Paris by Cedric Klapish

By Emily Manthei

After seeing French director C?®dric Klapisch's duo of 'twentysomething' serio comedies, “L'Auberge Espagnole” and “Les Poupe?®s Russes,” expectations were high for his future work. While both films are too long and disputably a bit heavy-handed, they displayed a certain thematic sensitivity and refreshing morality about them that made us forward to his new film, “Paris,” a contemplative, dark tale.

“Paris” depicts the tragic tale of Romain Duris (star of the aforementioned films as well), dying of a heart condition. His sister, divorcee Juliette Binoche, and her kids move in to help take care of him. Binoche¬ís interactions with the staff of her local market link Duris' story to those of immigrants, agricultural workers, North Africans, and a wayward university professor and his young student lover, weaving a tapestry of the city from lifestyles in the area surrounding Montmarte.

The common link in the film is the dim, sad outlook of the characters. Touching moments do not dispel the sunless gloom of the Parisian winter landscape, and even the comedic turns Klapisch fashions seem to be outweighed by the overwhelming melancholy surrounding the doomed Duris character.

While many thirtysomethings awaiting a certain death would face their final days hungry for experience, Duris faces them with excruciating inactivity, slowing the picture’s multiple storylines to a sympathetic crawl. But perhaps most noticeably, Klapisch continues to have trouble drawing his films to a satisfying closuree. In fact, they usually end two or three times before the credits actually roll.

However, “Paris,” blessedly, only had one ending, although the thematic content of it matched the hearty heavy-handedness one expects by pasting a clear, epically simple, on-the-nose “moral” at the end of his story, a moral the story really doesn¬ít need, because he's showed it clearly enough in pictures.

But to make sure his audience gets exactly his point, Klapish has his main character (usually Duris) emphatically state his aim. And this time, it's life is beautiful. As Duris takes a taxi ride through all sorts of Parisian landmarks, on his way to the hospital for what could be a fatal operation, he speaks a grand soliloquy to his taxi driver: “Parisians are so unhappy. Like that man, standing over there. Why can¬ít he just take an aimless, carefree stroll in Paris Why can¬ít he be glad for his life, appreciate it Enjoy it Why does he look so miserable Why is everyone in this town so miserable, when they all have wonderful lives They're not dying. They're not on their way to the gallows. Why can't people just seize the day, and enjoy their lives” As if the speech weren't enough, the lyrics of the backing song are also “seize the day.”

Klapisch might have overdone it, but his film is sad, melancholy, and moving. Moreover, the acting is better than in any of his other films. The storylines are very integrated, although he may have too many characters, and one random “immigration” sub-plot that simply goes nowhere.

That said, the montage is superb, and the elements of fine filmmaking come together in a coherent way.

More importantly, it is a very French film, not a French-trying-to-be-American, like so much recent Canal+ fare. It's French in the real, brutal, filmic sense of the word. But it's also sad in a way that a Frenchman thinks Paris is just as soul-destroying and uninspiring as some of us think our own American cities are.

Perhaps this is the movie's main point, namely, it's not where you are that counts; it's your own attitude that makes a place magic or misery.