Sunday 17 June 2007

Paris Je T'Aime

While watching a movie that's actually an anthology of 18 separate stories (by 18 different directors from around the world), you can't help but try to figure out how to remember each one. So during Paris Je T'Aime I decided to associate a word with each story and see if it would help me remember details of the stories afterwards. As well, it might give an overall insight into a prevalent theme or perhaps some grand statement about Paris. So here's the list I came up with:

Parking, Mosque, Studio, Subway, Baby, Salon, Leukemia, Cowboy, Mime, Father, Drugs, Coffee, Dancer, Vampire, Graveyard, Blind, Divorce, Tourist

OK, uh, so no insight there...No view of Paris. No obvious thematic content. It makes sense though, as the film isn't really about Paris as a city - it's about people searching, finding, losing and simply experiencing love within its confines.

Initially the movie was to have 20 segments, each happening in one of the 20 arrondissements of Paris (or boroughs), but 2 didn't fit into the flow of the film (perhaps extras on an eventual DVD release one hopes?). Now having just said that the movie isn't really about the city, you do get a pretty good feel for Paris as you traverse the city via the different arrondissements. The transitions between the stories show even more of the architecture of the city and provide a continuous flow that helps avoid the danger of an anthology film - a feeling of rebooting at the beginning of each story so that you lose what you've already built up. So even though not all the stories work completely (some feel unfinished and unfocused), each piece felt of a larger whole.

As for the individual tales, the ones that really stand out in my mind are, strangely enough, the ones dealing with loss:

- Walter Salles and Daniela Thomas' piece about a young woman who drops her baby off at a Daycare and has to sing it to sleep before going on a very long trip through the city to her job as a nanny. Once there, she sings the same song to the baby of wealthy career people. Catalina Sandino Moreno plays the young woman and her distant gaze at the end as she sings that song to another baby is quite heartbreaking.

- Isabel Coixet's short that uses voice over to take us through a man's attempt at splitting up with his wife until he realizes she has terminal cancer. He decides to do the right thing and stick with her. As he goes through the process he recounts how he changes from being a man acting like he is in love (in order to help her) to a man who falls back into love.

- Oliver Schmitz tells the tale of a young African man who is stabbed and then helped by the young woman he has previously serenaded in a parking garage. Effectively told with some quick flashbacks to tell the young man's story, it builds up some well earned emotion in its short run time.

The humourous ones also struck a chord:

- The Coen Brothers piece on Steve Buscemi's experience with his tour guide book in the Parisian subway.

- Christopher Doyle's whacked out tale of an Asian woman's hair salon.

- Sylvain Chomet's story of a young boy's mime parents and how they met and fell in love. It's quite amusing and very sweet. If you can get me to sit still when a mime is on the screen, you've done a helluva job.

The crowning touch though is Alexander Payne's final story about an American postal worker on a trip of a lifetime to Paris. Her narration of the story is done in heavily accented French as a report back to her French class in the States. At first she is rather comical due to the accent, but she becomes increasingly endearing to the audience. As played by Margo Martindale, it's a tremendous performance (both on screen and the off screen narration) and it's a shame it won't get recognized via any awards. She's really that good:

Her final words combined with her final crying/happy expression really kind of tie up the film nicely: "It was the moment that I fell in love with Paris and the moment I felt Paris fell in love with me".


Rahul Mediratta said...

wonderful review. i enjoyed the eternally sunlit comments of your logical mind.

I share your sentiment that there is no obvious thematic content. In my view, Paris, Je T’aime fails to bind eighteen distinct stories with any common thread.

Check out my thoughts at:

Bob Turnbull said...

Thanks for the comments Rahul...B-)

I just read your review too. I can't really disagree with anything you mention - indeed it's a shame that there isn't more of a common thread between the stories. And yet, the film worked for me as just a simple compendium of individual stories.

I had a good hit ratio and enjoyed at least 13-14 of the pieces, so I can't sneeze at that...