Photo of the Week

Paris-Update-EiffelTower

The Eiffel Tower seen from a rooftop in Montparnasse on a smoggy day. © Paris Update

 

Paris Update This Week’s Events

For full details about an event, click on the title to visit the official Web site (in English when available).

Women’s March on Paris
> The day after Donald Trump’s inauguration, women will march in cities around the world. Starts at the Parvis des Droits Humains, Trocadero, at 2pm, crosses the Pont d’Iéna and ends at the Mur pour la Paix at 4:30pm.

Behind closed doors
> Book now to visit places in Paris that are normally closed during Paris Face Cachée, including a lab trying to find cures for genetic diseases, located in a glass building with a panoramic roof terrace. Various venues, Paris and suburbs, Jan. 27-29.

Book signing
> Irish author Donal Ryan signs copies of his latest book, The Thing About December. Irish Cultural Center, Paris, Jan. 19.

Late-Night Magritte
> The Magritte exhibition at the Centre Pompidou will stay open until 10pm from Jan. 19 through the last day, Jan. 23.

Drinkathon
> Paris Cocktail Week offers master classes, special restaurant menus with cocktail/food pairings and other festivities. Various venues, Paris, Jan. 21-28.

Young European photographers
> The Festival Circulation(s) features emerging photographers. Centquatre, Paris, Jan. 21-March 5.

Picasso at the airport
> The exhibition "Picasso Plein Soleil" presents works made by the master while living on the Côte d’Azur. Espace Musées, Charles-de-Gaulle Airport 2E, Jan. 21-June 15.

Cheap cinema
> During the Festival Cinéma Télérama, you can see a selection of last year’s best films for only €3.50 each with the purchase of Télérama magazine (Jan. 11 and 18 issues). Various cinemas, Jan. 18-24.

Free subtitled French films
> My French Film Festival offers frees streaming of French movies. Through Feb. 13.

Frank Capra Retrospective
> The great American director in the spotlight. Cinémathèque Française, Paris, through Feb. 27.

Sex, Lies and Corruption
> The Hollywood Décadent festival features such films as Joseph Mankiewicz’s Cleopatra with Elizabeth Taylor, Valley of the Dolls, and Vincente Minnelli’s Nina. Cinémathèque Française, Paris, through Jan. 25.

Chinese New Wave
> Nouvelles Voix du Cinéma Chinois screens films by a new generation of directors beginning around the turn of the 21st-century. Cinémathèque Française, Paris, through Feb. 20.

Winter sales
> Retail sales all over France: through Feb. 21.

Ice-Skating Rinks
> Where to ice skate in Paris, including the Eiffel Tower and the Grand Palais.

English plays in French
> Two plays by Harold Pinter, Ashes to Ashes and L’Amant, directed by Mitch Hooper, are onstage at the Essaïon through Jan. 24, 2017.

 

Film - Documentary

 

Sagan

Making Up the Past

sagan
Sylvie Testud plays the hard-living Françoise Sagan.
June 25, 2008

Following on the enormous success of La Môme (La Vie en Rose in English), which detailed the rise and fall of French singer Edith Piaf, we now have Sagan, directed by Diane Kurys, which details the rise and fall of French novelist Françoise Sagan.

Although they came from very different backgrounds – Piaf had a horrendous childhood marked by poverty and cruelty, while Sagan was the product of a well-to-do family – the trajectories of their lives once they achieved fame offer many striking similarities.

The cocky, rebellious Sagan (played by the talented Sylvie Testud), scored a stunning success with her first novel, Bonjour Tristesse, published when she was only 18 years old, and was lionized in both Europe and the United States. Her reaction is to run out and buy herself a Jaguar. We follow her as she lives it up and celebrates her success by partying in Paris and New York, accompanied by a faithful band of friends. After a couple of short-lived marriages (the second with a gay man with whom she has a son), she spends a drunken evening with a fashion designer acquaintance, Peggy (Jeanne Balibar) and ends up living with her. Later, another girlfriend, the domineering Astrid (played in an amusing turn by Arielle Dombasle), moves into her life.

Although Sagan never stopped writing and published novel after novel, none of them received the critical acclaim of her first brilliant book (there were even rumors that she hadn’t written Bonjour Tristesse herself, a claim we hear in the film). Eventually, like Piaf, she succumbed to alcohol and drugs. The sad end of each woman as depicted in the films is strangely similar, with both of them thin, bent and old before their time, living alone in a country house with only a servant for company. Hounded by the French tax authorities, Sagan was just about penniless after a lifetime of partying, gambling, drug-taking and throwing her money around.

This is not at all a bad film. It is absorbing throughout and tells its story well, but somehow it feels flat, as if something is missing. in spite of all the dramatic events. We don’t feel the full force of Sagan’s character or really understand why she had such a strong self-destructive streak (at one point, the morphine she is given in the hospital is blamed for her later drug problems, but lots of people are given morphine without becoming addicted).

Many other things are left unexplained as well. Several characters who had a strong presence throughout most of the film simply disappear near the end – presumably driven away by Sagan’s self-destructive bent, but we aren’t told this.

And what was Astrid’s interest in moving in with Sagan and running her life? Was she in love with her? There is no sign of that in the film. Did she want to bask in the reflected glory of Sagan’s fame? Not much glory was left by then. It couldn’t have been for money, since Sagan was already ruined and Astrid herself was a wealthy widow. And what about Sagan’s relationship with her son – we don’t get any feeling for what it was like, except vague hints of neglect (Sagan’s son, Denis Westhoff, served as a consultant on the film, which may explain this reserve).

An understated film makes for a nice change, but in many ways this one goes too far in its reticence. Is it because many of the people in Sagan’s life are still alive (Sagan died less than four years ago)? In that case, perhaps it would have been better to wait before making this film. Or perhaps it is due to the fact that the film was originally a two-part TV program, and the necessity of bringing it down from three hours to two for the cinema meant that some vital information ended up on the cutting-room floor. (The full three hours will be shown on French TV channel France 2 two months after the release date of June 11.)

A disclaimer at the end of Sagan notes that not everything in it is exactly true. While this is the case for most biopics, it is still very annoying not to know what really happened and what was invented by the filmmakers.

But what they can’t do with makeup these days! It is simply amazing how realistically the aging process was portrayed in La Môme and Sagan – taking both stars from smooth-skinned youngsters to aged physical wrecks with sagging skin and wrinkly necks. Bravo to the makeup artists!

Heidi Ellison

© 2008 Paris Update

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