Nadja in Paris (1964)

Directed by Eric Rohmer

Nadja-and-Eric.jpg

Nadja in Paris is a 13 minute short film that follows Nadja, a foreign student, around her favorite parts of Paris.  The film is mostly silent other than Nadja’s voice over, telling us about her world and her adoration for it.  It’s not far from a documentary, but there is a subjective lens through which the story is told, which seems to let us know that the real story isn’t all on the surface.

“…the trouble is, we’re so comfortable here, we don’t want to leave.  Everything I need for work or play can be found right here.” – Nadja

Nadja explains that, as a college student, she has everything she needs, and this one line calls attention to the impermanence of this moment in her life.  Though Nadja speaks glowingly of her life, this casual mention of a lack of any need made me think that we should view her from a distance.  Nadja’s world is vastly different from our own because we, for the most part, need things to live.  All of Nadja’s basic needs are met, allowing her to wander freely and mostly observe the world around her.

A romantic account of her favorite city, Nadja in Paris is likely to be seen much differently by audience of an older age.  As Nadja Tesich herself would go on to say, “Years later, when I had left teaching in order to write full-time, I saw Nadja à Paris again at the Bleecker Street Cinema. I was afraid it would depress me the way old photos do, but instead I was touched by her. The girl, a child—me—was so thin and lonely looking, so sad in spite of the voice-over, which was all wisdom and lightness. You wanted to hug her, to console her about something.” – http://www.nybooks.com/daily/2015/04/29/nadja-paris/

Nadja in the film, the young woman, speaks with such conviction about this world she lives in, but she sees everything from a distance afforded to her by a certain degree of affluence.  She doesn’t engage with much, choosing instead to bounce here and there, and despite her insistence that this is some kind of idyllic world, you can’t help but distrust her.  Paris is seen through her subjective lens.

The film was made because Eric Rohmer, “had received a small sum from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to make a film about foreign students in Paris. That’s it,” according to Tesich.  Rohmer didn’t so much craft a story as much as find someone with a story to tell that fit into his interests.

In Tesich’s article, written in the mid 1990’s, she describes what went into the making of the film.  She says that Rohmer picked her out of a crowd and seemed interested in her life and the ways she saw the world.  “Why you of all people, what was so special about your life?” they repeat. “No idea,” I say. Maybe because I was not interested, I used to think, until he told me how he liked my stories about Paris, how I described people on the street, their eyes adjusting like a lens when they met each other.”

“We wandered around Paris, the four of us. I was so poor I had to borrow a dress, a skirt, and a pair of sandals so we would have some variety in the shots. Since it was a film about me, I led the way, and introduced Eric to the working class neighborhood of Belleville and, near it, Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, a large almost empty park without the usual French statues. Eric didn’t rush, we ate pastries, days of talking, I don’t remember about what. It was summer, and we filmed the warm rain.

The production company paid for our big lunches and the wine. All of us were thin, in one shot I look drunk. At the Café Coupole, we stole some shots pretending it was a home movie. In front of the Flore, Rohmer said, “Just walk and imagine you are looking for someone.” I don’t think documentary is Eric’s forte; he would forget the truth for the sake of mise en scène. When he didn’t like the way my room looked, an American dorm in ugly red brick, he exchanged it for another: German, modern with clean lines. It was fine by me. I only objected when he told me how to react to my leg in the water. “Shiver,” he said, “Make a face.” I said no, I wouldn’t do that. I never did any of those exaggerated feminine gestures, I never giggled either.”

Rohmer’s observations about Nadja seem to mirror her own observations about the world.  He sees something in the way she sees the world that reflects his own interests, but there seems to be an understanding that she’s not right… and not necessarily wrong.  Rohmer was interested in Nadja’s beliefs and opinions, possibly in part because he knew they were tied to that moment in time, to her age and comfort.  Nadja, at that exact moment, was afforded a lens through which to see the world that was disconnected from need or even greed.  She was free to follow her curiosity, leading her to various neighborhoods she likes because, simply, she likes that they’re not yet overly touched by tourism.

Getting a little off topic, people for the most part go where they need to.  They go from home to work to run errands, etc.  Their path is dictated by need, not by curiosity.  But Nadja is free to go where she wants, and perhaps Rohmer saw in her a universal desire to break free from some of these restraints that don’t often or immediately resemble restraints.  Still, his film suggests that Nadja will not always be this way because of that single line in which she addresses that she needs nothing.  This acknowledgement, whether by Nadja herself or fed to her by Rohmer, calls attention to this point in her life, suggesting that just as it exists now, it won’t always.

Up Next: Philadelphia (1993), Rachel Getting Married (2008), An American in Paris (1951)

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