Sous les toits de Paris (1930)

27 07 2009

A slight step down from the greatness of Quatorze Juillet and A nous la liberte, but still a very impressive film overall. All the things I’ve come to love from Clair – his craftsmanship and his relentless romanticism – are certainly present here. In a few particular scenes, there are beautiful examples of what makes his work so touching, not to mention so woefully overlooked. Quite honestly, there were more than a few instances in which I was on the verge of tears. I suppose this should make it Clair’s masterpiece, at least on paper, but for all the powerful sequences (of which there are many) there is just as much time in which Clair’s magic is idle.

Once again, the center of Clair’s attention is a love story. This time, however, it is between three people. There’s no way to describe the central romantic relationship without making it sound like a conventional “love triangle” narrative and considering the tenderness with which Clair handles his content, I certainly don’t want to give such an impression. The story concerns a young street performer, Albert, who meets and simultaneously falls in love with Pola. There is a big problem, though, and it is getting in the way of Albert and his love of Pola. The singer’s performances are a goldmine for pickpockets, whose “work” makes Albert himself look suspicious.

The sincerity here is overwhelming, as it is in almost all of the films I’ve seen from Clair, and as I already mentioned, said sincerity has its moments. Some sequences are, at the risk of sounding hyperbolic, some of the saddest and most beautiful things I’ve seen in all of cinema. Why, then, is the film not a definite favorite of mine? Well, I have a feeling that some day it may become exactly that, but for now, I find it a good deal of Clair’s execution of some more conventional narrative elements to be tedious. Like he threw in something more audience-friendly to keep them happy while he was busy working on a deeply personal expression. It’s a very difficult film to get my head around, and surely, rewatches will be in order. But for now, I can admire Clair’s technical accomplishments and be moved by his best and most heartbreaking sequences.

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