A ghost haunts the scene – it’s invisible and rarely audible, hardly there but always present. He would be dead if it weren’t for the archival footage that resurrects him and frees so many emotions. It’s a ghost called love, a ghost named Simon that director Vincent Dieutre summons in one of the most extraordinary, unusual, and unorthodox love stories of the year – Jaurès.
The psychic doing the resurrecting is actress Eva Truffaut, daughter of nouvelle vague director François Truffaut, who is apparently also a close friend of Dieutre. She meets him in a studio where they watch footage shot by Dieutre from Simon’s apartment. She interviews him about his past relationships and about Simon, a man never visible in the footage, which is only of the world outside the apartment. Truffaut is a great interviewer and an even better listener – she directs the conversation towards the absence of women, the wife and kids that Simon had, and the world of cinema – her summing up of their love story at the end of the film put tears in my eyes.
As more and more footage are projected onto the studio screen, Simon’s story unfolds little by little. Sometimes he plays the piano or we hear him take a shower, but the camera keeps its eye strictly outside of the apartment, observing the goings-on around the nearby subway stop instead. Jaurès is a Paris métro station between the 10th and the 19th arrondissement, but this film turns it into an unreal space where the personal and the political merge.
Through the film’s fascinating conceit, the ghost story of Simon is mirrored by another ghost story playing out in the footage of the illegal immigrants hiding under the subway stop and suffering a very different kind of invisibility. Although they live and hide in the very centre of Paris, they remain nameless and placeless, unwanted and outside of society. Their visibility in the film holds the personal love story and the political drama together, and, even though connecting the two seems unlikely, Dieutre achieves an astonishing symbiosis.
Simon, we learn later, is involved in social work and visits the people that live in Jaurès regularly. Although Simon’s life seems full of contradictions and unsolved questions, his care for the refugees from the Greater Middle East becomes a tangible and specific component in his otherwise mysterious biography. Knowing his involvement with the refugees at Jaurès, it makes sense that Vincent Dieutre uses the footage to make the invisible visible, if only to find a connection to his lover’s life.
Scene by scene, we gain insight into the everyday struggles of these ghosts that fled their homelands and became “others” in France. Their space is below, while above their heads hectic Parisians in suits and dresses rush to work. As for the bored voyeur in Rear Window or the distracted artist in Thomas Imbach’s Day is Done, looking out of the window and watching other people’s lives becomes the core of the film, while on a parallel track, the recollected memory of the person whose windows we are watching from tenderly and touchingly tells the story of a very different, if also secluded, life.
Throughout, Simon remains invisible, unseen. “I have practically no photo of him, no other memory than what I am trying to tell you here,” Dieutre tells Truffaut at the end. The love story has ended and all that remains are pieces of a life, the small anecdotes of being together, sleeping with each other, going out together. In combination, the poetry of Dieutre’s memories and the imagination that his words evoke in Jaurès are more powerful than any image could be.
“It’s not trivial, it’s extremely simple,“ Eva Trauffaut says; Simon is gone, but his ghost will remain – as will the ghosts lingering in front of our houses, only visible if we want them to be.
Jaurès, France 2013, 83 min, French
Director: Vincent Dieutre; cinematography: Vincent Dieutre, Jeanne Lapoirie; with: Eva Truffaut, Vincent Dieutre; distribution: Arsenal – Institut für Film und Videokunst
Watch an excerpt of the film here.
Berlin screenings: Fsk (French with German subtitles)