Monday, July 1, 2013

Toute la mémoire du monde ...

papier, papier, everywhere
Alain Resnais, dir. 1956
Ou est la bibliotheque? Watching this short documentary made by Alain Resnais in 1956 will have you asking the French 101 question again. 
Because any book-loving Francophile worth his or her salt will want to find the amazing library shown in Resnais' spellbinding documentary.
The iconic French New Wave filmmaker behind masterpieces such as Hiroshima mon amour and Last Year at Marienbad, began his career making short documentaries. The haunting and important 1955 Holocaust film Night and Fog is probably his most famous work. Resnais died in 2014. 
On a much lighter note, this short twenty minute documentary showing the inner workings of the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris was made the following year. Toute la mémoire du monde - 'All the Memory in the World' isn't just about the thousands of books, manuscripts, maps and more housed within its' climate controlled rooms as it reveals man's frantic effort to save each precious page; it captures the tenuousness of our own memories and how we desperately strive to save them as well.

The Reading Room at the Bibliotheque nationale du France, circa 1950's




The short twenty minute film features stunning black and white cinematography by Ghislain Cloquet (Au hasard Balthazar) who relishes in the breadth and scope of the massive bibliotheque. The music by Maurice Jarre (Lawrence of Arabia) is bold and dramatic, in concert with Cloquet's ever moving camera as it glides past rows of decaying pages, piles of books, masses of stairs and hallways and people engaged in the work of gathering, restoring, catalogueing and reading books.
 It's mind-boggling to contemplate the sheer volume of works catalogued and stored; and then to think of the deluge of written words that have come since the fifties?  The 5 million books have grown into 35 million, with more and more coming daily.
My brother is a librarian at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science here in Los Angeles, where the focus is digitizing all the printed material; it's an endless task even though the academy has an extremely narrow focus on the world of film. How unending when the goal is all the knowledge in the world?
The reading room at the Richelieu Library, part of the Bibliotheque Nationale de France
And where is the library documented so lovingly by Resnais? Because wouldn't you love to visit it on your next trip to Paris? As far as I can tell it's the gorgeous Richelieu Library at 5 Rue Vivienne currently under renovation, according to the Bibliotheque Nationale de France website. Anyone who knows whether I'm wrong or right, please let me know.
And what is the bibliotheque up to these days? The library's online video guide to the library's services is a modern day, colorful, short and vibrant look at how the 35 million - and growing - works are housed. Not quite the panache of the great Resnais but a nice bit of industrial filmmaking. Check it out here 


2 comments:

  1. Wow. What a lofty goal. I'm overwhelmed just thinking about it. Thanks for sharing this film, and for playing along. Here’s my Dreaming of France meme

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