Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Overlooked DVD of the month - PARIS JE T'AIME

PARIS JE T'AIME is a series of 18 five minute short films inspired by the different arrondisements of Paris. Each director had 2 days to film in their designated area. Sadly, the films don't really work as a coherent whole. It isn't the case that watching one film will give you a cunning insight to another. As such, I'll review them as individual shorts.

The movie opens with MONTMARTRE**, in which director-actor Bruno Podalydès skewers our post-card vision of Paris, and Montmartre in particular, as a city of love. A middle-aged man curses the traffic and his lack of success with women. It's an entirely forgettable segment.

Gurinder Chadha uses her segment, QUAIS DE SEINE*, to comment on European perceptons of Muslim women who wear the hijab. A young girl articulates her choice to wear the veil to a bemused young ethnic European boy. This segment isn't forgettable but for all the wrong reasons. It's a pretty trite exploration of an extremely complicated social issue. Maybe a more profound treatment isn't possible in a five-minute slot? But if that were the case, Chadha should have chosen another story.

In LE MARAIS****, we finally get a fascinating and memorable segment. Gus van Sant shows a young man (Gaspard Ulliel) telling another that he loves him, not realising that the object of his affections can't understand French well enough to understand him. It's an enchanting and tragic little mood piece, but I don't quite understand why we need to have a cameo of Marianne Faithful. It strikes me as redundant cinematic name-dropping.

TUILLERIES**** is another fantastic segment. The Coen Brothers mess with us by filming the entire skit in a metro station. A nervous American tourist (Buscemi) gets roundly beaten up for daring to make eye contact with a kissing couple. So much for the city of love!

Walter Salles sticks to his preoccupations with social divides in LOIN DU 16e**. Cataline Sandino Moreno leaves her own baby to work as a nanny after a perishing commute. Her employer dehumanises her. It's all worthy enough but just like's Chadha's segment, comes across as a bit obvious and trite.

Christopher Doyle's bizarre segment has a salesman (Barbet Schroeder) enter a surreal Chinatown salon in PORTE DE CHOISY*. I was bemused and unimpressed. It's a shame - because it somewhat detracts from Doyle's reputation as an outstanding cinematographer.

In BASTILLE**, Leonor Watling shows a wealthy man trapped in a loveless marriage, but rediscovering his love for his wife (Miranda Richardson) when she falls ill. Much like the first segment, I thought Watling gave us a rather dull story, told with no visual flair.

Nobuhiro Suwa gives us a segment that rather predictably uses Juliette Binoche as a grieving mother. In a Gondry-esque flight of fancy she deludes herself with visions of a cowboy (Willem Defoe) in PLACE DES VICTOIRES**. It's all a bit mawkish and forced.

Sylvain Chaumet shows life in Paris for two mimes in TOUR EIFFEL****. It's sweet and bizarre and rather strange.

Alfonso Cuarón puts together a tricksy single take conversation between Nick Nolte and Ludivigne Sagnier in PARC MONCEAU***. It's clever but hardly substantial or affecting.

Oliver Assayas has Maggie Gyllenhaal procure drugs in the QUARTIER DES ENFANTS ROUGES***. He makes a nice comment about the interaction between the heritage of the district and the current underground scene.

Oliver Schmitz shows a moment of violence and rekindled love at first sight in PLACE DES FETES*****. It's arguably the best segment in the movie. The acting is brilliant - the concept is original - it's tricksy but emotionally engaging all at the same time. Although it's five minutes long you feel you really know the characters and the lives they live. And best of all, you get the kind of social insight that Chadha and Salles were striving for without feeling lectured at.

Richard LaGravenese has Bob Hoskins and Fanny Ardant act out an argument for a prostitute in PIGALLE***. It's fun but not much more.

The same could be said of Vincenzo Natali's fantasy in LA MADELAINE***. Elijah Wood's hapless traveller chances upon Olga Kurylenko's sexy vampire.

Wes Craven's PERE-LACHAISE***, where Oscar Wilde helps Rufus Sewell win back Emily Mortimer, is also well-acted but insubstantial.

Like a middle-class version of PLACE DES FETES, Tom Tykwer condenses an entire relationship between a blind man and Natalie Portman's acting student into five minutes in FAUBOURG-ST DENIS****. The two leads act beautifully - the story has a great twist - and the use of music and the musicality of speech is outstanding.

In QUARTIER LATIN**, Ben Gazzara and Gena Rowlands have a last drink before separating in a bar run by Gérard Depardieu. Frédéric Auburtin directs. Yawn.

Perhaps most controversial and open to interpretation is Alexander Payne's segment 14e ARRONDISEMENT*/*****. He has a stereotypical American tourist (Margo Martindale) recite in demotic French her love for Paris. I can't make up my mind whether he's being very patronising about American tourists, or whether he's actually satirising European prejudices about Americans. This segment is either offensive or brilliant! You decide!

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