The Olympics are not just a sports competition that every four years has millions of people glued to television. It is also the name of a parisian neighborhood, exactly from District 13 of the French city. It is not the most popular, nor the most photogenic. Tourists don't visit it when they go. You don't take photos in its tower blocks like you do with the Eiffel Tower or with postcard buildings and bohemian rooftops. It is a multicultural neighborhood where everything is normal, and the cinema is not usually interested in normality. To who has been interested in Jacques Audiard, the director who jumped to the forefront of European cinema thanks to A Prophet and who had already looked at the outskirts of Paris through the thriller in Dheepan, with which he won the Palme d'Or.
With Paris, 13th arrondissement offers an unusual film in his career. It adapts the comic series Les Intruders, by Adrian Tomine, to x-ray a generation and its new ways of relating. Love, sex and new technologies as a reflection of a society. A generation adrift, trying to survive. Audiard has written the script together with Céline Sciamma (the first versions) and Lea Mysius, one of the great promises of French cinema. They propose a love triangle where the leading voice is Noémie Merlant, one of the best actresses in current European cinema whom we discover in Portrait of a Woman on Fire and whom we will soon see in One Day, One Night, Isaki's new film Lacuesta.
Merlant worked with Sciamma and now she is doing it for the first time with Audiard, an experience that she defines as "a dream" because for her he is one of the great directors of contemporary cinema. She emphasizes that working with him is like a dialogue. "I was always in direct communication, I shared with him... for me that is creation, and in this film, from the first rehearsals, I was lucky to find someone who cares about freeing the actor's word and the whole team. He wants everyone to express themselves, to contribute ideas. Filming is like a playing field where you have fun and where everyone returns the ball, but here that ball is the truth that you have to find by taking risks".
For Merlant, the 13th Arrondissement is not an unknown Paris, but one he knows and has lived in. His parents still live there. "I am glad that another reality is captured in the film. Not that postcard Paris, but one closer to many more people who live there. A more sincere Paris, even amazing. It is a very diverse neighborhood, with a lot of street art, a very free neighborhood and I think that is very cinematographic. Of course in this film it is very well portrayed, and I think that this neighborhood is more romantic than the ones usually shown", he says.
That is another of the concepts that the director and his screenwriters put in check: that of romantic love, which does not exist here, which is why Noémie Merlant believes that the film "reinvents the codes of love and romanticism as we know it and, above all, in the representations of the love scenes". It is evident that there have been two women who have been with Audiard at the helm of the script, and for Merlant it shows that "feminine imagination in the love scenes, a female gaze in the sex scenes". "What I like about this film is that it is a reinvention of romantic love, it is a new romanticism that is closer to my definition, because we are in a more respectful moment towards women," analyzes the actress who also debuted last year as director with Mi iubita, mon amour.
Also the portrayal of sex is different and according to a new generation and the feminist movement that has focused on consent. Until recently, sex scenes were patriarchal. Now it is clear that "only yes is yes", and in Paris, 13th arrondissement, sex is also different. It is seen in the character of Noémie Merlant, who "is sexually liberated". "She decides, she chooses with whom, when and how she makes love, and there is no judgment. There is a scene that seems very necessary to me and that is rarely seen in the cinema. A scene where we see that Nora, my character, does not like she really feels like it and doesn't say anything, but the male character, Camille, listens to her reaction, notices her. This happens a lot, that women don't dare to say they don't want to have sex. That 'no,' comes out of her body, no from her lips. She goes out of her way to behave, and he sees it, asks her and she says that she doesn't feel like it that day. He understands, doesn't blame her, doesn't insist and doesn't try to make her give in. To show a scene that It doesn't amount to anything, I think it's great," he says.
The film also changes the position of the woman, and places her not as an object of desire, but as an object of desire. "My character takes over her body and goes from being the men's instrument of desire to being her own instrument of desire. The sex scenes in this movie are new and there's a lot of eroticism, but in scenes like the dialogues between Nora and Amber, virtual dialogues, but that eroticism is in her way of looking at herself and behaving through her screens". The actress makes many of the mantras of Céline Sciamma her own, who with Portrait of a Woman on Fire explained that consent was erotic, and that there is much more eroticism in a lip than in a breast, only that the male gaze had created its imaginary . Paris, 13th district, is a catalog of new ways of relating where concepts such as class, race and diversity are part of everyday life. A rebuttal of black-and-white Hollywood cinema outside of Paris.