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Film Review

Paris Je T'Aime

(June 2, 2007) Can anyone ever forget their first time In Paris? It's the urban equivalent of a first love. Two French producers, Emmanuel Benbihy and Claudie Ossard, persuaded 20 different directors, French, American, Japanese, Mexican, Spanish, and Brazilian, to do 18 short (5-6 min each) films, which they combined into a fast moving, inventive, and satisfying two hour film. The directors are all top notch: the Coen brothers, Gus Van Sant, Alfonso Cuaron, Walter Salles, Alexander Payne, etc. And equally distinguished actors. Each short is set in a different section of Paris, some familiar, some not. Some are comic, some tragic, some weird, with most a brief look at relationships.

Paris begins with Montmartre, a slyly comic piece about an impatient loser who is trying to find a place to park, does so, and begins to look at couples longingly as he is unhappily single. Suddenly a woman collapses next to his car. A much more elegiac piece, Loin du16eme, follows a young mother who sings her little boy a song to lull him to sleep as she leaves him in daycare, then takes a fatiguing series of subways and buses to her job as a nanny in an upper class apartment, caring for someone else's little boy whom she sings the same song to. In Quartier Latin, a much older, tired man (Ben Gazzara) meets his estranged wife (Gena Rowlands) in a bar to tell her that he is getting a divorce. The anger of both pour out in their brief dialogue. The bartender is played by Gerard Depardieu. Such acting!!

In Faubourg St Denis there is poignancy in the look at a young American actress (Natalie Portman) who is breaking up with her blind boyfriend. The boyfriend relives the history of their relationship against a back drop of fast motion. Two shorts were particularly moving, one about a black immigrant, dying from an attack, who is being helped by a black female medic. In the other, a grieving mother has a ghostly encounter with a cowboy, played by Willem Defoe. Wes Craven sets his short in Pere-Lachaise Cemetery, where an engaged couple (Rufus Sewell and Emily Mortimer) look for Oscar Wilde's tomb. Despite the cemetery setting, you would never guess Craven directed. The final short, 14eme Arrondissement, follows a dowdy American mail woman, realizing her dream to be in Paris, narrating her thoughts in her just learned French. It is a very sympathetic look at someone who could have been viewed as pathetic, but her experiences, feelings, and longings are ours as well. This is a wonderful summary of the city, and a great ending to a very very interesting film experience. The films are distinctly uneven, but even the worst, a sequence about a vampire, is inventive. The best are memorable, lovely, and moving, often with good character development in minutes. I had misgivings about this concept of a series of shorts by many different directors, but it works here, and works well. It is fascinating to see each director's style, and the acting is uniformly outstanding. J'ai aime Paris Je T'Aime, and highly recommend it. Playing now at the Clay.

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