Part travelogue, part time capsule and part grand experiment, Six in Paris is an engrossing sampler of the timeless existential cool of the French New Wave. As thin and savory as a crepe, this 1965 omnibus assembles six of the era's most interesting directors and turns them loose on the avenues, alleyways and gorgeous tree-lined boulevards of the capital city, just for the fun of it.
In 1965, producer Barbet Schroeder armed them all with 16mm color cameras, and let each filmmaker pick a neighborhood, with little else in the way of guidelines. Like any anthology, the quality varies, yet Paris gives the pieces a kind of stylistic unity of purpose, and there's an ironic, darkly comic thread that runs through each and holds the film together.
The saucy opener in that city's St. Germain-des-Pres district sets the tone with a crisp short about a one-night stand between beautiful young strangers that morphs from bliss to bitterness, as a lovely doe-eyed American girl gets a sharp lesson about Euro lovers. Cahier du Cinema-critic-turned-director Jean Douchet nails the perfect short story right up to the O. Henry-like punch line ending. The next bit hits harder, as the young couple's squabbling takes a vividly dark and surprising turn. Jean Rouch favors long takes, including one dazzling shot that follows the heroine down the stairs from their dingy flat and out on the street for several blocks where she encounters a mysterious, dashing stranger. The snarked-up "Rue Saint-Denis" short features the delightfully goofy antics of Claude Melki as a shy young man who brings home an aggressive cougar-ish hooker and fumbles to entertain her. Melki has the features of a sad-clown painting. The real gem is Eric Rohmer's tensely paced Hitchcockian thriller about a tightly wound store clerk forced into unpleasant human contact on his daily commute. He works in the crowded tourist zone near the Arc de Triomphe, a pedestrian nightmare where simply crossing the chaotic maze of busy intersections is a nerve-rattling adventure. The only real letdown in this collection is Jean-Luc Godard's brief scribble about a silly girl's romantic dilemma, a typically well-shot but intellectually undernourished short.
Showing at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit), at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday, March 27-28, and at 4 p.m. on Sunday, March 29. It also shows at 9:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday, April 3-4, and at 2 p.m. on Sunday, April 5.