Forget everything you've seen on Emily in Paris. If you want to see the real Paris, watch documentaries by Alice Diop. The French filmmaker is best known for her portraits of French society, including Nous (We), a film that follows immigrants, and mainly Black immigrants, living in the suburbs of Paris.
"One of the reasons I made the film was to oppose the dominant image of France that denies a part of the population," Diop explains. "My way of being French is not being recognized in the dominant discourse. This is a film that is actively in resistance, which is political, but it's also a film that opposes the cliches that French people themselves have about the bonheur."
Born in France to Senegalese immigrant parents, Diop shows the truth: Struggles with racism in Paris, bureaucratic hurdles, employment issues and more, as her subjects share intimate details of their lives in her films. She has directed seven documentaries in total. Nous (We) won the Documentary Award and Best Film in the Encounters section of the Berlinale International Film Festival in 2021.
When it comes to Diop's taste in movies, the more poetic — yet gritty — the better. The French director's favorite films include Claire Denis' 35 Shots of Rum and L'amour existe by Maurice Pialat. For Diop, cinema is all about capturing authentic moments, one frame at a time.
"What made shooting Nous so fun to make [was] that it carries a variety of documentary styles," Diop says. "I was influenced by the shooting of Frederick Wiseman, the distortion of sound and image in Marguerite Duras' films, the sensuality that Claire Denis uses and the rigorous framing from Maurice Pialat. All are present in Nous."
Below, she breaks down five of the films she has enjoyed the most as a viewer, for A.frame. "These are the five films I always come back to the most," she says.
Directed by: Claire Denis
One film that I always come back to, and often talk about in press interviews, is a film by Claire Denis, who I love on a personal level and artistic level. That film is 35 Shots of Rum. It's the film that marked me the most deeply in my life, as a filmmaker. It's the film that really made me trust mise-en-scène, direction, as something that allows you to say political things as a filmmaker. Sensuality in Claire Denis' films is so important. She does things that allow you to be sensually political and politically sensual.
Directed by: Chantal Akerman
Chantal Akerman's films have been integral to building me as a filmmaker because she is someone who has navigated with such fluidity and a strong sense between mise-en-scène and fiction. Jeanne Dielman is a film I discovered 10 years ago. It has been very important to me; it was a shock to discover that film.
Directed by: Marguerite Duras
The films and the filmmakers that have marked me so profoundly are all ones that are searching, looking for something. They're not working in normative forms, they're embarking in searching for something, renewing forms through what they do. One filmmaker who does this is a filmmaker I actually discovered quite late: Marguerite Duras. Specifically, her film Les Mains négatives. That was a big influence on Nous.
It's maybe not something that's obvious when you see the film, but her way of recording traces of people you don't necessarily see, of fireflies, of trying to show people who have been silenced, that really inspired me for the character of Ismael Soumaïla Sissoko in Nous. It's not something I can explain in five minutes, but it's something about that film that helped me understand the character of Ismael, not only from a filmmaker's perspective but a philosophical and political perspective.
Directed by: Frederick Wiseman
How can I not mention Frederick Wiseman? A large part of why I became a documentary filmmaker is because of Wiseman. Especially one film, even though I wouldn't cite it as my favorite one now, is Public Housing. If I had to choose one Wiseman film, I would choose this one because I come from a background in doing history and anthropology at university. This is the film that made me understand cinema's power to carry a sociological and anthropological discourse to take questions that were stuck in the limited framework of the university and take these questions further. Public Housing made me want to start making documentaries. It showed me the complex power that cinema has to address sociological and anthropological questions.
Directed by: Maurice Pialat
This short film was the very first time I saw the suburbs of Paris filmed with such grace, poetry, political power and rage, and such an intimate, personal discourse. The voiceover is extraordinary and some of the shots really have the beauty and power of a photograph. It really inspired me to make Nous, because it's a film where the framing allows you to see how remarkable it is to see something in such a graceful manner.
By Nadja Sayej