Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Cédric Klapisch's PARIS: Maybe it's yours, too, despite some downbeat reviews

When I first encoun-
tered PARIS, Cédric Klapisch's most recent movie, I arrived late (due to an MTA snarl) and missed the first 15 to 20 minutes. While this could kill certain other films, I sat through the re-
maining 110 minutes and thoroughly en-
joyed myself. When I went back to catch the first quarter hour or so at a later show-
ing, I found that nothing I'd missed proved a deal-
breaker. All this happened some 18

months ago, when the movie made its New York debut at the FSLC's annual Rendezous with French Cinema series. Seeing it a second time this past month reconfirmed my enjoyment.

Yes, the film's a little too long (at 2 hours and 8 minutes) but it offers such a starry cast, each one working at full-throttle, some marvelous views of most people's favorite city, and a crush of story lines that connect in pleasurably small ways, with humor, irony and sadness. Untimely death hovers over the film -- one perhaps expected, another definitely not -- but there's lots of joy, too. The following is an abridged version of the review I did for GreenCine in March of 2008:

In its own way, Paris is as much a love letter to the city of lights - and life - as was last year's Paris je t'aime. There are nearly as many characters here and a plethora of stories, but only a single director - though a very good one. Klapisch (shown above, who's given us Russian Dolls, Not for or Against (rent this unusual film!) and Un Air de famille) loves ensembles, and to judge from the fine performances he draws from his disparate actors, they love the chance to work with him - many of them for a second or third time.

I feel entitled to recommend Paris as a "don't miss" experience: for its beauty, its acute sense of opportunity and heartbreak, and one performance after another that offers some of France's best actors working near their peak. Klapisch loves to twine people and events together, and one of his stronger points is that he does not push these connections. Consequently, some of the characters are joined more firmly - by family ties, love interest, employment - than others. This makes for a movie that jogs along at a regular pace, sometimes speeding up or slowing down for a little detour (one of the wittiest is a computer-animated dream/nightmare experienced by the architect played by François Cluzet -- above, right -- best known to American audiences for Tell No One).

The stories take in a young man (Romain Duris, shown left) with a heart problem both literal and metaphoric; his sister (Juliette Binoche, shown bottom, left) and her offspring; the architect's brother (the great Fabrice Luchini, most recently seen in The Girl from Monaco), a professor of history who becomes fixated on a young student; a lonely vendor in an outdoor market (Albert Dupontel, shown bottom, right) and a uptight bakery owner (Karin Viard), among many others. Every actor is on point, but Luchini, in particular, is extraordinary. That face of his, used equally effectively for humor and pathos, mirrors so much so beautifully that he keeps you entranced. The scene (below) in which he "dances" (with the lovely Mélanie Laurent, shown at left, from the current Inglorious Basterds, who makes a fitting foil for Luchini's libido) is as funny as anything I've witnessed in some time. In addition to the characters who already reside in Paris, the film acknowledges France's African immigrants who now live -- or desperately hope to come -- there.

As the movie proceeds, a bit of flatness intrudes. Because many scenes seem to have the same weight and length, over the two-
hour running time, longueurs occur. But almost immediately, the bounce is back. To his credit, Klapisch is not one of those overly cute filmmakers given to tying up his loose ends. Whatever happens to these people, you are left at the finale with a strong feeling of affirmation. Not a bad way, these days, to exit a movie.

Paris opens Friday, September 18, via IFC Films, in New York City at the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas and the IFC Center.


Jolene said...

The movie was quite enjoyable, but I wish some relationships and characters were better flushed out and stories lines moved along a little faster. Some events that eventually happened were quite predictable well before they happened... my criticism is that it seemed to take Klapisch a while to get there. He should trust his audience better to know that we were going to already know what was going to happen with some of the characters. By doing this he could then get to that conclusion faster and further focus on other story lines and character development. For example, the brother's story was one of the more interesting bits to me, I wanted more of him and to learn more of his history and wants and less of the architect. However Klapisch's focus was more attune to the architect than anything else. A little disappointing because I think Duris had much to offer in the role of the brother.

James van Maanen, said...

Thanks for the comments, Jolene! It's often this way in an ensemble movie, I think: Some characters you want more of, others, you want less. The writer/director has his favorites, and when they match with yours, all's well; if not, not. I think some other reviewers would you agree with you regarding Klapisch's not placing enough trust in his own audience.