Si Paris nous était conté (1956)

aka: If Paris Were Told to Us
History / Comedy / Drama


Si Paris nous était conté photo
A learned professor of history relates the story of Paris to a group of  enthusiastic students, not as a string of dry facts, but as a declaration of love through which various historical characters connected with the city speak for themselves. Through a series of anecdotes we meet the colourful figures from France's past - Charles VII, Louix XI, François I, Cardinal Richelieu, Henry IV, and many others - and relive the turbulent times of the Wars of Religion, the French Revolution and the Prussian occupation. France's great literary personae are not overlooked. Voltaire, Flaubert and Victor Hugo all have their tales to tell...
© 2012

Film Review

Film poster
After the phenomenal success of Si Versailles m'était conté (1954), director Sacha Guitry was encouraged to repeat the same formula, but on a far, far larger canvas. Instead of telling the story of one building, the Château of Versailles, Guitry's next sprawling magnum opus would tell the story of Paris, using a similar style and narrative technique. Si Paris nous était conté is easily one of Guitry's most ambitious film, and some (poor misguided souls) consider it one of his best, although the film's shortcomings are hard to overlook. Despite the brilliance of Guitry's direction and the quality of the writing and performances, the film is distinctly lacking in coherence and, towards the end, it just seems to collapse into a mass of self-indulgent whimsy. But how can anyone tell the story of Paris in less than two and half hours?   To his credit, Guitry does not attempt an exhaustive trawl through the history books but instead presents only the edited highlights, as an affectionate tribute to the City of Lights.

Given the severe constraints he is up against, some of Guitry's choices for inclusion in the film are somewhat baffling, as indeed are some of his omissions. The cabaret singer Aristide Bruant gets almost as much screen time as Louis XVI, whilst Louis XIV and Napoleon hardly get a look in at all (presumably because Guitry had already dealt with them sufficiently in his previous two films). Another telling lacuna is any reference to the Nazi Occupation, understandable given that this period of history was still being re-written by General de Gaulle. Whilst it is certainly a lavish production, authentic in its period detail and featuring an absolutely stellar cast, Si Paris nous était conté cannot be judged in the same positive light as Guitry's other historical dramas, which are generally far better structured and have much more substance to them. This is really just a shamelessly patriotic divertissement, a selective and clearly biased take on French history, in a similar vein to Guitry's previous Napoléon (1955). The main appeal of Si Paris nous était conté is that it doesn't take its subject too seriously and shows that history can be both fun and interesting (although some of the gags, particularly the one involving Charlotte Corday, are truly cringe-worthy). Just don't expect it to get you through a history exam though. It has only slightly more intellectual rigour than Carry On Don't Lose Your Head (1966).
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The director Sacha Guitry also worked with the actor Jeanne Boitel on the film Napoléon (1955).

Film Credits

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