Session Two: Paris 1900/Nicole Vedrès


A classic example of the historical montage film, Paris 1900 is both a visual chronicle of a great city and a meditative essay about the passing of time.

Thursday 22 March 2018, 20:40 

Ciné Lumière, French Institute, [book here]

Paris 1900, Nicole Vedrès, France, 1948, 35mm/DCP, 79 minutes, French with English subtitles – UK premiere of restored version.

Introduced by film historian Bernard Eisenschitz, and followed by a conversation between Eisenschitz and Michael Witt, University of Roehampton.

In collaboration with the French Institute, London.


A classic example of the historical montage film, Paris 1900 is both a visual chronicle of a great city and a meditative essay about the passing of time.

Drawing on hundreds of hours of archive footage, the writer, filmmaker and broadcaster Nicole Vedrès composed this exquisitely edited reflection on Parisian life, and more generally France, from the turn of the century to the outbreak of World War One, a conflict that was to wreak such havoc on the country and destroy so many lives that in retrospect the French came to see this period as a kind of lost paradise.

The film’s wide-ranging portrait of the French capital shows many different aspects of Paris and paints it in a variety of tones. The still-astonishing achievement of the Eiffel Tower, the imperial self-aggrandisement of the Exposition Universelle, and other symbols of Third Republic prosperity, modernity and progress, are contrasted with scenes of everyday life: the streets, the markets, the anonymous faces in the crowds – so often looking curiously back at the camera! Similarly, the established high arts of painting, theatre, opera and literature are well-represented, but not to the exclusion of popular culture, media celebrity, fashion, sports and, of course, the cinematograph which had not yet become cinema. Nor does Vedrès ever let the hypervisible pageant of public life and state officialdom conceal the underlying poverty and social inequalities of early 20th century France, a tension that her gently ironic commentary explores with a philosophical awareness that all this will pass, that the great and good will mostly fade into obscurity, and that the catastrophes of war will soon blow the Belle Époque apart…

The film’s light touch belies a troubling depth that André Bazin, among others, certainly recognised: ‘Nicole Vedrès and her small team [which included Alain Resnais and Yannick Bellon] have created something of monstrous beauty… because these memories are not our own, they create a paradox of an objective past, a memory outside our own… Paris 1900 marks the birth of a tragedy specific to cinema, the tragedy of time.’