90s attitude and heartfelt intensity come across loud and clear.
Parisienne is immediately engaging as the film opens on a scene of Lina (Manal Issa) narrowly escaping her uncle as he attempts to rape her. We quickly learn that Lina is living with her aunt and uncle in the suburbs of Paris, having just moved there from Lebanon to start university. After the attempted rape, she refuses to return to their house and finds herself more or less alone in the city of lights in the 90s, when political tensions and ideological conflicts were at an extreme high.
The most beautiful quality about Lina is her incredibly genuine personality. She allows herself to be slightly naïve when it comes to being charmed by men. Yet she is smart, strong, and tough enough to find places to stay and ways to get by. She is charming and sweet, but quick and sharp also. She is a remarkably authentic character, a perfect portrayal of a university student, of an immigrant, of an unlikely Parisienne.
Issa’s performance is so utterly endearing that she is able to embody not only the particularities of being an outsider to any place at any time, but also the particularities of the French and Parisian environments during an important historical moment. It is through her authenticity and her passion for the city that she at first regards warily as a stranger, but eventually as a close friend, that she earns the moniker bestowed upon her by the film’s title. Lina truly becomes a Parisienne, fighting for her right to remain in the city and nation that has become hers despite the bumpy road it had once been for her.
At intervals throughout the film, the frame fades gently to black for a few seconds. These artistic insertions of some grounding blank screen, along with the surreal visual montages that make a few appearances, can be viewed as openings and closings of chapters in Lina’s story. They mark the points when Lina moves on from a place, an obstacle, or a man. Speaking of men, Lina dates three of them throughout the film, and they become as definitive of the film’s attitude as she is.
First, there is Jean-Marc (Paul Hamy), a much older married man who sweeps Lina off her feet with expensive meals and a stay at a château. Then, there is Julien (Damien Chapelle), a café waiter, rock music aficionado, and drug dealer who dreams of leaving for the United States in the same way that Lina left for France from Lebanon. Finally, there is Rafaël (Vincent Lacoste), a fellow university student who recruits Lina to help him publish his radically liberal independent newspaper and eventually helps her fight to renew her residence permit. This motley crew of boyfriends each have their effect on Lina. But rather than let herself be defined by them, she asserts herself and chooses to learn from each experience in the same way that she chooses to openly learn from Paris.
It is worth noting that the French title of the film was Peur de rien, which translates to ‘fear of nothing’. This is a beautifully apt title for a film about a woman who tackles a new life in a new world with absolutely nothing on her side but her own perseverance. Whichever title you choose to call it by, Parisienne is a film that strikes you right in the heart with its shocking genuineness of feeling before you can even notice it happening.
Parisienne is directed by Danielle Arbid and stars Manal Issa, Vincent Lacoste, Damien Chapelle, and Paul Hamy. It is currently in negotiations for theatrical and commercial release in the United States.
Photo credits: Film Society of Lincoln Center.