Paris in July 2018 – Willy Ronis’ Cats – Les Chats de Willy Ronis

I always try to participate in Thyme for Tea’s Paris in July event but I don’t always get the time. This year, time was just as scarce and so I was glad the event has been extended. I decided to participate with a beautiful book I discovered a while ago in a book shop: Les chats – The Cats by Willy Ronis.

The book has not been translated but since there’s only a short intro and the rest are photos, any cat or photography lover could enjoy this.

Willy Ronis, who lived from 1910 to 2009, was a French photographer who was famous for his post-war pictures of some of the lesser known Parisian districts like Ménilmontant and Belleville. Together with Brassaï, Doisneau, and Cartier-Bresson, he is one of the most important French photographers of his time, and by many called the most important Paris photographer.

Ronis was also known for his nudes, one of which you can see below, and for his love of cats. His cat photos have such a special charm. They come in so many variations. Close-up photos of his own cats, cats in landscapes, cats he saw on travels. All of his photos are black and white. They are simple and effortless, but when you look at them for a while you discover many charming details and you simply have to admire his compositions and his use of light and shadow.

The nude above, which shows his wife, is one of his most famous photos. I guess that’s why it was included in the picture although there’s no cat on it. The book also offers an intimate look at his family life. Many of the photos show his wife and son, together with a cat.

After the war, Ronis lived and taught  in the South of France, that’s why there are many photos in the book that haven’t been taken in Paris.

I’m sure this is a book that would appeal to many people, whether they love cats or photography. His delicate use of light and shadow alone transforms every picture into a work of art.

Here’s an interesting article from April 2018 in the New York Times about Ronis.

And there’s an exhibition of his work at the Pavillon Carré de Baudoin, which lasts until September.

Tatiana de Rosnay: The House I Loved (2012)

Her newest novel, Rose, is already an early spring hit in France. Again written initially in English, this historical work evokes Paris under the Second Empire and the grand urban redesign ordered by Baron Haussmann: Rose, an aging widow living in her family home in a small street near the church of Saint Germain des Prés, receives a letter announcing that her home is slated for destruction to make way for the new Boulevard Saint Germain.

I haven’t read any of Tatiana de Rosnay’s novels before. Knowing she is one of the most successful French writers made me a bit suspicious but when I saw a copy of Rose in our local bookshop I felt drawn to it immediately as the novel is about Paris. It’s only after browsing the book that I found out, the original, The House I Loved, was written in English and Rose is a translation. I wasn’t even aware that Tatiana de Rosnay has written most of her latest novels in English and – less surprisingly – that this contributed to her international success.

The House I Loved is written in  the form of a long letter from Rose to her deceased husband. She tells him that she has, after all, been informed that she has to move. Her house is among those which will be destroyed to make way for the large boulevards which are part of the redesign of Paris ordered by the Prefect, Baron Haussman. The idea to lose the house breaks Rose’s heart. She loves this house, loves it for its history and because it is the family home of her husband. For her, whose mother was cold and distant, the house has become her home just like his family has become her family.

In this long letter she looks back on her past, how she grew up, how they met, speaks to him about her children, their life together, the sadness about the death of her son, about her husband’s illness, his confusion and his death. The memories and remembrances are often interrupted by the present. The people who will tear down the house will arrive soon but she has still not left. She speaks of the destruction, how the city changes.

I had a bit of a problem with the way this was told. The tone is very sentimental, at times corny, the voice too modern for the time depicted. I think it would have been much better as a third or a simple first person narrative instead of this epistolary confession. Still I’m very glad I have read this. It captured a particular moment in the history of the city of Paris very well. I love Paris for its big Boulevards and Avenues, the Paris of the Baron Haussmann. They represent Paris for me. When those big Boulevards were designed, the old medieval streets had to go, the houses were torn down. I tend to forget at what cost the remodeling of the city was achieved. It is so hard to imagine what it would have meant to own a family house, full of memories and histories and to be informed that it will be torn down and destroyed for the sake of modernisation and sanitation. Tatiana de Rosnay captures the enormity of such a loss very well.

In oder to achieve authenticity, Tatiana de Rosnay said in an interview, she wrote most of the novel with a pen, by candlelight. “I had the idea for this novel 15 years ago, after seeing pictures of streets now forgotten,” she explains. “It contains my two obsessions: memories embedded in the walls and family secrets.”

If anything The House I Loved made me want to pick up a few non-fiction books on this topic or Zola’s novel La CuréeThe Kill, which Emma reviewed recently here.

If you don’t mind a sentimental tone and are fond of historical novels and books set in Paris you might enjoy this entertaining novel.

I have attached a video about an exhibition of photos taken during the time. Although it is in French, you see many amazing photos. The person interviewed speaks about the numbers – how many houses were destroyed and why and about the photographer and why there were no people on the photos (at that time they couldn’t capture movement – so the streets had to be empty).

This review is a contribution to Karen’s and Tamaras‘s event Paris in July

On Jacques-Pierre Amette’s Le Lac d’Or, Léo Malet’s New Mysteries of Paris and Eugène Sue’s Mysteries of Paris

Unfortunately there is no English translation of Amette’s excellent crime novel Le Lac d’Or whose title is the name of a Chinese restaurant that is an important refuge for the main character in this book and aptly indicates the setting, Chinatown in Paris. Only one of Amette’s numerous books – the Goncourt Prize winning  Brecht’s Lover  or La Maîtresse de Brecht – has been translated so far.

It’s a pity as Le Lac d’Or (2008) is a great read and it’s no wonder he has been compared to Léo Malet and Georges Simenon. Like Malet’s Fog on the Tolbiac BridgeBrouillard au Pont de Tolbiac, Amette’s novel is deeply rooted in the 13th Arrondissment. Place d’Italy, Pont de Tolbiac, Chinatown. It’s not one of my favourite arrondissements but it’s a part of Paris nonetheless. In any case, the 13th is one of those arrondissements that hasn’t any tourist appeal. It is an area with many atypically high buildings, concrete passageways, bridges and as said before, Paris’ Chinatown. But not even Chinatown is very picturesque.

At the heart of the novel is police inspector Barbey who has to investigate the murder of a prostitute. Chloë wasn’t a simple prostitute, she was a police informant and his ex lover. Why they split is not clear as they seem to have been made for each other, what is clear however is that the separation still hurts him, even some years later.

At the time of her murder Chloë was informing on a group of gangsters who regularly rented a few rooms in a hotel in the 13th. They have plenty of reasons why they would want Chloë dead. Reasons and opportunity.

The ending is not what one would expect but it isn’t completely surprising either. Amette’s strength is the description of a lesser known Paris and his likable but sad and exhausted inspector. There were a few interesting bits on the murder of a prostitute and that people think far less in terms of victim when the person who has been murdered was a prostitute. The most important aspect however is that this book is rooted in a tradition that started with Eugène Sue’s Mysteries of Paris.

The book put me in the mood to read some of the Léo Malet titles I haven’t read yet, one of which the afore-mentioned Brouillard sur le Pont de Tolbiac – Fog on the Tolbiac Bridge. Or Eugène Sue. Malet followed Eugène Sue’s famous Les mystère de ParisMysteries of Paris, calling his series the “new mysteries of Paris”. Each of his short and taut books is dedicated to another Parisian arrondissement.  I liked all of those I read. He captures the places well, the stories are interesting, the tone is unique.

If you look for a Paris-set series in English, then I’ve heard that Cara Black is quite good but I haven’t tried her yet. I think she also changes arrondissements from one book to the other.

Have you read Léo Malet or Eugène Sue? Or Amette’s Brecht’s Lover?

This post is my first contribution to Karen’s and Tamaras‘s event Paris in July.

Paris in July 2012

Paris in July was one of the events I enjoyed the most last year and I’m really glad that Karen from Book Bath and Tamara from Thyme for Tea are organizing it again.

The rules are very simple. If you’d like to join all you have to do is review a French book or movie or write about something French. Music, art, cuisine. Anything you like. It’s not a challenge so you don’t need to commit to anything. Details can be found here Book Bath and here Thyme for Tea and here is the sign up.

I’ve been reading quite a lot of French books recently which I haven’t even reviewed yet, so this is certainly something I’m going to do.

While we are free to choose any French books we like, I will focus on books set in Paris. Possible choices are

Zola’s The Belly of Paris – Le ventre de Paris

Fred Vargas’ Have Mercy On Us AllPars vite et reviens tard. You cannot go wrong with Fred Vargas. She is one of the best crime writers writing today. If you haven’t read her yet, just pick any of her books.

Tatiana de Rosnay’s The House I LovedRose. While she is known as a French writer, this is one of the books she has written in English. It’s a historical novel set in 19th century Paris during the time when the city was undergoing major changes.

I hope to review a movie as well but I’m not sure yet which one it will be. Maybe it’s time to re-watch the movie which is possibly my favourite French film.

I know I will not be able to be as active as last year as July is also Spanish Literature Month.

Are you going to join? Do you already know what you will read?

Zabou Breitman’s Je l’aimais – Someone I Loved (2009) The Movie Based on Anna Gavalda’s Novel

I wasn’t aware of this movie until I read about it on Guy Savage’s second blog Phoenix Cinema. I liked Anna Gavalda’s short story collection I Wish Someone Were Waiting For Me Somewhere (Je voudrais que quelqu’un m’attende quelque part) and her subsequent novel Someone I Loved (Je l’aimais) a great deal and was looking forward to watch the movie.

Zabou Breitman’s Je l’aimais or Someone I Loved is a very subtle, touching movie and the main actors are amazing, all three of them.

At the beginning we don’t really know what happened. Pierre (Daniel Auteuil), Chloë’s father-in-law, drives her and her two kids to their holiday house, near Annecy. It’s quite cold, the mountains look bleak, there is a constant drizzle and the young woman is crying during the whole trip. At the same time she emanates a fierceness. She seems desperate, wounded and angry at the same time. Florence Loiret Caille plays the wounded woman with such intensity, it’s painful to watch, we forget that it is a movie and think that we are really watching someone in distress and pain.

Once arrived in the little house, the girls start watching TV non-stop, Chloë cries and Pierre tries to take care of them. For a while, it works more or less, they hardly talk, keep politely distant but then Chloë has a break out and shouts and screams and tells Pierre she can’t take it any longer, these polite silences, the way how in their family they always remain silent, never talk and that this silence is precisely the reason why she never saw it coming. She never even expected that her husband had a mistress, she wasn’t prepared to be left like this, without forewarning.

This outburst, the honesty and directness move Pierre and he starts to talk. First he tells Chloë about his brother who died very young after having served in Indochina and later he tells her that he also had an affair.

We see the story of the love of his life in flashbacks, we watch how he meets Mathilde (an excellent Marie-Josée Croze) in Hong Kong on a business trip, how he falls in love head over heels, how they continue seeing each other for years in different places, Hong Kong, Paris, anywhere in the world. He tells Chloë of his extreme happiness, how well they felt together until the day Mathilde asked him what would become of them. From that moment on things got complicated.

Despite a loveless marriage Pierre cannot break free. There is his wife, the children, his reputation, the house, the holiday house, his habits, his way of life. He would have liked to go on like they did forever, meeting Mathilde whenever possible, but not changing his routine. For a while Mathilde accepts this but one day she cannot take it any longer and Pierre must make a decision.

It is easy to judge Pierre and I guess everyone who watches this movie at a certain moment will judge him. But after a while one starts to understand and one also understands why he told Chloë his story. He doesn’t want her to keep back his son. He doesn’t want his son to be a coward and to destroy two lives.

Je l’aimais is a great example of what French cinema has to offer. Actors who are so excellent, they let you experience what the characters they portray go through. The three people come across as so vulnerable and naked, it’s quite amazing. The camera seems glued to their faces and they fill the screen at any moment, every gesture, every facial expression is meaningful.

I couldn’t find an English trailer and had to attach the French one but there are subtitled versions of the movie available.

Je l’aimais is my first contribution to Book Bath‘s and Thyme for Tea‘s event Paris In July.

I decided to do a weekly French cinema post on Sunday starting today until the end of the month.