Jean-Paul Civeyrac’s contemplative look at adolescence in a big city unfolds slowly, but it doesn’t lack the emotional resonance to fiddle with our feelings.
Etienne moves to Paris to study filmmaking, leaving his long-term girlfriend Lucie in Lyon and promising her that they’ll get to live in the capital together one day. But life isn’t ever that straightforward: his network of friends grows, his lovers come and go, and the filmmaker-to-be finds himself questioning everything he’s ever known in a life transformation sparked by the city of lights.
The protagonist quickly befriends optimistic, easy-going Jean-Noel (Gonzague van Bervesseles). His new buddy promises to introduce him to one of his radical friends after Etienne dismisses one of their fellow students for ideas that aren’t challenging enough. When he finally meets Mathias (Corentin Fila), Etienne quickly falls under the spell of his politics. His new friend wants to revolutionise cinema, even if he struggles to find common ground with other people who notoriously accuse him of pretentiousness and senseless dismissal of the popular ideas. Eventually, Etienne becomes so obsessed with Mathias’s approval that he has difficulties with handling his own perfectionism, even when the others encourage his pursuits.
The dynamics between the trio and the different qualities the actors bring to each character help to add a humane aspect to the story that tends to tangle itself in their philosophical contemplations. With its runtime that reaches almost 140 minutes and heavy subject matter with a penchant for navel-gazing (the descriptor used for Etienne by his housemate), A Paris Education struggles with its slow pace at times, but the feelings of the protagonist are enough to resonate loudly and keep us interested.
While preparing himself for the life of a future auteur, the protagonist struggles with his love life, too, and frequently attempts to turn his observation into story ideas. When he arrives in Paris, he tries to maintain a long-distance relationship with Lucie (Diane Rouxel), but his conquests – a university friend, his housemate Valentina (Jenna Thiam) or her replacement Annabelle that constantly gives him a cold shoulder – stand in the way. None of the girls that briefly appear in Etienne’s life stays with him for longer, but upon closer examination, he’s too distracted with his self-discovery to commit to any of them. This realisation alone is a gentle critique of his preoccupations that never lead him to a stable place.
A spectator needs to be prepared for the meta-commentary in their conversations about cinema, literature and art in a broader sense, but it’s not too difficult to pick up the pieces that resonate. Entering the world of this film sets us off on the journey with the leading character. Through Etienne’s search for himself, we see him forming his own taste, learning the tough lessons the hard way, and gradually growing into the city that felt alien initially.
Paris might not be as bustling as Berlin of New York, we hear Valentina say in the film’s opening, but if there’s one thing that might connect the metropolises, it’s the sense of loneliness. Civeyrac sends the protagonist off to explore; we often see him wandering the city, with the camera observing the surroundings as he tries to get his life in order and a sense of Wings of Desire engraved into the surface of the film. The echoes of the New Wave filmmaking also propel the film as we listen out for the contemplations of daily life. A Paris Education moves in a similar way, trusting in the existentialism, trying to capture real life as it flees between the protagonist’s fingers.
The film opens as a part of the London Film Festival.
- A Paris Education