Published May 05, 2009For anyone who remembers grade school trips to local museums where the tour inevitably featured a film segment with stodgy, awkward re-enactments and processed, Velveeta-flavoured exposition, Paris 1919 will come with a whimsical air of nostalgia, until they realize there's another hour-and-40 minutes to go.
Historians, on the other hand, will surely revel in the opportunity to pipe up about whatever perceived inaccuracy in the representation of historical figures they might find. Either way, this is the sort of documentary that TVO was made for: well-made, smart and really only interesting to about point-two-percent of the population.
Based loosely on Margaret MacMillan's book Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World, the documentary mixes archival footage, dramatic staging and a veritable bounty of dry voiceover in detailing the talks that took place between world leaders at the Quai d'Orsay following WWI, leading up to the Treaty of Versailles.
U.S. President Woodrow Wilson does his darnedest to make the entire thing run smoothly, idealistically thinking that people will be satisfied with a fair resolution but inevitably various world leaders from France, Italy, Japan and, of course, Germany get all bitchy and passive-aggressive about land, reparations and a bevy of other moronic agendas. The overall gist is that people are far too stupid and naturally selfish to get along and agree on anything.
The entire thing is handled, necessarily, with broad strokes, delivering a sense of unease, discomfort and impending struggle, as the inevitable world-changing resolution comes to be. To Paul Cowan's credit, the doc builds quite a bit of tension leading into its third act, which is quite the accomplishment considering that all the dramatic force stems from editing, pacing and juxtaposition.
As far as historical documentaries about uptight old men sitting in rooms talking about "important decisions" go, Paris 1919 is quite polished and effective. (NFB)