Paris, Je T'aime Movie Review

One would like to think that there at least a few other cities in the world besides Paris that could have inspired a film as varied in the types of cinematic pleasure so ably delivered by the anthology piece Paris Je T'Aime -- but it seems unlikely. This isn't due to an unavailability of good stories or locations in many other great metropolises, but more because being able to dangle the possibility of shooting in Paris in front of the world's greatest directors is going to be so much more enticing. Also, there are few other cities besides Paris that come with such a powerful and multifarious wealth of preassociated images and emotions for both filmmaker and audience to both draw upon and react against. So what could have been a collection of short films with a few highs, several lows, and a lot of muddled in-betweens is in fact a remarkably and consistently imaginative body of work, practically giddy with energy, that only rarely touches the ground.

Project overseers Emmanuel Benbihy and Tristan Carné wanted to create a cinematic map of Paris, with each short film representing one of the city's 20 arrondissements (neighborhoods). They ended up with 18 films, none of them more than a few minutes long and directed by a glittering, international roster of filmmakers. While none of the films here are anything approaching masterpieces, hardly a one is in any way a chore to sit through, which has to be some sort of an accomplishment.

Although hard to pin down due to its multiplicity of points of view, Paris Je T'Aime's take on the City of Lights is neither overly romantic nor cynical, located somewhere in the vast stretch of realism between the giddy fairy tale Amélie and Julie Delpy's scabrous anti-valentine 2 Days in Paris. Some approach the city from a tourist's point of view, like in the Coen brothers' piece, in which a haggard-looking Steve Buscemi (laden with guide book and bag of Mona Lisa postcards) has a tussle in a Metro station with a tough who doesn't like anybody looking at his femme. It's a one-note joke and rather weak in execution. Although covering well-trod terrain for him, Alexander Payne's film -- narrated by a Colorado woman on vacation, with possibly the worst French accent outside of a junior high language class -- has more depth to it, seeming at first to be nothing more than mockery, but finding a resonant moment of grace in the fish out of water scenario.

Few of the films make any attempt to move past the bourgeois realms of professional, creative, and student life (the city's vast immigrant and working classes are mostly invisible here); the exceptions to that rule, however, are rather extraordinary. Oliver Schmitz' Place des Fêtes is a powerful miniature portrait of heartache that starts with an African immigrant dying in a plaza after being stabbed by a gang member, and singing a song to the beautiful and rattled young medic who is trying to save his life. Not only does the piece have the smell of real life about it, Schmitz seems to be trying harder here than many of the name directors; some of whom, talented as they are (like Tom Tykwer, Gus Van Sant, and Alfonso Cuarón), fall back on tricks familiar from their feature work or simply go on auto-pilot, hoping that the romance of the city pulls them through. Usually, they're right.

A nice surprise, and somewhat symbolic of the film as a whole, is Wes Craven's Père-Lachaise. What would seem on paper to be a bad sort of joke (sticking the horror director in the city's most famous cemetery) turns into something more unexpected, as Rufus Sewell and Emily Mortimer wander among the graven gothic stones, worrying in a jaunty fashion over their relationship, before finding resolution at Oscar Wilde's grave. It's a romantic trifle, to be sure, but an extremely well-observed one that doesn't insult your intelligence. Sometimes that's all you can ask for.

Aka Paris, I Love You.

Seen any zombies around here?


Paris, Je T'aime Rating

" OK "

Rating: R, 2007


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Paris, Je T'aime Movie Review

One would like to think that there at least a few other cities in the world besides Paris that could have inspired a film as...