PARIS, JE T'AIME
Directors: Olivier Assayas, Frédéric Auburtin, Gurinder Chadha, Sylvain Chomet, Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, Isabel Coixet, Wes Craven, Alfonso Cuarón, Gérard Depardieu, Christopher Doyle, Richard LaGravenese, Vincenzo Natali, Alexander Payne, Bruno Podalydès, Walter Salles, Oliver Schmitz, Nobuhiro Suwa, Daniela Thomas, Tom Tykwer, Gus Van Sant
Cast: Fanny Ardent, Juliette Binoche, Steve Buscemi, Sergio Castellitto, Willem Dafoe, Gérard Depardieu, Marianne Faithful, 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, Elijah Wood
MPAA Rating: (for language and brief drug use)
Running Time: 2:00
Release Date: 5/4/07 (limited); 5/25/07 (wider)
Review by Mark Dujsik
Tristan Carné's concept behind Paris, Je T'aime is a doozy: A "collective film" that assembles short works by directors the likes of the Coen brothers, Alfonso Cuarón, Alexander Payne, Sylvian Chomet, Gus Van Sant, Wes Craven, Gérard Depardieu, Christopher Doyle, Walter Salles, Tom Tykwer, and 11 others to tell "little love stories" in the City of Light. There are 18 films, segued by transitioning shots of each new locale of the city, that run an average of about six and a half minutes a piece. As for the overall impression left by the concept, the best way to describe it is to mention that, of those 11 bigger name directors I named above, the films of only a little over half of them are effective to one degree or another. The other, unmentioned half of directors fare worse in terms of presenting something that is sometimes even memorable. It's a decidedly mixed bag here, and the handful of truly worthwhile pieces is far outweighed by a couple of shorts that seem completely out of place, some that fit the mold of a "little love story" a bit too obviously, or a few more that escape the mind more quickly than it takes to watch them.
The movie opens with establishing shots of the city, including an iconic view of fireworks going off by the Eiffel Tower that lead us to the title card (the title, by the way, translates to "Paris, I love you). Throughout the movie, Emmanuel Benbihy, who also conceptualized the feature, and Frédéric Auburtin provide such establishing shots to show the location and time of day in which the next short occurs, and they are lovely images. The movie starts on a rough note with Bruno Podalydès' "Montmarte," which tells the story of a lonely man (Podalydès) trying to park his car and, upon doing so, helping a fainting, equally lonely woman (Florence Muller) back to consciousness. It's fairly obvious, as is the joke behind Gus Van Sant's offering "Le Marais" about a young man (Elias McConnell) who talks in French to another young man (Gaspard Ulliel) about an indefinable connection between the two of them. Turns out, the other guy doesn't understand more than a few words of the speech. There's plenty of irony floating around throughout the shorts, especially in Salles and Daniela Thomas' "Loin du 16ème" about a woman (Catalina Sandino Moreno) who leaves her own baby in day care so that she can be nanny to a rich woman's baby.
There are some strange pieces here as well. Vincenzo Natali's "Quartier de la Madeleine" looks like an old silent horror film, as a tourist (Elijah Wood) falls in love with a vampire (Olga Kurylenko) with pretty amusing results, and Craven's (who also plays a victim in the vampire piece) "Père-Lachaise" features an engaged couple (Rufus Sewell and Emily Mortimer) who argue about his lack of wit, only for him to be visited and aided by the ghost of Oscar Wilde (Alexander Payne, who directs the final piece). Those work to an extent, but the strangest, most indeterminable piece belongs to Doyle, whose "Porte de Choisy" follows a salesman (Barbet Schroeder) who tries to sell hair-care products to a crazy Asian salon. Joel and Ethan Coen's "Tuileries" is a hilarious look at guarded tourism, as Steve Buscemi discovers everything one shouldn't do when in Paris' Metro. Cuarón returns topside with "Parc Monceau," a fantastic one-take tracking shot following Nick Nolte and Ludivine Sagnier as they talk about a new man in her life, and Chomet's whimsical "Tour Eiffel" tells the story of a young boy whose parents are mimes. Some big names, like Bob Hoskins in Richard LaGravenese's "Pigalle" with Fanny Ardant and Gena Rowlands and Ben Gazzara in Auburtin and Depardieu's "Quartier Latin," are used for a surprise gag and obvious quarrel respectively.
Those disappointments are answered earlier by Juliette Binoche's sad portrayal of a woman who has recently lost her son in Nobuhiro Suwa's "Place des Victoires" (which also features Willem Dafoe as a cowboy who offers her a chance to be with him again) and later by Melchior Beslon's blind student reliving his relationship Natalie Portman's aspiring actress in Tykwer's "Faubourg Saint-Denis." The latter story is told in sped-up film stock, as highlights and soon lowlights of their relationship progress until he comes to a realization (which is unfortunately marred by a shot of them happy together in the final montage). Maggie Gyllenhaal also plays an actress in Olivier Assayas' "Quartier des Enfants Rouges," but it's a hollow piece. So many of these—even the ones that work—are fairly hollow, but it's not as if something cannot be solidly established in a short amount of time, as the Coens, Suwa, and Oliver Schmitz' pieces demonstrate. Schmitz' "Place de Fêtes" is particularly affecting as a man (Seydou Boro) lay dying next to a statue, and his life since his chance meeting with a paramedic (Aïssa Maïga) plays out in a fever dream of sorts. There's also something to be said of Isabel Coixet's "Bastille," which spins a man (Sergio Castellitto) trying to divorce his wife (Miranda Richardson) into a truly moving look at love in a time of crisis.
Alexander Payne ends the movie on the perfect note with "14th Arrondissement." In a really bad French dialect, Carol (Margo Martindale) tells the story of how she came to love Paris. Some of these shorts are too concerned with the gimmick or apparently feel forced into the "little love story" element. The best shorts of Paris, Je T'aime are clearly the works of their directors, exploring their perception of love, and summing it up in less than ten minutes. Those few pieces are little gems, but they are far too few in this fascinating but shaky experiment.
Copyright © 2007 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.