Paris, je t’aime

Synopsis: Fall in love with the most romantic city in the world… Paris, the City of Light. This critically acclaimed, box-office smash combines visions from the world’s top directors the Coen brothers (Fargo), Alexander Payne (Sideways), Gus Van Sant (Good Will Hunting) and some of America’s top stars Natalie Portman (Closer), Elijah Wood (The Lord Of the Rings), Juliette Binoche (Chocolat) who together create a panoramic portrait of this photogenic city. Find yourself transported and maybe transformed by these sexy, romantic, haunting, dramatic and beautiful stories. Paris, Je T’Aime goes beyond the “postcard” view of Paris to portray aspects of the city rarely seen on the big screen, revealing its Parisian heart and soul and leaving you with a vision that will last long after the film is over.

Paris, je t’aime 8.5

eyelights: the delicious, first class cast. the variety of genres and stylistic choices.
eyesores: it can be a “hit or miss” affair.

Okay, let’s do this right…

When I first blurbed about ‘Paris, je t’aime’ (read “Take 1” here), I provided a general impression of the picture. But, for whatever reason, I didn’t go into it any deeper than that. After having watched it a third (or fourth?) time, I can’t help but discuss it in finer detail.

Or at least try to.

The thing is that ‘Paris, je t’aime’ is a wonderful collage of short films depicting many facets of love – all in the same setting: Paris, France. It runs the gamut from drama to comedy to fantasy to mystery to horror, all the while covering loneliness, new romance, faded love, young love, race relations, religion, homosexuality, mourning, and even street crime.

What’s fantastic about it is that each short features the work of different directors, many of whom are well known (ex: Joel and Ethan Coen, Wes Craven, Tom Tykwer, Gus Van Sant), as well as a bevy of popular actors (too many to list, actually!) from all over the world. It really is a cinematic smorgasbord of the highest order, with all sorts of delicious flavours coming to the fore.

1. Montmartre: A lonely man watches women pass by from the confines of his car, eager for love. Then a woman passes out by his car and he aids her, thereby befriending her. This one was straight-forward and semi-sweet. Nothing special. 7.0

2. Quais de Seine: A young Caucasian man becomes fascinated with a Muslim girl – to the bemusement of his friends, who are unsuccessfully cruising girls along the pier. I liked the suggestion that religion and culture doesn’t matter in the face of love. It’s idealistic, perhaps even mildly naïve, but nice. And the girl was pretty. 7.5

3. Le Marais: A young man cruises another in a printing shop. I enjoyed this one because it was direct and slightly amusing (I adored that the Anglophone guy didn’t understand the advances of the other guy because of the language barrier… but appeared to throughout). I found the main character annoying, though: he just wouldn’t shut up, and he had a mug that I really didn’t like. It’s great that it was left open-ended, though. 7.0

4. Tuileries: An American tourist makes eye contact with a young local thug in the Metro and ends up being harassed and teased. I enjoyed the style of this Coen Bros. short, and loved that Steve Buscemi was the lead, but I found the story contrived and only mildly funny – I found the humour too forceful, unsubtle. And I hated the ending, which was cold, cruel 7.0

5. Loin du 16e: A young woman goes on a lengthy commute to take care of a rich woman’s child. This one was bittersweet, because we eventually realize that she’s mothering someone else’s baby instead of her own because she needs to pay the bills. But she does so tenderly and without reserve, and that’s what makes the piece work. 7.5

6. Porte de Choisy: This was a strange, slightly surreal one. It’s about a beauty products salesman who goes to a beauty shop in what appears to be the Asian quarter of Paris, and ends up meeting a very complicated customer. I loved the style of the piece, but it didn’t really make sense to me – it needed a little more development to make it work. 6.75

7. Bastille: Cripes… I bawl uncontrollably each time I watch this one! It’s the story of a man who is just about to leave his spouse after many years of marriage – he no longer remembers why he was in love with her once and has fallen for another. When she announces that she is dying, he finds himself pretending to be all that she needs and wants just to support her – and, in the process falls in love with her again. When he loses her, he ends up crushed, heartbroken.

There’s something incredibly beautiful about his self-sacrifice, and the notion of falling in love anew like that is heart-warming – it’s inspiring to imagine that it’s possible. But I found it heart-wrenching to think that the character would go through all this renewal just to lose her – all the while knowing that he would. Heavy. And amazing that they pulled this off in such a brief segment. 9.5

8. Place des Victoires: Ugh… Who decided to have Juliette Binoche cry again? She plays mournful or depressed so often (or seemingly so) that it’s pretty much typecasting at this point. The story’s fine: it’s about a woman grieving the loss of her son. But it was poorly put together. And the fact that it starts with the husband berating her because it’d been a week -as though that should be enough to get over the loss- left me with a bad taste in my mouth. Double ugh. 4.5

9. Tour Eiffel: I hate mimes as much as the next person. I really do. Damn, I loathe that clown face make-up and those body socks that they wear. But this love story, as recounted by the child of mime parents, was so offbeat that it was amusing. It also offered us a three-dimensional character, with hopes, dreams, disappointments and triumphs. It was adorable, cute and totally disarming. Ignore your hatred of mimes for a moment and enjoy! 9.0

10. Parc Monceau: This one is imperfect, but it’s sly enough that it put a smile on my face. A worn out and gravelly-voiced Nick Nolte meets up with a young woman for what appears to be a little adultery. It turns out that things are not at all as they appear. I enjoyed how this was contrived to have a two meanings, and the performances were pretty good. Again, it’s not spot on (this is more noticeable upon multiple viewings), but it’s slightly clever. 8.25

11. Quartier des Enfants Rouges: Well, I found this one technically okay, but I wasn’t especially enamoured with any of the characters or the story itself, which is about an American actress getting a crush on her local drug dealer. 7.25

12. Place des fêtes: A man, sprawled out in the middle of square, is receiving emergency services from a girl he has had an eye on, but who doesn’t initially recognize him. We are shown how everything led to this one moment. I like the story and the performances, but I found the storytelling a bit jumpy, marred by muddy construction. 7.5

13. Pigalle: Bob Hoskins and Fanny Ardant bored me with their verbal fencing, as an older couple trying to keep the flame alive. I didn’t feel the heat and hardly -if any- of the love. I was left unconvinced by all of it. 6.5

14. Quartier de la Madeleine: A young man finds a beautiful vampiress drinking the blood of another man on the ground before him. In his escape, he ends up putting himself in greater danger – requiring the vampire’s help to survive. Storywise, this one was slightly ludicrous and it lacked spark. But, stylistically, it was a splendid piece; I loved the inkiness and saturated reds of it. 7.5

15. Père-Lachaise: Like a tired old couple, a stuffy young man and his fiancé argue over every small detail whilst visiting the famous Père-Lachaise cemetery. Inspired by Oscar Wilde, whom his fiancé professes her adoration for, the man eventually tries to salvage their relationship. I loved the idea behind it, but hated the couple’s dynamics – I couldn’t figure out why they were engaged. Plus which they were both tedious. 7.0

16. Faubourg Saint-Denis: Like ‘Bastille’, this one makes me cry each and every time. Just like in his ‘Run Lola Run’, Twyker serves up a fast-paced look at the disintegration of a relationship by replaying the same situations repeatedly, but with the erosion of time on the relationship providing contrast. It felt extremely real to me: time can dissolve relationships at times, as couples grow apart or when the novelty wears off. As well, the young man’s insecurities are largely at play, and I found that also true: our fears sometimes colour and skew our perspective. A whole relationship defined in 3 minutes! Excellent stuff! 9.0

17. Quartier Latin: I like the idea of watching a couple meet one final time before making their separation final, stepping out for a last dance, and wagering a subtle war of words on each other instead of reconnecting. Alas, the exchanges didn’t feel natural – mostly due to the script, but also because of Ben Gazzara’s slurred mumbles in a liquor-scorched voice. 6.0

18. 14e arrondissement: This final bit about a lonely American woman trying hard to enjoy her solo trip to the City of Lights is cute but also infuriating: her French is so mangled that it makes it difficult to listen to, and she is a sad, somewhat pathetic individual – which makes her a somewhat unpalatable protagonist. I understand the character, though, and there was a certain amount of persistent -if manufactured- hope in her, but I still have mixed feelings about the piece. 7.0

Each segment is introduced with an introductory title and the name of the director, both providing much context (let’s face it, setting and directorial style can be quite relevant), and all of these separate -if not disparate- bits were bound together with footage of various Paris streets, providing a long enough pause for transition to the next bit. Frankly, I quite liked the way that this put together.

I don’t know if the order in which they were cemented was chosen to create a certain mood or flow, but it works for the most part. Even though I don’t find all of the bits exceptional, they’re short enough or juxtaposed in such a way that it still feels effortless to watch. And when a segment hits home, boy does it strike a chord – as noted above, I was completely taken with a few of them.

I should note that the reason I rate ‘Paris, je t’aime’ as highly as I do (this time, anyway), despite the low marks on many individual shorts, is because I feel that the picture is more than a sum of all its parts – it’s a terrific anthology that pretty much shows how it should be done. And, even though most of the 18 bits didn’t move me in any particular fashion, there’s so much variety that one can’t help but remain interested – ‘Paris, je t’aime’ simply breezes by.

Post scriptum: Following the success of this film, the producers decided to make a series of it, taking the concept to various parts of the world. The dismal ‘New York, I Love You’ soon followed, and there is also the intention of taking the series to Rio, Shanghai and Jerusalem. I’m very curious to see what they will make of these ones.

Date of viewing: November 24, 2012

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