Judge Franck Tabouring never thought he would say this, but he misses Paris a bit.
"Rain makes flowers grow and snails happy. That's a fact."—Romain Duris
If there's one thing I really miss about Europe, it's not being able to watch more of those artsy French flicks I once enjoyed almost on a weekly basis. There's just something special that keeps pulling me to the genre. Maybe it's the complexity with which the directors tell their captivating stories, the depth of the fascinating characters, or the usually dark moods surrounding the plots. Christophe Honore's Dans Paris fits this description quite well, and I'm delighted this little, interesting French film found its way to the States.
Facts of the Case
The story is not necessarily one that will cheer you up. After Paul (Romain Duris) slips into a heavy depression following his turbulent breakup with Anna (Joana Preiss), he decides to leave the French countryside and move back home to Paris, where he finds shelter with his divorced father (Guy Marchand) and his younger brother Jonathan (Louis Garrel). Although he basically keeps himself locked up in the bedroom, not uttering a word and refusing to eat, Paul soon discovers how important it is to have a family to run to in times of trouble.
If you've ever seen a Christophe Honore flick before, you'll know what to expect. Dans Paris is certainly not a film for the masses, which pretty much explains its short theatrical run. Chances are you've never even heard of it before, unless you're closely following foreign films and know what's going on at the Cannes Film Festival, where the movie was received quite well back in May 2006. In essence, Honore delivers a calm film with great, eccentric characters dealing with important issues in life.
At the center of the story line we find Paul, who's doing a horrible job at dealing with his depression and spends most of the film in bed before his caring, yet dysfunctional, family slowly pulls him back into active living. Ironically, they try to cheer him up by means of rather unconventional methods. His dad checks on him every other minute and constantly wants to fix him lunch and dinner, but he really has no valuable life lessons to pass on to his son. His ignorant brother Jonathan, who doesn't really do anything in life (he doesn't even shower), promises Paul a walk through the city but ends up spending the entire day hooking up with three girlfriends. There's also a mother who pays a quick visit and seems to have a stronger bond with Paul than the other two. In short, it's not necessarily the kind of environment you want to have your depression in.
What's so great about the film's plot is that Honore refrains from telling his viewers all about his characters right away. Instead, his characters are all mysterious figures when we first meet them, and we won't know what's really going on in their minds until the very end of the film. The first 30 minutes especially reflect the combination of fascinating storytelling and first-class filmmaking, as viewers get to experience the collapse of Paul's relationship in an utterly unconventional way. Constant flashbacks between past and present let us in on what his love with Anna was like and what went wrong during the time they were dating, showing how closely happiness can in fact be connected to sadness. This is also when the film is the speediest. After Paul moves back to Paris, the plot quiets down and we basically spend the rest of the film inside an apartment.
Besides a smart and witty script that includes some incredibly subtle dialogues about the nature of love and the essence of human relationships (at one stage, Paul argues sadness is put inside people at birth), Dans Paris also features an incredibly beautiful cinematography, despite the fact that most of the flick takes place indoors. Although the title may suggests otherwise, don't expect a sunny tour of Paris. Honore made sure to keep the shots outside grayish and almost rainy, primarily to help set the overall mood of the film. I also have to mention the great soundtrack, which includes some excellent tracks blending beautifully with some of the film's most memorable scenes.
Dans Paris would only be half as good without its brilliant cast. Romain Duris has quickly turned into one of my favorite French actors, and his performance as Paul comes close to his incredible work in The Beat That My Heart Skipped. Duris utters only a few words during the second half of the film, but he easily carries the flick on his shoulders. Assisting him are Louis Garrel and the great Guy Marchand, who deliver sincere performances as brother and father, respectively. Joana Preiss, as Paul's ex-girlfriend, shines mostly during the beginning of the film.
I have no complaints whatsoever about the video transfer. The picture quality is clean and the image is always sharp, giving us some beautiful shots from inside the apartment and around Paris. The audio works just as fine, with the dominating dialogue mixing in great with the fabulous soundtrack.
Special features on the disc include a 4-minute deleted scene, which takes place between Jonathan and his dad in their bathroom. It's not a particularly boring scene, but I'm glad they cut it out because it would have slowed down the plot. The only other extra on the DVD is a short film by Christophe Honore entitled "Rendez-Vous With Louis." Clocking in at six minutes, the flick just follows around actor Louis Garrel as he reads one of his fan letters and runs into a group of tourists in Paris. I was disappointed because I thought I was in for a previous and most importantly scripted Honore film, but this is basically just a short clip, well, about Garrel. No real treats here.
Dans Paris is a wonderful cinematic experience, and I can only hope it will find its way into some households. Lovers of artsy French cinema have to see it, and so do young filmmakers and film students. A great film!
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