Paris Belongs to Us

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Photograph: Mickey Solis

Paris Belongs to Us. The Brick (see Off-Off Broadway). By Jacques Rivette and Jean Gruault. Directed by Doris Mirescu. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hrs 45mins. No intermission.

Paris Belongs to Us: in brief

Director Doris Mirescu and her Dangerous Ground Company hit the Brick with the second piece of a trilogy devoted to the films of Jacques Rivette. This one, based on a 1961 movie, touches on murder, love and Shakespeare's Pericles.

Paris Belongs to Us: theater review by Helen Shaw

In the multimedia work Paris Belongs to Us, director-designer Doris Mirescu once again pays ill-conceived homage to a film classic, this time staging Jacques Rivette's 1961 Paris Nous Appartient.

Paris is another of Mirescu's “deskilled” works—full of amateurish performances made even more wooden by shooting them on live video. The style, trendy in performance art, brings up interesting questions about enjoyment (or lack thereof), virtuosity and postmodern practice, but after many projects using the same techniques, Mirescu seems no closer to finding answers. Just as it did in John Cassavetes's Husbands and In a Year with 13 Moons (after Fassbinder), Mirescu's mise en scène points at other, better artistic provocations while insistently boring the culottes off its audience.

The original film has its own astringent qualities and, despite a playful interest in the theater (characters try to stage Shakespeare's Pericles), it resists staging. Rivette's work is a languorous, deliberately jazzy, aimless thriller, with a panicky actor/student in thrall to any number of conspiracies, femmes fatales and chauvinist assholes. Mirescu adopts Rivette's techniques—desultory pacing and a cast lolling about in a variety of bleak moods—but Rivette's film plays naughtily with its Hitchcockian influences. His narrative looseness (and that gorgeous, grainy black-and-white film stock) turned everything unforced and sexy, while Mirescu's version does, somehow, the opposite. Thick with live video, swarming with wires, stacked with beautiful young people in glam-sleazy outfits and Cleopatra fringe, this Paris is chock full of nudity yet profoundly unsensual, and it feels very, very forced.

Mirescu does have an inventive way with stage space; here she builds a wall halfway through the Brick's tiny rectangle, cramming performers against the knees of those in the front row. In this shallow forestage, Tim Race noodles on his guitar, sitting glumly in his nest of electronics, giving the proceedings a constant, creepy, soporific hum. Actors wander in from the hidden room behind the wall only occasionally, but we're kept up-to-date on their behavior by constantly streamed video, piped into three separate “channels” on the wall. In her trash-strewn set, Mirescu makes sudden beautiful images in both three dimensions and two—one shot catches our shuddery lead actor Anne (Susannah Hoffman) blinking out of a smoky haze, and it seems astounding that they could create it on the wing.

Yet the director’s pleasure centers are stimulated in a totally different way from my own. Her blithe disregard for performance seems at best academic, at worst, perverse. Actors who have been strong elsewhere suddenly collapse to the high-school level of those around them; most of the camera's smash-zooms find actors with terrified eyes or doing poor imitations of performances they clearly find campy. I would hazard that the pattering applause at the end signaled that others too found it pretty mauvais, those three intermissionless hours a difficult sit.

There's no denying that Mirescu is a maker totally in control of her work. Her opacity draws people, particularly those who like the artists she imitates—the Fassbinder fans, the Berlin director Frank Castorf groupies. (I think the obvious similarities to Jay Scheib's work is born of their love for the same European directors, rather than outright copying.) She makes constant gestures to the fixtures in her intellectual and artistic pantheon, and her director's note is the epitome of woozy, academically inflected, reference-heavy pap. “We are in what German philosopher Ernst Bloch calls the great space of the still open. In this intensely present time, things and beings circulate, and it all goes both inward and outward.” But pointing the camera at a prop of a George Bataille book or a Hitchcock poster will only invoke those artists if the work itself can do more than simply indicate them.

Rivette, despite his position in the New Wave, did eventually reject the auteur theory, and I think the only cure here is for Mirescu to do the same. Her visual sense is marvelous, her taste in material has some intellectual appeal. But in her shows her mind is ruthlessly dominant; there's no equally powerful collaborator to sandpaper her ideas against, no one to tell her when she's drifting into self-indulgent bullshit. Theater, God bless it, tends to build in such checks and balances. You override them at your peril.—Theater review by Helen Shaw

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