Les Olympiades

Another Side of Paris

November 24, 2021By Heidi EllisonFilm
Émilie (Lucie Zhang) and Camille (Makita Samba) with the 13th arrondissement in the background.
Émilie (Lucie Zhang) and Camille (Makita Samba) with the 13th arrondissement in the background.

Les Olympiades is a place few visitors to Paris have ever seen or would probably ever want to see. A “city within a city” in the 13th arrondissement, the 1970s development consists of bland highrise apartment buildings, shops and offices, surrounded by Paris‘s largest Chinatown, packed with Chinese and other Asian restaurants.

Jacques Audiard’s new film Les Olympiades (Paris, 13th District) is intriguing right off the bat because it is set in this neighborhood, which remains a mystery even to many Parisians. And it may have the honor of being the only film ever made in Paris that does not contain a single shot of the Eiffel Tower – that in itself is something of a feat.

Handsomely shot in black and white, it tells the story of a trio of young people (political correctness reigns here, with one of Chinese origin, one Black and one white): Émilie (Lucie Zhang), Camille (Makita Samba) and Nora (Noémie Merlant), who work in telemarketing, academia and real estate. They cross paths by accident, and their lives gradually intertwine, with lots of sex along the way. There are perhaps a few too many sex scenes, by the way, but while they verge on being too long, the camera usually cuts away before boredom sets in.

Scrabbling – not very successfully – to make a living without sacrificing their dreams, they struggle with the nastiness of social media and their peers, and, after many false starts, gradually adapt to the difficulties of life and feel their way toward potential happiness.

The screenplay, written by Audiard, Léa Mysius and Céline Sciamma (director of Portrait of a Lady on Fire and other films), is based on three graphic short stories by the American cartoonist Adrian Tomine: “Amber Sweet,” “Killing and Dying” and “Hawaiian Getaway.”

After Audiard’s previous films, among them the wonderful The Sisters Brothers (2018), Dheepan (2015), Rust and Bone (2012) and Un Prophète (A Prophet, 2009), one expects something rather more hard-hitting from him than this rather slight but extremely well-made film. The characters are engaging and realistic – like our friends, they are sometimes likable and sometimes annoying or difficult – and the three main actors, new faces on French screens, are marvelous (as is Camille Léon-Fucien as Éponine, Camille’s sister), but there’s not a lot of muscle in this movie, which seems to be going somewhere important but veers aside into something like a rom-com in the end. It’s worth seeing, however, for its originality, fine storytelling and excellent acting. Afterward, you may find yourself wanting to check out Les Olympiades and try some of those Asian restaurants. Good idea.


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