Friday, February 5, 2010

Paris Je'taime

"Paris, Je'taime" (Various, 2006) You give 22 directors two days in a particular quartier of Paris to film a "love story" and watch what happens.* The results are varied in tone and success, but all are unique in story-line and subject matter and look. If ever there was a movie to show the specialness of the individual creator, despite their GPS position, this movie is it.

The cluster of films is like reading a good collection of short stories, all with just enough "hook" to make an impression, and in some cases, leave you wanting more. There is no continuity between them, save for a film-ending coda that combines several of the stars in brief tableaux while the segments are buttressed by nicely composed documentary shots of the city. That's merely the cartilege holding segments together. The soul of the thing are the many segments and the many takes on the city and its reputation.

1) Montmartre (Bruno Podalydès) The writer-director stars in his own contribution of a motorist who finally finds a parking space at the exact moment he's needed the most. Told mostly from the driver's perspective.

2) Quais de Seine (Gurinder Chadha) Cultural sensitivity is helped by mutual attraction as a young man (Cyril Descours) leaves his slacker pals and comes to the aid of a Muslim girl (Leïla Bekhti) on her way to the Mosque.

3) Le Marais (Gus Van Sant) a young man (Gaspard Ulliel) approaches a worker (Elias McConnell) at a printing press and stammers through a conversation about soul-mates that doesn't quite get through.

4) Tuileries (Joel and Ethan Coen) Contrarians The Coen Brothers spend their time in the Museum District inside the tube as a tourist (Steve Buscemi) has several culture clashes in Paris' seat of culture. Amazing how much story-line the Coens can cram into a short film...and how much animosity towards the French.

5) Loin du 16e (Walter Salles and Daniela Thomas) A nanny (Catalina Sandino Moreno of "Maria Full of Grace") makes a long commute to her charge and finds in it a moment of self-reflection.

6) Porte de Choisy (Christopher Doyle) Paris' Chinatown is given a Hong-Kong movie-maker's flair (by the cinematographer of, among others, "Shanghai Express") as a beauty products salesman (director/actor Barbet Schroeder) makes a call on a tough customer (Li Xin) running a salon. Stylized and witty, with equal parts sweet and sour.

7) Bastille (Isabel Coixet) A straying husband (Sergio Castellitto) meets his wife (Miranda Richardson) for lunch and instead of breaking up with her, finds himself devoting himself to her, utterly. Coixet has fun with a tragic story set in, pointedly of all places, Paris' prison district.

8) Place des Victoires (Nobuhiro Suwa) A grieving mother (Juliette Binoche) is given a last chance to make peace with her dead child with the help of a spectral cowboy (Willem Dafoe)

9) Tour Eiffel (Sylvain Chomet) "The Triplettes of Belleville" animator shows he's just as talented in "live action" doing a stop-motion film of a young boy relating the story of how his parents, both despised mimes, met and fell in love. Magical.

10) Parc Monceau (Alfonso Cuarón) Told in one continuous take, an older man (Nick Nolte) and younger woman (Ludivine Sagnier) meet at a pre-arranged place and speak of their worries about what will come next. Economical and sly, Cuarón also plays tributes to the other directors of "Paris, Jetaime" while he's at it.

11) Quartier des Enfants Rouges (Olivier Assayas) An American actress (Maggie Gyllenhaal) acting in a period drama, develops an addiction for her drug-supplier (Lionel Dray).

12) Place des fêtes (Oliver Schmitz) A Nigerian busker (Seydou Boro) gets his wish to have coffee with a woman he has fallen for (Aïssa Maïga). Told in brief flash-back with all the qualities of a dream.

13) Pigalle (Richard LaGravenese) Fanny Ardant and Bob Hoskins play a couple who are also players, creating a scenario on their anniversary to put a little spark into the act.

14) Quartier de la Madeleine (Vincenzo Natali) Gothic vampire tale of a tourist (Elijah Wood) who stumbles upon the activities of a beautiful vampiress (Olga Kurylenko). Love sucks.

15) Père-Lachaise (Wes Craven) Of course, Wes Craven gets the cemetery! But, he makes a simple film about love between a bickering couple (Rufus Sewell and Emily Mortimer) with a bit of poetic justice from Oscar Wilde (Alexander Payne).

16) Faubourg Saint-Denis (Tom Tykwer) Tykwer manipulates cinematic time and space chronicalling a love affair with an American drama student (Natalie Portman) passing before the blind eyes of a young musician (Melchior Beslon).

17) Quartier Latin (Gérard Depardieu and Frédéric Auburtin) Written by Gena Rowlands, who also stars with fellow Cassavettes Company alum Ben Gazzara, as a long-estranged couple who meet for a drink before finalizing their long-delayed divorce.

18) 14e arrondissement (Alexander Payne) An American (the wonderful Margo Martindale) on her first trip to Europe gives a report to her French class (in the language) of her trip.

Is there a favorite of mine? Yes. But like a French meal of many courses, if you're dissatisfied with any of the items, they're brief enough that another will come along shortly. What's interesting is that so many end with the turn of a franc that you don't realize just how well-done they are until they're gone...and a memory.

* There are 20 districts, but two of the pieces didn't make the cut.

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