One of the classic French films known in the history of world cinema is the 1930 film of René Clair entitled Sous les tois de Paris (Under the Roofs of Paris), a story set at the marginalized lower-class district of Paris. Under the Roofs of Paris highlighted the backdrop of the emerging influence of Poetic Realism. This film movement impacted the way French cinemas’ themes, settings, and characterization were presented and constructed that it usually showed the lives of the people on the margins of society, either struggling members of the working class or as criminals being involved in the urban disputes. Personally, coming from a social science background, I saw the peculiarity of Poetic Realism in the film’s imagery and production of the so-called “French urban melodrama” at that time in France. I observed that in the film most specially in its primary theme and setting how it tried to paint a picture of the everyday life in the marginalized district of Paris. Noticeably, the characters in the film resemble the mundane flow of everyday realities of the lower-class people. The practice of singing in the streets, the modest interaction of the people in the area, and the typical love story of this man bombarded by various hindrances and conflicts represent the daily melodramatic flow of the mundane life, the so-called ordinary life under the roofs of Paris. The attack of the story, and the set-up of the characters and the film’s setting are basically an approach related to the rise of Poetic Realism at that time.
I also noticed the effective construction of the peculiar character of the film’s setting by displaying the usual images that can be seen in a marginalized community, the architecture of the urban life through the shots that displays the chimney of the houses. The honesty and realistic depiction of Paris in that film represented new images of Paris, as an area with rich interaction of people living and working but also an area conflicted by negative and harsh realities. Thus, the film aside from telling the story of the romantic relations between Pola and the three other guy also tried to display the dark side of that area, which of that time is conflicted with crimes and with some instances of street violence.
More importantly, I became particularly interested in the impact of Poetic Realism to influence the film’s characters most specially for Pola, the Romanian lady, was represented in the film as the fantasy of the male characters. It is very evident that in one way or another as the film progresses and as more male characters were related to Pola, it created an impression that Pola started to became “sexualized” and “commodified” as a “trophy” to be won by the male characters. It felt like the male characters were competing to win a prize, and in that case the prize is winning Pola’s heart. It can be clearly observed when Fred started to engage Albert into a fight to settle who’s rightful to be with Pola. This somehow depicts how these characters displayed the “machismo” notion of competition between men to win a girl’s heart as a social trophy of masculinity and power. For me, this is an attempt to highlight the display of the politics of women objectification that can be seen during the earlier part when Albert and Louis played a dice game to know who shall talk to Pola and during the last sequence when they are finally settling who’s going to have the final chance of “winning” Pola’s heart. Aside from its social commentary, I personally think the film presented a very weak and objectified characterization of Pola’s image as a passive character in the film depicted as a “social trophy” — confronted between the power and powerlessness of beauty.