For Reel

Place de la République (1974)
December 29, 2016, 3:40 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Louis Malle
3.5 Stars
place-de-la-republiqueDirector Louis Malle rejected the popularly used phrase “cinema verite” in favor of “cinema direct”, which argues for a fully improvised shooting process that relies on impulse and curiosity as the guiding factors in narrative development (an ethos exemplified most spectacularly by the Maysles brothers). Place de la Republique, which Malle shot over a few weeks in 1972, uses the simple premise of a small film crew interviewing whoever they can on the busy Parisian square. If the film is about anything, it is about the Parisian’s fascination with the act of filmmaking—nearly every scene is full of background extras eager to see and hear what Malle and his team are filming. The excitement of the people on the street is well-matched by Malle’s enthusiasm for the everyday lives of the people he encounters. As eccentric as his subjects can be, Malle treats them all without judgment, allowing them instead to dictate the pace of the conversation. The film’s biggest pleasure is not the conversations themselves (only a few of the characters are particularly memorable), but the shooting style, which is obsessively guided by the sense of setting. In a telling late scene, Malle and his team are interviewing a subject that has a small audience rapt. Suddenly, Malle’s cameraman jerks the camera away from the scene in order to observe a passerby wearing rollerskates. It’s a jarring interruption of the interview, but the purest evocation of what Malle means by “cinema direct.” The curiosity inherent to the film’s process is not limited merely to the interview, but to the image—the simple act of looking away from the subject (Malle himself doesn’t even seem privy to the motion) shows that cinema itself is only an extension of uninhibited human curiosity.

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