Paris, je t’aime
Cast: Juliette Binoche, Steve Buscemi, Maggie Gyllenhaal
he man lies injured, stabbed in the stomach. A paramedic comes to his aid, but he shows little interest in medicine, asking instead if she’ll join him for coffee. They’ve met before, and his regret and despair at their missed connection reduced him to this sorry state. There are twenty arrondissements dividing Paris. Reaching across these boundaries are eighteen short films, each by different filmmakers and each concerned with that singular Parisian subject: love. First encounters, old flames, broken hearts, and not just of the romantic variety. The shorts that make up this ambitious international effort run the gamut, and the results are stunning. Bringing together the distinguished likes of the Coen Brothers, Gus Van Sant, and Alfonso Cuarón, Paris je t’aime succeeds in giving its subject matter the breadth it deserves without once seeming unfocused or tired.
With any such omnibus film, both hits and misses are to be expected. (Just take a look at the woefully uneven 9/11 anthology, 11’09”01.) What’s most impressive about Paris je t’aime, then, is that while not every short is great, they’re all engaging for the duration of their five minutes onscreen. And then there are those five or six films that, through their precise observations and generosity of spirit, elevate the entire project. Consider Gurinder Chadha’s contribution, in which a French teenager is smitten with a Muslim girl, who in turn quite literally falls head-over-heels for him. Or Isabel Coixet’s poignant portrait of a man convinced he’s going to leave his wife, until he isn’t. Even better, Alexander Payne gives us a lonely American postal worker who, through her heavily accented French, relates the experiences that led her to fall in love with the city. There’s shades of his brilliant About Schmidt here, and it’s my choice for the most affecting of the bunch. I’m probably not the only one, since it’s not for nothing that it closes the collection.
And that’s not to suggest that these films offers nothing but naturalism. Animator Sylvain Chomet presents the surreal story of two mimes who fall in love in jail, Vincenzo Natali includes a truly inspired vampire story starring Elijah Wood, and Christopher Doyle presents a film about … well I’m still not entirely sure what. For his part, Wes Craven opts mostly for the realistic, though hardly mundane, yet still feels compelled to present the ghost of Oscar Wilde. While such odd material could easily feel forced, it’s all a pleasure to behold. Indeed, if there’s one reasonable complaint against these films it’s that they’re altogether too short. While there are installments here that shouldn’t have a frame altered, the desire to spend a few more minutes in their presence is not unreasonable. Even the lesser efforts left me wanting more, if only because of their unrealized potential.
In his excellent essay “The City of Light in the Dark,” David Sedaris finds that his new life in Paris rekindles his deep love affair with classic American cinema. These films work in something of the opposite way. Through the artistry of these very different filmmakers (some American, some French, many neither), cinema sheds new light on the trite image of Paris as a lovers’ paradise. Producers Emmanuel Benbihy and Claudie Ossard have put together a mesmerizing tribute to this grand, historic city, and its clear why Paris je t’aime was an enormous hit on last year’s festival circuit. Just watch it: if you don’t find yourself smiling at least half a dozen times, well, then I hope to never meet you.
Paris, je t’aime is currently playing in limited release.
By: Nav Purewal
Published on: 2007-03-05
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