Paris, je t'aime Review
By Joe Lozito
Most films which are a collection of short subjects end up being described with the word "uneven". Inevitably, for one reason or another, some entries are weaker than others either due to acting, story, tone or some combination. Plus, as storytellers have known since the dawn of storytelling, in order to retain the interest of your audience, a through-line is helpful. Notable examples of this type of compilation include the September 11th tribute "11'09''01", Jim Jarmusch's overly-caffeinated "Coffee and Cigarettes" and Wayne Wang's improvisational "Smoke" sequel, "Blue in the Face". "Paris, je t'aime" has a lot in common with the latter. Just as "Blue" was a tribute to Brooklyn in all its blustery diversity, "Paris" is a collection of shorts each themed around one of the city's twenty arrondissements (though for reasons which are never explained, there are only eighteen shorts). As you'd expect, the results are uneven, but happily they are also largely enjoyable.
The producers Emmanuel Benbihy and Tristan Carne, who spent a reported four years on this project, assemble an impressive international roster of directors, most of whom wrote their segments. With a two hour running time, each director is only given about six or seven minutes to tell a story. Japanese director Nobuhiro Suwa shows just how much can be accomplished in those six minutes with a segment called "Place des Victoires" starring the wonderful Juliette Binoche as a mother coping with the loss of her child. Likewise, Catalina Sandino Moreno is heartbreaking as a beleaguered single parent in Walter Salles' "Loin du 16ème". Meanwhile, Alexander Payne ("Sideways"
) brings his typical brand of off-kilter sweetness to the story of an American tourist traveling alone in "14th arrondissement". And Wes Craven (yes, Wes Craven) finds the perfect location to set his lover's quarrel: a cemetery in "Père-Lachaise".
Some of the shorts are more loosely tied to the neighborhoods they represent than others. The Coen Brothers' "Tuileries", for example, finds a wordless Steve Buscemi stuck in the titular Metro station and Gérard Depardieu's "Quartier Latin", a prickly divorce conversation starring Ben Gazzara and Gena Rowlands, takes place almost entirely in a café. Likewise, Gus Van Sant's segment, "Le Marais" - which stars young Hannibal Lecter himself, Gaspard Ulliel, as an overly forward artist - stays situated in a studio. Others segments play with their settings a bit more. Thanks to director Bruno Podalydès, for example, I now know that it's impossible to find a parking spot in Montmartre. Also, kudos should go to Vincenzo Natali for warning tourists about "Quartier de la Madeleine" which, apparently, is rife with vampires.
Even the misses have an element of sweetness to them, as in Mr. Natali's out-of-left-field vampiric love story. Similarly, Tom Tykwer's ("Run Lola Run"
) tale of miscommunication between Melchior Beslon and Natalie Portman, "Faubourg Saint-Denis", can't achieve the necessary emotional depth but wins points for the director's storytelling verve. And as he did in "Babel"
, Alfonso Cuarón plays with communication - to much lesser effect - in "Parc Monceau", featuring a nearly unintelligible Nick Nolte.
As an ignorant American, I couldn't tell the difference between most of the settings. It all just looked like Paris to me, and that's really the point. The film's overriding theme is about Paris itself, about its people, its diversity and the inspiration it provides. And in this way "Paris, je t'aime" succeeds wonderfully. Paris, it seems, isn't just for Parisians anymore. It's a melting pot - a home for locals and ex-pats alike, many of whom are represented in the film. The shorts feature characters of multiple races speaking multiple languages (in some cases to each other).
Watching a film like "Paris, je t'aime" is like reading a book of short stories all in one sitting. There's only so much you can take. Amazingly, the shorts are almost uniformly well-written, acted and directed and the fabled City of Lights - as it has proven time and again - is a seemingly unending source of inspiration. Finally, the city that has inspired so much love gets a love letter all its own.