Fascism continued after the war to be the principal shadow of murder (and self-murder) stalking the world and individuals in it; Paris Belongs to Us, written by first-time director Jacques Rivette and Jean Gruault, is the most terrifying political thriller ever made—one that expands the stalking shadow even while teasingly explaining it away. Encompassing a vast “organization” that may or may not exist, but certainly exists in the mind of Philip Kaufman, whom McCarthyism has driven to Paris from the U.S., this shadow remains a shadow and yet something substantial enough to affect and even determine several lives we see or hear about, leaving a trail of deaths whose final explanations are by no means certain, merely instead the most recent “explanations.” The film’s brilliant “conclusion” may confuse; but that’s the point. “Evil has many faces.”
Rivette evokes a stark and fluent black-and-white 1957 Paris, one that closes open-endedly on an elusive, haunting image of birds flapping across the Seine. Student Anne Goupil investigates the apparent suicide of Spanish radical Juan, whose death insinuates a spiritual or other connection between Franco and Richard Nixon, who (listen closely) is discussed in the background of one scene. In the process Anne takes up a role in a theater group’s production of Shakespeare’s Pericles, thus launching Rivette’s delight in the interactivity of play and reality, artifice and life. The Shakespeare comes and goes, but the “reality” surrounding it is increasingly revealed to be, in a sense, “staged.” Inward threats meet outward ones, or create them, or are created by them in a vision of floating paranoid realities complicated by a series of relationships, including romantic ones, but also Anne’s relationship with older brother Pierre, which seems inordinately restrained but becomes the tragic center of her life.
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