Andrea Mariani | Maher Al Hariri
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Maher Al Hariri on Sous Les Toits de Paris (1930)

Sous les toits de Paris begins and ends with the same subject, only with opposite movements. That subject is as the film’s title suggests, the roof tops and chimneys of Paris. The film begins with an establishing shot getting closer towards the roof tops, and zooming into the city’s streets, while it ended with a zoom out of the streets, all the way back to the roof tops and smoky chimneys. This creates the effect of visiting and departing from a tale. A tale is the best description possible to the film’s story, because at least to me, the word tale emphasises the story aspect, in this case devoid from any moral behind it.


On a technical level, the film has exhibited a mixture of camera movements and techniques, some of which were already in use previously and featured in films like Cabiria, and Atlantide, whilst others were actually new. A featured example of the old techniques is when Albert and Pola are on their way to Albert’s apartment, where in one scene they walk towards the right of the screen, followed by a scene where they move towards the left side, then a walk towards the camera, and away from it, in a play with movement to create the impression of length in time and distance. In addition, shots from skewed angles, and close ups are still deployed, only with a significant increase in the use of close up shots than in the past. On the other hand, in Sous les toits de Paris, the camera begins to become more mobile, which brings about new movements such as what appears to be a shot taken with the use of a crane, where the camera moves steadily, and without shaking upwards and downwards a building, showing what is going on, on every storey of that building. Another unprecedented technique is an over-head shot taken downwards, showing an eagle view so to speak, of the disco’s interior with people dancing. A third new technique is focusing a frame on an object, whilst keeping the background out of focus.



Another remarkable aspect in the film was the director’s focus on feet, where they were featured in close ups several times. However, a particularly interesting feature was of Pola’s feet. In the scene where she spends the night at Albert’s, she is shown taking off her leggings, in a slow motion, in a context of sexual tension at least on Albert’s side. In a following shot, and as she was growing weary of Albert’s continuous sexual harassments, she is shown to put them on, in an effort to leave, although that never happens. This raises the question, is this part of a director’s fetish, or was it a mean to hint to nudity and sex, in a context that predated the sexual revolution, and was more conservative regarding sex, especially in film?!

Maher Al Hariri on Cabiria (1915)

Cabiria: an Itala Film Company production of 1914, directed by Giovanni Pastrone, that narrates the kidnapping, and liberation of Cabiria, a noble Roman girl in the third century BCE during the Punic Wars. The film was an altering highlight in early Italian cinema history, and beyond.

In that period, the historical film was the most profitable, and prestigious genre. Due to its pedagogical significance, cultural status, and spectacular value. This genre in fact gave Italian cinema commercial viability, and aesthetic legitimacy amongst bourgeois audiences. (Alovisio) Therefore it is not surprising that Cabiria was the most ambitious and expensive of historical epics. In fact, the film costed what would be equivalent today to the budget of ten films. (Reich)

Cabiria, a film produced with a spirit of Italian nationalism that was leaning on Roman victories, to justify and mobilize for colonialist aspirations, (Reich) was not without its own propaganda messages. Croessa was trying to convince Fulvius Axiella to help her save Cabiria from the hands of the priests who wanted to sacrifice her, she offered him a precious ring as a talisman of mercy, that would grant him the help of the gods, if he helped her, then the following intertitles said: “The Roman was tempted by this perilous undertaking.” The fact that the intertitles chose to emphasize Axiella’s “Romanness” in that context, and say that he was not tempted by the precious ring, and not even by the promise of the support of the gods, but rather by the fact that it was a Perilous/dangerous undertake, shows that he is trying to establish a kind of stereotype about Romans, and by analogy Italians, as being courageous and thirsty for adventure.

This picture shows the intertitles in discussion


In terms of acting, and especially when introducing a new setting, particularly if of significance, such as the gardens, or the temple, and so on, the actors pose a lot, as if they were to take a picture, their movement would be very slow and repetitive, where their acting appears to be suggestive and symbolic. Those shots appear as moving paintings, of some sorts. This probably comes from theater, and might appear unnatural, and even somewhat irritating even to a spectator today, but it should be due to the fact that contemporary acting has moved a long way from the type of acting we see in Cabiria, which makes one unaccustomed to, and inappreciative of it.


Here is an example of acting like a painting


It must be said that Cabiria’s settings, clothing, and objects were all very detailed, elaborate, and impressive. It is then not surprising that producing this film was very excessive economically and in even terms of the labour invested, to the point that it depressed the production company’s regular productions’ pace and standards. (Alvisio) According to Reich, Cabiria’s historical accuracy was praised. However, in terms of the motifs one sees on the settings, clothing, and decoration, one finds that they mostly come from a merge of Ancient Egyptian, and Babylonian arts, although the Carthage was Phoenician then. It is true that the Phoenicians did not leave as many artifacts as Ancient Egyptians, so there exists a gap, however it is not smart to get obvious Ancient Egyptian symbols and show them as Phoenician, as it disrespects the spectator’s intelligence.

This picture shows The Scarab (Ancient Egyptian motif) used in the film. Credits: