August 23, 2021
Ulrike Ottinger’s recollections of life as a budding artist in 1960s Paris challenge the city’s image as a creative utopia
Paris Calligrammes review – a portrait overflowing with joy and political urgency
Mostly comprising of a voiceover and archival footage, German auteur Ulrike Ottinger’s new film feels like a stylistic shift from the avant-garde, carnivalesque works of queer radicalism for which she is best known. Underneath the unhurried pace and the exhaustive account of Ottinger’s experience of 1960s Paris as a budding artist, there is a politically conscious playfulness that displays her ability to interweave different art forms and storytelling styles.
True to its title, the film rolls like a calligram, a text format where words are arranged to form a thematically relevant image. Ottinger’s recollections of past encounters with intellectual and artistic luminaries coalesce into a portrait of Paris, as well as herself. Calligrammes is the name of a bookstore owned by Fritz Picard that became a literary haven for Jewish émigrés; here, Ottinger crossed path with the likes of Tristan Tzara and Walter Mehring. The seemingly endless possibilities of life in Paris go on, like working next to Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir at cafes, seeing Georges Méliès’ films at Henri Langlois’ Cinémathèque Française, and listening to Juliette Gréco in nightclubs.
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