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Grand Illusions: French Cinema Classics, 1928–1960

Saturday, October 13, 2012
6:30 p.m. Under the Roofs of Paris
René Clair (France, 1930)

(Sous les toits de Paris). René Clair’s first sound film is not a talking picture in the usual sense: Clair playfully, pointedly avoids synchronized sound for most of the movie, preferring to separate image from dialogue and punctuating the nearly nonstop music with blatantly artificial sound effects. The story involves entanglements among a quartet of demimonde types—a comely immigrant (Pola Illéry), a street singer (Albert Préjean), a petty criminal (Gaston Modot), and the singer’s best friend (Edmond Gréville); the film’s creativity and wit lie not in the plot but in Clair’s inventive technique. Georges Périnal’s camera sweeps down from the rooftops to the cobblestones to take in designer Lazare Meerson’s elaborate tenement sets—a romantic fantasy of working-class Paris that left an enduring mark on the international cultural imagination, resonating over the years like the refrain of a music-hall song.

—Juliet Clark

• Written by Clair. Photographed by Georges Périnal, Georges Raulet. With Albert Préjean, Pola Illéry, Edmond Gréville, Gaston Modot. (82 mins, In French with English electronic titles, B&W, 35mm, From Institut Français, permission Janus Films/Criterion Collection)