A Paris Education | Mes Provinciales (2018) **** DVD

May 5th, 2020
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir.: Jean-Paul Civeyrac; Cast: Andranic Manet, Diane Rouxel, Jenna Thiam, Gonzague van Bervesseles, Corentin Fila, Valentine Catzeflis, Sophie Verbeck, Christine Brucher, Gregori Manoukov; France 2018, 137 min.

Jean-Paul Civeyrac’s passionate cocktail of Sex, cinema and politics is a seductive distillation of what it means to be French. Based on the novel Lettres Provinciales by Blaise Pascal, it follows the adventures of Etienne who arrived from Lyons to study filmmaking in Paris, Saint-Denis, leaving his family and friend Lucie (Rouxel) behind. Shot in ravishing black-and-white by Pierre-Hubert Martin, A Paris Education feels very much like La Maman et la Putain by Eustache, transported into contemporary times.

Etienne (Manet) is a shy, immature young man – and extremely naïve – he’s looking for a mother/father figure. Shacking up with a new flat mate Valentina (Thiam), he soon falls under the spell of the enigmatic Mathias (Fila), a fellow student and troubled provocateur who would rather criticise than actually put himself out there and make a film. Then there is Jean-Noel (Bervesseles), who is just the opposite: caring and balanced – Etienne’s two new friends could not be more different. Yet he seems to be more passionate about Mathias than anybody else – even though he hardly knows him. Meanwhile Valentina moves to Berlin and is replaced by fierce eco-warrior Annabelle (Verbeck). Etienne tries to get close to this vulnerable woman but she falls for Mathias, until his violent outbursts jeopardise their love, Mathias turning his aggression on himself; Etienne has lost both his friends – and he is literally picked up by Barbara (Catzeflis), who was only briefly introduced to him by Annabelle in the flat.

Etienne appears vulnerable but he is primarily a non-committal, both in love and work. He sails through the film like a ship without a flag: his only constant concern is to make films, people come second in every way – with the exception of Mathias. Even his relationship with his parents (Brucher/Manoukov) is far from straightforward. When they visit him in Paris he seems embarrassed and aloof. The endless discussions with his friends and co-students seem to be a way to avoid growing up, and also full-time work. In a sad epilogue, we see him gradually withdraw from Barbara: how can he commit when he only loves himself.

Music plays a central part in this affecting drama; editor Louise Narboni has worked in opera, and Bach and Mahler dominate (particularly his 5th symphony that scored Death in Venice), and underline how marginalised Etienne has become since leaving provincial life made him a big fish in small bowl.  In Paris his lack of real identity and commitment turn him into Musil’s titular hero in A Man without Attributes. A Paris Education is a tour-de-force of art and psychology, and for once, the running time of over two hours is appropriate. AS

NOW ON DVD FROM 11 MAY 2020  

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