For the month of September, Le Cinéma Club has been honored to present a series of short films programmed in partnership with La Cinémathèque française and drawn from the legendary Parisian institution’s collections – one of the largest and most significant film archives in the world. These rare works, testimonies to the ingenuity and scope of French independent cinema from the ’60s to the late ’80s, have all screened in their online premieres.
As the editor for many of the most important films of the French New Wave, including Godard’s Breathless (1960) and Rohmer’s Love in the Afternoon (1972), Cécile Decugis was intimately familiar with many of cinema’s most iconic images of Paris. She casts the locale in a new light in this miniature city symphony, part of her small but wonderful directorial oeuvre of short dramas and documentaries. Paris hiver 1986-1987 is a beautiful, minimalist evocation of daily life, shot with a handheld Super 8 film camera in the midst of a snowbound winter.
Even with an itinerary suggesting a touristic view of Paris sights including Les Invalides and the Grand Palais, the film is intimate and lived-in. We see the city as a neighborhood: well-maintained public spaces covered by snow; passersby hidden in coats, hats and scarves quickly trudging past the historic landmarks behind them. Decugis’ roving camera presents small glimpses of these moments, from afar and with minimal sound design – the scraping of shovels, the barks of dogs, unintelligible conversation – accompanying her images. The result is a quiet, unaffected portrait of a city which avoids the clichés of cinematic Paris to focus instead on small moments of quotidian beauty, and that builds on her experiences with Éric Rohmer.
“Rohmer cut the picture quickly and spent a lot more time on the sound. He actually would go out and record background sound atmospheres himself. To any scene he would add two or three very subtle and light atmospheres. They might sound like nothing when you go and see the film, however, they give it a very natural feel.” CÉCILE DECUGIS
Decugis learned her trade as an editor on Rohmer’s unfinished Les Petites filles modèles and Max Ophuls’ The Earrings of Madame de… (1953), which she worked on as a trainee. Soon after she would make a significant contribution to the emerging Nouvelle Vague, as editor of both François Truffaut’s early short Les Mistons (1957) and Godard’s feature debut Breathless, and she would later become Rohmer’s go-to editor, collaborating with him on all his theatrical films from 1969 to 1984.
Also a committed political activist, her work on Truffaut’s Shoot the Piano Player (1960) was interrupted when she was arrested for providing shelter to Algerian liberation fighters. She would spend two years in prison, despite Truffaut’s efforts to support her appeal. In her last decade, she remained engaged politically and artistically. In 2011 she re-edited her first film, about a camp of refugees on the Algerian-Tunisian border, into a new work reflecting on those images, and in 2016 made a short about her father. She passed away in 2017, at the age of 87.
‘Paris hiver 1986-1987’ was transferred to video from Super 8, definitively edited and mixed in July 2000. Garance Decugis donated the film to La Cinémathèque française in 2018. Special thanks to La Cinémathèque française and Garance Decugis for making this screening possible.
- Credits for
- Paris hiver 1986-1987
- direction and editing
- Cécile Decugis