Paris, je t’aime is a collection of vignettes that revolve around love and the city of Paris. We’ve got gay love, straight love, beginning love, ending love, the love of a city, the love for a city – we’ve even got vampiric love. In all, there are twenty five-minute segments by twenty different directors, ranging from the Coen Brothers and Alfonso Cuaron, to Wes Craven [who does not direct the vampire segment…]. It also features an international cast that includes [among others] Natalie Portman, Gerard Depardieu, Ben Gazzara, Barbet Schroeder, Steve Buscemi and Juliette Binoche…
I had no idea what to expect when I sat down to screen Paris, je t’aime. Another critic’s friend had told him it was superbly charming, but that was really all we knew about it, going in. What we got was an anthology of vignettes united by several themes [including those mentioned above] and a feeling that we were entering a wholly new, complete realm.
Some of the vignettes made absolutely no sense [Schroeder’s vendor of salon hair care products and his martial arts proficient Asian client]; others were combinations of wakefulness and dream [Binoche’s segment revolving around the loss of a child]; still others were supernatural tone poems [Elijah Wood’s involvement with a vampire], or glimpses of an eked out existence [Catalina Sandino Moreno’s nanny, having to leave her son in day care while she cares for the children of others]. Even a fanciful romance between mimes works reasonably well.
A vignette about a retired woman falling in love with Paris, seems a bit too serious for the humor of her badly accented French, and the vignette about a messenger who approaches another man at one of his deliveries was so low-key that it didn’t feel quite right. Otherwise, most of the vignettes worked – whether they made strict narrative sense or not.
In terms of the directors, it’s hard to fault any of the vignettes for its crafting. Each is directed with a feeling of love [there’s that word again] that you rarely find in film. As odd and as varied as these vignettes may be, their directors seem to be completely immersed in those worlds of emotion and Parisian districts.
One of the joys of the film is that these directors do not all play to their previously displays strengths – Wes Craven presents a truly romantic, utterly unterrifying vignette, while the Coen Brothers vignette is perfectly in keeping with their odd senses of humor.
Apparently, we are supposed to follow these vignettes through a kind of story, leading up to the revelation of a surprise recurring character. I’m not sure the film works in quite this manner, though each vignette – and each title interstitial than connects the vignettes – looks at the city of Paris in a different light. If the writers conceived of the film as a guided tour of the many facets of love and the various shades of Paris, then the film works beautifully.
Paris, je t’aime is not, in any way, the usual film experience. It resembles no other anthology, no other film – indie or otherwise – that I’ve seen. In its uniqueness, this film is a series of rewarding [and maybe not so rewarding] moments in the lives of people who are in love, not in love, have fallen out of love, lost someone they loved… The result is a film that will amuse, confuse, tickle, jab and even ignore. For this alone, it is worth seeing.
Final Grade: B+