Sunday, September 30, 2007

La nostalgie de Paris

I'm really missing Paris this weekend. After being on the Vassar campus almost continuously for a month, I want nothing more than to wander up and down Paris's streets. I have also been eating a good deal of French-ish food lately--I taught myself to make clafoutis, and sold crêpes for the French Club--which doesn't help. Proustian sense-memories and all that. But really, what brought on this nostalgia is my downloading Wes Anderson's short film Hotel Chevalier free from iTunes last night.

The movie features Jason Schwartzman as a guy moping around a Paris hotel room, and Natalie Portman as his ex-girlfriend who comes to pay him a visit. As a narrative, it's not much: we get hints about why they broke up and what has happened to them since, but a lot of stuff is left open-ended.

But you don't watch a Wes Anderson film for its plot, necessarily; more for its aesthetics. And this one doesn't disappoint. Of course, it is shot in a super-wide aspect ratio, the art direction features vivid colors and weird objects, every frame is meticulously arranged. Much of it is underscored with a great ballad called "Where Do You Go To, My Lovely?", which has quirky lyrics and a kind of melancholy, yearning feeling. Schwartzman and Portman (try saying that five times fast... or better yet, "Schwartzman and Portman in Portland") capture this same melancholy in their acting. So already, the movie is enough to put you in a sweetly wistful mood.

But I think it has a special poignancy for me. This shot of Natalie Portman in the hotel room:

brings back so many memories. When I lived in Paris I had a balcony off my room, with doors just like these: made of glass and swinging out, with a rotating knob-handle in the middle. I have never seen these kind of doors anywhere but Paris--perhaps they are the original "French doors"? Also, my room in Paris had a warm red-and-yellow color scheme, just like this hotel room.

At the end of the movie, Schwartzman asks Portman "You wanna see my view of Paris?" and they go out through the glass doors onto the balcony.

They stand for a moment, looking out, then go back inside. Then the camera pans to the left to show you what they were looking at, and you expect one of those really stereotypical Parisian landscapes: glowing lights, the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame... But instead, you see this:

It's the building across the street! And when you think about it, that's so true: at least 95% of the windows in Paris don't have a stereotypical view, but instead just face out upon other buildings. And yet it has its own beauty and grandeur--this kind of architecture is just lovely--and it reminds me so much of the view I had for four months earlier this year.

Damn it, Wes Anderson. Just when I was getting sick of your quirk and twee-ness, you have to go and break my heart. And before that, you directed a television commercial that never fails to make me smile:

because it's such a great homage to Day for Night, one of my all-time favorite movies (I love Truffaut!). Oh well, Wes. I can't stay mad at you for long.

All images are screen-captures from Hotel Chevalier--I just figured out how to make them on my computer!

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