It would be easy to dismiss Paris Qui Dort as yet another trick film in the vein of Georges Méliès, albeit one that came almost a decade later.
But this well-made short SF film is the work of one of the most interesting French directors of the silent era, Rene Clair. Clair directed a number of somewhat dark but quite funny musicals (with À nous la liberté perhaps the best known) before moving to Hollywood where he made such films as I Married a Witch and a very funny version of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None.
His debut film proves to be just as funny and assured as his later films – and, as in his best films, he manages to deal with larger themes in a comic framework.
A small group of Parisians find themselves the only people awake in a Paris somehow frozen in time. We follow them as they romp through the city, taking whatever they want from the helpless denizens, until they finally decide to seek out whatever has caused the strange phenomenon.
Originally, the film ran about 56 minutes, but he later trimmed it down to 35, apparently removing a sequence near the end showing what happens when time finally restarts and his heroes still have all their stolen goodies. Either way, it’s an enjoyable minor effort, particularly if you have a soft spot for silent film.
What is remarkable here is how he uses a handful of classic Méliès-style film tricks – such as the freeze frames of Paris, or the later sequences that run time backwards and forwards. He mixes these simple tricks with other, carefully staged scenes, building up an impressive and convincing vision of this improbable situation. It isn’t a great classic of SF cinema, but Clair clearly hit the ground running. It’s easy to see why so many of his films are still fondly remembered.
(Longer version of the film available here.)