Paria opens to a Felliniesque shot of a man suspended between earth and sky: in this case, a vagrant – perhaps under the influence – swinging from pipes along the walls of a subway station tunnel. But rather than a metaphor for the struggle between the body and the soul, the suspended state in Paria is one of social uncertainty – a sense of limbo that is also reflected in the disembodied, back of the head shot of a state worker seemingly floating as he looks out from the windshield of a social services van, cruising the evening streets in search of homeless people to transport to the local shelter. The first installment in what would become Nicolas Klotz and screenwriter Elizabeth Perceval’s provocative and impassioned trilogy of modern times (along with La Blessure and La Question humaine) – named in homage to Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times, a satire on mass production (and by extension, the Industrial Revolution of the late 1800s) – Paria also presents a collective portrait of lives that have been figuratively caught within the cogs of a monolithic, dehumanized system at the turn of the century. One such story is Victor (Cyril Troley), a farmer’s son who moved to Paris in search of better job opportunities, only to end up living at a tenement (and makeshift hair salon) eking out an existence as a video store courier. Already behind on his rent, his circumstances become even more precarious when his motorcycle is stolen during a visit with friends. Another story is cocky, silver-tongued Momo (Gérald Thomassin), a homeless young man who spends his idle hours prowling commuter stations. Presented with an opportunity to earn some money by entering into a paper marriage, he begins to insinuate himself into his prospective bride’s bemused family.
Proceeding in flashback, the interconnected plight of Momo and Victor (who is first seen struggling with him, resisting attempts to be loaded into the van) seems destined – a fatedness that is revealed in an earlier episode in which Momo steals Victor’s shoes after he falls asleep on a train platform, in essence, demonstrating their physical – and socioeconomic – interchangeability. The shot of an African immigrant girl passing Victor in a hallway illustrates another point of intersection among the disenfranchised, alluding to a sense of shared station (note a similar passing encounter in La Question humaine in the interstitial image of immigrants – including Adama Doumbia from La Blessure – being targeted by police for a random identification check). Similarly, Momo and Victor’s encounter with an ailing homeless man, Blaise (Didier Berestetsky) on New Year’s Eve seems fated, bound by the community of resigned marginalization. Within this context, Victor’s search for Annabelle (Morgane Hainaux) in a crowded café and Momo’s celebration of his nuptials also represent a paradoxical juncture, converging towards a fleeting glimpse of respite and normalcy, even as they reinforce their increasing distance from them.
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