Le Joli Mai: A Black Man Is the Heart of Paris
The subject of this 1963 documentary is none other than the famous city of Paris. But this film is not about its streets, monuments, and buildings; it's about the life of the city. Recall what Alexandros Washburn, the current urban design director for NYC's Department of City Planning, said in an interview for the American Society of Landscape Architects: "Urban design and infrastructure and the streetscape [are a] trellis for growth." What we hear and see in this black-and-white documentary is precisely the life that grows on and in the fixed spaces of the city, the trellis. This life also has lots and lots to say about politics, religion, communism, atheism, colonialism, music, cinema, money, real and fake flowers, food, transportation, strikes, housing, the youth, the old, the French, the language, the history of civilization, what works in the city and what doesn't work, and, most importantly, what makes a Parisian happy.
The documentary, which has a young and beautiful and eloquent black African man at its heart, covers every level of society. It goes from the poor on the outskirts to the core of the busy stock market to the high-society partying on a fifth-floor balcony. Everyone smokes. The city is beautiful. The traffic is impossible. Business is sometimes good and sometimes bad. And when the life of this city—a city that's recovering from a great war and is also dealing with trouble emanating from Algeria—is quiet, we hear the European actress Simone Signoret commenting philosophically about the existential and political condition of the Parisian. This city is wonderfully endless.