Paris Belongs to Him

in 53rd International Filmfestival Mannheim-Heidelberg

by Henrik Uth Jensen

Doo Wop , winner of the Fipresci prize and the special award of the Jury in Mannheim-Heidelberg steals Paris back from Godard and his contemporaries in the story of a man who is too confident in his own charm.

For a moment let us pretend that everything is a matter of style. Or, it’s all in the walk: the swagger, the carelessness and the self-assurance. In a long travelling shot Michaël Fitoussi as Ziggy struts along the Seine to the sound of Maurice Williams & the Zodiacs’ Little Darling. He looks sharp in his white t-shirt hanging loose under an open short-sleeved shirt. The sideburns and the hair are sticking out from underneath the hat. This guy named Ziggy has certainly studied the early Robert De Niro.

We instantly recognize Ziggy as a man who will take a not fully undeserved beating. We recall what happened to Belmondo in Breathless ( A bout de souffle) and De Niro in Mean Streets. We hope that director David Lanzmann will show more mercy on his protagonist and that Ziggy’s air of invulnerability will be punctured by a woman rather than destroyed by men who don’t appreciate his cockiness.

So what is the film about? The title gives it all away. Doo Wop like music is a feeling and form intersecting. In Mannheim , the director David Lanzmann explained: ” Doo wop can drive you crazy. If you hear doo wop all day, you think life is great. But it is not.” Doo Wop is simply the story about a man thinking life is great, even though life itself tells him otherwise.

Which girl will he meet? It’s not important. Which trouble will he get into? It’s not important.

He will learn his lesson. He will become a happier man. Nothing is important other than the way he’s falling in love, the way he finally gets to see a certain man he’s tried to get a glimpse of, the way he realizes the difference between his dream and the reality. We should not underestimate the importance of the way it is. The playfulness, the vividness, and the naturalness of the way it is.

But let us turn to something more important: falling in love. For Doo Wop , sex is never romantic but romanticism is always sexy. Ziggy is the master of the lost art of falling in love. Or is he just easily swayed? He runs into his former girlfriend, played by Caroline Ducey who shows that a girl can have feelings for Ziggy even though she no longer shares his illusions. The next day he visits her at work with flowers. It’s a long shot, literally, and without having heard a word of their conversation, we know why he’s rejected. So next, Ziggy meets up with Maya, played by Elina Lowensohn, apparently some kind of lost soul in Paris . Maya is a Bulgarian singer tending a bar. After first wilfully offending her he apologizes and talks her into sharing a drink.

This is the perfect example of how style in Doo Wop always serves and intensifies the feeling of the scene. The camera sees through the eyes of the persons falling in love. The exchange between Michaël Fitoussi and Elina Lowensohn takes place in extreme close-ups. No one listens to the dialogue because the important things appear on the screen. We all know this kind of situation when the eyes are lowered in the moment they meet. Exploring the faces the camera dwells on Lowensohn’s mouth and drops to Fitoussi’s chest until suddenly showing the pair of eyes and the feeling of falling in love.

Of course this is the Paris of the Nouvelle Vague, but it is also the Paris of the big flaneurs. Fittingly Ziggy lives in a hotel room. But his real home is the streets, the bars, the cafés and the clubs. This is Paris . Just like Belmondo in Breathless , Michaël Fitoussi needs his trademarks in Doo Wop: Ziggy’s hat, Ziggy’s 50s Volvo and in particular Ziggy’s cocky smile, half-grinning, as if life is one big joke. So the film starts by showing Ziggy in the hotel room. It shows how he puts on his hat and how he doesn’t put on his smile until confronted with the real world. He might seem contented, but actually it’s an act.

This is confirmed in the end when the film comes full circle. We don’t know if Ziggy is back at square one or if his experiences have given him the strength to change. This is as much a beginning as an ending, and in this way it might remind us of one great French film from 1959.

In the Mannheim festival catalogue Doo Wop has a German title which translates into English as Breathless Ziggy . This sort of belittles the film and turns it into an homage that it certainly is not. It’s easy to evoke the spirit of Nouvelle Vague, but we must not be superficial about these things. The Nouvelle Vague was a resistance against convention until their approach became a convention in itself. Doo Wop doesn’t have to chart new territories and David Lanzmann cleverly avoids or bends the techniques invented by the class of 1959. In his diverse approaches to each scene, using everything from sequence shots to inter cutting close ups, and taking full advantage of Pascal Lagriffoul’s handheld camera which often suggests the fluency of the steady cam, David Lanzmann steals Paris back from Godard, Truffaut and their contemporaries. In the process of doing so, he, or should I say Doo Wop , reminds us of a character in one of Alain Resnais’ movies who once said: “Style is emotion, the most elegant and economical form of emotion”.

Henrik Uth Jensen