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 Balzac, rue Balzac, 8 eme, Paris

October 28, 2008 at 12:11 am

Unlike Le Barbizon, on which I wrote last week, Le Balzac is one of the Pairsian cinemas that is truly thriving, and apparently it has been in this great shape for a number of years now. My visit here happened on a chilly Sunday morning, 25 May 2008, when I crossed the wide sidewalks of Champs Elysees, two blocks down from the l’Arc de Triomphe where, turning into this quiet side street, I attended the matinee screening of Ted Wilde’s The Kid Brother (1927), a classical burlesque with Harold Lloyd, which came with live piano accompaniment by young and highly proficient Japanese female pianist, Eri Koazki. Precisely as I had heard would be likely, the theatre owner and chief programmer, Jean-Jacques Schpoliansky was already up, present in the foyer to welcome viewers and chat to members of the audience that he evidently knew from previous visits. The whole ambiance — the deep red carpets, the comfortable seats, the clean curves of the room, the glimmer from the modern art-deco light fixtures — created a special atmosphere of cozy sumptuousness. The guests who had brought their children (or grandchildren) to see the film were dressed in a way that would make me categorize them as inhabitants of 1st or 16th arrondissements, or as what the popular imagination would probably describe as ‘true Parisians’. Even thought the cinema was just steps off the beaten tourist track with the MacDonalds and other fast food restaurants that litter the vicinity, there was nothing of the commercial atmosphere that reigns over most of otherwise beautiful Champs Elysees. It was a space truly dedicated to the Seventh art.

Le Balzac, which has been owned by the Schpoliansky family throughout its existence, first opened in 1935 with a screening of King Vidor’s film The Wedding Night, starring Gray Cooper. Soon the venue became an established site for pre-war Hollywood films screened in original English-language version (foreign-language films are still traditionally dubbed in France). In a patriotic move after WWII, it re-focused its programming mostly on French cinema, and hosted, over the years, the a great variety of galas and events take place here; its web-site features photographs of memorable visitors, from Bourvil and Brigitte Bardot to Fanny Ardant and Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, or from the opening of the decadent La piscine (1969), with stars Alain Delon and Romy Schneider in attendance. The cinema’s architecture is a modern art deco style, with soft curvy lines and a rounded main screening room; a naval theme is present in the foyer and the main hall. Two smaller screening rooms were added in 1975, which allowed for a more diversified programming, for the inclusion of a diverse selection of international cinema, and for a longer run of the various titles (many cinemas in Paris still change the programming every two or three days). Further renovations took place in 1993, introducing new lights, seats, carpet, wall coverings in leather in the corridors — all still impeccably maintained and giving the secure feeling of high quality and relaxing luxury, a feature that is not present in cinema halls as often.

Every week there at least two events take place: special screenings with live music or guests. Partnered with two nearby theatres, L’Athenee and Rond-Point, Le Balzac often turns into a theatre and concert venue as well. In most cases, the music comes as musicians provide accompaniment to screenings of older films, featuring the likes of Laurel & Hardy, Chaplin or Buster Keaton. Another initiative are the music-accompanied screenings of short films, usually presented by Benoît Basirico, founder of the film music web-site cinezik.fr. A forthcoming matinee with musical accompaniment will feature a screening of Yasujiro Ozu’s depression-era melodrama An Inn in Tokyo (1935), yet another event organised under the leadership of Jean-François Zygel, a long-standing collaborator. There is a lot more going on here given the limitations of space: photographic exhibitions in the foyer next to the bar which also features DVDs for sale, screenings of shorts and special seances for the members of the cinema’s club, screenings for children on the weekends. Le Balzac also has a remarkable web-site, packed with information on current films and events, a Blog, an e-mail newsletter, and a database of past screenings which allows to search through historical information on what played here in the past.

Jean-Jacques Schpoliansky, pictured distributing publicity leaflets on the street in front of the cinema, has spent most of his adult life around the cinema. Born toward the end of WWII, in 1944, he first worked for the mainstream chain UGC in the 1960s, and took his first forays into programming in 1968 at specialised University cinemas in Rouen, Lille et Grenoble. He also worked as an assisant director for René Clément and for Luis Bunuel (on his Le Charme discret de la bourgeoisie, 1972). His life became intricately connected to Le Balzac after his father’s death, in 1973, when he took over the family business started by his grandfather nearly 40 years earlier. And he has been at it for more than 35 years now. His first ambitious project was to add two smaller screening spaces alongside the main 400-place hall, thus turning the cinema into a small multiplex more suited for the modern age. After completing all these extensive renovation and moderinsation works, his attention since 1986 has mostly been on developing and maintaining a top scale programme of screenings and events, on cultivating a dedicated audience, and on bulding bridges between cinema and other forms of artistic expression like music or photography.

Since the 1980s, the cinemas around Champs-Elysées have been closing one after another, usually for reasons of rising rental costs in the area where rents are now affordable only for the likes of Louis Vuitton (flagship store on the avenue pictured here). Writing on the Blog in 2007, Schpoliansky laments the recent closure of UGC Champs-Elysées (In the 1990s I saw here Hayao Miyazaki’s Kiki’s Delivery Service, screening here long before the works of Studio Ghibli had become known in the English speaking world). He writes:

” J’en suis bien triste. Et pas seulement parce que c’est mon grand-père qui a ouvert ce cinéma en 1939 (le Triomphe est resté dans ma famille jusqu’en 1971). Je suis triste parce qu’un cinéma qui ferme, c’est toujours une mauvaise (et irréversible) nouvelle, en particulier sur les Champs-Elysées où il devient si difficile de vendre autre chose que des chaussures de sport et des hamburgers. Certes, il reste encore 36 écrans sur l’avenue, ce qui continue d’assurer au public une certaine variété dans les films programmés et confère malgré tout au quartier une place de choix dans la vie cinématographique parisienne. Les choses cependant ne vont pas dans le bon sens et il est temps de tirer la sonnette d’alarme pour que cesse l’hémorragie !’

It is indeed troublesome to hear that the number of screens in the vicinity of this lively part of Paris is down about 50%, to 36. (But I recently read that the number of cinemas for the whole of Romania nowadays is down to 38, an issue I will address in another post.) The most troublesome, however, is this overwhelming feeling that one looks at a disappearing world, that one encounters people who belong to a kind that will soon no longer be around. The web-site of the cinema, for example, describes Jean-Jacques Schpoliansky as one of the last surviving independent theatre owners on the right bank, a man who proves on a daily basis that it is possible to keep the curiosity of viewers alive and well. I admit to be troubled by this tone of lament and passing, as would like to hope that the survival of cinematic art is not a matter of a bunch of dedicated mavericks that feel they are likely to be extinct soon. I hope to see this defeatist attitude to be proven wrong by history. But who knows, really?

1 rue Balzac
Paris 75008
01 45 61 10 60
Metro: Georges V

© Dina Iordanova
28 October 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 amisdetolbiac@lebarbizon.org. 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

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 evene.fr 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