Paris Je t’Aime

February 7, 2010By Heidi EllisonArchive

L’Amour, Toujours L’Amour

paris je t’aime
Steve Buscemi as a hapless tourist in the Coen brothers’ contribution to the collaborative film. Photo © Patrick Klein/Victoires International 2006

A love letter to Paris in the form of 18 five-minute short subjects strung together into a two-hour film, Paris Je t’Aime just manages to avoid most of the picture-postcard clichés about the city, although the producers couldn’t resist starting and ending with a few clichéd images of the Eiffel Tower and a sunset over the Seine, and sticking them in here and there between the short films like glue.

The idea for this movie supposedly came to the TV director Tristan Carné during a romantic stroll along the Seine. He joined up with producer Claudie Ossard (producer of Amélie), and set out to solicit contributions from both French and foreign directors. Their brief was to shoot a five-minute film on the theme of love in Paris in two days and nights with minimal budgets. Joel and Ethan Coen were among the first to accept; their offering, “Tuileries,” one of the most entertaining, features Steve Buscemi as a hapless tourist who gets in trouble through no fault of his own while waiting for the Métro.

As with any such collaborative effort, the results are uneven, especially since telling a story with punch, originality and feeling in such a limited time is so difficult. Most of the directors have opted for humor or poignancy, but some of the short films allow sentimentality to creep in or have a simplistic, moralizing tone, such as Gurinder Chadha’s “Quai de Seine,” in which a boy learns that a girl wearing a Muslim head scarf can be cool and attractive.

Another contribution, Christopher Doyle’s “Porte de Choisy,” a fantasy that takes place in Paris’s Chinatown, is just plain bizarre. Others, such as “Quartier Latin,” written by Gena Rowlands and directed by Gérard Depardieu and Frédéric Auburtin, don’t have much to do with Paris except that they take place there, in this case in a Left Bank café, where the character played by Ben Gazzara goes to reminisce with the wife he is divorcing, played by Rowlands, while Depardieu plays the waiter serving them.

The first film, Bruno Podalydès’ “Montmartre,” starts out with every tourist’s photograph of the Sacré Coeur, leading the audience to expect the worst, but then turns into an amusing discourse on loneliness and the difficulty of finding a parking space in the hilltop “village.”

The film ends on a high note with the moving “14th Arrondissement” by Alexander Payne (of Sideways fame) in which a very ordinary American woman (played by Margo Martindale) narrates her trip to Paris in heavily accented classroom French, ending with an epiphany in a park.

This isn’t a film to please film lovers with sophisticated tastes, but anyone who loves Paris loves to see images of it over and over again and won’t be able to help getting a kick out of at least some of these love stories.

Heidi Ellison

© 2006 Paris Update

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