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Vol. 8, No. 1, 2009
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Robert J. Lewis
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Sylvain Richard
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Shake Hands with the Devil
Born into Brothels
The Edukators
Big Sugar
A Long Walk
An Inconvenient Truth
Sisters In Law
Send a Bullet
Banking on Heaven
Chinese Botanist's Daugher
Ben X
La Zona
The Legacy
Irina Palm
4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days
Poor Boys Game
Finn's Girl
Leaving the Fold
The Mourning Forest

hiner saleem's

Hiner Saleem


reviewed by



Sylvain RichardSylvain Richard is a film critic at Arts & Opinion. He gave Beneath the Rooftops of Paris (Sous les toits de Paris), which played at the 2008 Cinemania Film Festival, 3.1 out of 4 stars. For the rest of his ratings, click HERE.

It's a lesser known but poignant early work from the sculptor-architect, Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680), to whom the great city of Rome is indebted for much of its historic content and character. The marble statue is entitled Aeneas Carrying Anchise.

The face of the helpless Anchise, who is being shouldered to safety by Aeneas, so concentrates the fears and frailties of old age, it’s tempting to conclude that Hiner Saleem’s latest film, Beneath the Rooftops of Paris (Sous les toits de Paris), was directly inspired by the Bernini work. But whatever the sources of Saleem’s inspired script and direction, they leave no doubt that he has meaningfully confronted the existential question of aging and mortality, and leaves the viewer with helpful road map of the pitfalls and uncertainties the journey entails. As such, Rooftops is an unapologetically melancholic film infused with grace and grandeur, whose small sets and deliciously parsimonious dialogue allow precious glimpses of how aging is likely to affect, and how one might better serve others already on that much traveled and worn road.

The quietly told story of Rooftops revolves around Marcel, played by owl-wise Michel Piccoli, now in his 80s, who is living in a tiny working class flat in Paris. Marcel’s two pleasures in life are cooling off in a nearby pool with a friend, Amar, and his encounters with the waitress, Therese, with whom whatever small affections in life are available, they share together in fleeting moments under the constant menace of solitude and unease, as the old one takes stock of his decline. Observing the ailing Marcel surrender to Therese’s smallest caress, we are introduced to a body that has been coaxed to make peace with its infirmities and slow response in order to assure its basic needs. To that end, master thespian Michel Piccoli’s furrowed face is like an illuminated manuscript that teaches us how to face our fears and seize the moment in all its diminished plenitude.

The four seasons provide the film with both its architecture and symbolism; they are understated presences that prefigure Marcel’s gradual decline, his initial refusal of age and its portent symptoms, and his desire to escape into whatever pleasures can be had, which includes the company of a young homeless woman who enters and then leaves his life like a short season come and gone, but who is a more meaningful presence than his absentee son, emblematic of the me-generation and its fatuous self-absorption.

The film owes its moods to its meticulously drawn small sets – mainly Marcel’s rooms -- that seem to fold in upon themselves in contrast to the larger outside world that is growing more and more inaccessible; what is beyond the reach of the body is left to the devices of memory and nostalgia.

If great directing is invisible, like a great writer is hardly more than a ghostly presence in his work, Sameer, whose early films were Dol and Kilometre Zero, reveals consummate skills in involving us in Marcel’s pains and small pleasures that take up disproportionate space and importance, the last resort of old men who refuse to be stilled in their reach for connection, who are still engaged against the dying of the light.

Beneath the Rooftops of Paris cannot be accused of being a feel good film, but it sharpens, like a knife on a stone, our appreciation for, quoting Marcel Proust, “the places that we have known belong now only to the little world of space on which we map them for our own convenience. None of them was ever more than a thin slice, held between the contiguous impressions that composed our life at that time; remembrance of a particular form is but regret for a particular moment; and houses, roads, avenues are as fugitive, alas, as the years.”
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