Netflix Update No. 72: “588 rue paradis”

September 12, 2012


Henri Verneuil created a moving reflection on family ties and cultural roots in his 1992 film, the partly autobiographical 588 rue paradis. The French-language film, which Verneuil wrote and directed, concerns playwright Pierre Zakar (Richard Berry), who has been influenced by his socially ambitious wife Carole (Diane Bellego) to change his name from the Armenian Azad Zakarian,  distance himself from his working-class background, and keep his  parents at arm’s length. Carole is particularly determined that the couple’s two children not be influenced by their Armenian heritage.

 As the film opens, Pierre is anticipating the Paris opening of one of his plays, and he has invited his father, Hagop (Omar Sharif), to attend. Carole arranges for the elderly man, who for decades has worked along with his wife and other family members as a shirtmaker, to stay in a ridiculously large suite in a sumptuous hotel — and not in his son’s home.


Pierre lets Carole know that he doesn’t approve of this arrangement, but he doesn’t insist on changing it. Instead, he spends as much time with his father as possible, making excuses for Carole, who has deliberately sent the children off on a trip so that they won’t see and be contaminated by their grandfather.

Throughout this period, the inscrutable Pierre entertains memories of his childhood, some more pleasant than others, but especially of his mother, Araxi (Claudia Cardinale), whom he calls “mayrig,” an affectionate Armenian term for mother. He  also meets a young Armenian woman whose humility and earnestness contrast sharply with Carole’s personality.


While Hagop is still in Paris, an unexpected magazine article about the Zakarian family appears, and Carole uses the occasion to goad Pierre into reprimanding his father, something Pierre will forever regret. This incident and its aftermath is the stimulus for a long delayed confrontation between Pierre and Carole and for a decision by Pierre about taking control of his own life.


Even with Omar Sharif and Claudia Cardinale as worthy distractions, Berry is irresistible in this part. His cool exterior in contrast to the turmoil inside him effectively creates the dramatic tension that underlies this domestic story. This is Henri Verneuil’s second film about the Zakarian family; the first, in which Sharif and Cardinale played these same roles, was Mayrig in 1991.


One Response to “Netflix Update No. 72: “588 rue paradis””

  1. shoreacres Says:

    Interesting that the dynamics in this film parallel those in “Last Chance Harvey” – at least to the degree that fathers get shunted off into isolation to minimize embarassment. I enjoyed that film tremendously, and suspect I would enjoy this one, too. I’ll give it a look, and thank heaven again I grew out of being ashamed of my parents early enough to avoid any bitter memories.

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