REVIEW: Paris, je t’aime [Paris, I Love You] [2006]

I have been eagerly awaiting the release of the short film anthology Paris, je t’aime [Paris, I Love You] for a long time. Once I heard of the project it really interested me as something that could be amazing, with some enormous talent attached. To my disappointment, I read about the finished shorts and how good they were, but alas no release date stateside for the entire experience. It will eventually come to the US (limited early May, Buffalo? Maybe), however, I could wait no longer and made the purchase for the special edition Region 3 disc. Thankfully I did, because this work of art is gorgeous to behold—visually, lyrically, emotionally, and intelligently beautiful. At the same time it makes me feel like I need to visit the city sometime in the near future, and yet also that I have been there already.

Oftentimes, films of this nature come across as a mixed bag of great work along with slight drivel to fill the runtime. Whether it is the big name support or the project itself, Paris, je t’aime never falls into this realm. Always intriguing and meaningful, even the lesser pieces become integral to the overall outcome. I believe I can truly say that the movie as a whole is better than its parts. Between the wonderful transitions and the fantastic ending sequence, merging characters together in one last view of love in Paris, I think the film would have suffered if any cog were removed. True, there are definitely a few standouts that overshadow the rest, but in the end I have a lasting image, even if just a split second of each short vignette. Love takes many forms, and the talent here rises to the occasion, to surprise and move the audience through shear poetry and elegance of the emotion’s many facets.

Here are some thoughts on each of the eighteen entries, (alphabetical by director):

Quartier des Enfants Rouges: Maggie Gyllenhaal surprises as a drug-addled actress shooting in Paris and meeting with her dealer. The reveal at its conclusion leaves you a bit off-balance as the infatuation between the two changes hands.

Quartier Latin: Ben Gazzara and Gena Rowlands (recreating a relationship from an old Cassavettes film?) bring some great sharp wit and sarcasm as they meet to discuss their impending divorce. What of their conversation is true and what is just to piss the other off, who knows? It is all enjoyable; leaving a smile on your face.

Quais de Seine: Director Gurinder Chadha gives us a touching portrait of love existing beyond religious and racial differences. It is a sweet little story of shy love between two people obviously feeling a connection, but unable to quite vocalize it.

Tour Eiffel: I will admit to being disappointed that Sylvain Chomet did not get an animated sequence together, however, this live action tale of mimes falling in love at a Paris jail has the same quirky nature as his film Les Triplettes de Belleville.

Tuileries: The Coen Brothers stick to their strange sense of humor and deliver some fine laughs. Steve Buscemi really shines and sells the performance without speaking a word. His facial reactions to the verbal abuse of a disgruntled Frenchman are priceless.

Bastille: Here is a heartbreaking portrait of a couple, about out of love only to have it come back in the face of tragedy. Sergio Castellitto and Miranda Richardson are moving as the couple dealing with trouble and finding how strong the bond of true love is.

Pére-Lachaise: A surprisingly funny little tale from horror master Wes Craven. A little Oscar Wilde humor can add levity to any relationship.

Parc Monceau: Alfonso Cuarón looks to be practicing the amazing long-takes he perfects in Children of Men with this tale of two people in love, walking down the street. As Nick Nolte and Ludivine Sagnier eventually come into close-up view, we also find the true context of their conversation of “forbidden love.”

Porte de Choisy: A very surreal look into the glamour of Paris. This is probably the most odd entry, but so intriguing that you can’t look away from the craziness that ensues. Do not anger your Asian beautician, whatever you do.

Pigalle: An interesting look at a relationship undergoing a role-play that seems to have been stagnant for years. A little variety from Bob Hoskins is necessary to keep the fire kindled.

Quartier de la Madeleine: Even vampires in Paris can find love amongst the feeding hours. I don’t know whether to be happy for Elijah Wood as a result or not. Beautifully shot and muted to allow the vibrancy of the blood red, this short is strange, but then so is love.

14th arrondissement: Leave it to Alexander Payne’s odd sense of humor to really add some depth to this voice-over story told by an American in Paris to find what love is. Her harsh, uneducated French is a very stark contrast to the authentic accents we’ve been listening to until this point—just off-kilter enough to be both funny and totally true to the story.

Montmartre: An interesting introduction into the proceedings. Paris can be a city reviled for everyday activities, like finding a parking spot, yet when love is discovered, it will take its prisoner anywhere to continue the journey.

Loin du 16éme: Catalina Sandino Moreno brilliantly shows what love for a child is through her subtle performance as the tale is bookended by her singing to a young child, yet totally different each time.

Place des Fetes: My favorite tale of the bunch. Seydou Boro and Aïssa Maïga are simply fantastic. The cyclical nature of the story and how fate brings the two characters together twice in order for Boro to finally ask her for coffee are tough to watch. Sometimes love at your final moment is enough to accept one’s leaving of this earth.

Place des Victoires: Another of the best stories, about a mother trying to cope with the death of her young son. Juliette Binoche is devastating as the mother, desperate for one last glimpse of her son, and Willem Dafoe is oddly perfect as the cowboy who allows her the chance.

Faubourg Saint-Denis: Sometimes one needs to think he has lost love to accept that he has not been fully invested with it. Melchior Beslon reminisces, trying to find where they went wrong through a series of sharp, quick cuts from his meeting Natalie Portman to eventually “seeing” how much he needs her.

Le Marais: Leave it to Gus Van Sant to show us a story about the gap in communication and understanding as his films almost always deal with some form of alienation. His photographer from Elephant is an American working in Paris who is the catalyst for Gaspard Ulliel’s artist’s ramblings of love and soul mates. Sometimes one doesn’t need to know what is being said to understand what is going on in the pauses.

Paris, je t’aime [Paris, I Love You] 8/10 | ★ ★ ★

[1] Natalie Portman star as Francine in Paris, je t’aime. (segment ‘Faubourg Saint-Denis’)
[2] Gena Rowlands star as Gena (segment ‘Quartier Latin’) in Paris, je t’aime.
[3] Elijah Wood as The Tourist in Paris, je t’aime (segment ‘Quartier de la Madeleine’)
[4] A scene from Paris, je t’aime (segment ‘Place des Fetes’)


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