The Lion in Place Denfert-Rochereau

This later short film prompts an interesting comparison with Du côté de la côte. Both films share the same playful feel and combine historical reflection and contemporary relationships but the later film is a form of fiction and is much shorter at 11 minutes. Both have fun with fantasy and surrealism.

Clarisse and Mme Clara

The lion in the title is a statue in Place Denfert-Rochereau in the 14th arrondissement of Paris. It is a smaller version of the original in the town of Belfort where Denfert-Rochereau was the local commander during the Franco-Prussian War. The square also includes the Catacombs of Paris. In the square Varda places a mobile caravan housing Mme Clara (Frédérick E. Grasser-Hermé), a clairvoyant and her apprentice Clarisse (Julie Depardieu), who watches Mme Clara deal out the tarot cards for clients (recalling the opening to Varda’s 1965 feature Cléo de 5 à 7). Each lunchtime Clarisse buys a panini and meets Lazare (David Deciron), a new employee at The Catacombs, in the square. He entertains her with sleight of hand magic tricks. On a nearby seat Varda herself reads a book on the statuary of Paris and in voiceover reads out a quote by André Breton, the famous surrealist. This will motivate some of the later occurrences. I don’t want to spoil what happens later but needless to say it is enjoyable and makes an engaging tale.

Varda reading in the square and providing a voice-over introduction

There are a couple of points relevant to an overall understanding of Varda’s work. The first is to note that Varda’s cat Zgougou is featured (zgougou is a Tunisian dessert made using ground seeds from the Aleppo pine). Varda was always fond of cats and Zgougou seems to have been particularly important. Her company Ciné-Tamaris includes a cat in its logo. As well as the cat this film includes collaborators who I’m guessing were locals known to Varda. She was originally a photographer and this film, like many others features photographs used in presenting the history of the square and its statue. Part of that history refers to the square as a venue for fairs and festivals and as an election bulletin board. Before the statue was erected the route into Paris at this point went through the Barrière d’Enfer (The Gate of Hell).  Some of the links here are to the carnivals in other films and to the overall sense of dreams and imagination as an integral part of cinema.

I enjoyed this short and it confirms my high opinion of a director who has things to say and knows how to make her films entertaining and playful as well as displaying her knowledge and understanding.