Paris, je t’aime (2006)
Margo Martindale, Nick Nolte, Steve Buscemi, Juliet Binoche, Willem Dafoe, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Bob Hoskins, Elijah Wood, Olga Kurylenko, Emily Mortimer, Alexander Payne, Natalie Portman, Ben Gazzara, Gena Rowlands, Gérard Depardieu. Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, Alexander Payne, Gus Van Sant, Alfonso Cuarón, and others. (English and French, with English subtitles)
A tourist in Paris unintentionally gets involved in a young couple’s spat when he makes eye contact in the metro station. An EMT tends to a bleeding man whom she doesn’t realize she’s met before. An American man escorts a much younger woman down the street, begging her to trust him. These are three of the eighteen very short films that make up Paris, je t’aime. Each short is set in a different Parisian arrondissement (a word I just learned), each written and directed by a different team.
Films like this miss more often than they hit, but here is one that mostly gets it right. When you only have five minutes to tell a story, it seems you rely more on situation and pacing than on characters, dialogue, or plot, but characters, dialogue, and plot can make the difference between interesting and moving. Taken individually, not every short is moving, but most of them contribute to an overall stirring of feelings about (and feelings of) love. I especially like the sections directed by Alfonso Cuarón, Oliver Schmitz, Alexander Payne, and Paul Mayeda Berges with Gurinder Chadha (who directed Bend it Like Beckham together).
The acting is solid all around, but I was especially taken with Margo Martindale as a middle-aged American woman narrating her visit to Paris in an American’s schoolbook French. Martindale is an actor I’ve only recently discovered, and in this film, she is the best I’ve seen her.
Although I have mixed feelings about his chapter, Bob Hoskins is another standout: I don’t think I’ve seen him in anything except Who Framed Roger Rabbit, so his dignified English accent and bearing were a really nice surprise.
In Wes Craven’s scene, Emily Mortimer and Rufus Sewell do a nice job with a lovers’ argument in the cemetery where Oscar Wilde is buried, when Wilde’s grave inspires one to break up with the other, and Wilde himself seems to inspire the other to make it work. The scene is maybe the best put-together in the film, where everything seems to work together to shine on its own and contribute to the bigger picture.
If you like the film, see it twice. It’s a movie that rewards a second viewing, and if you see it on a DVD which includes the making-of featurette, see that too.