I watched the omnibus film Paris je t'aime the other night and was wondering how to review it and then though, duh, I'll review each of the individual films. These sort of movies rarely work as well as they think they do. For every great short there's one that is a bit dodgy. Even when it's something like Eros or Three... Extremes, which are merely three films in one. Jim Jarmusch's Coffee & Cigarettes had several great pieces, but also had some shit ones. Perhaps the strongest of these sorts of films that I can remember is 11'09"01, which featured the best thing Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu has ever done (and all it is is a black screen!) and featured a very moving piece by Sean Penn.
So, true to form, Paris je t'aime has many good pieces, but also quite a few bad ones. Let's observe by going through each one and discussing what exactly we learn about Paris.
Montmartre, directed by Bruno Podalydes - Montmatre is pretty and sometimes people collapse there. Also, people can't find parking spaces. That's pretty much all I got from this piece.
Quais de Seine, directed by Gurinda Chadha - Curiously, the first two short-films in Paris je t'aime involve people falling over and being helped by a potential love interest. Note to self - if I ever go to Paris and feel like a shag, just fall over and people will swarm. Also, Cyril Descours is very adorable (he's the one on the right, but it doesn't particularly make him shine).
Le Marais, directed by Gus Van Sant - So, essentially, what each director involved got given was a district of Paris and told to tell a five-minute story about/involving it. So what does Gus Van Sant do? He sets his gay love story inside a cramped art gallery (yet doesn't show us any actual art) and doesn't allow us to see anything other than the front door exterior. WOW.
Tuilleries, directed by Joel and Ethan Coen - Steve Buscemi plays a foreign tourist in the underground rail system. He's a loser. Big leap, I know. I didn't care for this segment though.
Loin de 16e, directed by Walter Salles and Daniela Thomas - Catalina Sandino Moreno plays a young immigrant (typecast or what?) who must abandon her own baby to go take her of someone elses. I liked this one and thought it actually said something about Paris, which none of the others seemed to.
Porte de Choisy, directed by Christopher Doyle - If Doyle is to be believed (he is the world-class cinematographer of Wong Kar Wai films plus Rabbit Proof Fence and others) then the Porte de Choisy district of Paris is full of eccentric Asians. Very weird, this one. Love the music at the end though!
Bastille, directed by Isabel Coixet - In a weird symmetry to Coixet's My Life Without Me, she sets up a story about a terribly annoying woman who just happens to be dying. Miranda Richardson plays said woman. It's not very interesting, but it has some nice stuff to look at I suppose.
Place des Victoires, directed by Nobuhiro Suwa - One of the better pieces, even if I don't get what it says about Paris. It features Juliette Binoche as a mourning mother and Willem Dafoe of a mysterious American cowboy. Perhaps it is saying something about the intrusion of American culture onto French youth. Hey, I'm gonna go with that!
Tour Eiffel, directed by Sylvain Chomet - My favourite from the whole film. Chomet's short is about a mime who ends up in jail. It's delightfully bonkers and it's a hoot watching Paul Putner and Yolanda Moreauu do their thing. I guess that Chomet is actually French went a long way to making this segment feel like one of the more F-R-E-N-C-H feeling. And, unlike so many others of the segments, it feels like it could have been a short film outside of the Paris je t'aime universe.
Parc Monceau, directed by Alfonso Cuaron - I liked the central discussion between Ludivine Sagnier and Nick Nolte, discussing how the unseen "Gaspard" is playing havoc on her life. It's all kind of pointless though. We do get to see a French video store with posters for movies such as Elephant and The Motorcycle Diaries in the window.
Quartier des Enfants Rouges, directed by Olivier Assayas - Another of my favourites, Assayas' segment features Maggie Gyllenhaal as a drug-addicted American actress filming a period piece in Paris. Feels similar to Clean, which featured Maggie Cheung as a Paris-set musician trying to get clean off drugs, also directed by Olivier Assayas.
Place des fêtes, directed by Oliver Schmitz - A story about a dying man and his paramedic. The only segment to represent African-Parisians, curiously.
Pigalle, directed by Richard LaGravanese - From the director of Freedom Writers!!! No, I shouldn't joke because this is actually one of my three favourite segments from the entire film. It features Bob Hoskins and Fanny Ardent - who gives an amazing performance in the short timespan - as a couple in a seedy bar with no labido. Did I say how amazing Fanny Ardent is?
Quartier de la Madeleine, directed by Vincenzo Natali - Clearly the worst thing Vincenzo Natali has ever done, right? This silly segment features Elijah Wood getting bite-happy with a French vampire. You'd be hard pressed to even know this was set in France let alone a specific district of Paris.
Père-Lachaise, directed by Wes Craven - Craven, who cameos in Natali's piece, directs this segment with Emily Mortimer (yay!) and Rufus Sewell as a bickering couple in this famous Paris cemetary. Sewell gets posessed by Oscar Wilde. Mortimer is a charmer (but you know that already, right?) and I really liked this segment.
Faubourg Saint-Denis, directed by Tom Tykwer - Natalie Portman features as an American actress who falls in love with a blind Frenchman. Another very strong segment and it feels visually alive (showing us more of Paris than a blind Parisian will ever see) and actually works the district into the storyline. Nice work.
Quartier Latin, directed by Gérard Depardieu and Frédéric Auburtin - Interesting, Gena Rowlands wrote this piece that stars her and Ben Gazzara as a divorcing couple. The dialogue is nice and Rowlands and Gazzara work well together, but considering that it alludes to Gena's character having moved to Paris and falling it love multiple times already, I can't help but feel like there was a better story to tell. Still works well though.
14e arrondissement, directed by Alexander Payne - Very nearly my favourite (although it will be the one that will stick with everybody the longest) this segment by Alexander Payne is a moving ode to Paris and it's beauty. It's one of only a small few that actually work as a love letter to Paris. It's amazing how quickly I went from thinking Margo Martindale's sourpuss character was annoying to sympathetic and beautiful. Her final moments possibly aren't what you would expect, but are touching.
So, in the end, there was some diamonds in the rough, but nowhere nearly enough of the directors actually seemed to care that the title of the film is "Paris, I Love You" and not "Paris, A Place To Set A Short Film I Could Make Anywhere". As a result, the ones that feel connected to Paris or the ones that try to show us the Paris I can't are the ones that prove strongest. The films by Chomet, Payne, LaGravanese, Tykwer and Craven especially.
Give Paris je t'aime a try if you want to. It's a great way of feeling like you're expanding on your experience of a certain director's resume and, as I said, there are several really great pieces that are worth sitting down for. B-