Why Watch? Apparently the French National Library in Paris is the coolest place on earth. At least it was in 1956, through the camera of Alain Resnais. Toute la mémoire du monde is as in-depth a tour as is possible in twenty minutes, skimming through room after room of collected periodicals, books and artifacts. Resnais introduces the library as a fortress built to protect the memory of humanity and frames the enormous institution with consummate grandeur.
It’s all set to a thrilling score by Maurice Jarre, conducted by Georges Delerue. This collaboration between two legends of French film music is both sweeping and playful, lending a somewhat whimsical magnificence to Resnais’s tour of this centuries-old storehouse of information. Every single book ever published in France rests here, along with ancient carved stones, medieval manuscripts and countless other priceless pieces of Western civilization. Their hiding places are meticulously kept and expertly documented.
Yet in the end, the most important part is the way these repositories of human intelligence are used. The film ends in the reading room, where each text meets a reader with their own particular purpose. For Resnais this specialized intellectual pursuit is what separates man from beast. The library, by connecting us all, may very well bring about a hitherto secret and universal happiness. It sounds a bit silly, but the sheer scope of the Bibliothèque nationale makes anything seem possible.
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