Screening in the Moonlight

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Published August 14, 2009

In the Jardins du Trocadéro. Photo by Nathalie Prébende

A free film festival, Le Cinéma au Clair de Lune (the Moonlight Cinema) is teaching locals to embrace the postcard landscape in which they have grown up, a challenge in more ways than one. Paris, like New York, has been so abundantly filmed, photographed, televised that every street corner can present itself as a cinematic cliché. Montmartre, after Amélie, is doomed as Audrey Tautou’s rose-tinted territory; for passersby, the Champs-Elysées is nothing more than Jean Seberg shouting, “New York Herald Tribune” in Breathless. But Parisians take the city for granted, and leave visitors to drool over it.

This nomadic cinema, which uses the city itself as a living backdrop, has been curated by the state-funded cinema organization ‘Le Forum des Images’. The festival puts up cinema screens in the original, key locations of each film, creating a juxtaposition both amusing and nostalgic, whereby the filmed cityspace floats on top of the real buildings and the actors appear suspended in some kind of intermediary space.For example, love story Slogan (1969), by Pierre Grimblat, with Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin, is screened in the gardens of the 12th arrondissement, where the couple meets and falls in love. To Parisians and cognoscenti, this is reminder that the film marked the beginning of a long, famous romance between the singer and the perennial 60s muse.  The screen is set up to echo and synchronize with some of its most evocative scenes, much to the public’s delight. This indeed is the principle governing the festival. You can revisit the swashbuckling excitement  of André Hunebelle’s The Three Musketeers (1953) in the Place des Vosges, where duels were once fought on a regular basis, in true musketeer style, though you’re more likely find other spectators fighting their way through neighborhood falafel than wielding a sword in your direction.

Le Cinéma au Clair de Lune also shows Christophe Honoré’s Dans Paris (2006) by the Chatelet, where one expects Romain Duris to run through the screen right into this popular part of town. Less sentimental or nostalgic than some of the other festival’s offerings, this melancholic film shows that the City of Lights isn’t all glitz and dazzle.

This year, the festival pays homage to one of France’s much-loved film directors, Claude Berri, who died last January. Berri’s movie Tchao Pantin(1983), with Coluche, an iconic figure in France, as well as a documentary about the film maker, Le Cinema de Papa are on view. Berri was a man-of-all trade in the cinema industry: he also made a career as an actor, writer, producer, and distributor, and was once described as “The great ambassador of French cinema” by Nicolas Sarkozy.

The love story between Paris and its foreign visitors is hardly new. However the local inhabitants, a  brash and most unsentimental breed, definitely needed to rediscover their own city. And this is precisely what this film festival has achieved, as Parisians flock to the showings, bottle in hand, chanting the punch lines with utter and communicable delight.

The festival closes on August 23 with Dans Paris (2006) by Christophe Honoré, which will be screened on the Place René, metro Châtelet-Les-Halles, at 9:30 PM.