Welcome to the Neighborhoods
Parisian visions from a cornucopia of directors
BY MOLLY TEMPLETON
PARIS, JE T’AIME: Directed by Olivier Assayas, Gurinder Chadha, Sylvain Chomet, Joel and Ethan Coen, Wes Craven, Alfonso Cuarón, Alexander Payne, Walter Salles and Daniela Thomas, Oliver Schmitz, Nobuhiro Suwa, Tom Tykwer, Gus Van Sant and more. Starring Juliette Binoche, Steve Buscemi, Willem Dafoe, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Natalie Portman, Miranda Richardson, Rufus Sewell, Elijah Wood and more. First Look Pictures, 2007. R. 120 minutes.
|Leïla Bekhti as Zarka and Cyril Descours as François in Gurinder Chadha’s contribution to Paris, Je T’aime|
Paris, Je T’aime is a lovely yet distant film: a collection of shorts, each set in a different Paris neighborhood, made by a glowing list of international directors. The idea was thought up by Tristan Carné, the final product produced by Claudie Ossard (Amélie) and Emmanuel Benbihy (Tom Tykwer’s Run Lola Run) — and while we don’t often write much about producers, these folks deserve mention for pulling together such an ambitious project. They began with Tykwer, who created “True” as an example for other involved directors. “True” stars Natalie Portman as a young actress and Melchior Beslon as her blind lover. It’s a whirlwind, as you’d expect from Tykwer, and its petite story of accidental heartbreak has the feeling of a highly literate love song.
There is a lot of heartbreak in Paris, Je T’aime, and it comes in varied forms: characters grieve over a dead son, a dying wife, a dying stranger; people miss connections, children, home; relationships fizzle and fade. The project is a love letter to Paris but not necessarily to love. And it doesn’t always work as a tribute to the city of light (though by the end you may find yourself dreaming of a lengthy vacation there). The settings are beautiful, the visions of less-often-seen Parisian neighborhoods enthralling, but sometimes the stories seem stories of a city rather than of this city. And sometimes they simply move too slowly through tiny, postcard-sized vignettes, gone before you’ve had a chance to connect.
But among the overly generous handful of tales, there are some that linger. Wes Craven’s unexpectedly delightful offering takes place in a graveyard — apropos for the horror director — but it’s only the ghost of Oscar Wilde, nothing creepier, turning up to dispense advice to a husband-to-be (Rufus Sewell, who really ought to get more roles like this and less like his overwrought Illusionist villain). Walter Salles (Central Station) and Daniela Thomas’ quiet, affecting piece follows a young mother (Catalina Sandino Moreno) on a long journey from her own home to that of her wealthy employer. Isabel Coixet’s dialogue-free story of a husband who finds himself, in the direst of circumstances, falling back in love with his wife is utterly winning. Gurinder Chadha (Bend It Like Beckham) and Gus Van Sant both show connections almost missed — hers between a young Muslim woman and a sensitive French boy, his between two striking young men in a print shop — while animation director Sylvain Chomet (The Triplets of Belleville) takes on his first live-action piece with “Tour Eiffel,” a bouncy, peculiar story of love between mimes.
As a whole, Paris, Je T’aime is less interesting as a plate heavily laden with slices of Parisian life than it is a sampler: Test out some directors you may not be familiar with, see which ones are to your tastes, and then line up their full-length works on your Netflix queue. Some of the shorts drag a bit, some are merely pretty (Christopher Doyle’s bizarre little piece, for example) and others are downright odd, but the sheer array of talent here means Paris is worth exploring though you may want to hit fast forward every so often. But you wouldn’t want to miss Frodo — er, Elijah Wood — having a vampire encounter, would you?
Paris, Je T’aime opens Friday, June 29, at the Bijou.