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Marry Tran on Sous Les Toits de Paris (1930)

Sous les toits de Parisis a notable film in its relatively conservative and rather particular usage of sound, and in its romantic representation of Parisian life. Released in 1930, the film came two years after the introduction of sound into cinema. As such, it lies in an almost awkward position as an attempt to preserve the nature of silent cinema while incorporating some sound elements to enhance the power of the film, to appeal to a people familiar with theatrical aspects, and to demonstrate the possibilities available with the use of sound.


There are three main types of sounds utilized in the film: 1) spoken lines 2) object sounds 3) music.  Each form served specific purposes in strengthening the film’s power, despite the presence of music being the most prominent. It seemed that in maintaining the role of music in the film, Rene Clair was paying homage to the silent film industry.

Sound in this film was also used as a means of interrupting the audiovisual experience of the audience, bringing attention to a certain aspect. There were rather specific moments when the sound of an object would intercept and dominate the viewers’ auditory perceptions over music that was characteristic of silent cinema.


The sound of the clock striking midnight when Albert walks Pola in the streets, the ringing of the doorbell when Pola is locked out of her room, and the clock striking once more to demonstrate the time spent going back to Albert’s are all examples of the combination of an audiovisual experience that have been cleverly integrated into the narrative.

Other sound clips were used ironically as an overlay and play on the use of sound in cinema. The iconic fight scene in the movie was complimented by sounds of a passing train which was then interrupted by the sound of a bullet hitting a lamppost. This clever use of asynchronization proved the possibilities of sound in cinema.


The playful manipulation of sound can also be seen in the scene of Louis and Albert’s fight for Pola. At the climax of the fight, the music on the record seemed to be stuck, constantly repeating the same part over and over again. However, it seemed as if the record was still playing normally on the phonograph. This served as a statement on sound cinema and while providing a lighthearted atmosphere in the midst of a heavy scene.



Despite the unsynchronized usage of sound and limited speaking lines in the film, the songs in Under the Roofs of Paris assisted in supporting the idea of a romanticized Paris It seems that starting from the rooftops, Sous les toits de Parisaimed to display a glimpse of a romanticized reality – a bit of Paris in its industrial sector, to show that despite the roofs being full of industrial chimneys and smoke, THIS was as Paris as any other part of the city. From the simplicity and comedic elements of the plot, to its windows and rooftops, Sous les toits de Parisis one of possibly many romantic representations of Paris at the time. The particular choices made in the extent and means through which sound was used shows a respect to its silent predecessors but also makes a statement on the incorporation of sound in future cinema.

Irene Signorelli on Sous Les Toits de Paris (1930) – Between theatre and cinema

This passionate and troubled love story between a poor street singer and a naïve Romanian girl take place on the streets of Paris and inside its numerous caffées where young couples used to go for dancing and drinking. “Sous le toits de Paris” by René Clair, is an accurate depiction of the vibrant and melancholic atmosphere permeating Paris during the30’s.

Even if the movie is one of the first to use the new technology of the synchronized sound, the style and the plot can be inscribed into the way more ancient theatrical tradition of comedy.

The revival of the stage tradition inside the cinema had been adopted by French filmmaker for addressing the American cinema monopoly, that was aggressively eroding the share of French movies screened and produced.

One of the main strategies to set back American film industry monopoly that led French cinema to develop a very specific style, was the deployment of national and regional theatre traditions inside the cinema, translating and transposing folkloristic tales, stereotypes and regional cultural peculiarities inside their works (Andrew

The poplar stage tradition is a remarkable component of “Sous le toits de Paris”.

The film is embodied of popular theatrical features that are fully deployed with the precise intent of amuse the audience, arouse laughs and fun among the public.

We can sum up these features in three main ways meant to entertain the public and give to the movie the clear cut of the comedy.

Here are proposed frames of the movie meant to visually explain the deployment of these stage features:


Construction of stereotyped characters, which actions corresponds faithfully to the common and popular representation of its figure.

Pic 1

Pic 2

For example, Pola is depicted as the naïve girl, always in the arms of a different man (pic. 1-2).

Pic 3

Her naivety became a source of drollery inside the movie, like after her scandalized reaction to Albert attempt to kiss her while she is his bed (pic. 3)


Creation of absurd situations, where the characters are pushed to clash against each other without following common reasoning or logic, for the mere purpose of intentionally entertain the public.

Here the sense of the lost – stolen money were both pretenders where claiming to have found Pola’s money.



Manipulation of the different sound tracks that follow the development of the story in order to stress particular comic scenes or sequences, conveying the idea of musical comedy.

Here a frame of the final sequence when Albert and his friend suddenly start to fight for Pola with the gramophone playing a cavalry melody as soundtrack. For stressing even more stressing the hilarity of the scene an unware spectator looks to his glass of wine as he can’t believe to his own eyes.



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?!

Sayumi Kometani on Sous Les Toits de Paris (1930)



In this blog post, I would like to discuss the importance of the film: Under the Roofs of Parisespecially in the expressions of realism in the film and its use of new technology.

Under the Roofs of Parisis a French movie that were shot in 1930 in France. The genre of the film is categorized as the standard entertainment genre which most of the time aim to display every-day exercise of talent and tradition according to a researcher Andrew Dudley.



Around this era, realism was the one of the main ideas reflected on French films. It was popular to depict a story of every-day lives of ‘normal’ people. Under the Roofs of Parisis also one of them. Many French films inclined toward casting normal citizens to play characters in the films in order to express the everyday happenings more accurately rather than politicians or heroes while primarily one of the means of star actors were to address current social issues indirectly. To maximize the realism countenance and let the audience enjoy the peculiar relationship between the characters, the plot, dialogue, and decor were designed to prepare for those moments when the actor could play himself.



One of the impressive points in the film was a song. As reported by Dudley, there was a tendency that French public demanded more familiar songs, singers and routines. In this film, one of the most explicit examples which you can find is the song sang by the main character Albert and other characters. There was one particular song kept being sang by the characters and played in a lot of scenes. It appears that the story of the film always involve around this song. Because of the intention of the movie was to express the every-day life of French people back in the day, it seemed like that the song itself and the action itself of how people always sing together at a square were speaking to the spectators.



The technical use of the body language in the film was also one of the most interesting parts of the film. Despite the fact that there were not so many lines of the characters, the body language of the characters was not very expressive. On the other hand, the first film we watched for the blog post: Cabiria, it seemed that the expressions of the characters by their body language were quite emphasized. In terms of slowness of the films, personally I thought that they were similar. In my opinion, one of the reasons why this approach was used is due to the topic of the film. As I mentioned before since the plot is about people’s every-day life, there was not so much confusion and it is also easy to follow the story without much of characters speaking their parts. Unlike other films with not many lines of the characters, the limitation of the lines and no description line between different scenes, the movie succeeded in conceiving its story to the spectators.


Luigie Lursh G. Almojano on Sous Les Toits de Paris (1930)

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.


Under the Roofs of Paris, an important film of 1930’s that introduced the effective use of sound in cinema.


It also presented a peculiar picture of Paris, confronted by its everyday realities.


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.


The city is also a place for crime and violence. A fight scene in the streets of Paris in the movie.


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.


One of the scenes in the movie where Pola stayed in the place of Albert.


The movie featured the rivalry between the two friends, Albert and Louis, to win Pola’s heart.

One of the crucial scenes in the film wherein there is a display of machismo and Pola was treated as a “social trophy.”


Photo Credits:–reviews/under-the-roofs-of-paris-1930-rene-clair

Auliannisa Hermawan on Sous Les Toits de Paris (1930)

Love story in old Paris

The film showed a typical lifestyle in Paris at that time, like Gatsby in America, with vanity and luxury. A simple love story told by the director but touched the audients a lot. A guy, named Albert, makes living by singing in a lower-class quarter in Paris. One day he meets a graceful lady Pola, the street singer Albert falls in love with the Romanian party girl Pola, who is the companion of the gangster Fred. One night, Albert meets with Pola again when her key was just stolen by Fred, Pola is afraid to return home, so Albert brings her to his room and they spend the night together, with Albert sleeping on the floor and Pola on his bed. Early in the morning, the pickpocket guy brings a bag with stolen pieces and asks Albert to keep the bag for him. When the police busts Albert’s room and finds the stolen goods, he is arrested and sent to jail. Meanwhile Fred travels so that Pola seeks comfort with Louis, who is a friend of Albert, and they stay together. When the real thief is arrested by the police, he confesses that Albert is innocent. Albert is released and seeks out Pola immediately, at that time, Fred returns to Paris and also seeks out Pola that is with Louis. The three men all love and want Pola, so only fight can solve this kind of problem. Finally, Albert gives up and helps his friend fulfill his wishes to be with Pola in the end.



The story may seem a little bit thin and weak in nowadays perspective, but at that time, no doubt it was a hit for the integrated narrative, impressed musical comedy and romantic atmosphere. People can catch a sort of French romantics and fashion from this film, which is based on 1930s, in the middle of two world wars, the youth relieve themselves to enhance the new world and booming industry also expand their imagination to approach new lifestyle. We can see all kinds of cultural prosperity at that time around the world, including China and the US. Although the US faced the big depression, but Hollywood was born due people need escape from the reality and entertain themselves. As in China, especially in Shanghai, thousands of pop stars shown up with films and gramophone records, dancing and clubbing with nightlife was a pop culture and soon became a symbol of upper class. While the film is mainly describing the lower-class entertainment, singing songs with the street singer and standing besides the bar with a drink, it accommodates many audients to feel themselves in the sequences as a common people living in a metropolis, but it does not become realistic depictions of circumstances, but a poetic romance, for which reality is only one aspect of life. So it is a fantastic attempt to combine romanticism, realism and idealism all together.



This is the first sound film by René Clair in 1930, though it is part sound and part silent, which is very similar to 1927’s “The Jazz Singer”–with a few songs and a bit of dialog but otherwise being essentially a silent film. Characters only speak when they have to; at other times, they use gestures. We could consider it as a bridge from the silent film to sound film, people would easily benefit from the silence and melody.



Although the integration of sound and image is rather primitive in this film, the portions that include song or instrumental music possess a grace and ease of motion, which people could be easily touched, and the song and instrumental music is also a part of the plot, not only convey feeling and motion, but also makes the story vivid and completed.


Franziska Peschel on Sous Les Toits De Paris (1930)

Creation of more-dimensional characters through speech

A chanson sounds through the streets of Paris, charms the people in the streets and in their houses. The charming young man Albert seduces his audience and the spectator in front of the screen with his harmonic voice singing about love. His enthusiasm infects all the people around him. Smiling and gesticulating he invites his audience, the Parisian bourgeoisie, to sing with him. Albert is collecting coins for the notes when he takes notice of a young woman. Pola is going to trouble him during the following 88 minutes of the film.

The mysterious young woman Pola is courted by all the men in the film, since the moment she steps out of the crowd in the street. Albert takes the role of the charming hero trying to win her heart.



Creating multi-faceted personalities

But they don’t stay that stigmatized. The introduction of sound in the early cinema, only two years before the launch of Sous les toits de Paris, allowed the director to step back from these stereotypical protagonists and to create more-dimensional characters. The classical roles of the male hero and beautiful woman who is to be conquered are developed towards individual personalities through their speech.

The first time Pola gets to speak in the film, is a conversation in her room with Fred, Alberts competitor: “Who’s there? What do you want?”, she asks with a high and affected voice.  She is rude and rejecting in every conversation. With a childish and stubborn voice, she refuses his invitation to dance saying, „I don’t want to dance” even though in the end she will go out with him. Her whole behaviour is artificial.

The scene when she argues with Albert in his room gives the spectator a hint on how to classify her character. Albert calls her “pretentious”. That image which had already come up in the conversation with Fred is the most characterizing feature of her personality. For the rest of the movie she remains the pretentious girl in the view of the spectator. But it is also a statement that characterizes Albert. The scene in his bedroom portrays him as an inpatient person, who is irascible and rude. A few other conversations strengthen this impression. When Pola stands in front of his door even though they have said good bye, he is furious. With an angry voice he replies, “Okay, so stay here. Make yourself at home.”


The absurdity of the milieu

The most characterizing impression on all the conversations, yet, is their absurdity – most visible, when Pola and Albert speak in the corridor of a house. They just ran away after a man tipped a pot with water on the singing crowd in the street. Pola accuses Albert saying “You were scared”, and he replies “Me? You’ll see!” before demonstrating his courage by descending in the street facing his opponents – but only after a discussion going “No”, “Yes”, “No”, “Yes”, “No”, “Yes”.


Through the speech the director exposes a certain absurdity of the social milieu the story takes place in. At the same time, the protagonists step away from the classical roles, becoming multi-faceted individuals, more vivid and more identifiable.