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Street Scene

Tribeca Film Festival

Roaring 20's (2021)

Richard Linklater is the first person director Elisabeth Vogler thanks in the credits, and quite right too – “Slacker’s” influence on “Roaring 20’s” is inescapable. In a single, unbroken shot which Ms. Vogler filmed herself, we are given a slice of hipster Parisian life on midsummer’s night 2020. The exact evening matters because traditionally the city celebrates the longest day of the year with street music on every corner; and the lively street life the actors must navigate was clearly shot in real time. The action begins outside the Pyramid of the Louvre and ends in Buttes-Charmont, a hillside park on Paris’s western side with spectacular views of the city.

It’s an inescapable fact that the achievement of filming a movie in this fashion, with all the logistical headaches needed to succeed in the face of inconveniently timed garbage trucks, crowded sidewalks and the occasional tuba band, is much more awe-inspiring than the nonexistent plot. But from the opening sequence, where a chatty man has been sent to give a lift to a friend’s deeply anxious sister visiting from out of town, to the final one, of two women on a date discussing the Viceroy of Sardinia’s famous diverting of a plague-infested ship away from his island, one theme emerges – the difficulty of making human connections in these especially difficult pandemic times.

Ms. Vogler’s choice not to credit any of the actors against their parts by name gives the film the anonymity of passersby on whom we are eavesdropping, whether they are two teenagers discussing whether they should continue to shoplift makeup they don’t wear, or a bride telling a baby in a pram outside a shop why she has run away from her own wedding. But some issues are a little more specific to the pandemic, such as the man explaining why, in an attempt to stave off lockdown boredom, he and his girlfriend have begun posting homemade porn online, the disturbed woman on the metro who has drawn a smile onto her mask, or the famous actor who suddenly wishes, over the loud objections of his agent, to pivot away from catchphrase comedy into modern dance. The camera is rarely still, dancing smoothly around the people move around the city – mostly on foot, but also bike, motorbike and on the metro – which gives an unusual sense of Paris as a living, breathing place.

The idea, spoken late in the film, that a century takes 20 years to get started, meaning 2020 is the first real year of the new century, was undoubtedly the impetus for painting this portrait of this place and time. Other one-shot movies are about a place, like “Russian Ark” and the Hermitage throughout history, or a time, like “Victoria” and her very bad night in Berlin. “Roaring 20’s” succeeds in being about both. As a document of a city full of people attempting to carry on as normal, which understands our worries and coping mechanisms and the affect they have on our relationships, it will be admired for years to come. This is a movie that can never be replicated; and that authenticity is a very special achievement.


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