Alain Bonnard, the owner of a small art cinema in Paris, is a dyed-in-the-wool nostalgic. In his Cinéma Paradis there are no buckets of popcorn, no XXL coca-colas, no Hollywood blockbusters. Not a good business plan if you want to survive, but Alain holds firm to his principles of quality. He wants to show films that create dreams, and he likes most of the people that come to his cinema. Particularly the enchanting, shy woman in the red coat who turns up every Wednesday in row 17. What could her story be? One evening, Alain plucks up courage and invites the unknown beauty to dinner. The most tender of love stories is just getting under way when something incredible happens: The Cinéma Paradis is going to be the location of Allan Woods' new film Tender Memories of Paris. Solène Avril, the famous American director's favourite actress, has known the cinema since childhood and has got it into her head that she wants the film to be shot there. Alain is totally overwhelmed when he meets her in person. Suddenly, the little cinema and its owner are the focus of public attention, and the red-plush seats are sold out every evening.
But the mystery woman Alain has just fallen in love with seems suddenly to have vanished. Is this just coincidence? In One Evening in Paris by Nicolas Barreau, Alain sets off in search of her and becomes part of a story more delightful than anything the cinema has to offer.
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Press|
|Edition description:||First Edition|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.65(d)|
About the Author
NICOLAS BARREAU was born in Paris, the son of a French father and a German mother. He studied romance languages and literature at the Sorbonne and worked in a bookshop on the Rive Gauche in Paris but is far from an inexperienced bookworm. With his other successful novels, The Ingredients of Love, The Woman of My Life and You'll Find Me at the End of the World, he has gained an enthusiastic audience. One Evening in Paris is his second novel.
Read an Excerpt
One Evening in Paris
By Nicolas Barreau, Bill McCann
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2012 Nicolas Barreau
All rights reserved.
One evening in Paris — it was about a year after the Cinéma Paradis had reopened and exactly two days after I had kissed the girl in the red coat for the first time and was on tenterhooks in expectation of our next meeting — something incredible happened. Something that was to turn my whole life upside down and turn my little cinema into a magic place — a place where yearnings and memories came together, where dreams could suddenly come true.
From one moment to the next, I became part of a story more beautiful than any film could invent. I, Alain Bonnard, was dragged out of my workaday rut and catapulted into the greatest adventure of my life.
"You're periphery, man, an observer who prefers to stand on the sidelines watching what's going on," Robert said to me once. "But don't worry about it."
Robert is, first, my friend. And second, he's an astrophysicist and gets on everyone's nerves by applying the laws of astrophysics to everyday life.
But all at once I was no longer an observer; I was caught up in the middle of this turbulent, unexpected, confusing series of events that took my breath — and occasionally my senses — away. Fate had offered me a gift; overwhelmed, I had accepted it, and in so doing almost lost the woman I loved.
That evening, however, when I stepped out after the last showing into the dim reflected light of a lantern on the rain-drenched street, I had no inkling of all that was to happen. And I was also unaware that the Cinéma Paradis held the key to a mystery on which my whole happiness depended.
I lowered the shutters to lock up, stretched, and breathed in deeply. The rain had stopped — just a brief shower. The air was soft and springlike. I turned up the collar of my jacket and turned to leave. It was only then that I noticed the weedy little man in the trench coat standing there in the semidarkness with his blond companion, inspecting the cinema with interest.
"Hi," he said in an unmistakably American accent. "Are you the owner of this cinema? Great film, by the way." He pointed to the showcase, his gaze lingering on the black-and-white poster for The Artist, whose old-fashioned lack of sound had been completely mind-blowing, especially for the inhabitants of the modern world.
I gave a curt nod and was convinced that he was going to thrust a camera into my hand and ask me to take a picture of him and his wife in front of my cinema, which, though admittedly not the oldest in Paris, is nevertheless one of those little old plush-seated cinemas that are today threatened with extinction. Then the little man took a step closer and gave me a friendly look through his horn-rimmed glasses. Right away, I got the feeling that I knew him, but I could not have said where from.
"We'd like to have a chat with you, Monsieur ..."
"Bonnard," I said. "Alain Bonnard."
He reached out his hand to me, and I shook it in a state of some confusion.
"Have we met?"
"No, no, I don't think so."
"Anyway ... nice to meet you, Monsieur Bonnard. I'm —"
"You're not related to the Bonnard are you? The painter?" The blonde had come forward out of the shadow and was looking at me with amusement in her blue eyes. I had definitely seen that face before. Many, many times. It took a couple of seconds until I caught on. And even before the American in the beige trench coat had finished his sentence, I knew who was standing before me.
No one could hold it against me for opening my eyes wide and letting the bunch of keys fall from my hand. The whole scene was — in the words of the shy bookseller from Notting Hill — "surreal but nice." Only the sound of the keys rattling as they hit the sidewalk convinced me that all this was really happening. No matter how unlikely it actually was.CHAPTER 2
Even as a child, the nicest afternoons were those I spent with Uncle Bernard. While my schoolmates were arranging soccer games, listening to music, or pulling the braids of pretty little girls, I ran down the rue Bonaparte until I was within sight of the Seine, turned two corners, and saw the little street in front of me where stood the house of my dreams: the Cinéma Paradis.
Uncle Bernard was something like the black sheep of the Bonnard family, as nearly everyone else worked in legal or administrative jobs. He was the proprietor of a cinéma d'art, a little picture house, and did nothing but watch films and show them to the public, even though the family all knew films were good for nothing but putting silly ideas into people's heads.
No, that was hardly respectable! My parents found my friendship with my unconventional uncle — who was not married and had taken part together with rioting students and famous filmmakers like François Truffaut in the demonstrations during the Paris spring of 1968 against the closure of the Cinématèque française by the minister of culture and sometimes even spent the night on the battered old sofa in the projection room — somewhat disconcerting. But since I was good at school and caused no problems in any other way, they let me go my own way. They were probably hoping that my "cinematic craze" would come to an end of its own accord.
I had no such hopes. Just above the Paradis's old-fashioned ticket booth hung a poster with the heads of all the great directors, and underneath it was the slogan Le rêve est réalité, "The dream is reality." I really liked that. And the fact that the inventor of film was a Frenchman named Louis Lumière delighted me.
"Gosh, Uncle Bernard!" I shouted, clapping my hands in childish enthusiasm, "The man brought the light to the screen and that's his name — Lumière — that's just great!"
Uncle Bernard laughed and carefully loaded one of the big reels of film that they still used in every cinema at that time, and which linked thousands of individual moments into a great big wonderful whole as they ran through the projector. In my eyes, that was pure magic.
I was really deeply grateful to Monsieur Lumière for the invention of cinematography, and I believe I was the only one in my class who knew that the very first film — only a few seconds long — shows a train arriving in the station at La Ciotat, and that French cinema was in the depths of its soul a truly impressionist cinema, as Uncle Bernard assured me. I had no idea what impressionist meant, but I was sure it must be something wonderful.
A little later, when Madame Baland, the art teacher, took our class to the Jeu de Paume, where the Impressionist paintings were still exhibited before they were moved to the old train station at the quai d'Orsay, I found among the delicately dotted, light-flooded landscapes a picture of a black locomotive puffing out white steam as it drew into a station. I looked at that painting for a long time, and believed that I now knew why French cinema was called "impressionist": It had something to do with the arrival of trains.
Uncle Bernard raised his eyebrows in amusement as I explained my theory to him, but he was too good-natured to correct me. Instead, he taught me how to work the film projector, and that you also have to be hellish careful that the celluloid strip doesn't stick over the lamp for too long.
Once, when we watched the movie Cinema Paradiso together, I began to understand why this Italian classic was one of my uncle's favorite films — perhaps he had even named his cinema after it, even though it wasn't a French film with an impressionist soul. "Not bad for an Italian movie, is it? Pas mal, hein?" he growled in his grumpy patriotic manner, even though he could hardly hide the fact that he was moved. "Yes, you have to admit that even the Italians are quite capable."
I nodded, though I was still completely shattered by the tragic fate of the old projectionist who is blinded by a fire in his cinema. Of course, I saw myself in young Toto, even if my mother never hit me because I'd spent my money on going to the movies. And I didn't have to, either, because I was able to watch the greatest films for nothing, even those that were not quite suitable for an eleven-year-old boy.
Uncle Bernard didn't care about age restrictions, as long as it was a "good" film. And a good film was a film that had an idea; a film that moved people; a film that worked with them in the difficult task of "being"; a film that gave them a dream to take with them, a dream they could hold on to in this life, which is not always so easy.
Cocteau, Truffaut, Godard, Sautet, Chabrol, Malle — for me, they were just like the people next door.
I crossed my fingers for the small-time crook in Breathless; like Orphée, I put on fine gloves and parted mirrors so that I could step through them to rescue Euridice from the underworld; I marveled at the unearthly beauty of Belle in Beauty and the Beast as she climbed the stairs with her waist-length blond hair and the flickering five-armed candelabrum, followed by the despondent monster; and I shared the fear of the Jewish theater director Lucas Steiner in The Last Métro as he hid in a cellar beneath his theater, forced to listen to his wife falling in love with a fellow actor on the stage above him. I yelled with the boys in War of the Buttons as they beat one another up. I suffered with the distraught Baptiste in Children of Paradise as he lost his beloved Garance forever in the crowd; was deeply shocked when Fanny Ardant shot first her lover and then herself in the head at the end of The Woman Next Door; found Zazie in Zazie in the Métro rather weird with her big eyes and that wide gap between her front teeth; and laughed at the Marx Brothers in the opera and all the snappy repartee of the quarrelsome couples in comedies by Billy Wilder, Ernst Lubitsch, and Preston Sturgis, whom Uncle Bernard simply called "les Américains." Preston Sturgis, Uncle Bernard once explained to me, had even defined the golden rules of film comedy: A chase is better than a conversation, a bedroom is better than a living room, and an arrival is better than a departure. I still remember those rules of comedy.
Les Américains were not, of course, as impressionistic as "we French," but they were extremely funny and their dialogue was very witty — unlike that in French films, where you often felt like someone eavesdropping on long-winded debates taking place on the street, in a café, at the seaside, or in bed.
You could say that at thirteen I already knew a great deal about life, even if I hadn't had a great deal of personal experience of it. All my friends had already kissed a girl — I dreamed about the lovely Eva Marie Saint, whom I'd just seen in a Hitchcock thriller. Or about the girl from Forbidden Games, with her aura of light as she creates a private world in the midst of the horrors of World War II with her friend Michel and puts up crosses for dead animals in a secret cemetery.
Marie-Claire, a girl from our school, reminded me of the little heroine of Forbidden Games, and one day I invited her to an afternoon performance in my uncle's cinema. I've actually forgotten what was showing that day, but I know that we held sweaty hands throughout the whole film, and I didn't let go even when my nose began to itch intolerably.
As the titles flickered over the screen, she pressed her cherry red lips firmly to mine, and in all our childish innocence we became a couple — until the end of the school year came and she moved with her parents to another town, one which by grown-up standards wasn't far from Paris but, for a boy of my age, seemed like the end of the world, and therefore unreachable. After a few weeks of deepest grief, I decided that I would later honor our tragic history by making a film of it.
Of course, I wanted to become a famous director one day. And, of course, I didn't. I gave in to pressure from my father, studied business, because with that "you can always make something of yourself," and worked for some years in a big firm in Lyon that specialized in exporting luxury bathtubs and expensive bathroom fittings. Although I was young, I earned a lot of money. My parents were proud that their unworldly son had turned out well after all. I bought an old Citroën with an open roof and had real girlfriends. After a while, they all left me, disappointed that I turned out not to be the go-getter they'd obviously thought I was at first.
I wasn't unhappy, and I wasn't happy, but when I got a letter from Uncle Bernard one hot, humid summer afternoon, I knew at once that everything was going to change, and that deep down inside I was still the dreamer who had sat with throbbing heart in the darkness of a small cinema, immersing myself in new worlds.
Something had happened that no one would have thought possible. Uncle Bernard, who was by now seventy-three, had met the woman of his dreams and wanted to go and live with her on the Côte d'Azur, where it is warm all year round and the landscape is soaked in a very special light. I felt a little stab in my heart as I read that he intended to give up the Cinéma Paradis. In his clumsy handwriting, it said:
Since I got to know Claudine, I've had the feeling that a film projector has been standing between me and real life.
So for the years that are left to me I want to play the starring role myself. Still, it does make me unhappy to think that the place where we spent so many wonderful afternoons together will probably be turned into a restaurant or one of those newfangled clubs.
My stomach turned over at the thought that the old cinema might be altered like that. And when, at the end of his letter, Uncle Bernard asked me if I could possibly find it in myself to come back to Paris and take over the Cinéma Paradis, I sighed almost with relief.
Even if you're leading a completely new life now, my boy, you're the only one I could imagine as my successor. Even as a child, you had a mania for the cinema and an excellent nose for a good film.
I had to smile when I thought of Uncle Bernard's emphatic lectures in the old days, and then I scanned the final lines of his letter. Long after I had read them, I stared at the paper, which had begun to tremble in my hands and then seemed to open with a rent like Orphée's mirror.
Do you remember, Alain, asking me why you loved films more than anything? I'll tell you now: The shortest path leads from the eye to the heart. Never forget that, my boy.
Six months later, I was standing on the platform in the Gare de Lyon in Paris, where all the trains to the south depart, waving good-bye to Uncle Bernard as he disappeared in the distance with his sweetheart, a delightful little lady with loads of laughter lines. I waved until I could only just make out his white handkerchief fluttering adventurously in the wind. Then I took a taxi back to the most important place of my childhood, the Cinéma Paradis, which now belonged to me.CHAPTER 3
In times like these, it's not easy to run a small art-house cinema — I mean one that tries to survive on the quality of its films and not from advertising revenue, huge buckets of popcorn, and Coca-Cola. Most people have lost the ability to watch carefully; to just abandon themselves for two hours to the important things of life, be they serious or amusing; to let themselves go without eating, drinking, chewing, and slurping through giant straws.
After my return to Paris, I once went to one of the big multiplex cinemas on the Champs-Elysées. There it became clear to me that my idea of the cinema and the need to show it a certain degree of respect was possibly a bit anachronistic. I remember that although I had only just turned thirty-nine, I felt totally outdated and out of place among all the babble and rustling around me. It's no wonder that films today are getting ever louder and faster: All those big Hollywood blockbusters and action films, which have to attract millions in Europe as well, need to drown out all the noise in that kind of cinema, and counteract the increasing lack of concentration in the audience by continually providing new attractions.
"You don't have popcorn here?" is a question that is repeatedly asked in my cinema. Only last week, a chubby little boy dangled from the hand of his mother, whining because the idea of spending a couple of hours in a seat watching Little Nicky without having anything to stuff in his mouth was obviously totally unheard of. "No popcorn?" he repeated in desperation, twisting his neck in search of the counter where it would be sold.
I shook my head. "No, we only have films here." Even if this answer always gives me a little glow of triumph, I sometimes worry about my cinema's future.
Excerpted from One Evening in Paris by Nicolas Barreau, Bill McCann. Copyright © 2012 Nicolas Barreau. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
First time I saw this on the shelf at the library, it was one of the many suggestions on display. And of course the cover caught my eye, the title and the summary. I mean, that cover is just so simple and yet beautiful to look back, with the colors surrounding the background of Paris, the bridge, the mysterious girl in the red coat, etc. Hadn't heard anything about the book but had gotten one too many books and so didn't get it. Then when I went back to the library I finally got the book and begun to read. This was a roller coaster of emotions and feels going on with the MC. I like that the characters even acknowledged what their feelings on the matter of the MC and his love for the girl in the red coat, name Melanie. Then later on, I was like, wait, wait are you serious? Oh okay then. Again even the characters thought this was a little bit of a coincidence at times and I like that. The writing was really good, poetic at times but I liked it. The descriptions of Paris and such, again, make me want to visit it. Some of the books I been reading, either mentioned or take place in Paris. A cute, somewhat sad romantic read. And having been reading suspense thrillers lately, its nice to read something different in between.
Takes you to the streets of Paris
Not much of a romance. Had to push to even get through the book. Too much of the novel was about the cinema and its history.