Imitation vs. Homage

By this point, I’ve pontificated enough about my disdain for straightforward revivals.

This theatre-specific problem recently reared its ugly head in a different medium: in the new movie A Paris Education, an empty imitation of the French New Wave, set in the modern day.

“Empty imitation”? Sounds like the aforementioned sort of revivals that simply borrow previous staging techniques of legendary texts, falling back on what once worked instead of inventing what could still work for the particular environment in which it’s being produced. For A Paris Education, that classic text is the style of the French New Wave. Given its limited theatrical release, it’s safe to predict it’ll only be on the radars of hardcore cinephiles who are undoubtedly already aware of this seminal artistic movement. For them, what was once new is now old, losing its luster when it’s simply placed in a different century, lacking the formal experimentation, imagination and invention that redefined cinema in the first place.

There are other, superficial issues as well. The film’s set up as an intercourse of ideas, with a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed film student striving for transcendence in sex and art (he’s played by Andranic Manet, who suffers from a dearth of magnetic charisma that the camera — and our eyes — just can’t get enough of; instead, he’s an unemotive stone) . There’s no sensuality to the aesthetic, reducing what should’ve been passion exchanges into boring slogs. The black-and-white cinematography is an obvious nod to its antecedents, but the powers-that-be here don’t look to have put much thought towards how precise lighting and shadows can fundamentally alter the emotional temperature of a scene.

A Paris Education stands as a testament to the difference between homage and imitation, between reviving and merely recycling. Homage harkens back to previous methods in order to channel them to somehow comment on the artistic matters at hand today, usually in juxtaposition. In doing so, the old is made new. All of your favorite filmmakers have, at some point in their careers, homaged their favorite filmmakers. A Paris Education’s reductive imitation, on the other hand, is an empty rehash, going through the motions without going anywhere in particular. It takes what’s old, and keeps it old.

Like my personally-loathed revivals, doing something known in the way most know it is a great way to mummify art into antique sarcophaguses. Without the spark of life intrinsic to artistic creation, borrowed timeless forms start to feel forever-bound to their bygone time, AKA they’re that dreaded pejorative: dated. That’s what happens when you dig up the past without any meaningful updates for contemporary audiences. And I’m not even referring to young’uns who may not be familiar with the originals; who wants to waste time with inferior versions of what they’ve seen before?

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