The German artist and filmmaker Ulrike Ottinger, whose work shouldn’t be almost as nicely distributed within the United States because it must be, shouldn’t be typically recognized for sentimentality. Her lengthy, looking movies are elaborately costumed and visionary not-quite allegories of queer radical feminism. Representative titles embody “Madame X: An Absolute Ruler” (1982), “The Image of Dorian Gray in the Yellow Press” (1984) and “Joan of Arc of Mongolia” (1992). She can’t be blamed for getting no less than a bit wistful, although, in her new “Paris Calligrammes,” an autobiographical documentary. It’s about Paris, in spite of everything — her Paris, first skilled within the early 1960s.
After the movie opens with footage that Ottinger shot within the Paris of right this moment, we’re swept again in time, aurally and visually: Notably by the singers Juliette Gréco and Jacques Dutronc, and a clip from Marcel Carné’s immortal 1945 “Les Enfants du Paradis.” But “Paris Calligrammes” persistently mixes what’s acquainted to the Francophile with a lot that isn’t. The film takes its title from a bookshop Ottinger frequented as a younger lady. She had been enchanted by French tradition rising up in occupied Germany, and sought out a connection residence as soon as she landed within the City of Lights to review. The bookstore Calligrammes, run by the German-born Fritz Picard, served German expatriates. It was a spot the place, Ottinger places it, “The Dadaists encountered the Situationists.” It grew to become a formative aesthetic residence for the younger artist.
Ottinger’s account of a studying on the retailer by Walter Mehling is among the film’s excessive factors. The filmmaker has what looks as if a torrent of anecdotes and attendant concepts to impart, however the film by no means feels rushed. She created three totally different narrations, these in French and English learn by the actors Fanny Ardant and Jenny Agutter, and one in German, learn by Ottinger herself. Both the German and English variations can be found by Film Forum’s Virtual Cinema. The narration is as essential in conveying the temper of Ottinger’s story because the movie’s unhurried tempo is.
We see Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, Simone Signoret and Nico, but in addition now-obscure figures together with Raymond Duncan, the dancer Isadora Duncan’s eccentric brother, who stalked the Paris streets in a toga and philosophized on the famed cafe Les Deux Magots. Ottinger’s account of the riot-provoking 1960s Paris premiere of Jean Genet’s play “The Screens” emphasizes how that manufacturing’s use of costuming and make-up influenced Ottinger’s personal future movie aesthetic.
Ottinger additionally remembers alienation: Her account of a strike in May 1968 is less-than utopian. And she is pointed when recalling how when the activist Daniel Cohn-Bendit was agitating in Paris, it wasn’t simply the appropriate wing that dismissed him with the categorization “a German Jew.”
When she ends the film by placing Édith Piaf’s “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien” on the soundtrack, you could assume Ottinger has lastly succumbed to the sentimentality she’s stored principally in test. But wait. Just just like the Marvel Cinematic Universe motion pictures, “Paris Calligrammes” has a mid-credits stinger — this one about Piaf’s dedication of the track.
Not rated. In English, German and French, with subtitles. Running time: 2 hours 9 minutes. Watch through Film Forum’s Virtual Cinema.