Paris Belongs to Us: The City of Light in Film: Block Museum - Northwestern University
Skip to main content

Paris Belongs to Us: The City of Light in Film

Paris Belongs to Us: The City of Light in Film

Event Details

Date & Time:

Fri April 13, 2012 - Fri June 8, 2012


The Block Museum of Art
40 Arts Circle Drive
Evanston, IL 60208


Open to the public


No city is more chameleon-like than Paris. It’s been mythologized for its romanticism and celebrated for its glamour and style. It’s a city of fashion, industry, art, activism, crime, philosophy, politics, architecture, and cuisine. And, with the possible exception of New York, it has been the city that has sparked the imagination of filmmakers more than any other. This series features twelve films (many of them unavailable on DVD) that illuminate these varied aspects of the City of Light.

From the infancy of cinema in the 1890s with the Lumière Brothers to modern masters like Claire Denis (35 Shots of Rum), Paris has served as an iconic backdrop, a vibrant social milieu, and a gritty locale for every kind of film and story possible. But it was the directors of the French New Wave and Left Bank movements who collectively laid claim to Paris in the most significant way. Their films serve as an extended exploration of the complexities, contradictions, and diverse qualities of the city and its denizens, while making full use of the cityscape and its renowned architecture through extensive and stunning location shooting. Famed ethnographer Jean Rouch’s landmark documentary Chronicle of a Summer covers many of the themes and interests that were circulating among these young, upstart filmmakers of the 1950s and 60s. Jacques Rivette explores the bohemian side of the city in Paris Belongs to Us (from which we take our series title), while Jean-Luc Godard presents its darker, seamier side—the underground world of pimps, prostitutes, petty crime, and consumerism in Vivre sa vie. Paris is a perfect city to lose oneself, literally, in Eric Rohmer’s The Sign of Leo; and appeals to drifters and dreamers, like the characters in Jean Eustache’s The Mother and the Whore, Agnés Varda’s Cleo from 5 to 7, and the young truant in François Truffaut’s The 400 Blows. Paris also provided a more welcoming environment for African Americans in the last century–a theme explored in director Martin Ritt’s Paris Blues, starring Sidney Poitier as an expat jazz musician who finds respite from racism at home in the French capital. Paris is, ultimately, an iconic touchstone in the minds of people around the world. It represents possibilities of love and adventure, freedom and renewal. But it’s also a place of intrigue and struggle. The filmmakers in this series understand this dual nature, and reflect it brilliantly in their work.

All films in French have English subtitles

Block Cinema wishes to thank the Institut Français, The Cultural Services of the French Embassy (New York), and the Cultural Service at the Consulate General of France in Chicago for generous support of this program.


Goodbye First Love (Un amour de jeunesse)

Friday, April 13, 2012 7:00 PM
(Mia Hansen-Løve, 2011, France, 35mm, 110 min.)

In her third feature, French director Hansen-Løve (The Father of My Children, 2009) follows Camille (Lola Créton), a Parisian teenager, and her tempestuous first relationship with a slightly older boy. When her boyfriend announces plans to leave school for an extended trip to South America, Camille is devastated and grapples with a broken heart until she eventually finds a welcome distraction in the form of her architecture professor. At only 30, director Hansen-Løve has shown a remarkable maturity in exploring the inner lives of her protagonists. “Emotionally…the pic recalls the films of Truffaut and France's first post-New Wave helmer, Jean Eustache, neither one afraid to tackle complex human sentiments…it's safe to say she is an auteur in her own right.” —Boyd van Hoeij, Variety

Special advance screening courtesy of IFC Films.

Free for Northwestern students!


Paris Belongs to Us (Paris nous appartient)

Saturday, April 14, 2012 2:00 PM
(Jacques Rivette, 1960, France, 35mm, 141 min.)

Rivette, a key figure and one of the most adventurous filmmakers of the French New Wave, grounds his first feature in a murder mystery. After the death of Spanish activist Juan, a young literature student, Anne, joins the cast of a production of Shakespeare’s Pericles to keep watch over its director, Gerard, who may be in danger himself. In this and his next several features, Rivette gives the city of Paris such a palpable presence that it can almost be considered another character. Paris Belongs to Us captures the bohemian life and nascent disaffection of the French youth that would explode a few years later with the riots of May 1968.

Archival 35mm print courtesy of the British Film Institute.


The 400 Blows (Les quatre cents coups)

Thursday, April 19, 2012 7:00 PM
(François Truffaut, 1959, France, 35mm, 99 min.)

Truffaut’s semi-autobiographical The 400 Blows stars Jean-Pierre Léaud as Antoine Doinel, a troubled twelve-year-old, who finds no peace at home or at school. After stealing from his father and running away, he is turned over to the police and sent to a detention center for observation. Truffaut allows us to see the streets, schools, and juvenile court system of Paris through a child’s eyes. Léaud brings naïve intensity and raw emotion to his performance (some of which was improvised), creating an authentic-feeling and sympathetic portrait of childhood rarely seen since Jean Vigo’s Zero for Conduct.


Chronicle of a Summer (Chronique d’une ete)

Friday, April 20, 2012 7:00 PM
(Jean Rouch and Edgar Morin, 1960, France, 35mm, 85 min.)

Little known today outside of documentary circles, Chronicle of a Summer, by renowned ethnographic filmmaker Jean Rouch and sociologist Edgar Morin, was profoundly influential to a new generation of cinema verité documentary filmmakers (the Maysles brothers, D.A. Pennebaker) and to the young directors of the French New Wave. In Chronicle, the makers take to the streets of Paris to ask random passers-by their thoughts on a variety of questions about their lives. Later, they view the footage with their subjects, opening up their technique to self-reflexive inquiry. A fascinating, moving, and endlessly relevant work.

Restored 35mm print courtesy of Tamasa Distribution, Paris. Restored by L’Immagine Ritrovata in collaboration with Argos Films.

Film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum will be present for an introduction and post-screening discussion.


My Life to Live (Vivre sa vie)

Thursday, April 26, 2012 7:00 PM
(Jean-Luc Godard, 1962, France, 35mm, 80 min.)

Godard’s third feature stars his then-wife, the astonishing Anna Karina, as Nana, who abandons her family to try to make it as an actress. When Nana can’t find adequate work to pay her rent, she resorts to prostitution. Godard combines the formal playfulness and cinematic and literary references seen in his first two features with a gritty documentary-like portrait of the seamier sides of Parisian life. Unlike the jazzy breeziness of Breathless that valorizes pop culture, here Godard is questioning it and the empty consumerism that led Nana astray. Writer Susan Sontag called the film “one of the most extraordinary, beautiful, and original works of art that I know of."



Friday, May 4, 2012 8:00 PM FREE
(James Toback, 1983, USA, 35mm, 95 min.)

Selected and introduced by Adrian Martin

Although some audiences howled with derisive laughter on its initial film festival screenings in 1983, Exposed is a flamboyant and quite unique movie. Writer-director James Toback, who made Fingers (1978) and scripted Warren Beatty’s Bugsy (1991), wildly mixes and matches his genres—florid romance, existential art film (shot, in large part, across Europe), paranoid thriller—as he puts Nastassja Kinski in the anguished leading role he usually reserves for his male heroes. In the quest for personal identity, all the guys Kinski encounters (from Rudolf Nureyev as a visionary violinist to Harvey Keitel as a charismatic terrorist) are in equal parts erotic, dangerous and duplicitous. —Adrian Martin


The Mother and the Whore (La maman et le putain)

Saturday, May 19, 2012 1:00 PM
(Jean Eustache, 1973, France, 35mm, 217 min.)

One of the milestone films of the 1970s, Jean Eustache’s nearly four-hour masterpiece chronicles the lives of three twenty-something Parisians, unemployed would-be intellectual Alexandre (Jean-Pierre Léaud), his live-in girlfriend Marie, and Veronika, a beautiful Polish nurse he picks up in a cafe. The impossibility of this love triangle soon leads to jealousy and moments of raw emotion and uncertainty. Despite its minimal plot, the film is exhilarating to watch—it’s a singular depiction of a particular time and place, and of the ennui felt by many young Parisians after the political upheavals of May 1968.

Archival 35mm print courtesy of the Institut Français.


Cleo from 5 to 7 (Cléo de 5 à 7)

Thursday, May 24, 2012 7:00 PM
(Agnès Varda, 1962, France, 35mm, 89 min.)

A pioneering work of feminist cinema, Cleo from 5 to 7 follows a young pop singer, Cléo (Corinne Marchand) through the streets, neighborhoods, and parks of Paris as she awaits a meeting with her doctor to hear the results of a biopsy. Varda, part of a loose group of Parisian Left Bank filmmakers (that included Alain Resnais, Chris Marker, and her husband Jacques Demy), infused her film with an existential questioning, as Cleo ponders her place in the world while waiting for her medical test results. Cleo is a refreshing antidote to the male-centric depiction of female characters seen in many contemporaneous New Wave films.

Archival 35mm print courtesy of the Institut Français.


35 Shots of Rum

Thursday, May 31, 2012 7:00 PM
(Claire Denis, 2008, France/Germany, 35mm, 100 min.)

The critically-acclaimed 35 Shots of Rum is the delicate and moving story of Lionel, a widowed father and Paris metro driver, and his daughter Joséphine, a university student. Joséphine is devoted to her father, but tensions arise when Lionel pushes her towards a life of her own. Alex Descas and Mati Diop’s subtly powerful performances and Agnès Godard’s lush, moody cinematography give the film an emotional shading that is both warm and bittersweet. Inspired by Yasujiro Ozu’s Late Spring, Denis’ homage is a remarkable film about family, friendship, and love—about the weight of the past and the uncertainty of the future.


Paris Blues

Friday, June 1, 2012 7:00 PM
(Martin Ritt, 1961, USA, 35mm, 95 min.)

One of famed director Martin Ritt’s (Hud, Sounder, Norma Rae) earliest films, Paris Blues stars Paul Newman and Sidney Poitier as American jazz musicians living in Paris. After falling for two young women from the States on vacation (Joanne Woodward and Diahann Carroll), they must decide whether to leave the broader cultural acceptance of jazz, and the more tolerant racial attitude in France, or return to the US with their new loves. Paris Blues features a politically progressive story, a naturalist visual style, and powerful performances—signature elements for Ritt that continued throughout his career. Paris Blues also features a cameo by the great Louis Armstrong.


The Sign of Leo (Le signe du lion)

Thursday, June 7, 2012 7:00 PM
(Eric Rohmer, 1962, France, 35mm, 100 min.)

Rohmer’s debut feature focuses on Leo, an American living on modest means in Paris until he learns of an inheritance and begins spending large sums of money, to disastrous results. A stark contrast to the more clichéd, romanticized depictions of Paris, Rohmer presents the city as a place of harsh indifference, made more difficult by sweltering summer temperatures—a city deserted by its residents for their obligatory holidays on the coast (a theme he would revisit in his film, Summer, which ends our spring series). Rarely screened and long unavailable in the US, The Sign of Leo contains one of the most memorable final scenes in French cinema.

Archival 35mm print courtesy of the Institut Français.


Summer (Le rayon vert)

Friday, June 8, 2012 7:00 PM
(Eric Rohmer, 1986, France, 35mm, 98 min)

In the heat of summer most Parisians flee the city, but Delphine finds herself unhappily stranded when her travel plans fall through. Wandering between Paris and several resort towns in search of the perfect getaway, her loneliness threatens to overwhelm her as she struggles to connect with others in a meaningful way. Marie Rivière (who collaborated on the story) puts in a poignant performance in the lead role. "Rohmer's ultimate masterwork. No film I can recall in years has provided such a profound insight into the human condition."—Andrew Sarris, The Village Voice

Contact The Block Museum of Art for more information: (847) 491-4000 or email us at