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Cinéma en plein air

La VilletteOne thing I forgot to mention in my post on Film in Paris (July 15) was another festival that has become an important part of summer in the French capital: Le Festival de Cinéma en plein air de Paris. For the fourteenth year (it was not held last year, because it was one of the casualties of the intermittents du spectacle), for half of July and all of August, people are meeting in a field in the park of La Villette to watch movies projected outdoors on an immense screen. I have been to it a couple of times for picnics with friends, and it has always been great, as long as the weather cooperates. (Sadly, this year it started on July 16, just after I left Paris for England.) The theme this year is Un monde d'orages (A world of storms), which is explained somewhat in this article (Quand le cinéma prend l'air [When the cinema goes out for some air], July 28) by Pierre Langlais in L'Humanité:

"Weather storms, yes, but also storm in the metaphorical sense, folly, social anger, or war," explains Yolande Bacot, director and project leader of the festival. Thirty-nine films will be shown from July 16 to August 29. The storm is present in the titles, such as Singin' in the Rain, but especially in the subjects, often difficult. The violence of the passions mixes with physical violence, with films like Brian de Palma's Scarface, Alejandro González Iñárritu's Amores perros, or Marcel Carné's Le jour se lève. Also on the roster are high-quality blockbusters, like John Huston's Moby Dick, Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments, or Martin Scorsese's Gangs of New York.

Films dealing with war, in a critical manner, are also found in high numbers, like David O. Russell's Three Kings, which is set during the first Gulf War, but also Michael Cimino's The Deer Hunter, the Palestinian Elia Suleiman's Yadon ilaheyya (Divine Intervention), and Sergei Bodrov's Kavkazskij plennik (Prisoner of the Caucasus), which takes place during the war in Chechnya. "We are, of course, influenced by the context in which the programming was made," continues the festival's director. "We choose these films because they bring a different viewpoint. We are here to offer for our spectators' consideration films that have one direction, by encouraging openness, tolerance, and humanistic values."
Scarface? Whatever, I don't care.
This festival has become a beloved event of the Parisian summer. The "prairie" that welcomes the spectators faces a large inflatable screen. On average, there are between 6,000 and 7,000 people each night stretched out on the grass. That begins as early as 7 pm, with the arrival of the picnickers who spread out their tablecloths, then as the evening draws near, the space fills up, until at 10 pm, the show begins. The maximum capacity was thought to be 13,000 to 14,000, but Pulp Fiction obliterated that record, when nearly 17,000 people invaded La Villette. "You couldn't move anywhere in the aisles without stepping on someone's hand or foot," recalls Yolande Bacot. The more people sat down, the more they kept coming. It was an incredible situation and at the same time difficult for us." What draws so many people is also the event's conviviality. "It has become a real meeting place. We have been responsible for many marriages!" Next year, for the 15th edition, the idea of a "Best Of" series is under discussion, for which the films that were the best received in previous years will be shown again. Look out for crowds on the prairie.
Others we noted this year: Barton Fink (July 23), La Grande Bouffe (August 4), John Woo's Die xue jie tou (A bullet in the head, August 13), La Bête Humaine (August 18), and John Cassavetes's Opening Night (August 28). These are good films, and there is no ticket price, since it is free to all who can fit into the field. Go early and have a glass of wine with your friends. You can spend the first part of your day on the beaches set up along the Seine for Paris Plage (July 21 to August 20), with beach chairs, sand, palm trees, and a swimming pool and everything. I am not making this up.

Of course, I have just learned that the English have done the French one better. If you didn't see this article ('Götterdämmerung' in the Garden, August 1) by Michael White in the New York Times, go read it now:
In Britain, these days, opera in the garden is all the rage. If you own a country house with grounds, you turn everything upside down in July and August to stage a home-grown "Götterdämmerung" (or for the fainter-hearted, "Barber of Seville"). And patrons, ideally in evening dress, picnic grandly on your lawns during intermissions.
Glyndebourne is the most famous example of this practice. It just gets better from there. How do I get on the invitation list?

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