February 7, 2010By Heidi EllisonArchive

Klapisch Comes Home

paris, cedric klapisch

Karin Viard as the bitch-troll-from-hell bakery owner.

In his new film named after a city we all know and love, director Cédric Klapisch wants to show the world what it’s really like to live in Paris. In some ways he gets it right and in some ways he gets it wrong. Although she’s a caricature, for example, we all know a boulangère like the one played by Karin Viard, who is as sweet as a tarte aux pommes when talking to customers and a bitch troll from hell when addressing her employees. On the other hand, it is not true, as a nonresident viewer of the film might believe, that everyone in Paris has a panoramic view of the city.

Klapisch had a hard act to follow in making this movie: his own early film, Chacun Cherche son Chat (1996), is one of the most charming, idiosyncratic modern-day tales set in Paris. Since then he has traveled to Barcelona and Saint Petersburg to make some heavily cliché-ridden (yet highly successful) movies, including L’Auberge Espagnole (2002) and Les Poupées Russes (2005). Now he’s come back to the city he knows best, Paris, and has made a French-star-studded portrait of the city and some of its inhabitants, with mostly positive results.

Paris has several parallel, occasionally intersecting, story lines. Romain Duris (an actor whose popularity I don’t understand – “dur” can mean “stiff,” and that’s a good description of his acting style, although he’s quite good at furrowing his brow) plays Pierre, a former cabaret dancer with a serious heart problem that keeps him shut up in his apartment, where he spends his time looking out the window. His sister, Elise (Juliette Binoche), a social worker, and her three children move in to keep him company. The market stand where Elise buys her vegetables is staffed by a divorced couple who still work together but are beginning to look around for new romantic interests.

Fabrice Luchini plays Roland, a professor who has just lost his father, is selling out his principles by filming a televised history of Paris and goes to see a shrink for the first time (in a very funny and juste scene). He is also stalking a beautiful young female student, Laetitia, played by Mélanie Laurent (the film is worth seeing just for the sight of the middle-aged Luchini doing the watusi for her). The character of Roland’s architect brother seems to be thrown in to enable Klapisch to show the modern eastern side of Paris, where a whole new quarter is being built.

A whiff of political correctness invades the film with scenes of an African man leaving his shantytown in Cameroon and slowly and with great difficulty making his way to Paris, home of his brother and a fashion model he met while working at a vacation resort. We run into the fashion model again when she and some of her tall, willowy friends meet the men from Elise’s market at the Rungis wholesale food market outside of Paris after a fashion show and lark around with them (this scene seems to have been thrown in to give Klapisch an excuse to film at Rungis).

As Klapisch has pointed out in interviews, Paris is difficult to film because of its gray light and the neutral tones of its buildings. Rather than fight the grayness, he has given into it and shows the city in realistic muted tones with occasional colorful touches.

Many things happen in this film – perhaps too many (it is two hours and 10 minutes long) – and some of them seem improbable or extraneous, but overall Klapisch has managed to avoid clichés this time and has made a movie that is absorbing, often very funny and heartwarming without being sentimental. It’s big and a bit messy, not a finely honed gem like Chacun Cherche son Chat, which restricted itself to one simple story line and really did give a faithful rendering of what it’s like to live in Paris, but it’s still got plenty to recommend it. Sit back and enjoy.

Heidi Ellison

© 2008 Paris Update

Reader Kathleen Gray of Paris writes: “I saw Paris this weekend, and pretty much agreed with your (very enjoyable) review, though I have to point out that I do have a panoramic view of Paris from my window, though I recognize that I’m one of the lucky ones. I liked the fact that Klapisch avoided postcard Paris and agree that it was worth seeing just for Luchini’s watusi. Another interesting detail for me was that Karin Viard’s boulangerie was filmed in one of my local bakeries in the 18th – when I dropped by to check that it was filmed there, the owner told me the filming of the bakery scenes took three days.

Reader Pascale of Paris Version à la Française writes:I perfectly agree with your view of the new film Paris by Klapisch. I’m still looking for Chacun Cherche son Chat.

“I liked Karin Viard very much in her interpretation of the boulangère, and I’m happy you chose her image to represent the film.

© 2008 Paris Update

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