REVIEW: Les Olympiades, Paris 13e Paris, 13th District] [2021]

Rating: 8 out of 10.
  • Rating: R | Runtime: 105 minutes
    Release Date: September 30th, 2021 (France) / April 15th, 2022 (USA)
    Studio: Memento Films / IFC Films
    Director(s): Jacques Audiard
    Writer(s): Jacques Audiard, Léa Mysius & Céline Sciamma / Adrian Tomine (short stories “Amber Sweet”, “Killing and Dying”, “Summer Blonde” & “Hawaiian Getaway”

No need to shout.

The lighter side of writer/director Jacques Audiard—known for some pretty heavy dramas—comes out courtesy of graphic novelist Adrian Tomine’s modern romances. Audiard and his co-writers Léa Mysius and Céline Sciamma adapt three-to-four (I’ve seen competing numbers) of Tomine’s stories into a poignant and satisfying look through the private windows of Les Olympiades, Paris 13e [Paris, 13th District]. First there’s Émilie Wong (Lucie Zhang) and her new roommate Camille (Makita Samba). Then there’s Camille and his new real estate colleague Nora Ligier (Noémie Merlant). And, finally, there’s Nora striking up a friendship with popular cam-girl Amber Sweet (Jehnny Beth). Each comes and goes through the others’ lives, either leaving an indelible mark they cannot shake or providing the catalyst for necessary change en route towards crucial self-actualization.

Every connection is highlighted by a shift in dynamics. Some begin with sex before moving into platonic camaraderie. Some begin as friendships before evolving to sex. Talking leads to intimacy regardless as each tests his/her own boundaries, opening their hearts to love in ways that will ultimately risk unavoidable pain. They’re all in different phases of their lives and currently impacted by a recent loss that simultaneously demands they raise defenses while also striving to erase them. Émilie yearns for companionship only to be heartbroken. Camille craves physical attraction only to find himself alone. And Nora hopes for a new start away from a controversial sexual affair only to find herself the target of ridicule that projects so-called sexual deviancy upon her otherwise quietly innocent virtue.

They become that which the other needs in the moment even if those needs aren’t identically structured. See Émilie and Camille. While both desire sex, the way in which that sex presents itself isn’t equal. She sees the potential for a relationship. He sees an opportunity for fun. Without first verbalizing those conflicting attitudes, however, they find themselves blinded to reality by the appeal of their unique perspectives. Camille takes his fun and unceremoniously pulls the rip cord once he’s had his fill while Émilie embraces his affection as the promise of shared love. He’s operating under the impression that sex didn’t rewrite his purpose for being at her door: an affordable room. She’s certain that the sex irrevocably altered that arrangement. It’s a connection born from miscommunication.

Camille doesn’t quite learn his lesson once Nora enters, though. This time she’s the one who needs something from him: a job. Unlike him, however, she wants to keep things that way and isn’t averse to setting those ground rules early. There will be no romantic entanglements or flirtations. They will be co-workers and nothing more. It must be so because of what happened to her previously. And he understands that need considering what happened between him and Émilie. Except, maybe, necessity and understanding aren’t enough. Maybe those rigid rules will only work against them by guaranteeing something more grows regardless. Add Émilie’s return as friend and Nora’s insecurities born from having been sexually exploited before, and maybe the present is merely a painful stepping-stone towards the future.

It’s that messiness and uncertainty that lends the whole a refreshing authenticity devoid of contrivance or manipulation. This trio is built as human beings above narrative, every action a believable extension of who they are rather than a product of where Audiard and company need them to be. And all their familial factors play a role too whether it’s Émilie’s fear of watching her Alzheimer’s-riddled grandmother die, Camille’s pragmatic deflection steeped in sorrow preventing him from accepting the search for joy his father and sister have embraced in the aftermath of his mother’s death, or Nora’s willingness to look inward and decide what it is she wants rather than falling prey to the motives of those willing to dictate that for her. Life is complex; mistakes are plentiful.

And communication is key. Without it, the suffering gets worse. It goes both ways too. Camille would love to blame Émilie’s inability to accept that what they had was a fling for the dissolution of their relationship, but he didn’t specify that’s all it was either. Camille also can’t be frustrated by Nora’s need to take their romance slow when he agreed to do so at the start. They must all take what the other says at face value because our words become a driving force for our autonomy. Better to know the person you love doesn’t love you back than to find out because another woman walks naked out of his room, right? Listening to what others want might just help you decide what you want too.

They’re all turned around in every part of their lives. They’re running from family, avoiding careers, and filling the void left by an absence of emotional attachment with a physical one that can’t help but prove fleeting. The good thing, though, is that recognizing that fleetingness is the first step to recognizing what it is you really want. Why chase new unfulfilling highs when you can embrace the one that will last? It’s true in life and love as these characters will all soon realize. Once they do, there’s no stopping how far they can go. But first they must acknowledge who it is they are and what it is they must do. The choices that endure might seem scary, but they’re often the easiest to make.

[1] Lucie Zhang as “Émilie” and Makita Samba as “Camille” in Jacques Audiard’s PARIS 13TH DISTRICT. Courtesy of IFC Films. An IFC Films release.
[2] Lucie Zhang as “Émilie,” Noémie Merlant as “Nora,” and Makita Samba as “Camille” in Jacques Audiard’s PARIS 13TH DISTRICT. Courtesy of IFC Films. An IFC Films release.
[3] Noémie Merlant as “Nora” in Jacques Audiard’s PARIS 13TH DISTRICT. Courtesy of IFC Films. An IFC Films release.

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