PARIS JE T’AIME is a compendium film of shorts directed by various international film industry luminaries, on a theme made explicit by the title. If I describe it as a mixed bag, I won’t really be saying anything at all — these things are ALWAYS mixed.
For some reason they’re generally kind of nice though, even if the weak segments outnumber the good. You have the pleasure of knowing that however bad the current bit is, something if not better, at least DIFFERENT will be along soon.
I sort-of enjoyed the typically pointless Coen bros episode with Steve Buscemi committing the fatal error of establishing eye contact in the Tuileries, the Alfonso Cuaron long-take exercise with an extravagantly shambling Nick Nolte, the Gus Van Sant meet-cute (is acceptable to simply recycle romcom cliches only with gay characters? Anyhow it was very nicely directed), the Nobuhiro Suwa yarn with Willem Dafoe as a phantom cowboy in the Place de la Victoires, the usual sort-of aimless but inexplicably compelling Olivier Assayas, and the Richard LaGravanese, which like many of the films was content to rely ENTIRELY on star power rather than actual ideas, but knew how to use its stars (and Fanny Ardant speaking English is a SENSATION! Bob Hoskins speaking French is…weird, but sweet, somehow).
The above segments passed the time, but seemed woefully unambitious if you stopped to think about it. If the filmmakers had had to write, shoot and edit them inside a week, I would have said they’d done a decent job within the restrictions. But I can’t really justify anybody spending any greater amount of time on such lightweight pieces.
I’ve enjoyed Vincenzo Natali’s features CUBE and CYPHER, but his piece was kind of embarrassing. I mean, he achieved a look that was distinct from all the other films (nobody else quite did this) but unfortunately it was a heavily CGI paintbox look, and after the establishing shots he somehow forgot to actually feature Paris.
Isabel Coixet actually achieves something impressive and moving in her section, which suddenly stands out from the preceding episodes as result. It also brings real imagination to its storytelling, as opposed to the mannerisms of Tom Tykwer. That guy’s getting to be like a bad Wim Wenders for the MTV generation.
Depardieu’s co-directed bit irked the hell out of me. It was nice seeing Ben Gazzara and Gena Rowlands again, but REALLY: filming two people sat at a restaurant table is one of the simpler tasks a director can have, as far as mise en scene goes, unless they choose to make it complicated. Depardieu and his stooge manage to cross the line for no reason almost immediately, and thereafter randomly alternate shot sizes, creating a meaningless jumble of shots that distract from the generally fine performances. What’s irritating is that somebody with no directorial sense whatever has been handed a chance to show off his lack of ability in front of a wide audience, when the job could have been given to a talented short filmmaker or an experienced pro.
Christopher Doyle put together some nice visuals for his episode but forgot to come up with a coherent idea.
I was fairly charmed by the Sylvain Chomet mime story, which I thought bode fairly well for his Tati project: Chomet can do live action, it seems. I was curious as to whether he’d seen my clown movie, though, since he lives just outside Edinburgh. Not that he’s stolen ANYTHING, mind you, but the idea of clowns/mimes as a persecuted minority is a tad close. If I had anything to do with inspiring him I’d be very happy.
Oliver Schmitz, like Coixet, got some emotional involvement into his story, and it was pretty cleverly constructed. I thought it spelled everything out too carefully at the end, instead of trusting the audience, though.
I loved the Alexander Payne, which makes me feel part of the great mass of humanity since everybody else does too. It manages a real JOURNEY, where the flat, horribly-accented narration of the frowsy middle-aged American tourist, in flat schoolgirl French, suddenly stops being a distanciation device and becomes tremendously affecting.
Several episodes were not really interesting enough to even mention.
But I’m still FURIOUS about episode 2, Gurinder Chadha’s Quais des Seine. Partly it’s because Chadha’s flying the flag for Britain here, so I would’ve liked to see something inspirational. Mainly it’s because her piece manages to encapsulate about half of what I hate about modern British film. Admittedly, she isn’t out to give the audience a hard time for no reason, or rub our noses in gritty realism as “a cheap holiday in other people’s misery” (to use Johnny Lydon’s phrase), but her piece is the very embodiment of the new Tradition of Quality, Social Realism Lite. Visually uninspired to migraine-inducing levels, banal, preachy, inane, actively uninterested in exploring nuance or complexity or ambiguity or shading, this “film” sets out to teach the ignorant masses that (a) boys shouldn’t shout abuse at girls because it isn’t endearing, and (b) Muslims are people too. That’s it. Both messages are prettily illustrated and then spelled out in dialogue form in case we missed it. And while I agree with both statements, neither strikes me as worth dramatising, for reasons that should be perfectly obvious.
The overall effect is to suggest that British filmmakers are stuck somewhere in the era of Cecil Hepworth, presenting pat homilies and shunning the cinematic in favour of the photogenic. When you compare this piece to what’s being done in practically every other country in the world, it is SHAMEFUL. Chadha had the chance to connect to the great works of British cinema, or Indian cinema, or French cinema. What she’s achieved might just serve to pass the time between highlights on an episode of Eastenders.
BUT! Coming soon, I will have some good news about British cinema…