Gare du Nord

(episode of Paris vu par., Jean Rouch, France, 1964)


One of my favourite short films in all cinema is Jean Rouch’s astonishing Gare du Nord, part of the well-known Nouvelle Vague-era compilation Paris vu par … .

Rouch’s contribution appears to be one continuous shot or long take running for around fifteen minutes – although it is in fact two shots joined with a cleverly disguised cut.

A man and woman argue. They start indoors in a high-rise apartment. The camera follows them into an elevator going way, way down – and then outdoors. The exchange gradually becomes more tense, frantic and violent.

The scene spills into the streets of Paris around a large train station (the Gare du Nord), and hurtles along. The live, direct sound recording strikes the viewer as forcefully and palpably as the long take technique.

Finally, these two people reach a bridge, and encounter a disturbed stranger. One of these three, in despair and frustration, jumps off. The camera concludes its movement by tipping over the edge of the bridge to see a crumpled body below.

This is an extraordinarily tense and compelling film. So much of the vital, radical, bodily and energetic cinema that follows it in cinema history (John Cassavetes, Maurice Pialat, Abel Ferrara, Larry Clark) seems prefigured by it. Its sense of the headlong unravelling of a relationship, in condensed, unreal real-time, is amazing.

I regard it as a perfect film, a perfect jewel, in the way that its form and content fit together and reinforce each other absolutely.

At the time of its release, Jean-Luc Godard, who also had an episode in Paris vu par …, had admiring things to say about Rouch’s achievement: “Seconds reinforce seconds; when they really pile up, they begin to be impressive”.

MORE Rouch: Les maîtres fous

© Adrian Martin May 1997/May 2001

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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