Paris Je t’aime
Paris Je T'aime sounded a fascinating film, twenty one highly talented directors producing eighteen short films about love, relationships and of course Paris. To add to that there was a host of top rated acting talent lined up for the film.
I was mistakenly under the impression that each short would share the same ending and starting scene, something that had me drawn to it. However that's not the case. The only connection is love in some form or another and the progression of time, for the most part anyway.
Despite the one of the more interesting aspects of the film not actually being there, I didn't find myself that bothered. In fact I started to really enjoy the film, despite some blips.
Just to give you an idea of the talent involved here's the impressive list of Directors. Olivier Assayas, Frédéric Auburtin & Gérard Depardieu, Gurinder Chadha, Sylvain Chomet, Joel & Ethan Coen, Isabel Coixet, Wes Craven, Alfonso Cuarón, Christopher Doyle, Richard LaGravenese, Vincenzo Natali, Alexander Payne, Bruno Podalydès, Walter Salles & Daniela Thomas, Oliver Schmitz, Nobuhiro Suwa, Tom Tykwer and Gus Van Sant.
With some of the acting talent Fanny Ardant, Juliette Binoche, Steve Buscemi, Sergio Castellitto, Willem Dafoe, Gérard Depardieu, Marianne Faithfull, Ben Gazzara, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Bob Hoskins, Margo Martindale, Emily Mortimer, Nick Nolte, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Natalie Portman, Miranda Richardson, Gena Rowlands, Ludivine Sagnier, Rufus Sewell, Gaspard Ulliel and Elijah Wood.
So I've been thinking about how to review this, whether to review each short, or the whole film, and since I've been given the press notes I've decided just to go through all the shorts and then do a little review at the end.
It's quite difficult because other than the major themes there really is no way to connect them, so some quick individual notes first.
Montmartre - Written and directed by Bruno Podalydès
While trying to find a parking space in the narrow and busy streets of Montmartre, a lonely man watches the people and traffic go by and wonders why he's alone. Just then a passing woman faints beside his car…
Bruno Podalydès wrote the script, directed the short, and plays the man, and does all equally well. I liked this first short which keeps the story confined to the car and shows the first awkward sparks of a relationship. The script has some really lovely touches and subtle comparisons that really do lift the short into something more.
Quais de Seine - Written and directed by Gurinder Chadha and co-written with Paul Mayeda Berges
Three lads are sitting by the bank of the Seine, shouting corny and degrading pick-up lines to passing women. Beside them a young girl sits laughing quietly at them. One of the lads, François, notices her and is instantly attracted. She goes to leave and stumbles, and François heads to help. There's an instant attraction, she's a muslim, but François sees beyond that, will everyone else?
You know I hate when films preach to you, and the beauty of this short is that it captures the natural behaviour of lads and uses it to start a little story of romance through barriers of religion and race. There's nothing preaching about this though and it just progresses naturally with love at the fore and everything else just background. I love the way it doesn't make any big issues and just concentrates on two people who are attracted to each other.
Le marais - Written and directed by Gus Van Sant
Gaspard enters the printers shop translating for his boss, when she leaves with the printer he is drawn to the printers assistant and begins talking to him, yet he remains silent. It's one of those magical moments when something special is right in front of you.
I didn't really enjoy this. Firstly Elias McConnell is awkward and flat on screen, and secondly the story seems to struggle with the point it is trying to make, and it doesn't seem to have the impact that the others in the film do. Marianne Faithful and Gaspard Ulliel star.
Tuileries - Written and directed by Joel and Ethan
An American tourist sits and studies his Paris guide book while he awaits the next Metro train. He reads in the guide book about the Metro and it says "Eye contact should be avoided!" At that moment he looks up and catches the eye of a couple across the platform, and he catches their eye.
Strangely I didn't find this short particularly enjoyable either. Steve Buscemi plays the man superbly, but there's too much made of the camera work with the guide book that I found distracting and it overpowered what the story was trying to say. Even then I wasn't sure what the story was trying to tell me and seemed to go against the grain of the other shorts in the film.
Loin du 16ème - Written and directed by Walter Salles & Daniela Thomas
As the sun rises, a young, poor mother takes her baby to the local nursery and leaves them as she travels across the city to her daytime job of looking after a rich family's child.
I loved this segment and it really touched me, the final scenes are incredibly prophetic and the simplest of lines and gestures incredibly moving. Segments like this are a perfect example of what great filmmaking can do to an audience.
Porte de Choisy - Written and directed by Christopher Doyle
I don't really know what to say about this segment. A travelling salesman arrives at a Chinese hairdressing salon to demonstrate a new product line, however he's immediately thrown out by the owner. Later, after looking through his sample book, she invites him back and together they become a great success.
That's the plot outline, however watching it you wouldn't really be too sure what's going on, or rather I should say why it's going on. The whole short is quite surreal and just seems like grabbed moments. I really didn't get into it at all.
Bastille - Written and directed by Isabel Coixet
A man is sitting in a restaurant about to ask his wife for a divorce, while he waits and during her arrival he goes through the reasons why. However she sits down silently, upset, and passes him a letter. The letter changes their lives and he returns to her side, finding love again out of duty.
This is another beautiful segment that really touches the heart and captures the subtlety of love and commitment. This is perhaps one of the best segments here, however it is probably also the saddest. There's a great portrayal of the passing of time through a great use of editing.
Sergio Castellitto plays gives great performance and Miranda Richardson gives a surprise performance as his wife, and doesn't even say a word.
Place des Victoires - Written and directed by Nobuhiro Suwa
A woman, played by Juliette Binoche, is inconsolable after the death of her son, and her husband struggles to keep the relationship going. One night as she lies sleepless in her bed she hears the voice of her son calling her outside into the streets of Paris. Once there she sees the strangest thing of her life, a cowboy, played by Willem Dafoe, astride a horse.
Although the segment is a little strange, the understanding comes through as the story develops, and Binoche gives a wonderful performance. It may not be the best short here, but it is very strong, and the appearance of Dafoe is a great moment.
Tour Eiffel - Written and directed by Sylvain Chomet
Now this is perhaps the segment I struggled with most, and there's one reason, it's about mimes. However there's a great twist to this story in that everyone in the story that isn't a mime hates them too. One lonely mime spends his days performing, and annoying, people and tourists at the Eiffel Tower. He believes he's doing good and trying to entertain, yet the police think otherwise and decide to lock him up for the night. That's where he meets the love of his life, a female mime.
You can imagine that it was a tough choice to portray the main characters as mimes, everyone knows how hated they are, and yet Chomet does something wonderful, she makes you feel for them and even before he finds love.
There are some lovely touches to the filming, and the mimes themselves, and the ending gives you a warm glow and a smile. Perhaps mimes aren't that bad after all and we're the ones misunderstanding them.
Parc Monceau - Written and directed by Alfonso Cuarón
Nick Nolte plays a middle aged American who arrives slightly late for a meeting with a young French woman played by Ludivine Sagnier. When they meet they walk down the street to the destination for their evening, and through the conversation we learn of their relationship together and of the other man.
I love the way this segment works, and the way it plays on your misconceptions and delivers a great story in such a short time. It had me smiling for the way it developed and the ending it delivered and feels like it's made with a lot of heart. However Nolte does sound quite rough, and for the first half of the story it does seem like there's been a bit too much overdubbing, something that stuck out for me. Yet the subtlety, use of language and the slightest of visuals to reveal the story, are beautifully done.
Quartier des Enfants Rouges - Written and directed by Olivier Assayas
Maggie Gyllenhaal plays Liz, an American actress in Paris, shooting a period drama. She buys some drugs from a local dealer and finds she has no cash. They go out together so that she can withdraw cash and they end up having a drink together. She gets his number and invites him over to the set the following day. He looks like he's interested in her and she most definitely is in him.
There's nothing too special about this segment, and it feels a little bittersweet amongst all the love and happiness.
Place des Fêtes - Written and directed by Oliver Schmitz
A man is lying, obviously in pain, in the Place des Fêtes and a woman attends to him. She's a medic, new to her job, and he's just a nobody that she's never noticed before.
This is a wonderfully created tale that uses time and memory to tell a story in an unusual, sad, but very touching way. I really enjoyed this segment.
Pigalle - Written and directed by Richard LaGravenese
Bob Hoskins plays a man who walks into a bar and has a quiet drink, and as a song plays on the jukebox he catches the eye of a woman at the other side of the bar. Fanny Ardant plays the woman who smiles his way and tells her that this is the song she fell in love to for the first and only time. From there the story takes some unusual turns, but again reveals a few surprises on the way.
There's something special about this segment, and I think that's Bob Hoskin's performance, he's absolutely superb. He gives a funny and touching performance and is just brilliant here, and Ardant plays an extremely passionate one alongside him. They are wonderful together, and the story is lovely, showing how a little give and take can bring back that old feeling of love.
Quartier de la Madeleine - Written and directed by Vincenzo Natali
Elijah Wood plays a man walking the streets in the middle of the night, he looks as though he's a backpacker searching for a hostel. He climbs a stairway to see a female vampire, played by Olga Kurylenko, feeding on a dying man, played by Wes Craven. She leaps to him, ready to strike, but she turns away and begins to leave, and the backpacker feels something strange come over him.
The segment is beautifully shot and it manages to turn the most unlikely of stories into a wonderful tale of love and passion from the deadliest of creatures. All this and it manages to be amusing too. A wonderful short that shows Natali can produce some amazing films.
Père-lachaise - Written and directed by Wes Craven
Emily Mortimer and Rufus Sewell play a couple who, a month before they get married, decide to go on honeymoon as Sewell's new high powered job won't allow the time afterwards. They visit Oscar Wilde's grave as Frances is in love with his writing and passion, William isn't so, he seems to lack a sense of humour that she finds so important and she vows not to marry him and storms off. He chases after her, falls, and bangs his head on Oscar Wilde's grave, which is the point Wilde appears to him.
This is a huge surprise to see that Wes Craven made this film for there's only one dead person in it, and the ghost of Oscar Wilde really isn't that scary. He has produced a great short film that has some natural and very touching dialogue. The little flurries of dialogue between the couple about their relationship are quite insightful and amusing, not to mention rather Wilde-esque and witty. This segment is all about the laughter and humour in a relationship and is another beautiful part of the film.
Faubourg Saint-Denis - Written and directed by Tom Tykwer
Natalie Portman plays Francine, an actress who is abroad on her first big role. She phones her blind boyfriend at home to tell him it's all over, and his vivid memory flies to the moment they first met.
Portman, as usual, plays her role wonderfully and full of emotion, but the star of this segment is the style. Time is treated harshly, and rather than edit it out it is sped through until the next key moment. Although it is well shot and edited together, it didn't reach out and touch me as many of the other segments did, however you do appreciate the story and the way it plays out.
Quartier Latin - Written by Gena Rowlands, Directed by Frédéric Auburtin & Gérard Depardieu
Ben Gazzara and Gena Rowlands play the divorced couple who are meeting the night before they sign their divorce papers for a drink, a meal and some conversation.
What's beautiful about this segment is that love prevails throughout, that and the writing which is superb, and that's down to Rowlands. The conversations between the two are written beautifully, the slight barbs back and forth hidden beneath seemingly innocuous lines, and yet both actors play it wonderfully and show that behind the casual conversation filled with hurt and anger, there's still love. Gazzara looks very old, but he still manages to give a warm performance.
14ème Arrondissement - Directed by Alexander Payne, Written by Alexander Payne and Nadine Eid
This is the last segment of the film, and a particularly strong note on which to end the film. Margo Martindale plays the middle aged American woman who has been studying French to go to Paris for a holiday. The segment shows her in Paris while the voice over is her back at her French class reading her French essay of her trip.
It's a wonderful tale of a woman sad and alone, and yet it is perhaps the most relevant stories out of the whole film as it connects in so many areas. There's as much joy and realisation as sadness and seeming self pity. It delivered one of the best lines of the film and will connect with most of the audience.
Overall this is a superb film, of course there are a few down moments, but in all honesty the poor segments are just blips and the majority are excellent with powerful performances and incredibly touching moments. Some you'll connect with, and some will grab you, but throughout you'll find a quality of writing, filming and acting that collectively surpasses a lot of main features out there.
I was disappointed that there was no real connection between the stories, and the few closing scenes were a poor attempt at some link between a few of the segments, but hinting at a few doesn't really make it work and actually makes it stand out of place. I would have preferred some kind of connection between them, as you often feel yanked out of a story and pulled back in.
The good heavily outweighs the bad though, and this is definitely something to go and see instead of Hollywood sequels, prequels and more of the same.