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Mapping Rohmer: Cinematic Cartography in Post-war Paris

Richard Misek
- pp 53-67
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In this article, the authors explore how film-making can take on a mapping function, as well as how maps can act as analogies for films (in other words, how films can sometimes be said to have map-like qualities).
Abstract
How can films map? Is cinematic ‘mapping’ more than a metaphor? Can films be regarded as cartographic documents? This chapter explores mapping as a cinematic process. It explores ways in which film-making can take on a mapping function, as well as ways in which maps can act as analogies for films (in other words, how films can sometimes be said to have map-like qualities). It does so by means of a set of examples: Eric Rohmer’s Paris films. In 13 of the 25 feature films that Rohmer made between the early 1960s and mid-2000s, characters journey through Paris — on foot, by train and occasionally by car.1 Through these characters, I argue, Rohmer enacts what Teresa Castro (2009) refers to as ’cinema’s mapping impulse’. Various basic cartographic processes (for example, drawing lines, connecting points, and reconciling accurate geographic representation with graphic simplification) recur throughout Rohmer’s cinematic representations of the city. As a result, the map of Paris appears as an implied presence in his films, as filmed journeys through city streets and on railway lines.2

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Citation for published version
Misek, Richard (2012) Mapping Rohmer: cinematic cartography in post-war Paris. In: Roberts,
Les, ed. Mapping Cultures: Place, Practice, Performance. Palgrave-Macmillan, pp. 68-84. ISBN
978-0-230-30113-9.
DOI
Link to record in KAR
https://kar.kent.ac.uk/38854/
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Mapping Rohmer: cinematic cartography in post-war Paris
Richard Misek
How can films map? Is cinematic ÔmappingÕ more than a metaphor? Can films be
regarded as cartographic documents? This chapter explores mapping as a cinematic
process. It explores ways in which film-making can take on a mapping function, as well
as ways in which maps can act as analogies for films (in other words, how films can
sometimes be said to have map-like qualities). It does so by means of a set of examples:
Eric RohmerÕs Paris films. In thirteen of the twenty five feature films that Rohmer made
between the early 1960s and mid-2000s, characters journey through Paris Ð on foot, by
train, and occasionally by car.
1
Through these characters, I argue, Rohmer enacts what
Teresa Castro (2009) refers to as ÔcinemaÕs mapping impulseÕ. Various basic cartographic
processes (for example, drawing lines, connecting points, and reconciling accurate
geographic representation with graphic simplification) recur throughout RohmerÕs
cinematic representations of the city. As a result, the map of Paris appears as an implied
presence in his films, as filmed journeys through city streets and on railway lines.
2
This chapter takes the form of a spatial narrative, or ÔtourÕ (De Certeau 1984:
119), through RohmerÕs Paris. It also explores his cinematic mapping process. As a
result, the chapter takes on some cartographic qualities of its own, inasmuch as it maps
various themes and contexts onto Rohmer's delineations of space. The basic unit of
measurement in this map-like analysis of Rohmer's Paris is the individual film. For most
of the chapter, I discuss mapping as something that takes place within films, and

demonstrate how RohmerÕs Paris films can be regarded as cinematic maps. Towards the
end of the chapter, I layer RohmerÕs films onto each other, suggesting some ways in
which they can together be regarded as constituents of a composite map of Paris Ð a map
which Rohmer spent his entire film-making career drafting.
For a conventional map to come into being, a pen must first touch paper. So I
begin with the cinematic equivalent of a point on a map: a single, static shot.
3
Rohmer's
shots are typically filmed in wide or medium-wide angle, on a tripod, centred on actors,
and with minimal camera movement. The actors occupy a point in space, which
corresponds to a point on a city map. Through the actors' bodies, Rohmer's static shots
indirectly mark this cartographic point. Of course, Rohmer's actors do not just stand still.
They also walk. Whenever they do so, which is often, they move in a line between two
points. Rohmer often also filmed these movements using static, wide shots; it is not
spaces that scroll across the frame when actors move, but the actors themselves who
move across the frame. Alternatively, in particular when the camera is situated closer to
moving actors, it discreetly pans to keep them in frame. What the camera generally does
not do, however, is move through space itself. On the infrequent occasions when it does
so (notably when characters are walking and talking, or when they are moving through
crowded spaces, so necessitating handheld camerawork), it moves only to the extent that
the actors move. I have so far found less than a dozen shots in Rohmer's entire oeuvre in
which the camera moves independently of the movements of the figures in front of it. In
other words, in Rohmer's films, the camera does not itself trace lines through the city Ð it
is the actors who do so. Rohmer uses wide shots to introduce us to a location, and to how
his characters inhabit it; he then delineates urban space by means of his actors'

movements through it.
4
Rohmer once observed that in film, Ôyou have to show the relationship between a
man and the space he inhabitsÉÕ (Andrew 1987: 26 [emphasis in original]). Camera,
ÔmanÕ, and space form the basic tools of RohmerÕs cartographic project. So far, so map-
like. But once a film-maker starts to join the dots by editing shots together, cinema
immediately obstructs the mapping impulse. A map represents a spatial totality. A film,
by contrast, fragments space-time into the discrete unit of the shot. When individual shots
are edited together, the result usually involves spatial discontinuity, temporal
discontinuity, or both. In commercial cinema, shots tend to be edited together in such a
way as to conceal this discontinuity. A film-maker may, for example, use a shot of two
actors walking along a street, then Ð as they turn a corner Ð cut to a shot of the actors
continuing their walk in a location shot several miles away. By doing so, the film-maker
re-orientates urban space to fit the film, surreptitiously demolishing and rebuilding the
city on screen. Rohmer never did this. For example, in a detailed analysis of how Rohmer
represents urban space in his 1981 film The AviatorÕs Wife, architect Fran•ois Penz
(2008) traces the movements through Paris of the film's main character (also called
Fran•ois). Over the course of the film, the paths that Fran•ois takes through Paris are so
closely related to the cityÕs actual geography that they can be transformed through geo-
referencing into lines on a map. In fact, Penz does this; he transcribes the route followed
by Fran•ois onto a map of Paris, concluding that ÔRohmer is always topographically
correct and there are never any unexplained jumps across the cityÕ (Penz 2008: 129).
I question the term Ôtopographically correctÕ, which implies there is only one
ÔcorrectÕ way to represent urban space. Nonetheless, despite the hint of determinism in

PenzÕs choice of words, his observation is startling. A particularly startling example of
what might alternatively be called Ôtopographic continuityÕ occurs during an extended
sequence in the middle of The AviatorÕs Wife. The film begins with Fran•ois visiting his
girlfriend Anna early one morning, after his night shift as a postal worker. As he turns
into her road, he sees her leaving her apartment block with an ex-boyfriend. By chance,
he later crosses paths with the ex-boyfriend at the Gare de Est. At a cafŽ on the station
concourse, the ex-boyfriend meets another woman. Over the course of the subsequent
sequence, played out almost in real-time, Fran•ois follows them across Paris: first onto a
bus, then on foot through Buttes-Chaumont, a park in the inner north-western suburbs,
and finally down a street into an anonymous building. Rohmer recounted in an interview
following the release of the film that he shot Fran•oisÕ pursuit ad hoc in the park and on
the streets; when it started raining towards the end of the sequences in Buttes-Chaumont,
Rohmer looked for a nearby cafŽ in which to shoot the next sequence. He found one, got
permission to film in it, and started filming there and then. So, as Rohmer recounts, Ôthe
film was shot at the same time as it was being played.Õ
5
Shot by shot, his actors and
camera crew moved in an unbroken line through the city. Shot by shot, this production
continuity survives into the sequence. Over the course of forty minutes, The AviatorÕs
Wife traces an almost continuous journey from the Gare de lÕEst to Buttes Chaumont.
Penz is able to transcribe Fran•oisÕ movements into lines on a map because those lines
are already inherent in RohmerÕs films.
The ad hoc production method used in The AviatorÕs Wife was atypical for
Rohmer, but the filmÕs topographic continuity was not.
6
All of Rohmer's Paris films, to a
greater or lesser extent, feature topographical continuity. In each film, each stage of his

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References
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Journal ArticleDOI

Cinema's Mapping Impulse: Questioning Visual Culture

Teresa Castro
- 01 Feb 2009 - 
TL;DR: This paper explored the links between cinema and cartography, focusing on the notion of a "mapping impulse" which is less about the presence of maps in a certain visual landscape and more about the processes that underlie the understanding of space.
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As a result, the map of Paris appears as an implied presence in his films, as filmed journeys through city streets and on railway lines.2