Movie-going is always very special in Paris, with its hundreds of theatres featuring every conceivable genre, but perhaps the most unique way to take in a film is at the open-air screenings that take place during the summer. From August 1 to 12, the city of Paris and the Forum des Images Film Center are sponsoring the projection of classic movies at outdoor venues (typically parks such as the Butte Chaumont, Parc Montsouris, and Parc Trocadero) in different areas of the city. This is the 12th summer for the Cinéma Au Clair de la Lune (literally Cinema In the Moonlight) program, which has been getting more popular with every passing year. This year’s program includes such films as Claude Sautet’s César et Rosalie, Alain Resnais’ Coeurs, Patrice Leconte’s Ridicule, and Jacques Demy’s Les Demoiselles de Rochefort.
I recently attended the showing of Henri-George Clouzot’s classic 1954 psychological thriller Les Diabliques, starring Simone Signoret in one of her greatest roles. The movie was shown in the Place des Vosges in the Marais district. Dodging a passing crowd of night-time rollerbladers, I made my way into the Louis XIII park within the Place and positioned myself in front of a huge inflatable screen. There are no reservations, so it’s first come first serve for the limited number of chairs available. Most people brought their own chairs, blankets, or stood. When these shows began there were 300 attendees on average. This evening there were 3500 people, who fit surprisingly comfortably into the green expanse of the park.
The Place des Vosges is probably the most urban of the sites, its compact park surrounded by splendid 17th-century brick buildings (among the most expensive housing in Paris). That means more of a noise factor from cars and revellers going to and from the many cafés, bars and restaurants in the lively quartier. But the large speakers were more than up to the job, providing adequate audio with no discernable distortion.
The large crowd of young and old, nuzzling couples, locals and tourists were well-behaved and attentive. The audience’s noise level quieted as soon as the film began, and everyone obeyed the injunction not to wave arms in front of the projector. One obstreperous codger and one squalling baby provided only temporary annoyance. The public is permitted to bring wine, victuals and, this being Paris, cigarettes, but there were surprisingly few smokers.
One of the glories of Parisian summer, the persistence of daylight well into the evening, might have detracted from the visual quality. Perhaps for that reason the show began 30 minutes past the scheduled 9:30 pm starting time. There is no guarantee against foul weather, which can result in cancellation of the film, but this evening was mild and dry. One drawback for the foreign tourist is that most of the films are French, with no subtitles. (A Blake Edwards comedy, The Perfect Furlough, is the only English-language film being shown.) A representative from the Forum des Images was on hand to introduce the film, and the program in general, but again only in French.
So how is the film-viewing experience under these conditions? It does depend on the kind of film being shown. Frankly, I think H.G. Clouzot’s dark, brooding (but always well-plotted) movies are best appreciated in a small, claustrophobic art house theatre. But Les Diaboliques is one of Couzot’s most entertaining works. The crowd enjoyed watching Paul Meurisse’s sharp-tongued brute of a husband, and the cigarette-lipped cynicism of Simone Signoret. Clouzot filmed on location, mostly in small towns, and the grim post-war environment was arresting and eerie against the backdrop of the opulent buildings of the Place des Vosges and the softly moonlit sky of modern Paris. When the audience gasped and laughed at the famous climactic scene (is there a spoiler alert for a 57-year-old thriller?) this instalment of the Cinéma Au Clair de la Lune proved more than worth the price of admission (which in any case is free).
Additional information on the Au Clair de la Lune program is available on the Forum des Images web site.
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