La rive gauche

Dec 1, 2006

We've been all over the city in the past couple of days, lugging around the fourteen-pound Janus box in a prototype Janus tote, feeling a little like traveling salesmen, but it's okay, because Paris is just so beautiful, even on these gray fall days. Yesterday we were on the Left Bank, starting near the fountain at St-Michel, where, in a small court behind a big carriage door, are the offices of Les Films du Jeudi, the production company of Pierre Braunberger, now run by his smart and charming daughter, Laurence. As we sat and chatted about Renoir, the Hakim brothers, and the mysterious French legal/business conundrum known as "authors’ rights," my eyes kept drifting around the room. There is so much to look at. Off at the far end are full-height back-lit translucent panels checkered with what appear to be frames of old color film. Staged in front of them is Braunberger's collection of antique camera equipment. Everything there is related to film. Drawings, posters, postcards are everywhere. Scattered throughout are the mischievous grinning cats drawn or printed by Laurence's good friend Chris Marker. It is one of those places that oozes a certain kind of comfort, more atelier than office, a genuinely safe place for art and artists.

From the end of the silent era through his death, in 1990, Pierre Braunberger is credited with producing about 100 films by such filmmakers as Godard and Truffaut and Resnais and even Renoir. (His only credit as director is for a little-known film called Bullfight, which has the distinction of being the first film ever released by Janus Films.) One of the things that truly set Braunberger apart is that nearly half of the films he produced were shorts, those works that are often least commercial and most personal or experimental. For an example, see Charlotte et Véronique, ou Tous les garçons s'appellent Patrick, written by Rohmer and directed by Godard, on our edition of A Woman Is a Woman. As we got ready to leave, I noticed for the first time a small collection of statuary on top of a bookshelf—the Oscar and the winged lion of Venice are the easiest to recognize, but there are certainly more than a dozen others keeping them company. It is without question the most impressive array of awards I have ever been that close to, and what struck me was how simply and humbly gathered they were, cluttered together on top of a small antique bookcase maybe two feet wide. And like a good host making sure we didn't overlook a favorite guest, Laurence gestured across the room to a spot on a different shelf, not far from one of those Chinatown cats with one paw raised, where the Golden Bear of Berlin was off dancing by himself.

That was the start of the day, and our next stop was a visit with Agnès Varda, but I don't want this post to get too long, so I'll save that part and post it tomorrow before I fly home.