Cinema and Suffering Rendered Insufferable Cinematically 



I have to admit that I was a bit surprised to learn that Jean Paul Civeyrac has directed a number of feature films.  I say this because his latest, 2018’s A Paris Education (Mes provinciales), is so firmly rooted in the world of conflicted film school cinephilia that it effectively convinces the viewer that like its main character, its maker must be a self-tortured over-thinker.  Set in the exclusive and insular world of Parisian higher education, specifically film school, the forgivable assumption was that it’s its makers feature debut, chock full of ideas and yes, self-obsession, that betray a personal uncorking.  It’s the kind of testament that one makes early on in a fit of boldness driven by the fear that there may not be another green light, so best to say everything now.  Is A Paris Educationthen regression, merciless observation, or the very navel-gazing its characters rant against?  

Perhaps Civeyrac simply knows his subject all too well. The protagonist of A Paris Education is a young film student making his way through a prestigious film school in Paris, not unlike the institution(s) where the director also works as a professor.  Though Civeyrac, born in 1964, has ten features under his belt as both writer and director, he identifies all too readily with his main character, Étienne (Andranic Manet).  

Étienne is a healthy white upper-middle class young man from a bland if unbroken family (apparently an only child) who, for the love of cinema, leaves behind a life of supportive parents and a six-year relationship with his longtime girlfriend, Lucie (Diane Rouxel).  When he finds he cannot hold onto these comfortable aspects of his past, he descends into a personal malaise that he never recovers from. 

Around his constant moping, much talk of cinema ensues, including the subject of filmmaking versus activism in the face of social change- a subject that doesn’t interest Étienne, but everyone else won’t shut up about.  But still, everyone follows him into his own built-up and built-up student film production, a project that only saps his confidence the closer he gets to it. Clinging to the past and his own wounds all too closely, the tall, dark and moppy-haired Étienne could pass for a sort of ineffectual Adam Driver playing a real-world Kylo Ren who can’t quite commit to his vision.  

One guesses that Civeyrac and many of his film scholar characters might throw up in their mouths a little to see this film, a black and white realization of personal struggles and unending angst compared to the Cinematic Industrial Complex of Disney’s Star Wars franchise, but hey, that’s a lot more interesting.  

Indeed, for a movie that’s as long as it is- nearly two and a half hours and wearing every minute of that on its sleeves- it seems there’s remarkably little to say about A Paris Education.  In what has to be an intentional nod to the aesthetic of the early iconic films of the French New Wave, this modern-day film is photographed in the greyest of black and white, sometimes deceptively silver-ish, and in a wide 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Kino Lorber apparently has some pride in it, given the treatment it’s stateside Blu-ray release has garnered. Not only does the movie itself appear spotless and its soundtrack full, the distributor has included three thematically similar (meaning, real world talk-fests by a few passionate young people) short films by the director, as well.  

Not only that, but there’s even a glossy eight-page booklet with original art and a multi-page essay by film critic Kristen Yoonsoo Kim.  Nothing in it will convince those of us not already on board with A Paris Education, (even the author doesn’t seem over the moon about it,) but it does highlight on a few finer points.  

As the enigmatic cinema purist Mathias (Corentin Fila) is fixated upon, A Paris Education itself aims to be an ideal film about life and beauty and what is true.  “Manufactured scenarios” and identifiable artifice is supposedly off the table, yet this viewer found one major character development after another to be literally predictable.  If life and truth are this cookie-cutter, then maybe the suffocating blah of Civeyrac’s film is an accurate response to it.  Case in point, even Paris itself, though it’s pointed out to be brimming with cinema history, becomes oppressive (far beyond the level of “demystified”, as Olivier Assayas achieves in the recent Personal Shopper).

A Paris Education fails to engage and runs long in so doing. With a terminally self-centered and womanizing protagonist who is incapable of waking up to himself, even as the supporting cast continually hang lanterns on his behavior, is a misfiring profundity that’s best skipped.