Alice Winocour’s follow-up to the Earth-bound space drama Proxima (2019) is more grounded but equally heart-rending. With Revoir Paris (or Paris Memories), the French filmmaker revisits a recent national trauma, that of the Bataclan attack on 13th November 2015, which left a gaping wound in the social fabric. The filmmaker herself was not present when it happened, but her brother was, and she takes that second-hand knowledge of exactly how ineffable this experience was, and turns it into a film about memory’s unknowability.
What starts off as a quiet dinner, shared by Mia (Virginie Efira) and her husband Vincent (Grégoire Colin), is then is soon cut short by a work call-in. Not ready to call it a night, Mia wanders about Paris until heavy rain forces her to seek shelter in a random bistro. Slow-motion tracking shots and the intensification of certain imagery – closer attention is paid to a birthday cake with sparklers and to a route in and out of the ladies’ – signal that a danger is imminent. What happens next is very much concealed through point of view camera shots, only keeping with Mia and the rest of the film will be focused on retracing her steps: from the moment she saw the cake to her bathroom visit. The film makes use of amplified sound effects where no clear image is present, and handheld camerawork to destabilise an already compromised point of view. In this way, the style of Revoir Paris signifies the unreliability of both perception and the medium in representing a situation out of the ordinary, one which will take away memories and leave painful scars behind instead.
Winocour used online forums and attended gatherings of Bataclan survivors in preparation for the film, and this comes to no surprise not only because of her personal attachment to the topic. It also expands sensual explorations of trauma, central to her previous works, Augustine (2012) and Disorder (2015). In Revoir Paris, she weaves a narrative of communal recollections, paying attention to the stories of secondary and passing characters with an equal amount of attention. Details are brought to the fore with a sensitive push: the shot of two strangers kissing in the air duct fearing they might die imminently; the crackling of the birthday sparklers which triggers a PTSD episode; the second-guessing of your own memories and actions are all granted undivided attention amidst the main plotline.
Within Revoir Paris, there is also a love story and a story of a separation. Naturally, the personal sphere merges with the public one as a result of how disruptive the attack was on daily life, but the film takes this further and is unafraid to do so. We see the private and the political themes coming together, as Mia searches for that one person who held her hand in a moment of greatest need. By drawing attention to such physical details, Winocour weaves in questions of displacement and immigration, of the many faces of Paris (and all metropolises, for that matter)which is an ever-changing and often not so hospitable home to both the middle class and marginalised people. The moment when everyone comes together is often a tragedy, but Revoir Paris remains an optimistic film with all the intricate exploration of PTSD and suffering.
“We are not afraid” was the slogan Parisians took to the streets soon after the horror of Bataclan, and Alice Winocour has given this statement a deserving cinematic rendition.
God’s Creatures played as part of the QUINZAINE strand at Cannes Film Festival
Savina Petkova is a Bulgarian London-based freelance critic. In her spare time, she is a PhD candidate with a project on animal metamorphoses in contemporary European films. She lives from one film festival to the other, always on the hunt for animality, otherness, and visceral filmmaking. Savina admires bold story-telling as much as feeling-telling and defines her approach to criticism as sharp and ethically challenging. She is a regular MUBI Notebook contributor and writes for Electric Ghost Magazine, photogenie, and Girls On Tops. You can find her on Twitter @SavinaPetkova
Categories: Anything and Everything