Paris Je T’Aime (2007)
Starring: Natalie Portman, Juliette Binoche, Steve Buscemi, Gerard Depardieu, Ben Gazzara, Gena Rowlands, Willem Dafoe, Rufus Sewell, Emily Mortimer
Eighteen short films, 5-7 mins long, written and directed by 21 international filmmakers, each set in a different section (or ‘arrondissement’) of Paris. That’s about all the parameters the filmmakers were given yet the film has a remarkably consistent film mood and tone. The result is indeed greater than the sum of its parts and becomes a near perfect love letter to the city of Paris.
“Paris Je T’Aime” works when most other compilation films fail because of the length of its segments. Five minutes seemed about the perfect length of film to establish distinct characters and cleverly twist our expectations. With the exception of Christopher Doyle’s and Tom Tykwer’s shorts, style and showoff-ness is kept to a minimum. With a consistent naturalistic style and a good mix of lightness and seriousness, all films stayed in a short range between comedy – tragedy. There were two films, from directors Christoffer Boe and Raphaël Nadjari, that were shot but not included in the final film which was a courageous decision to keep only the best ones. I suspect these films pushed to the extreme and thus couldn’t connect with the other films.
“Paris Je T’Aime” reminded me of Krzysztof Kieslowski who made his films as thematically connected stories (ie. Dekalog and Red, White, Blue). If Kieslowski were alive today, I’m sure he would have been a part of this compilation. In fact, I’m sure he was an inspirations for the film. Here’s a series of mini-reviews for each segment:
Montmartre - dir. Bruno Podalydès. **
The director himself, Bruno Podalydes, goes in front of the camera playing a snobby French man looking for a parking spot in the touristy Monmartre district. It’s a rather disappointing first entry - surprisingly light on pizzazz, flare, or cleverness – though a sincere courtship that occurs in his car begins the romantism of the film.
Quais de Seine - dir. Gurinder Chadha ***1/2
An obnoxious teenage Parisian who ogles female passersbies develops an unlikely friendship with an enchanting Muslim girl. Chadha explores the multi-cultural side of Paris and offers a surprisingly romantic courtship with only 5 mins of screentime. With only a couple of lines of dialogue and a few glances we instantly see a connection between these two new lovers. One of the better shorts of the film.
Le Marais – dir. Gus Van Sant ***
A young man expresses his love for a co-worker, despite a fundamental miscommunication between the two. A typical Van Sant entry with a wonderful twist at the end. His naturalism with performance is clear, and the ending leaves us hanging for more. Not entirely satisfying but still an intriguing 5mins to spend with Mr. Van Sant.
Tuileries dir. Joel and Ethan Coen ***1/2
Steve Buscemi plays a hapless American tourist whose wandering eyes gets him in trouble with some local Parisians. The Coens have fun with the notion of French snobbiness. It’s the funniest of all the entries, with some doses of the trademark Coen Bros’ style – but not too much to overwhelm the entire film.
Loin du 16e dir. Walter Salles and Daniela Thomas ***1/2
A young Spanish woman is paid to tend the baby of a wealthier woman, but her thoughts are with her own neglected child instead. Salles and Thomas wisely cast the wonderfully sad Catalina Sandino Moreno. It’s a mix of melancholy and irony which works wonderfully with little dialogue. She sings a song twice in the film, and though its sounds the same, the emotions expressed are different.
Porte de Choisy dir. Christopher Doyle *1/2
A lowly salesman cold calls a beauty salon operated by a coterie of bold Chinese hairstylists. Doyle’s film is the most idiosyncratic as well as the most confusing, and under-realized of the bunch. It doesn’t make any sense at all.
Bastille dir. Isabel Coixet ****
A man who is about tell his wife he’s leaving her for another woman, changes his mind at the last minute, and in turn changes his future life entirely. A whimsical and poignant tale that manages to define love beyond the physical and superficial. Coixet’s wonderful voiceover evokes the whimsy of “Amelie”.
Place des Victoires dir. Nobuhiro Suwa ***
Juliette Binoche plays a grieving mother who receives solace in the form of an American cowboy from her dreams. A surprise appearance by Willem Dafoe reunites the Binoche/Dafoe “English Patient” pairing. This film is the most sombre of the series, yet Suwa creates a surreal and existential quality from the absurd idea of a cowboy in Paris.
Tour Eiffel dir. Sylvain Chomet ***
A story of the courtship of two mimes around the Eiffel Tower. If you hate mines, you’ll hate this film. But it’s Paris, and so going along with the ride of this segment is fun and sweet.
Parc Monceau dir. Alfonso Cuarón ***1/2
Nick Nolte plays a slimy older man who appears to be having an affair with a young woman, and is threatened by her ill-tempered other lover. Shot entirely with one long take, Cuaron manages to misdirect us with some cleverly written dialogue, smart casting and a humourous twist at the end.
Quartier des Enfants Rouges dir. Olivier Assayas ***1/2
Maggie Gyllenhaal playing an American actor shooting a film on location in Paris develops an attraction to her local hash dealer. Assayas brings together the upper and lower classes with drugs being the common denominator. But in the end Gyllenhaal’s character discovers a feeling in herself that drugs can’t supply.
Place des fêtes dir. Oliver Schmitz ****
An African man asks out an African woman in the most unusual of places and situations. This is my favourite of all the films. Like Cuaron’s film, Schmitz misdirects the audience by showing their dialogue while withholding vital information about their backstory. When he flashes back to see how the man and woman came together he gives to us an intensely emotional revelation.
Pigalle dir. Richard LaGravenese **1/2
Bob Hopkins and Fanny Ardant play a couple who act out a fantasy as a sexual spark for their relationship. Yet they both refuse to move past the baggage in their life together. Like Cuaron and Schmitz’s this short teases us with misinformation but it lacks the focus of those other two to make it stand out.
Quartier de la Madeleine dir. Vincenzo Natali **1/2
An American backpacker (Elijah Wood) encounters a vampire at night, which begins an extraordinary courtship between the two. Natali is the only one who uses genre in his short. Apart from a wonderfully gothic atmosphere, there nothing to reveal to us in this story which we haven’t seen before.
Père-Lachaise dir. Wes Craven ***1/2
At the Père Lachaise Cemetery a British couple (Rufus Sewell and Emily Mortimer) argue and break up while viewing the grave of Oscar Wilde. But the spirit of Wilde, played by Alexander Payne, gives the man a small nudge to rekindle their flame. It’s the most ‘Hollywood’ of the films, but it still retains the romantic and poetic quality of the film as a whole.
Faubourg Saint-Denis dir. Tom Tykwer ****
A young blind man meets, loves and breaks up with a lovely American actress (Natalie Portman). Tykwer stylishly recreates the energy of his “Run Lola Run” by showing a year in the life of this couple in the span of 5mins. Style doesn’t supplant substance though as the film remains romantic and poignant throughout.
Quartier Latin dir. Gérard Depardieu and Frédéric Auburtin **
A couple meet for a drink at a quiet restaurant to finalize their impending divorce. One of the weakest of the bunch, unless you savour the significance of having Ben Gazzara, Gena Rowlands and Gerard Depardieu appear on camera together at once.
14e arrondissement dir. Alexander Payne ****
A middle-aged single American woman with atrocious Americanized French accent visits her beloved Paris for the first time in her life. The perfect ending to the film as Payne uses his trademark introspective style to show the sadness and joy of a lonely woman in the city of love.