Home Video Hovel: Is Paris Burning?, by Rudie Obias
The World War II genre lends itself to sprawling epic movies. From big battle scenes to politics and romance to clear distinctions between good and evil, the genre has something for everyone. The film Is Paris Burning? fits in that tradition, but takes it a bit further in scale with a large French, American, and German cast, gorgeous photography, riveting action, and keen storytelling. The boutique film distribution company Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray release features a 4K restoration of the 1966 film and it’s well worth your attention.
Directed by René Clément (Purple Noon, Forbidden Games) with a screenplay by Gore Vidal (Last of the Mobile Hot Shots, Caligula) and Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather, Apocalypse Now), Is Paris Burning? follows the French Resistance of 1944. Nazi forces have occupied the city of Paris over the last four years, while an underground resistance slowly forms and rises to power. While the French Resistance tries to unite two factions within its ranks, Germany plans to destroy Paris entirely, if the Allied Powers tried to claim it in a “field of ruins” strategy to win the war.
However, while the story seems simple enough, push Germany out of Paris and unite the French Resistance with the Allied, the film is much more than the sum of its parts. Is Paris Burning? is a big film that mixes war and espionage. At 173 minutes — which includes a roadshow overture and intermission — its scope is wide and far-reaching, although it rarely leaves Paris’ city limits.
The movie covers in-fighting with Communists and Anti-Communists in the French Resistance, in-fighting with German soldiers and The SS, a Swedish consul (played by Orson Welles) making sure Germans “play fair,” and America’s reluctance to go to Paris instead of Germany directly. With so many plotlines and characters, it’s almost a marvel that the result is a well-paced and engaging epic that’s surprisingly raw and funny at the same time. It’s a lot and it works!
It’s also filmed in black and white with real World War II footage of the liberation of Paris itself almost seamlessly interwoven throughout its running time. This lends some authenticity to Is Paris Burning?, while it’s expertly edited together with real locations in the French city. It’s sometimes eerie to watch the wartime footage with the actual locations over 20 years after the liberation. But thanks to the restoration effects, in partnership with Paramount Pictures and Coppola’s own American Zoetrope, it looks and feels near-perfect.
The home video release itself, however, is nearly barebones, so the restoration is the main attraction here. It features an audio commentary track with film historians Daniel Kremer and Howard S. Berger, but that’s about it. There are a few trailers, but for other Kino Lorber releases instead of one for Is Paris Burning?.
Overall, Is Paris Burning? is definitely something to catch — if anything for it’s massive all-star cast including Jean-Paul Belmondo, Kirk Douglas, Alain Delon, Orson Welles, Gert Fröbe, George Chakiris, Yves Montand, Anthony Perkins, Jean-Louis Trintignant,, and way more — but the home video release itself is nothing to write home about. While its restoration is impressive and immaculate, the Blu-ray is sparse with extras that movie lovers would’ve enjoyed.