An idea for a film on the Reserve

Of all the public libraries in Paris, Europe is without a doubt one of the least known and most infrequently visited. It is also one of the few to have not yet been renamed after a man or woman of letters. Its name makes no particular reference to the continent, the Union, or the goddess, but to its neighbouring métro station: it could have been called Miromesnil, Villiers or Saint-Augustin if it were located slightly more to the west, the north or the south respectively. But it is where it is – Europe is its nearest station. It is situated on the ground floor of the town hall of the 8th arrondissement, and it consists of a spacious, high-ceilinged room, not so well-lit, but agreeable nonetheless. From the street one barely sees it, and it is indicated by nothing other than one of those brown or blue metal panels addressing passers-by, who do so without noticing it. In Europe, the documents are not protected by a security chip, and not even the slightest queue ever forms in front of the issuing desk. Its visitors, generally speaking, are pensioners from the local area who come to read the Figaro or L'Express, or who avail themselves of books in large print. For my part, I pay little attention to the collection of this branch: I visit solely to borrow books from the Réserve centrale that I order in advance online. 

Despite the fact that I've worked in a library myself for several years, I haven't the slightest feeling of collective professional spirit and I almost always endeavour to limit my interactions with the staff to a strict minimum. The one I've the most contact with, in Europe, isn't the sort to engage in any conversation at all. A tall, thin man, who must be about forty-five, and who radiates a certain sadness – at least if I'm not confusing sadness with absence, or confusing sadness with concentration. Unlike some of his colleagues he doesn't react when he sees on my account that like him I have the status ABIB (the contraction of agents and bibliothèques). In fact, he probably looks at nothing on the screen other than the return date of my books, which he tells me in a clear and neutral manner: he has no interest in the books I'm borrowing, or in me, a disinterest for which I'm grateful. Once my books have been issued I roam the corridors of the town hall until I find the coffee machine accessible to the public. Old door handles, wooden windows, velvet upholstered benches, varnished floors that emanate care and cleanliness... In winter it is wonderfully warm. The corridors are almost always empty, and I hear nothing but the scraping of doors as I open them and the creaking of the parquet beneath my feet. I sit on a bench and drink the coffee whilst examining my books. Almost all the holdings of the central Réserve are older editions that the lending libraries have ridden themselves of, either to make space on their shelves or because they've been replaced with less damaged and more recent copies. It doesn't concern me that the books are precious or old. However, I like finding signs of their belonging to the Réserve: on the front or back cover, two yellow or fluorescent yellow pastille-shaped stickers, and a red stamp on one of the first pages (not necessarily the title page), usually next to the stamp of the book's original library crossed out in pen or felt-tip. 

The name Réserve centrale pleases me greatly and I hope that no-one, at the town hall or elsewhere, has any intention of replacing it with that of some supposed intellectual. I like its self-referential nature (Europe is a library, but the Réserve centrale is the central reserve), its abstract air and the images it brings to mind; a Paris transformed into a kind of kolkhoze. In terms of the place itself, almost nothing is revealed on the City's website. One finds a minuscule photograph of a row of shelves, and beneath this a few rather off-putting instructions regarding the procedures for reserving a book, followed by a handful of numbers. I've read elsewhere, in an article in the Parisien from the 15th April 2006 (my only other source of information), that the Réserve “covers 1500 square metres”, that it's found on the Rue Saint-Maur and that the basement where the books are kept is “more like a car-park than a library”. In 2006 the staff numbered less than 15, one of whom told the author of the article: “everything can be found in this Ali Baba's cave”.

If I were a film-maker, and much more enterprising than I am, I'd compel myself to secure the funds and obtain the necessary permissions to make a film about the Réserve. It would be in the tradition of Direct Cinema, more specifically the lineage of the Maysles brothers (the branch of Salesman, of Gimme Shelter): without commentary or superfluous images, and in the course of a series of discreetly dissolved shots we would see the staff engaged in their daily tasks: the processing of reservations, their perpetual to-and-fro in the dimly lit corridors, the squeaking of trolleys and service lifts, the almost imperceptible rocking of the shelves, the world reduced to symbols, classification marks, piles of old books... Sometimes, the librarians would pause their work to explain something or another, to recount a slightly obscure anecdote, to tell a joke, and sometimes not: we would see them simply absorbed, silent, or perplexed and murmuring something to themselves. And the film would register any sign of tension, boredom or pleasure, or more delicate and drifting emotions, much better captured by images than by words. It would show the almost choreographed gestures of the staff, listen to the language particular to each of them. And again, the books; their distribution and then reabsorption to and from every corner of Paris, the dust, the crackling neon lights, the shelving, the équipement (the massive rolls of pastilles, the stamps, the cartridges of red ink), the lunch at a municipal canteen, the meetings, the breaks, the leaving parties, the postcards from colleagues on holiday attached to a cork-board... At the end of the film there would be a fixed shot, very long, like in the films of Chantal Akerman, the image alive and luminous but resting on a deserted desk, with nothing but the sound of the newsreaders of France Info or the movements of a symphony broadcast on Radio Classique, the sounds of the rue Saint-Maur and, coming from another office, a conversation too muffled to be understood: an empty room, full of the real and imprinted with signs of life, marks which the microphone and the lens pursue like magnets or black holes.

Translation by David Price