Parisians can be great seducers if they put their mind into it. Being able to gain female admiration, ideally to inspire a passion, has always been considered a real art for the French people. The existence of a long list of works in their literature bears witness: in Alfred de Musset’s playwright “No Trifling with Love”, Perdican’s cruel and narcissistic flirting leads the seduced girl to suicide. In Edmond Rostand’s “Cyrano de Bergerac”, the wit and eloquence of Cyrano ends up winning over the heart of his beloved Roxane, despite his unfortunate lack of good looks.
If these stories are pure fiction, there are, in the French history, real-life love affairs -many of them secret ones ending up in cover-page scandals- concurring with the observation that seduction occupies a place of great importance in the French art de vivre. How else can one explain the decades-long dedication of a French head of state to write love letters to his secret companion every single week? Reading François Mitterrand’s correspondence makes one think that, sometimes, neither power, nor the admiration of an entire nation, not even a considerable number of ephemeral flirts can suffice to satisfy a male ego. Writing those letters with the same ardor towards the same person for over thirty years shows that for some people the art of seduction is not to be consumed within the first months of an acquaintance; for them, the seduction is a lifetime marathon, a renewable source of vitality, a reason that makes life worth living.
Of course, a love affair doesn’t have to last four decades to be noteworthy. When a prodigy jazz player called Miles Davis exchanged glances with an up-and-coming French singer called Juliette Gréco, little was left to chance. It was the late forties and Paris was quickly succumbing to the charm of a foreign sound called jazz, while mumbling the lyrics preached by a new generation of philosophers, called “existentialists”.
Their headquarters, the literary cafés of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, hosted the brief-but-intense love affair between these two talented artists at the beginning of their careers, in an atmosphere soaked in wine and dried with pipe smoke. Davis was charmed by Gréco’s elegance and sophistication; Juliette by Mile’s mystery and suave virtuosity. The historian Graham Robb was inspired by their autobiographies and interviews to write a fictional film script that follows the couple through their Parisian walks: their story starts at the Pleyel concert hall where they set eyes to each other; goes on to the cozy tables of the Café de Flore, in the company of the existentialist gurus Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir; and finally reaches the doorstep of the square’s medieval church -one of the oldest in Paris-, whose bell would strike the end of their fairytale.
Paris is a city made for seduction. And there is not a better place to start than Saint-Germain-des-Prés: This historical area of the left bank vibrates with energy emanating from its nearby universities, elegant cafés, and hidden squares; its bookstores and art galleries are like fire to the imagination of romantic souls; its scenic river banks, the photogenic Pont des Arts, and its underground jazz clubs set an ideal stage for hearts to be conquered.
Scene One - Pleyel Concert Hall
The dilapidated Art Deco facade of Salle Pleyel Music, at first indistinct and echoing, becomes gradually louder […].
The auditorium. On the distant stage: a bass player, a drummer, and the pencil-thin figure of MILES DAVIS (23 years old). He wears a white shirt, black tie, and a shaprly tailored linen suit. His dazzling trumpet catches the light.
Seats in the auditorium and scattered listeners; JULIETTE sitting a few rows from the front, her hands clasped around her left knee, listening intently. She is dressed simply but strikingly in black, with more mascara than before. […] While the music plays: close-up of Juliette staring past the camera. Music stops. […]
DAVIS, to one of the musicians, jerking his head: Hey, who’s that girl over there? The one with the long black hair? […]
MUSICIAN: That one over there? What do you want with her?
DAVIS: What do you mean, what do I want with her? I want to get to know her. […]
MUSICIAN: She’s not for you, man. She came with Boris Vian and that crowd. She’s one of those “existentialists”…
DAVIS: I don’t care about all that shit. She is beautiful. I want to get to know her. (Quietly.) I ain’t never seen a woman look like that before.
Davis beckons to Juliette with his index finger. She walks slowly up to the stage and climbs the steps. They stand looking at each other, smiling warily.
DAVIS: You like the music?
JULIETTE (in French): If I like music? She looks closely at his trumpet, then runs her finger softly along the tubing. (Still in French) As you can see…
DAVIS, readjusting her stance: OK, so you don’t speak English, huh? That’s cool, we’ll improvise!… (Waves the trumpet.) You play? You play an instrument?
JULIETTE purses her lips, mimes playing a trumpet: (in French) Show me…
DAVIS: Here, put your fingers here.
Close-up: Juliette presses the valves as Davis blows the trumpet. Beautiful, brazen sounds come out. Her face lights up; she laughs out loud.
DAVIS, laughing: That’s not bad at all! (To musician, swaggering): Hey, man! I just played a duet with an existentialist! (To Juliette): You wanna go for a coffee? Café?
JULIETTE: Yes, but not here…. (Takes his hand silently and leads him off the stage.) Come…
THE MUSICIAN: Hey, Miles!
DAVIS, turning around: You just keep working on those changes man!
Scene two - On the banks of the Seine
Close up: a pigeon pecking between the cobblestones. The pigeon flies off. […]
Legs and feet of JULIETTE and DAVIS – her sandals, his shiny leather boots walking along the Seine embankment, upstream of the Pont des Arts. Sound of walking feet […] JULIETTE and DAVIS in a tight embrace. […] A coal barge comes into shot. […]
JULIETTE glancing down: I don’t like men…but you… (looking at Miles.) With you, it’s different.
DAVIS: You don’t like men? Is that what you said? Well, I’ll tell you: in America, I ain’t a man (displays his fingers.) I am a nigger. (Juliette strokes his fingers). I am an entertainer (DAVIS flaps his hands, minstrel-style). An Uncle-Tom – you know what I mean? […]
DAVIS, looking almost shy, walkin on: There’s some kind of special smell here I ain’t smelled anywhere else. (Sniffs the air. Juliette looks amused and surprised.) It’s like coffee beans…and coconut and lime and rum all mixed together, and…like eau de cologne…Heh! This must be ‘April in Paris’… (singing) pap, pap, pap, pap, pap…
JULIETTE stops, pulls his arm and points at his face: the trumpet…how do you do it?
DAVIS mimes trumpet playing. JULIETTE stands on tiptoe and kisses him on the lips.
Scene three - Café de Flore
(Narrator): …The quartier of Saint-Germain-des-Prés… […] The Café de Flore is now a temple – a temple whose high priests are called Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. […] And the name of this cult? EXISTENTIALISM! Frantic trumpet and cymbal. […]
SARTRE, BEAUVOIR, DAVIS and JULIETTE. A continual streem of words. The conversation goes on, almost too fast to be followed, above the sound of other customers, the waiters shouting orders, twirling trays, mopeds, car horns, police whistles, etc.
JULIETTE follows the conversation but also looks around at the other tables and the life of the street. […]
SARTRE talks with DAVIS in English. He speaks grammatically but with an atrocious accent. The cigarette is not far from his mouth.
SARTRE …because your music has a political resonance…
DAVIS: I just blow the trumpet, man. I blow the trumpet and the sounds come out and the cats digt it… Or they don’t dig it; it’s all the same to me […] it’s just music, man.
SARTRE: Yes, but it’s jazz music, which is an expression of freedom.
DAVIS leans back, forced smile: That’s a white man’s word -jazz. White men always want to put a label on everything. They’re just tunes, man. […]
The waiter arrives with the next bottle.
SARTRE fills the glasses. To DAVIS suddenly: Why don’t you and Greco get married?
DAVIS looks at Juliette: Responsibility, man… I love her too much to make her unhappy.
BEAUVOIR to Juliette, smiling: (In French) he loves you way too much to make you unhappy.
JULIETTE kisses Davis on the cheek. They look at each other, Close up: both in profile. […]
The waiter comes to clean the table.
BEAUVOIR: Will you have dinner?
DAVIS looking at Juliette: No, we gonna find ourselves a bridge and look at the river, and then maybe we’ll jump in… Shit, I just came here to play music. I wasn’t expecting none of this. […]
Scene four - La Louisiane Hotel
Hotel room. DAVIS in bed. Juliette sitting cross-legged on the bed, looking at him.
DAVIS: She’s called Irene. She’s a good girl. I care for her a lot. But she is… She is not like you. She doesn’t have your independence… She doesn’t have your style… I mean…
JULIETTE looking sad but not distraught; It is unclear how much of Davis’s talk she understands: Are you going to stay here (she points to the ground) in Paris… in France?
DAVIS: I dunno… I could get used to being treated like a human being… He’s right, Jean-Paul. Everybody likes my music, but that ain’t good. Anything I play, the audience cheers. It gets so I’m not even sure it’s me who’s playing… But if I go back to the States, I sure as hell ain’t gonna find another woman like you.
JULIETTE getting back into bed: You’ll come back one day. And you will send me all your records.
Mellow trumpet music. […]
Scene five - Square Saint-Germain-des-Prés
JULIETTE and DAVIS. His arm around her shoulders -his tall body towards the camera, his face in profile, kissing Juliette. Her face, also in profile, her head tilted back, her body arched like a musical instrument (copy a pose from a Robert Doisneau photograph). The spire of the church of Saint-Germain-des-Prés appears in the background. The angle of the shot makes it look as though they stopped to kiss among the traffic while crossing the square.
A car pulls up just behind them. Sound of a door banging.
JULIETTE quietly: Voilà… It’s always easier to leave than to stay.
DAVIS gets in the taxi. He turns round and stares through the rear window at Juliette (at the camera) with the look of a man being taken to jail.
JULIETTE watches the taxi disappear in the traffic towards Rue Bonaparte. She stands still for a long moment, then turns around and looks over at the church spire…
Parisians, An adventure history of Paris, Picador, 2011.
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