Buttes Chaumont is a bit like the French version of Prospect Park. Both are popular with recreationists precisely
because of their wildness. However, some
heavy karma surrounds the Parisian park.
Whether it is good or bad is rather a matter of interpretation in Sébastien
Betbeder’s Nights with Theodore (trailer here), which screens as
a selection of Film Comment Selects 2013.
Chaumont is such an integral part of Nights,
it gets its own documentary preamble.
Not exactly hallowed ground, it was once the site of the Royal gallows
and a slaughter yard for horses. Napoleon
III grandly reclaimed the land for public consumption when he commissioned the
park in 1860. Yet, it has always been
the subjects of rumors regarding secret subterranean rooms and mystical rituals.
Theodore meets Anna at a party, he impulsively sneaks into the park with
her. They spend the night together and
exchange numbers in the morning. The
next evening he convinces her to return.
Soon this becomes their regular nocturnal routine. We learn the park often exerts a strange influence
on people. Clearly, its effect on
Theodore is stronger than on Anna, who eventually starts to wonder if their unusual
courtship is sustainable.
creates an evocative late night atmosphere that hints at the mysterious without
ever committing to the supernatural. The
history he presents of the Buttes Chaumont is also truly fascinating. Frankly, it would be cool to see it as the
setting of a straight-up genre picture, featuring New Age cultists chasing
maidens through the underground passages.
is hardly what Betbeder set out to do.
Rather, Nights often feels
like the Facebook generation reboot of Bresson’s Four Nights of a Dreamer, which is an ambitious vibe to go for. At times Nights
with Theodore definitely veers into the hipsterish (especially the
soundtrack), but the extent to which fate is a palpable presence is quite
Theodore initially comes across as too old and too scruffy for the collegiate
looking Anna, Pio Marmaï and Agathe Bonitzer are fairly convincing selling
their initial attraction and their developing whatever it is. They are both decidedly reserved screen
presences, but that sort of works in this context.
Clocking in just over an hour, Nights is a film that exceeds
expectations. Betbeder definitely
privileges mood over plot, but this is not at all French mumblecore. There is definitely something going on, even
if its exact nature remains somewhat obscure.
Recommended for connoisseurs of French cinema, Nights with Theodore screens Friday (2/22), Wednesday (2/27), and
next Thursday (2/28) at the Howard Gilman Theater as part of Film Comment Selects
Labels: Film Comment Selects '13, French Cinema, Parc des Buttes Chaumont