Appellate Judge James A. Stewart asks: How come Amelie didn't have cowboys and vampires?
Our review of Paris, Je T'Aime (Steelbook), published December 1st, 2008, is also available.
Paris…I love you.
"Each of Paris's 20 arrondissements possesses a unique style and flavor," Frommers says on its Web site.
While Paris Je T'aime (Paris, I Love You) isn't a travelogue sort of movie, it does show off the neighborhoods (arrondissements) of Paris in its cinematography.
Each of its eighteen short films (described as five minutes long in the making-of feature, although I think they were slightly longer) serves up a slice of life in a different section of the City of Lights. Each one was filmed by a different noted director—Sylvain Chomet, Wes Craven, Tom Twyker, and Joel and Ethan Coen, to name but a few—who was given two days to work.
Facts of the Case
Paris Je T'aime is made up of eighteen short films about the City of Lights, each focusing on a neighborhood (directors' names are in parentheses):
• "Montmartre" (Bruno Podalydes): What would it take for a woman to fall for a man unlucky in love? Dizziness from low blood sugar, in this case.
• "Quais de Seine" (Gurindar Chadha): A teen sees the person behind the veil when he goes to the aid of a Muslim girl whose burka has fallen off in a fall.
• "Le Marais" (Gus Van Sant): An English-speaking man isn't sure whether the French man he was just talking to was propositioning him.
• "Tuileries" (Joel and Ethan Coen): A tourist (Steve Buscemi) learns why "eye contact should be avoided" in a confrontation on the Metro.
• "Loin du 16 e" (Walter Salles and Daniela Thomas): Ana drops her baby off in day care before heading to her job.
• "Porte de Choisy" (Christopher Doyle): Mr. Henny (Barbet Schroeder) pitches hair products in an Chinese beauty salon where karate and musical numbers are the norm.
• "Bastille" (Isabel Coixet): A man is planning to leave his wife (Miranda Richardson), but she has a surprise for him.
• "Place des Victoires" (Nobuhiro Suwa): A cowboy (Willem Dafoe) appears to help a woman (Juliette Binoche) cope with the death of her son.
• "Tour Eiffel" (Sylvain Chomet): Two lonely mimes meet and fall in love.
• "Parc Monceau" (Alfonso Cuaron): A conversation between a young woman and an older man (Nick Nolte).
• "Quartier des Enfants Rouges" (Olivier Assayas): A motorcycle courier calls on a young actress (Maggie Gyllenhall) just before a shoot.
• "Place des Fetes" (Oliver Schmitz): "Lagos is safer," a beating victim (Seydou Boro) tells a female paramedic (Aissa Maiga). This isn't the first time they've met…
• "Pigalle" (Richard LaGravenese): A couple (Fanny Ardent and Bob Hoskins) is arguing about sexual problems—and the solutions he proposes.
• "Quartier de la Madeleine" (Vincenzo Natali): A backpacker (Elijah Wood) on a lonely street steps in a puddle of something sticky and red. Could there be a vampire lurking?
• "Pere-Lachaise" (Wes Craven): She (Emily Mortimer) wants to see Oscar Wilde's grave "because he makes me laugh." Too bad he (Rufus Sewell) doesn't have the same wit.
• "Faubourg Saint-Denis" (Tom Twyker): A woman (Natalie Portman) sets her lover's flashbacks into motion with her words in a call: "Our love fell asleep and the snow took it by surprise."
• "Quartier Latin" (Frederic Auburtin and Gerard Depardieu): A couple comes in to discuss their divorce—and his new, younger fiancee.
• "14 e Arrondissement" (Alexander Payne): A French student (Margo Martindale), speaking haltingly, tells her class back in Denver about her stay in Paris.
Paris Je T'aime is, by definition, a jumble of styles and tones. Some directors tell a complete story in just a few minutes, while others only set a scene and leave hints.
For the most part, I found the slices of Paris life here interesting, although a few—"Porte de Choisy," "Quartier des Enfants Rouges," and "Quartier Latin"—seemed pointless. No matter, though, since there's always a new experience around the corner.
I found three of the stories—"Bastille," "Place des Fetes," and "14 e Arondissement"—exceptionally well-told, with the directors covering a lot of ground in a few minutes, and the actors delivering powerful emotional punches in shorthand style.
Others—such as "Montmartre," "Quais de Seine," and "Loin du 16 e"—offered glimpses into Paris lives that hinted at more stories to be told. These scenarios might have easily inspired feature-length films.
Strictly speaking, the surreal scenes of "Tuileries," "Place des Victoires," "Tour Eiffel," and "Quartier de la Madeleine" don't say much about the neighborhoods, but they were entertaining and—in the case of "Place des Victoires"—touching.
The directors have a tendency to show off—Tom Twyker's entry, for example, doesn't say much but has style to burn as it literally depicts a relationship in fast-forward. The storytelling style becomes as much a focus as Paris or its stories.
Actors, on the other hand, disappear into their characters more than usual when you only see fleeting glimpses of them. By the time you've asked yourself, "Is that Emily Mortimer?," she's gone, and Natalie Portman's the star on screen.
Paris Je T'aime seems to play a lot with perceptions of Paris, which is only natural given that many of the directors and actors are outsiders. The fact that major characters in two different stories were actresses in town to shoot movies emphasized this outsider perspective.
The segments open with breathtaking Paris views. While the Coens filmed entirely at a Metro station and Vincenzo Natali chose an unreal Sin City look, most segments use natural day or night photography. The view looked fantastic on my screen. I didn't notice any problems with the sound, although it's harder to tell when most of the dialogue is in French.
There's a short feature, "At the Heart of Paris Je T'aime," which tells a little about how the movie was made. With a collection of short films by a diverse group of actors and directors, there's a lot more that could be said than this 25-minute feature offered.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
If you're looking over the names of the directors and either haven't heard of any of them or think they're all overrated, Paris Je T'aime isn't the movie for you. The directors tend to steal the show in this one.
It also would have been nice to see more of a French perspective on Paris. Alas, it was not to be. "There are very few Parisians who come and talk about Paris," actress Ludivine Sagnier ("Parc Monceau") says in the making-of segment.
Wait a minute…the Frommers quote mentioned 20 neighborhoods. I counted only 18 segments here. Two filmed segments, IMDb notes, didn't work out.
It looks like the R rating is mostly for profanity, although there's some sexual discussion, drug use, and one segment with a Seine worth of fake blood.
Even though these short films are mostly on the light side, Paris Je T'aime is an intense movie, full of experimenting with styles. You'll find a few gems and a collection that mostly holds your attention. Paris Je T'aime has a better batting average than you'd expect for a batch of short films.
Pas coupable (Not guilty).
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Scales of Justice
Studio: First Look Pictures
• "At the Heart of Paris Je T'aime"
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