Monday, February 11, 2008


Not selling us short

By Edward Copeland
No Country for Old Men wasn't the only comeback the Coen brothers made with me in 2007. They also scored with a film that was only a few minutes long. What's more amazing, Paris, je t'aime turns out be that rare film made up of episodes that truly works.

Most films that string together shorter films within them usually end up failing because, inevitably, some are going to be stronger than others and the frequent stopping-and-starting sometimes ends up breaking a viewer's momentum in a way that's hard to recapture.

When I first started watching Paris, je t'aime, I feared that would happen here as well since the early shorts didn't really grab me much, but then Joel and Ethan Coen's inspired "Tuileries" arrives with its great deadpan performance by Steve Buscemi as an Amerian tourist trying to get his bearings in a Paris subway station.

From that point on, nearly all the shorts contain something worthwhile and the assemblage is constructed in a way that benefits the film as a whole. Though all the stories are set in Paris, they couldn't be more different in tone and genre.

From director Vincenzo Natali's atmospheric vampire love story "Quartier de la Madeleine" to Wes Craven's "Pere-Lachaise" featuring Rufus Sewell and Emily Mortimer as a couple having a spat in the famous cemetery and from the wonderful reunion of Ben Gazzara and Gena Rowlands as a long-separated couple in "Quartier Latin," directed by Gerard Depardieu and Frederic Auburtin to the touching and beautiful closer "14th arrondissement" directed by Alexander Payne and starring the great Margo Martindale as a lonely American visiting Paris for the first time in hopes of finding some meaning to her life.

As I said, some of the early shorts are misfires as are even some that occur after the Coens' contribution but, for the most part, the film holds together amazingly well as a whole.

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Watching Paris, je t'aime was one of my fondest memories last year. I especially liked Tom Tywker's film.
Anthologies can go horribly wrong, but this sounds like one worth looking into.
I was also surprised by how well the Coen brother's segment was executed in Paris, je t'aime. But unlike you, I liked virtually every segment* as a part of the whole. The whole certainly worked better than I expected it to for reasons that I discuss in my review.

While each segment was the respective director/s work, the producers put a lot of thought into joining them in a harmonious way. Some of the techniques used were:
(1) The order of the segments (one gets a sense of the gradual passing of the day/s as segments seem to take part at successive times of the day).
(2) The use of single production a designer, editor and others (that I can't recall)
(3) Post production that gives a consistent look and feel (yellow and grey/blue filters/lighting were used regularly). Also, several segments included props utilising yellow.
(4) The filming of joining segments so that it wasn't clear when one segment started and another ended.

I liked all the segments you mentioned, but my favourites were Nobuhiro Suwa's depiction with Juliette Binoche grieving her son, Gurindher Chadha's boys taunting girls by the Seine, Walter Salles' ironic segment with the migrant nanny and Oliver Schmitz's depiction of the African singer and the paramedic crossing paths twice in a day. Moving stuff.

* The only segment that I found a bit disruptive to the aesthetics of the whole was Chris Doyle's Chinatown contribution. But on repeat viewings, and watching the DVD extras, I've grown to like it more.
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