Film

Chambre 212


Ghosts of Lovers Past

By Nick Hammond

Although not born in the city, Christophe Honoré has become the quintessential Parisian film director. Many of his movies (such as Dans Paris and my particular favorite, Les Chansons d’Amour) are set in very recognizable locations around the city. His … Read More

What's Happening in Paris This Week

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"Two Forms" (1937) © Bowness Photo © Hepworth Estate
“Two Forms” (1937) © Bowness Photo © Hepworth Estate

At the press opening of the Musée Rodin‘s exhibition of the work of Barbara Hepworth (1903-75), not one but two journalists, one French and the other Canadian, told me they had never heard of the great modernist British sculptor before and how impressed they were by her work. That’s a sad statement, considering the great international fame of her contemporary, friend and rival Henry Moore (1898-1986).

Since Hepworth was just as talented, innovative and devoted to her art as Moore was, there seems to be only one explanation for this discrepancy: he was a man and she was a woman.

That is certainly not to say, however, that Hepworth was by any means unknown. Her sculpture “Single Form” stands in the United Nations Plaza, commissioned in memory of former UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld, who was a collector of her work. Hepworth’s sculptures were exhibited often, both solo and in the company of other great sculptors of her time, and she was honored over and over in her own country, which is home to two museums teams devoted to her, in her hometown of Wakefield and in St. Ives, where she chose to live.

The exhibition begins with an enormous amount of documentation – letters, books, photos of works in progress and the artist herself, newspaper clippings, models, etc. – as if to prove to the French that this is an important artist (although she was well-known in France in the 1930s, she seems to have been forgotten here since).

"Sea Form (Porthmeor)" (1958). © Bowness Photo © Tate
“Sea Form (Porthmeor)” (1958). © Bowness Photo © Tate

It might be more interesting and instructive to return to this section once you have seen more of her work and the films about her, especially Dudley Shaw Ashton’s poetic “Figures in a Landscape,” showing the artist at work in St. Ives in Cornwall, where she took inspiration for her work from the tempestuous wind and waves – “Sea Form (Porthmeor)” (1958) is a good example – and the evocative rock formations and standing stones of nearby prehistoric sites.

Barbara Hepworth Museum St Ives. © Bowness. Photo © Tate, Andrew Dunkley and Mark Heathcote 2019
Barbara Hepworth Museum St. Ives. © Bowness. Photo © Tate, Andrew Dunkley and Mark Heathcote 2019

Another film shows a kind of archaeological excavation of her St. Ives studio, which had not been touched since her death in 1975. Coats still hung on their hooks, and the closets were still stocked with the materials she used in her work.

Hepworth’s sculptures were as varied as they were ground-breaking: she was the first to make sculptures with pierced forms (also used by Moore), for example. She was trained by a master carver in Carrara in the 1920s and preferred to carve directly into stone or wood using hand tools. And examples of her prints, drawings and paintings in the show demonstrate that her talents were not limited to sculpture.

"Pelagos" (1946). © Bowness Photo © Tate
“Pelagos” (1946). © Bowness Photo © Tate

The exhibition’s final room presents a collection of finished pieces in different materials – stone, wood, bronze – and forms, an impressive overview of Hepworth’s work, with its sensual surfaces, associations of different forms in one piece and marvellous plays of light and shadow.

This is another not-to-be-missed exhibition of the season, along with “Charlotte Perriand: Inventing a New World” at the Fondation Louis Vuitton. It’s a pleasure to see two great 20th-century woman artists being fêted with major shows in Paris at the same time.

What's Happening in Paris This Week

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Les Climats restaurant, located in a former post office.
Les Climats restaurant, located in a former post office.

The next time someone asks me to recommend a restaurant for a special occasion, I will have one on the tip of my tongue: Les Climats. This beautiful space with a handsome Art Nouveau decor – complete with high arched ceilings, stained glass, palm trees, a winter garden and even that rarity in Paris, a real garden, where lunch is served when the climate allows – used to be the canteen for La Maison des Dames des Postes, Télégraphes et Téléphones, built in 1905, where over a hundred single ladies who worked for the PTT were housed in – a luxury! – heated rooms. It’s impossible to imagine such deluxe accommodations being built for government employees anywhere today, so let’s be thankful that this one was preserved.

The amuse-bouches.
The amuse-bouches.

We were seated in the winter garden and given extra-special attention by the sommelière and the various waiters and busboys. They started us off with two amuse-bouches: crispy tubes filled with Comté-flavored cheese and cauliflower-cream dumplings topped with salmon roe, accompanied by light and fluffy little focaccias with an olive-oil-soaked basil leaf on top.

My lunch companion and I had come to try out the restaurant’s new chef: Emmanuel Kouri, who has worked with some of France’s leading chefs. We both know what we like, and we ordered the same thing from the two choices on the lunch menu (€45), passing over the first course of scallops with blonde lentils and the main of cod with smashed potatoes.

Cep-infused bouillon.
Cep-infused bouillon.

So, the first course for both of us was a free-range egg in a delicate cep-infused bouillon enriched with lardo di colonnata, with tiny mushroom sticks floating in it. Lovely.

Venison with Grand Veneur sauce and parsnips.
Venison with Grand Veneur sauce and parsnips.

The next course was as hearty and generous as the first one was subtle and minimalist: venison in Grand Veneur sauce. The meat was delicious but not as gamy as I would have liked, the sauce luscious. It was served with the most wonderful parsnips two ways: roasted crispy/tender and puréed.

The cheese course.
The cheese course with quince paste.
Mandarin-orange and squash dessert.
Mandarin-orange and squash dessert.

We shared the fine cheese plate with quince paste and the dessert of the day: roasted winter squash paired with fresh mandarin oranges on a cake-like base with caramelized hazelnuts. The weird-ingredients-in-dessert trend, which I had thought was over, is still with us but seems to be handled better now (several years ago, I was actually served a chocolate dessert with anchovies in it). The squash was sweet enough to blend in well, but I’m still not in favor of the practice.

Citrus marshmallows and puff pastry with tonka-bean filling.
Citrus marshmallows and puff pastry with tonka-bean filling.

We got all the sweetness we wanted from the post-dessert desserts: a citrus-flavored marshmallow and a little puff pastry with tonka-bean-flavored filling.

Les Climats no longer has any connection with the French postal service, but it still has a picture-postcard interior and food worth writing home about. And wouldn’t it be interesting to know what those postal ladies were served for dinner in 1905?

 

What's Happening in Paris This Week

For full details about an event, click on the title to visit the official Web site (in English when available).

Richard (Vincent Lacoste) and Maria (Chiara Mastroianni), surrounded by her past lovers.
Richard (Vincent Lacoste) and Maria (Chiara Mastroianni), surrounded by her past lovers.

Although not born in the city, Christophe Honoré has become the quintessential Parisian film director. Many of his movies (such as Dans Paris and my particular favorite, Les Chansons d’Amour) are set in very recognizable locations around the city. His new offering, Chambre 212 (Room 212), follows this trend in that it is situated in the Montparnasse district, with all the action taking place in an apartment opposite and a hotel room above the iconic cinema Les 7 Parnassiens.

This choice of location is surely no coincidence because the film contains several knowing nods to the work of other directors, such as François Truffaut, Bertrand Blier, Alain Resnais and Alfred Hitchcock. It is probably for this reason that Chambre 212 has received largely laudatory reviews from the French critics: nothing appeals more to the movie nerd than self-regarding cinematic references. And yet, oddly, what struck me most about this film was how static and uncinematic it felt.

The plot revolves around Maria (played by Chiara Mastroianni), a law professor married for 20 years to Richard (Benjamin Biolay). When Richard discovers a text message on his wife’s phone that leaves no doubt that she had been having sex that afternoon with a much younger lover, Maria admits, without apology, that she has had a string of lovers during their marriage. She then leaves their apartment to spend the night in a hotel room directly opposite so that she can reassess her life and marriage as she watches her husband wander around their apartment looking depressed – whatever acting talents Biolay may possess are hardly stretched in this one-toned role.

One of the potentially striking touches that Honoré adds to the mix is that Maria is visited in the hotel by various apparitions of her and Richard’s pasts, including a younger version of Richard (played by a current Honoré favorite, the pert-buttocked but irritatingly mumbling Vincent Lacoste), and Richard’s first love, his music teacher Irène (Camille Cottin). Added to the mix is a Charles Aznavour lookalike (played by Stéphane Roger) who represents Maria’s will.

At another point the room is filled with all her pretty-boy younger former lovers (seemingly all her students): one wonders in this #MeToo world what the critical reaction would be if Maria had been a male law professor surrounded by his much younger female conquests. There is even time for Irène to visit her future self (played by the wonderful velvet-toned Carole Bouquet).

If all these elements might sound whimsical and charming, to my mind they simply cluttered up both the room and the film, removing any sense of emotional truth. Mastroianni is always eminently watchable, but it is surprising that she won the best actress award in the “Un Certain Regard” section of this year’s Cannes Film Festival for the role, as the messiness of the film does not really allow her to give a truly nuanced performance.

At times, it felt that Honoré and his actors were simply making things up as they went along. By the time the closing minutes of the movie turned to various renditions of the Barry Manilow classic “Could it be Magic?”, my answer to the crooner was a resounding “No it could not!”