Wo in Paris die Sonne aufgeht / Paris, 13th District

Director: Jacques Audiard (France). Year of Release: 2021

The 13th Arrondissement is the an area of South-East Paris on the banks of the Seine. It is home to a project of housing blocks named after Olympic hosts (hence the French title Les Olympiades), site of an early wave of gentrification. In the film, the area appears to be soulless but not poor (our Paris reader will doubtless correct me if I’m wrong about this). It is full of tower blocks and has a large migrant population, but they don’t like the housing projects you see in La Haine.

Emilie comes from a Taiwanese family, and is looking for a female flatmate. So, when Camille knocks on her door, she’s a little surprized to see that he’s an attractive black man. After a round of introductory sex, she decides to offer him the room anyway. Camille tells Emilie that his philosophy is to channel his professional frustration into intense sexual activity. She tells him that hers is to fuck first, ask later.

For all her bluster, Emilie does seem to want some sort of sexual stability. She looks pained when Camille tells her that they’re not a couple, and appears to give him an ultimatum of a relationship or no sex with her. He shrugs, takes the second option and instead invites other women back. This devastates Emilie, as does Camille’s decision to move in with someone else with fewer neuroses.

Although she studied at the Sciences Po, one of Paris’s better universities, Emilie has a series of shitty jobs, from working in a call centre to waitressing a Chinese restaurant. She finds it difficult to hold any of them down as she’s rude to the customers, or nips out in the middle of a shift to have sex with someone she’s found on an App.

At one level, the film seems to be 69-year old director Jacques Audiard looking disapprovingly at today’s kids with their social media and promiscuity, and their unwillingness to form serious relationships. And yet this is not just Audiard’s film. It is co-written by seriously good young female directors Céline Sciamma and Léa Mysius, which, in some unconscious way, makes the excess of largely female nudity a little easier to take.

Cut to Nora moving into a new flat. She is delighted that she has a view of the river, even if her landlord expects her to do some grouting. Nora is 32, and has moved down from Bordeaux to study law at the Sorbonne, as you do. She seems a bit insecure and lonely, so when she goes out to a student party, she puts on a blonde wig, maybe to create a more confident character for herself.

When she gets to the party, the boys (and I’m not going to call them men, here) start staring at her. One approaches her and asks to take a selfie. It turns out that, in the wig, and standing in front of people wearing beer goggles, she is the spitting image of porn artist Amber Sweet. The next day’s lecture is full of people swapping videos of Sweet. Soon after, Nora is bombarded with offensive and salacious text messages.

Nora gives up college and gets a job as an estate agent, working for Camille who knows nothing about the business but is running it for a friend. Nora and Camille enter a relationship, but she is still traumatized and finds it difficult to have sex. She seeks out Amber Sweet, talking to her on a high rate sex chat line until “Amber” gives Nora her skype address. The two become friends.

My earlier reference to La Haine was not accidental. That black and white film was about the dangerous existence in the working class banlieus at the edge of town. This is a film about graduates of élite Universities. Emilie lives rent free in her grandmother’s flat. She can’t be bothered visiting gran in a nursing home, so offers a putative tenant a rent cut to visit the home and pretending to be her (gran has dementia anyway, and won’t tell the difference).

The characters here are no happier that in Mathieu Kassovitz’s classic film, but here their ennui seems much more self-indulgent. And we have no urgent need for another film about the boredom of selfish middle class kids. Yet for all this, it can be compelling viewing – stylishly shot in black and white and a pulsating soundtrack, and with well acted characters who you don’t always like, but at least you can feel for them a little.

Every so often I found myself asking “what is the point in these stories?” and “just why should I be interested in these people?” To an extent, these questions are justified, but ultimately it’s all just made up stories, isn’t it? There’s enough here to keep your attention. Wo in Paris die Sonne aufgeht is certainly not without its flaws and has no great importance, but it also contains some quite admirable film making.

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