Paris Calligrammes is German filmmaker Ulrike Ottinger’s love letter to the city where she came of age, and exploration of her own artistic growth fueled by bookstores, jazz clubs, workshops, and cafés. “Calligramme” is the term coined by Guillaume Apollinaire for his poems featuring stunning visual typography. Like a series of calligrammes, this film is divided into poetic segments, covering the period from Ottinger’s arrival in Paris in 1962 to her return to Germany seven years later. In the tradition of flânerie—Ottinger writes in her director’s statement—she takes us through the city, turning her lens on decisive personal and political focal points. They include her time at a legendary bookstore, the studio where she learned the art of etching, her embrace of the French New Wave through the Cinémathèque Française, and the cafés and streets where personal artistic ferment bled into political action against the war in Algeria—and, ultimately, to the protests of May 1968. Popping up occasionally only in archival photos, Ottinger creates a personal film that connects her own artistic awakening to the broader social issues of the day. Combining contemporary and archival footage, she evokes the past without succumbing to nostalgia.
Available with either German narration by Ulrike Ottinger or English narration by Jenny Agutter.