cinema played host to the first showing of Diane Kurys’ new film Sagan (2008), featuring an acclaimed performance by Sylvie Testud.

Like other art house film theaters in Paris, Studio 28 does not have a popcorn stand and viewers are not allowed to take soft drinks into the screening room. What may come across as a restrictive policy to hard-core popcorn lovers, however, is compensated by the charming cafeteria and covered courtyard garden, where one can sip champaign during the happy hour. Owner Roulleau is involved professionally in the champaign trade, yet another traditional domain of French excellence, so he often organizes film-linked champaign receptions. And, of course, the Montmartre village around the cinema caters to all tastes with a rich choice of restaurants.

The owner also rents out accommodation in the nearby building; the clientele consists mostly of Francophile Americans who truly love the place and display their admiration by writing on travel sites and even by posting short videos in praise of their experiences. A review by Xavier Delamare and Studio 28‘s own web-site provide additional information.

© Dina Iordanova
17 June 2008

Cinéma des cinéastes, Paris, 17th (Clichy)

June 16, 2008 at 12:35 am

Address: 7 Avenue de Clichy
Paris 75017 France
+33 (0)1 53 42 40 20
Metro: Place de Clichy, line
Current programme available by clicking here.
Here I saw the animation The Boy Who Wanted to be a Bear.

The Filmmakers Cinema (Cinéma des cinéastes) is located in Clichy, definitely off the beaten tourist track — if you want to visit, you are most likely to need to plan a special trip to here. But it is well worth it. You can combine with a visit to Studio 28, another historical theatre, as well as to locations such as Montmartre, Moulin Rouge, la Cigalle, and Place Pigale – all in the vicinity.

The cinema is located in a building which was formerly a cabaret where famous stars like Maurice Chevalier is known to have performed. It was then transformed into a popular cinema in the 1930s under the name of Les Mirages (see for more details Xavier Delamare’s account on the building’s history). I have heard rumors that the building’s metal skeleton is to be be credited to Gustave Eiffel, but have not been able to confirm.

This is a key cinema for the cinephile: a place where a selection of the films that screened at the Quinzaine des realisateurs descends as soon as Cannes closes, and where one can get the chance to meet not only French but also many leading contemporary cineastes from all over the world.

An organisation called Société civile des auteurs réalisateurs producteurs (ARP), led by Claude Berri, undertook it in 1987 to bring to life a long-standing dream of many French filmmakers by establishing a cinema which would adhere to the principles of diversity and independence. Formerly owned by Pathé, the building underwent a substantial refurbishment in the 1990s, and the new Cinéma des cinéastes opened its doors to the public in 1996.

Unlike may of the other cinemas that prefer to keep older architectural features in the interior, this one has got thoroughly modern looks: exposed brick and concrete, metal pillars and staircases. There are currently three theatres, providing accommodation for 315, 93 and 71 viewers respectively (see the Evene site and the excellent overview by Mathieu Menossi for more details). Besides Berry, directors like Claude Lelouch, Claude Miller, Jean-Jacques Beinex, and others are involved in running the organization that governs the cinema. It is often the case that some of the programming is done by well-known cineastes.

The programming is of really high quality, always extremely interesting and always really diverse: screenings of rare films, previews, retrospectives, documentaries, and special programmes including discussions and talks, as well as meetings with filmmakers. The cinema regularly showcases surveys of various national or regional cinemas (e.g. Greece, Mexico, Eastern Europe) and hosts short festivals on exciting topics such as ‘debuting in cult cinema.’

The cinema’s bistro, Le Bar à Vins du Cinéma des Cinéastes, is hidden away and thought of as one of the Parisian cinephiles’ best kept secrets. It cannot be entered directly from the street but can only be reached by climbing the staircase from within the cinema’s foyer (no need to buy tickets for a film!). Located inconspicuously on the upper floor, it overlooks the busy street downstairs and provides a minimalist modernist decor. Some occasional musical events are organized here (mostly jazz), and, of course, many French filmmakers have it as a preferred hang out (see a praising review of the bar at Paris Traveler).

© Dina Iordanova
16 June 2008

Paris vu par… (1965)

June 15, 2008 at 12:09 am

One of the documentaries from the DVD’s bonus section makes the claim that this Barbet Schroeder-produced film is the last representative of the nouvelle vague. Interesting, even though I cannot offer an informed opinion on this statement, one way or the other. What I found more intriguing, however, was Jean Douchet‘s remark (in one of the interviews included in the bonus) that when planning for the film, the group decided to treat Paris as a collection of little ‘villages’ (as opposed to the more traditional division of the city by ‘arrondissment’), aiming to show the spirit of each one of these enclaves within the metropolis.

Having just spent three months in Paris, watching the film gave a boost to my understanding of the class dynamics of this urban conglomerate — from the high end bourgeois alienation seen in Rohmer’s Place de l’Etoile and Chabrol’s La Muette (both in 16th), to the working class protagonists of Jean Rouch’s Gare du Nord (which includes a brilliant Barbette Shroeder appearance) and Pollet’s Rue St. Denis (both in the 10th), with the addition of other types of stratification shown in Godard’s segment on Montparnasse and Levallois. Things have not changed profoundly today, and the same class divisions persist along the same demarcation lines.

Jean Rouch, seated near the site of the old Cinematheque, discussing his episode, Gare du Nord.

In his review of the film, Ed Howard describes the collection as a ‘terribly uneven lot’, ‘flawed and mediocre’, attributing most of the film’s achievements to Godard’s involvement. This is a verdict that could be passed on to most similar efforts, from Ro.Go.Pa.G. (1962) to Montreal vue par…. (1991). And while he may have a point about some of the not particularly original dramatic turns here, I would think that a lot of the subtlety and the social commentary, on the relationship between people, architecture, and urban ambience, escapes to outsiders. Had I seen the film at an earlier point, before living in Paris, I probably would not have been able to appreciate many of its aspects. The favorable comparison of the film to Paris as shown in Agnès Varda’s Cléo de 5 à 7 (1962) and its contrasting to what a French reviewer calls ‘pseudo poetics’ of the city, found in Albert Lamorisse’s The Red Balloon (1956) only makes sense when one is familiar with the social structure of the metropolis.

The DVD of Paris vu par… does not have English subtitles, which is generally the case of French films in local shops: unlike domestic films sold in other European countries, French cinema does not come with subtitles, you are expected to be fully fluent in French in order to view and understand it. Dommage, as one would say in French, as even with the best efforts to follow the (sometimes intense) conversations, many of the subtleties of the dialogue were lost for me (as they would inevitably be for many foreign viewers whose French may not be at the level of native fluency). New Yorker video have released a subtitled version many years ago, it is a rarity in a format that is rapidly becoming obsolete, a few copies of which are still available on Amazon and EBay.

© Dina Iordanova
15 June 2008

Orangina Advert 2008 France

May 31, 2008 at 1:29 am

31 May 2008

Going to the cinema in Paris these days comes in with the chance to see once again the great Orangina advert, a truly post-modern gem which seems to have been released only in France.

The advert is on TV as well, on vending machines and in magazines, and on moving poster displays around town. It looks dazzling on the big screen, however, so the cinema is the place to see it.

Here is a video, which may give some idea of it.

There is also a longer, 1:45 min., version at YouTube