“Paris Calligrammes”, a German in Saint-Germain

«Po know and understand your own culture, you have to be able to approach it from another culture ”, explained Claude Lévi-Strauss at the Collège de France in the 60s. This is exactly why the young German Ulrike Ottinger landed in Paris, head in her tiny blue Isetta which fell stranded on the national road. Now recognized, the “queen of the Berlin underground”, visual artist and filmmaker, recounts her years of training in Paris Calligrams, a documentary which is lost on the paving stones not yet asphalted of a pre-sixty-eight Paris, still under the yoke of the prefect Maurice Papon. How to account today for the gaze of the young 20-year-old girl? Between past and present, archives and wandering in contemporary streets, the film offers a walk rich in encounters: there were personalities in the 60s! In cafes where people flee from homes without heating or running water, in workshops, bookstores, at the film library, in jazz clubs, at the Odeon where Jean Genet rides Screens, Paris is full of artists, Dadaists, Marxists and intellectuals of all stripes … Ulrike Ottinger seems to have known them all and absorbs this material which will sediment his work. With her vision of an accomplished artist, she draws an intimate geography by weaving images of places (the Halles, the Trocadéro, the Sorbonne, the two Magots …), those of personalities (Hans Arp, Nico, Sartre, Philippe Soupault, Jean Rouch…) and those of political agitations against the Algerian war or the Vietnam war.

But the documentary is especially interesting when it ventures beyond the folklore of glassmakers and well-known cafes, when it lingers in the German community in Paris: Paris Calligrams owes its title in particular to a bookstore in the rue du Dragon – which has disappeared – run by Fritz Picard, a German Jew who fled Nazism who gets her supplies from second-hand booksellers. The bookstore is then the entry point for the young woman among a crowd of Germanophile, cosmopolitan and committed artists. In the studio of the engraver Johnny Friedlaender or the photo studio of Willy Maywald, epicenter of wacky parties with acrobats and top models, Ulrike Ottinger evolves his art from engraving to narrative figuration. It’s also when he gets lost with oddballs like Raymond Duncan – brother of the dancer Isadora Duncan – who wandered around in a toga and sandals in Saint-Germain or this old man in the beret who came every Sunday to skate. on wheels to operetta arias at the Trocadéro, vibrating in a bubbling, poetic and bygone Paris.


Clementine Mercier

Paris Calligrams

d’Ulrike Ottinger 2 h 09.

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