Elusive happiness
Screening France’s new towns after 1968
in Screening the Paris suburbs
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Modern French town planning discourse was predicated on the idea that better architecture made for better, happier citizens, with rational architectural principles as the means to a fully realised modernity. After 1968, French filmmakers looked to the suburban new towns to voice the ambiguities and contradictions of rapid urbanisation. In Le Chat (Granier-Deferre, 1972), an ageing couple enter a downward social and psychological spiral as new high-rise construction menaces their decrepit suburban villa. The rough-and-ready La Ville bidon (Jacques Baratier, 1976) shows the struggle of junkmen and their marginalised families to resist expropriation at the hands of a town council that aims to develop a new town on a massive dumpsite. A spoof of streamlined post-modern living, Le Couple témoin (William Klein, 1978) parodies new town rhetoric under the guise of social experiment. The chapter concludes with a double reading of Eric Rohmer’s Les Nuits de la pleine lune (1984) and L’Ami de mon amie (1987) which by turns laud the new towns for their blend of leisure and work and deride their programmed aspect. Dysphoric and euphoric elements of suburban living are related to class-based investments and to the elusive prospect of happiness.

Screening the Paris suburbs

From the silent era to the 1990s

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