Paris, Je T'Aime

(Paris, I Love You)

Cannes Film Fest 2006 (Certain Regard World Premiere)–Twenty different directors have been asked to depict the most distinctive neighborhoods of Paris in “Paris je t'aime,” a love letter to the City of Lights and Romance.

For some reason, two of the commissioned segments are not included in the final cut, which conists of 18 episodes. As is often the case of omnibus films, the two-hour anthology is uneven, but always watchable, and sporadically even amusing and entertaining.

“Paris je t'aime” received its world premiere as opening night of Certain Regard at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival, after which it has played at several international festivals, including Toronto, Moscow and Copenhagen. Almost a year after its bow, First Look will release the picture in New York on May 4 and in Los Angeles on May 18, followed by a national rollout.

Though the criteria for selecting specific directors, and how the neighborhoods were chosen, are not revealed, as a group, the filmmakers represent contemporary international cinema.

Overall, what comes across is how visions of Paris have been shaped by literary and cinematic ideas and myth. One of the unifying elements of the film is the reliance on local (i.e. Parisian) technical talent, though the actors often belong to the same nationality of their directors.

As a love poem to the world's still most transcendental, we get variations of this theme from such celebrated directors as the Coen brothers, Gus Van Sant, Gurinder Chadha, Wes Craven, Isabel Coixet, Walter Salles, Alexander Payne and Olivier Assayas.

An outstanding cast of actors, including Natalie Portman, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Fanny Ardant, Elijah Wood, Nick Nolte, Bob Hoskins, Juliette Binoche, Emily Mortimer, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Rufus Sewell, Barbet Schroeder, Ludivine Sagnier, Gena Rowlands, Miranda Richardson and Steve Buscemi, grace these vignettes with their larger-than-life personas.

With each director portraying an unusual encounter in one of the city's neighborhoods, the vignettes go beyond the “postcard” view of Paris to reveal facets of the city rarely seen on screen.

Thematically, we get a portrait of racial tensions next to paranoid visions of the city, seen from the perspective of an American tourist. A young foreign worker moves from her own domestic situation into her employer's bourgeois environs. An American starlet finds escape as she is shooting a movie. A man is torn between his wife and his lover. A young man working in a print shop sees and desires another young man. A father grapples with his complex relationship with his daughter. A couple tries to add spice to their sex life. These are but a few of the witty and serendipitous narratives that make up “Paris, je t'aime.”

As noted, Paris is the anthology's star, and what come across most strongly are myths, fantasies, and idea that the directors have about the City of Lights, one that has always occupied a special place in our collective consciousness.

Having some French blood in me, I can testify to encountering some of these ideas (and clichs) myself. Among the most prominent of which are Paris as the ultimate romantic city in the world, the distinction between the city and its inhabitants (“We love Paris but we don't like Parisians”), French people as good lovers, Frenchmen as arrogant, and so on.

Set in one of the neighborhoods within the city's official administrative districts, each chapter begins with identifying the name of the vicinity and the corresponding director superimposed over an establishing shot.
Each segment was written or co-written by its helmer, except “Quartier Latin,” which was scripted by Gena Rowlands but co-helmed by Gerard Depardieu and Frederic Auburtin. (Rowlands and Depardieu appeared in “Unhook the Stars” the feature directorial debut of Nick Cassavetes, son of Rowlands and legendary director John Cassavetes).

Most of the chapters are in French, three are in English, and a few mix the two languages. Some installments convey a particular tone, while others tell a story.

The 18 episodes have been strung together in an order that would please some, while disappoint others. There was an effort to present a more or less balanced view. Space doesn't permit me to dwell on all of the 18 segments, each spanning about 4-5 minutes in telling a love story in the designated neighborhood.

With a characteristically light touch, Gurinder Chadha offers a poignant commentary on the idiocy of religious and racial stereotyping in “Quais de Seine.” Indie Icon Steve Buscemi's is at the center of Joel and Ethan Coen's comic chapter in “Tuileries,” which is set in the Metro station of that name.

More serious is socially-conscious installment by Walter Salles and Daniela Thomas, who depict the gulf between the life of a poor immigrant servant (Catalina Sandino Moreno) and that of her employer in “Loin du 16eme.”

“Bastille” is Isabelle Coixet's bittersweet yarn of a man (Italian Sergio Castellitto) about to leave his wife (British Miranda Richardson) for his mistress (Leonor Watling).

The power of brief encounters is described in “Place des Fetes” by Olivier Schmitz. In “Tour Eiffel,” Sylvain Chomet, the animator of “The Triplettes of Belleville,” centers his tale on live actors for a change.

I also liked Wes Craven's “Pere-Lachaise,” in which Emily Mortimer and Rufus Sewell offer a look at how the dead can goose the living. Gaspard Ulliel (“Hannibal Rising”) delivers a candid monologue to a print shop owner (Elias McConnell) in Gus Van Sant's “Le Marais.”
Christopher Doyle's “Porte de Choisy” is nominally set in Chinatown, but having director Barbet Schroeder play a salesman of hair-care products means the camera moves around.

Alfonso Cuaron manipulates ambitiously the dimensions of sound, time, and space, offering a long tracking shot as he follows Nick Nolte and Ludivine Sagnier in “Parc Monceau.” Fanny Ardant and Bob Hoskins play a couple unsure just how theatrical their sex lives should be in Richard LaGravanese's “Pigalle.”

Rowlands and Ben Gazzara bring gravitasand memories of previous teamings–to their cafe appointment in “Quartier Latin.”

Alexander Payne in the closing installment, “14th Arrondissement,” sticks to the road motif (evident in all of his work) by depicting a middle-age letter-courier (Margo Martindale) who narrates her trip from Denver to Paris in French.

Among the weaker segments, for me, are Bruno Podalydes' “Montmartre”; Nobuhiro Suwa's overwrought look at parental grief, “Place des Victoires” starring Juliette Binoche and Willem Dafoe; and Tom Tykwer's “Faubourg Saint-Denis” about the romance between a blind French student (Melchior Beslon) and an American actress (Natalie Portman).

Insertion of images of Paris and a conclusion in which some of the characters crisscross are meant to cement the episodic structure of the ambitious anthology, whose production was years in making.

The fun part of watching a film like “Paris, je t'aime” is recalling your subjective experiences and encounters in the neighborhoods shown on screen. In this respect, for those who visited and/or lived in Paris, the anthology bears stronger personal meanings.

Credits

First Look

Running time: 120 MIN.

A Fabrique de Films release of a Victoires International and Pirol Film Productions presentation of a Victoires Intl. (France)/Pirol Film Prods. (Liechtenstein)/Filmazure (Switzerland) co-production with participation of Canal Plus.
Produced by Claudie Ossard, Emmanuel Benbihy.
Executive producer, Rafi Chaudry.
Co-producers, Burkhard Von Schenk, Stefan Piech, Matthias Batthyany.
Co-executive producers, Chris Bolzli, Gilles Caussade, Sam Englebardt, Ara Katz, Chad Troutwine, Frank Moss, Maria Kopf. Based on an original idea by Tristan Carne. Supervising editors, Simon Jacquet, Frederic Auburtin; music, Pierre Adenot; production designers, Bettina Von Den Steinen; sound (Dolby), Vincent Tulli; transitional segment directors, Frederic Auburtin, Emmanuel Benbihy; associate producer, Henri Jacob; casting, Nathalie Cheron.

MONTMARTRE

Directed, written by Bruno Podalydes.
Camera (color), Matthieu Poirot Delpech; editor, Anne Klotz.
With: Florence Muller, Podalydes.

QUAIS DE SEINE

Directed by Gurinder Chadha. Screenplay, Paul Mayeda Berges, Chadha.
Camera (color), David Quesemand; editor, Simon Jacquet.
With: Leila Bekhti, Cyril Descours.

LE MARAIS

Directed, written by Gus Van Sant.
Camera (color), Pascal Rabaud.
With: Marianne Faithfull, Elias McConnell, Gaspard Ulliel.

TUILERIES

Directed, written by Joel and Ethan Coen
Camera (color), Bruno Delbonnel.
With: Steve Buscemi, Julie Bataille, Axel Kiener.

LOIN DU 16EME

Directed, written by Walter Salles and Daniela Thomas.
Camera (color), Eric Gautier.
With: Catalina Sandino Moreno.

PORTE DE CHOISY

Directed, written by Christopher Doyle, in collaboration with Gabrielle Keng, Peralta & Rain Kathy Li.
Camera (color), Doyle; editor, Simon Jacquet.
With: Barbet Schroeder, Li Xin.

BASTILLE

Directed, written by Isabelle Coixet.
Camera (color), Jean-Claude Larrieu; editor, Simon Jacquet.
With: Sergio Castellitto, Miranda Richardson, Leonor Watling.

PLACE DES VICTOIRES

Directed, written by Nobuhiro Suwa
Camera (color), Pascal Marti; editor, Hisako Suwa.
With: Juliette Binoche, Willem Dafoe, Hippolyte Girardot.

TOUR EIFFEL

Directed, written by Sylvain Chomet.
Camera (color), Eric Guichard; special effects, Pieter Van Houtte, Raf Schoenmaker.
With: Paul Putner, Yolande Moreau.

PARC MONCEAU

Directed, written by Alfonso Cuaron.
With: Nick Nolte, Ludivine Sagnier.

PIGALLE

Directed, written by Richard LaGravanese.
Camera (color), Gerard Sterin; editor, Simon Jacquet.
With: Bob Hoskins, Fanny Ardant.

QUARTIER DES ENFANTS ROUGES

Directed, written by Olivier Assayas.
Camera (color), Jean-Claude Larrieu; editor, Luc Barnier.
With: Maggie Gyllenhall, Lionel Dray.

PLACE DES FETES

Directed, written by Olivier Schmitz.
Camera (color), Michel Amathieu; editor, Isabel Meier.
With: Aissa Maiga, Seydou Boro.

QUARTIER DE LA MADELEINE

Camera (color), Tetsuo Nagata.
With: Elijah Wood, Olga Kurylenko.

PERE-LACHAISE

Directed, written by Wes Craven.
Camera (color), Frank Greibe; editor, Mathilde Bonnefoy.
With: Natalie Portman, Melchior Beslon.

QUARTIER LATIN

Directed by Gerard Depardieu, Frederic Auburtin. Screenplay, Gena Rowlands.
Camera (color), Pierre Aim; editor, Simon Jacquet.

14TH ARRONDISSEMENT

Directed, written by Alexander Payne.
Camera (color), Denis Lenoir; editor, Simon Jacquet.