Paris, je t'aime (2006; 2007 U.S. release)Rated R for language and brief drug use.
Starring: (see entries below).
LVJeff's Rating: 7/10
Photo ©First Look Pictures. All rights reserved.
Paris through 18 Cameras
You get what you expect from Paris, je t'aime -- it's an anthology movie consisting of 18 shorts about Paris, each one directed by a different director or directing team, so, yes, it does feel uneven. However, it also stands out as a fascinating experiment because of those directors, and the the film moves along quicky with each of the shorts running roughly five minutes. These two factors combine to make the movie a pleasing, breezy viewing.
Granted, the styles are so different that jumping from one to the next can give you whiplash, but in that way it's enjoyable too, especially if you have any interest in seeing so many variations of artistic expressions. The pieces, each set in a different one of Paris's 20 arrondissements (neighborhoods), are tied together only by the theme of love, but its interpretations are extremely loose and varied.
As a singular essay on Paris, the film doesn't quite succeed because the vision behind it isn't unified, nor is it presented with a sense of discipline. Instead, it achieves success sheerly through the talent involved -- the freedom they were given becomes a strength all its own. What you're left with is somewhat disjointed and only as satisfactory as the quality of the shorts that agree with you. It's like having the sampler plate at a restaurant: it never feels quite like a real meal, yet can be delicious just the same.
Here are my brief reactions to each of the shorts:
Montmartre. Written and directed by Bruno Podalydès, this nice little intro piece stars Podalydès and Florence Muller, but in comparison to what's to come, it lacks distinction.
Quais de Seine. This is one of the lighter shorts as well as one of the more literal takes on love in Paris. Written and directed by Gurinder Chadha, it stars Cyril Descours and Leïla Bekhti. It introduces a little cross-culturalism, but otherwise continues the feel of an intro section.
Le Marais. Gus Van Sant is the writer/director of this only gay take in the group. Starring Gaspard Ulliel, Marianne Faithfull, and Elias McConnell, it's the first one with stylistic weight and boasts a dash of ironic humor along with a touch of intensity.
Tuileries. Joel and Ethan Coen serve up a funny bit contrasting Paris's polished image with its under-the-surface roughness, delivered with their typical slickness and smirking cynicism. Steve Buscemi, Julie Bataille, and Axel Kiener star.
Loin du 16ème. Catalina Sandino Mareno appears in writers/directors Walter Salles and Daniela Thomas's lonely look at working class irony. This is a nice little piece that lingers.
Porte de Choisy. Writer/director Christopher Doyle's short stars Barbet Schroeder and Li Xin in a wacky highlight apparently influenced by Wong Kar-Wai, the director Doyle often lenses for. However, instead of pathos, Doyle goes for humor and fantasy here. As expected, his visual compositions are lovely.
Bastille. Written and directed by Isabel Coixet, this short starring Sergio Castellitto, Miranda Richardson, and Leonor Watling is the first one that goes for a sense of profound devastation. Deftly assembled by Coixet, it's an expert little piece that makes the most of its compact running time.
Place des Victoires. This additional short about sadness and loss is written and directed by Nobuhiro Suwa. Visually attentive and anchored by Juliette Binoche, who can communicate in five minutes what most actresses couldn't do in half-an-hour, it also stars Willem Dafoe, and Hippolyte Girardot.
Tour Eiffel. Writer/director Sylvain Chomet, who directed The Triplets of Belleville, offers a comic rendition of how mimes might fall in love in Paris. It stars Paul Putner and Yolande Moreau -- and is quite silly and cute.
Parc Monceau. Nick Nolte and Ludvine Sagnier co-star in Alfonso Cuarón's short. Cuaron takes this opportunity to play a little joke on our expectations and uses a signature single take for the whole segment.
Quartier des Enfants Rouges. Written and directed by Olivier Assayas, this entry stars Maggie Gyllenhaal and Lionel Dray in a skillfull exploration of the moment when we discover what we think we want is not actually what we really wanted. There's commentary, too, on the frivolity of the time spent on wasteful pursuits.
Place des Fêtes. Oliver Schmitz wrote and directed this touching short that presents more irony on how fate has a cruel sense of humor. Aïssa Maïga and Seydou Boro co-star.
Pigalle. Writer/director Richard LaGravenese's entry features Fanny Ardant and Bob Hoskins in a rather straightforward piece about the struggling relationship of an older couple, but it doesn't feel like there's a whole lot to it.
Quartier de la Madeleine. This is the only fantasy-horror short included. Written and directed by Vincenzo Natali, it stars Elijah Wood and Olga Kurylenko and is pretty goofy and visually loud.
Père-Lachaise. Wes Craven wrote and directed this offering which is set in a cemetery and stars Emily Mortimer and Rufus Sewell. Surprisingly, it's not a horror short but instead something of a joke piece involving Oscar Wilde. I thought it was unfortunately forgettable.
Faubourg Saint-Denis. Written and directed by Tom Tykwer, this entry is a cinematic poem set to the beat of a visual techno rhythm. Starring Natalie Portman and Melchior Beslon, it stunned me enough to keep me thinking about it and distracted me from following the next one.
Quartier Latin. Written by Gena Rowlands and directed by Frédéric Auburtin and Gérard Depardieu, this piece about a divorcing couple has good charm and humor. Rowlands stars in the film opposite Ben Gazzara, and these two are given the space to win us over gently. Depardieu also appears in this entry.
14th Arrondissement. I believe the best was saved for last. This short, directed by Alexander Payne, who co-wrote the script with Nadine Eid, stars Margo Martindale, and in a few short minutes, Payne communicates the subtle despair of an average indivdual with poignancy, humor, and sympathy. It's amazing how much depth was drawn from this quick character sketch and how deftly it worked my emotions with a simple performance and an ingenious voice-over.
©Jeffrey Chen, May 1, 2007