Tuesday, 3 August 2021

Streaming on Mubi and YouTube - Janice Tong discovers an early short by Éric Rohmer - NADJA A PARIS/NADJA IN PARIS (France, 1964)

Nadja (Nadja Tesich), Nadja in Paris

This short 13 minute film by Rohmer is a delight to watch. This is a film about observation, as we follow Nadja across the city. Her narration is our only guide to what she’s thinking; and her experiences are of the everyday. 

Rohmer’s film as an observation piece also opens up a window of nostalgia, the looking back in time, to a Paris as Nadja Tesich, a Yugoslav/American foreign exchange student at the Sorbonne would see it; and we (or Rohmer) observe her as she observes Parisian life. 

The film opens with her coming out of the student accommodations at Cité Universitaire in the Southern edge of Paris, and she’s taking a run; we follow her. She has a sweet heart shaped face and cropped hair a little like Seberg in Breathless (1960), donning a Breton striped tee-shirt and white running shoes.

Nadja (Nadja Tesich) in her jaunt across Paris

Although she is writing a thesis on Proust, it is her foreignness that comes to the fore; and I, as a non-native make a fine pairing. At Saint-Germain-des-Pres, she stops to look at the antique books through a shop window, and she’s in good company, this is a familiar side of Paris. 

When she sits down at one of the many outdoor cafés and orders a Coke, her voice over says: “The French love to linger for hours. I only sit for a while. I have no specific aim. I just sit . . . I observe.” And we observe her observing. 

People watching is a favourite pastime

This doubling continues; as a dance between the exterior; (she’s a foreigner in Paris, she situates herself outside in the street, on a café terrace, on the park bench, or we can see her getting a little drunk at a bar in Belleville) and the interior; (she’s animated when she’s inside a restaurant at Montparnasse where you go to talk, she says intimacy develops immediately. This is a space where she’s introduced to new things like modern art, her voice over tells us that despite this, she’s indifferent to their ideas). 

Nadja in Paris is so brilliantly told and edited that it is not possible to notice any artifice, nor is it a documentary per se. Although Rohmer is not singular in this kind of naturalistic observation (think Varda, or Eustache); this gorgeous short film retains its appeal even after 57 years.

You can catch Nadja in Paris on #mubi   or you can watch it on YouTube if you click here 

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