Paris is a Moveable Feast – A Film in 18 Waves: An appeal in the night
by Fabien Lemercier
- Sylvain George continues on his fascinating trajectory with a work of exceptional form: exuberant, political, poetic and seminal
"Awaken the sleeping musician, the poet, the astronomer that possibly inhabited you in the beginning". Borrowed from Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, these words, chanted by a large crowd in Place de la République in Paris last spring, one evening during the Nuit Debout movement, could be used as a guide by viewers of Paris Is a Moveable Feast - A Film in 18 Waves [+see also:
interview: Sylvain George
film profile], the latest and enthralling documentary by politically and socially engaged artist Sylvain George, which had its world premiere in the international competition of the 39th Cinéma du Réel Festival.
Without deviating from the need to inventively deconstruct the traditional narrative that characterises the director’s work and binds him to masters in this of the likes of Dziga Vertov and Jean-Luc Godard, he burns his sublime black and white vision onto the back of the mind of the viewer, in a whirlwind of evocative images and ultra-realistic sequences that dovetail together, interact and open up the scope of what is possible and the imagination. A striking and aesthetically remarkable storm that nonetheless does not cede to the temptation of experimental inebriation by the good grace of a gripping and very meticulous analysis of a tense state of the world.
Filmed almost exclusively at night, in Paris and its nearby suburbs (with one detour via New York) in 2015 and 2016, the film brilliantly navigates the current of its own radicalness, rooted in its rhythm of breaks in tone and its fragmentary approach which is contemporary, social and political all at once. Focusing on one individual (a Guinean migrant living on the margins of the capital), George puts us on the front line of "revolutionary" demonstrations (against the emergency situation, against the Jobs Law, and during the Nuit Debout), when clashes with the police turn to urban guerrilla warfare, in a relentless game open to interpretation with all the messages out there in the world (posters, signs, etc.).
A turbulent piece navigating the crucible of an urban volcano, Paris Is a Moveable Feast - A Film in 18 Waves has a number of shining qualities, with cinematography to die for, editing of extraordinary controlled creativity (both by Sylvain George himself, who is highly skilled at working with sound), intense and varied atmospheres, a non-invasive depth with an "intellectual" subtext, details and impact of scientific precision, and an ebb and flow to it, to name but a few. Like a fish swimming through the waters of time and space, the filmmaker weaves a superb galaxy in the apparent chaos of his waves of whirlwind images. And while the film undoubtedly requires you to keep somewhat of an open mind to be fully appreciated, its formal strength alone is enough to sweep along everything in its path, like a full moon parting the curtains on a dark sky.
(Translated from French)