Review: Paris Memories
by Jan Lumholdt
- CANNES 2022: Alice Winocour delves into the aftermath of a Paris terrorist attack and its hidden “diamonds”
Paris Memories [+see also:
interview: Alice Winocour
film profile], entered in the Directors’ Fortnight selection of the 75th Cannes Film Festival, has been given an English-language title that slightly evokes the name of a stylish perfume, which could also be said of the French original, Revoir Paris (roughly “Revisualise Paris”). Verbally, both are fully appropriate in describing this free yet gracious account of a Paris traumatised by terrorism, inspired by, but not directly referring to, the 2015 attack at the Bataclan theatre, where director Alice Winocour’s younger brother was present but managed to survive.
As for Paris itself and its scenery, we’re treated to a visual opening opting for that wondrous cinematic depiction of the City of Light, tried and perfected by the likes of Truffaut or Vincente Minnelli, but actually corresponding quite well to very real life, as over 30 million visitors per year from around the world will testify to, some of them making the city their new home. Paris is what it is, quite simply – until it isn’t. Which is the very circumstance that Mia (Virginie Efira with a downplayed, sympathetic presence) is hauled into when she visits a bistro, soon to find herself and the other guests as on-the-spot targets of a meticulous killer with a fully loaded machine gun. The events of the attack, shown in select shots and sounds, skilfully edited and then cut into black, are as unclear to the viewer as they are to Mia. At least she survives in one, physical, piece. As for the mind, this is where both the memories and the revisualising come in, or are lost, as some events are now as blank as they are black. Propelled into a new world, and a new Paris, Mia attempts to find those lost puzzle pieces, gradually turning up through encounters with other survivors and also those close to victims who didn’t survive. Some of these include a young waitress on duty that day, a finance broker who was thrown a surprise birthday party, and a mysterious fellow human being, whose hands are all she remembers, holding hers in theirs that day – most or all of them people Mia ordinarily would never have met but luckily did, that day and in the aftermath.
While Mia’s journey feels impeccably researched via trauma processing procedures – she’s introduced to support groups both on social media and in real life – it also ventures into a poetic realm, as she even visualises some of the other victims in ghost-like flashes. Probably the best line of poetry, however, does seem to come from actual trauma management, being that of “the diamond” one may find in such an experience – the joys, if you will, of returning to life once again. Through this, as well as the comforting hormone of oxytocin that Mia got from having her hand held that day, there should be good hope here for a return, both to life and of that wondrously cinematic but also very real quote: “We’ll always have Paris.”
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