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Paris Calligrammes

Venue: Birkbeck 43 Gordon Square

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Ulrike Ottinger’s documentaries are less known than her extravagant features, but they combine the fascination of archive footage with her unique point of view. Paris Calligrammes, a memoir of Ottinger’s youth in the city, opens with her setting off for France in her Isetta bubble car. What ensues is a story of living, learning and making art as a young woman in the tumultuous Paris of 1962 to 69. The German émigré Fritz Picard furnished the shop he named Calligrammes with books by authors banned by the Nazis. Its habitués included many actual refugees, as well as the regime’s artistic opponents. Young Ulrike, who begins as a fine artist, enrols in the workshop of the era’s leading printmaker, Johnny Friedlaender. She encounters the Pop Art which would so influence her filmmaking, as well as Goya’s engravings at the Bibliothèque Nationale. The latter signal a much more sombre tone than standard cinematic celebrations of ‘60s Paris. Ottinger notices the poor gleaning the garbage of the boulevard cafes for something to eat. She also experiences the aftermath of the Algerian War. The street battles of May 68 take place beneath her attic window, while her compatriot, the student leader Danny Cohn-Bendit, is derided by the Right as a German Jew. The invitation to identification for this film’s maker, another German Jew, is very strong. But so is her critical acumen….

Screening introduced by Mandy Merck, Birkbeck Honorary Research Fellow 2023-4

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