LOST IN PARIS
Directors: Dominique Abel and Fiona Gordon
Cast: Fiona Gordon, Dominique Abel, Emmanuelle Riva, Pierre Richard
Running Time: 1:23
Release Date: 6/16/17 (limited); 7/7/17 (wider)
Review by Mark Dujsik | July 6, 2017
The second time our hapless heroine falls into the Seine River, she's holding three bottles of champagne. She sinks to the bottom of the river, again, while the bottles rise toward the surface. This isn't what bottles filled with wine do in water. It is, though, what they do in Lost in Paris, a slapstick, screwball comedy that creates a world in which we might momentarily believe that bottles filled with champagne would float to the surface. It is pretty bubbly stuff, after all, and that's what bubbles do in liquid.
This is the film's logic. It is not the way that the real world works, but maybe the world would be better if it did work in this way—with a little more innocence, a lot more whimsy, and bottles of champagne that don't sink when they accidentally end up in the water. Actually, a world like that might become insufferable after too long, but writers/directors Dominque Abel and Fiona Gordon's (credited as "Abel & Gordon") film is about 80 minutes long without credits. That is, perhaps, just the right amount of time to spend in this kind of world—long enough that we understand its workings but short enough that it seems like a sort of ideal place.
The heroine is Fiona (played by Gordon, appropriately enough), a Canadian woman who, for the entirety of her life, has lived in small town, which looks like a pastel-colored model from the surrounding mountains, in a remote area of the country that never seems to go without blistering cold, high winds, and plenty of snow. She works in the local library, where patrons are treated to an onslaught of wind whenever someone opens the door, threatening to blow them against the wall until the door closes—at which point they return to going about their business as if nothing has happened.
The opening door announces a postal worker with a letter from Fiona's aunt Martha (the late Emmanuelle Riva), who moved from the tiny village to Paris over three decades ago, when Fiona was a young girl with dreams of joining her aunt in the City of Lights. It never happened, and now, Martha is writing for help. She is about to be placed in a nursing home because of health issues (She put the letter to Fiona in a garbage can next to the postal box). Surely, her beloved niece, who can hardly speak French (When she tries, she pronounces the silent Rs), can stop this.
The story is essentially a series of misadventures that fall upon Fiona and, later, Martha, as the former attempts to navigate Paris and the latter tries to evade representatives from the nursing home. In between, we meet a third character, a homeless man named Dom (played, also appropriately enough, by Abel). He lives in a tent along the Seine, where his morning bathroom routine into the river is captured by the cameras of passing tourists on a sightseeing ferry.
Dom finds Fiona's luggage (How he finds it involves a rogue fishing line that sends him scurrying along the riverbank), which she loses the first time she falls into the river (a pratfall so unexpectedly timed that it would be a shame to give away the details). With her money, he treats himself to a fancy dinner at a restaurant on board a docked boat. Fiona is there, too, with a meal voucher from the Canadian embassy. They dance—with Fiona's entire body, especially one of her legs, behaving as if she has entered a trance—to the music a DJ has started playing (There's some business with the electrical cord, since Dom's table is right in front of the outlet—also, right next to the bathroom). The bassline of the music is so heavy that any patron in the range of the speaker involuntarily rises and falls to the beat.
In case it isn't obvious yet, the film is filled with plenty of physical humor and sight gags that have an almost cartoon-like logic to them (A character's nose gets stuck in some closing doors, leaving her hanging above the ground—and flattening the nose). The most delightful among them involve the joy of movement, such as Dom and Fiona's dance sequence, as well as another between Martha and her only friend in the city (played by Pierre Richard), who already has been sent to the nursing home.
Since the two participants in the second dance are older and far less spry than they used to, their feet move in synchronization to a tune while sitting on a park bench—all of it captured in close-up. Another bit of clever synchronization involves a split-screen and two characters dreaming of each other, looking as if they're together, even though they're in separate beds (When each one leans in for a kiss, the other side of the screen changes to a less-tantalizing part of the other's body). A climb up the Eiffel Tower results in some impressive balancing, and of course, there's a mischievous dog that follows Dom around and takes advantage of his hospitality.
Abel and Gordon have basically made a silent comedy—albeit one that's brightly colored and features a lengthy monologue in which a eulogy turns into an apologia, which becomes a damning indictment. Lost in Paris is light on its feet and light of heart.
Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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