Monday, March 19, 2018

“A Paris Education”– Movie Review


On the final weekend of the French Film Festival, I attended the North American Premiere of the drama, “A Paris Education” at The Film Society of Lincoln Center.


When a young man goes to Paris to study filmmaking, he learns as much about himself and life as he does about his craft.


Etienne has an easy life in Lyon, France; he lives with his parents and in Lucie, he’s got a devoted girlfriend.  Despite this, his ambition compells him to make a difficult decision:  he will leave all of this behind and travel to Paris, where he will enroll in filmmaking school.  As with many young students, he is forced to live on the cheap and rent an apartment he must share with a roommate.  In his first semester, he is paired up with Valentina, who is also a film student. Once an already insecure Lucie learns his roommate is an attractive young woman, she grows increasingly fearful that she will lose Etienne. 

As Etienne tries to make friends at school, he learns of the elusive Mathias, a fellow film student who has been ostracized by many of his peers due to his controversial nature; his negativity results in Mathias denigrating the film projects of other students and his air of superiority renders him obnoxious in the perception of others.  Finding such an outcast curious, Etienne tries to befriend him, causing Etienne himself to be shunned by students who dislike Mathias. Nevertheless, Etienne finds his conversations with Mathias intellectually challenging, so they both wind up enjoying the other’s company.

In the next semester, Annabelle becomes Etienne’s new roommate; she is quite different from Valentina in both personality and scholastic pursuits.  Annabelle is less interested in the arts than she is in politics; she is studying sociology and is increasingly politically active during her time in school.  Eventually, Lucie tells Etienne that she is breaking up with him; while initially upset, he quickly comes to terms with it as he winds up having many trysts with a wide variety of women.  Just when Etienne thinks he might be interested in Annabelle, he is disappointed to learn that she is having a relationship with Mathias. When Etienne learns disturbing news about Mathias in the following semester, how will this impact his studies and career?           


When people say they are turned off to French cinema because they find it pretentious, they were probably thinking of “A Paris Education”.  This entire endeavor comes across as if the filmmaker is exalting himself and his fellow auteurs who regard themselves as artists worthy of deification.  While Etienne’s soulful artistic angst may be intended to induce sympathy, it will more likely induce a major eye-roll.  Also, the fact that the director chose to shoot this in glorious black-and-white appears to be his way of screaming at the audience, “Make no mistake about it -- this movie is a work of art!”. 

The character of Etienne does not exactly present himself as saintly; he cheats on Lucie every opportunity he gets, despite his assurances to her otherwise.  Despite being a bit of a scoundrel in this regard, it would seem that we are to forgive him because he’s an “artist” and because of his intellectual pursuits.  That, and the fact that his belief in being faithful to his girlfriend is something that some of his associates find naive because they are so much more worldly and sophisticated than he (these same risibly snobbish dilettantes also find Paris boring and would much rather be in either New York City or Berlin because those are far more exciting cities).

Following the screening, there was an interview with its Writer/Director Jean-Paul Civeyrac.  Civeyrac admitted that to some degree, this story is based on his own life in the sense that he was originally from the Provinces and did go to Paris to study film and he has taught filmmaking for the past 20 years.  He maintains that the decision to become an auteur filmmaker is not a commercial path.  The auteur has to be tough because he shares his personal experiences through his work.  An auteur is not a narcissist – rather, he is exposed to the audience.  The idea to shoot in black-and-white came late in pre-production and was suggested by his producer; he felt it was right because there is a timeless allure to old films.     

A Paris Education (2018) on IMDb

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