PARIS RING serves as a study of the far-reaching effects of a major, urban project. The Périphérique - the ring road that surrounds the city - offers a stark demarcation between urban environments. On one side lies the elegant city of Paris. On the other is the endless sprawl of contemporary suburbs.
Design work on the road began in 1954, and it opened to traffic 19 years later. Its route mirrors the walls that once ringed Paris, and that were torn down after the First World War made it clear they were no longer effective. A no-man's land sprung up near the walls - home to a working-class and transient population that offended the aesthetic sensibilities of the bourgeoisie, and that was eventually displaced by the road.
The construction of the Périphérique - 35 kilometres long, with up to eight lanes of traffic and carrying more than a million cars a day - is arguably the most significant project carried out in Paris since Baron Haussmann transformed the city into a modern metropolis in the 1860s.
But where Haussmann's Paris balanced utility with aesthetics, the Périphérique is purely an engineering triumph.
For some, the Périphérique is a blight, a stark separation between city and suburb. For others it represents an economic lifeline without which the city could not survive.
With an unusual combination of spoken and sung commentary, this documentary travels the Périphérique, offering a series of brief cases studies on the changes it has brought to the neighborhoods it borders. A funeral home is separated from the cemetery that once lay just across the road, but now can only be accessed by a circuitous route. A park appears bucolic, until we change point-of-view and see it squeezed between two looming ramps. Quiet streets are assailed by a constant stream of traffic noise.
The film pays particular attention to the transitional spaces between ring road and surrounding areas, and to those who inhabit them: a photographer fascinated by the aesthetics of an exit ramp; a man who "lives like a king" in a trailer below an elevated portion of the road; a developer building a hotel located between the Périphérique, a highway and a railway track; and the construction workers, maintenance staff, homeless people and graffiti artists whose lives are marked by interactions with the ring road.
Their stories are a reminder that even the most utilitarian urban spaces develop their own particular ecology.
The documentary also serves as a valuable companion piece to Paris 19th Century, The Invention of a Modern City, which offers an architectural examination of the legacy of Haussmann's re-development of the city.
"...provides a powerful and holistic image of the Boulevard Périphérique and of those who live, work, and rest eternally in its presence." —W. Brian Newsome, Elizabeth College, H-France Review